Tigoi Fish Farm in Kenya raises tilapia and catfish using fish farming techniques developed in Israel. Photo by Jacob Brauner

Israel and Kenya form unlikely partnership around fish farming


Zinath Deen harvests fish in rectangular enclosures suspended in a pond on her property in Kenya, land surrounded by grassland, cattle barns and the occasional hut advertising a Kenyan mobile phone company. Kenyans perform manual labor on either side of the nearby highway.

Dressed in a kitenge, a traditional garment popular among Kenyan women, the widowed grandmother of four raises Nile tilapia and African catfish using techniques developed in Israel, which she visited last October.

Deen has transformed her property in Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city, into a commercial fish farm. Her local community enjoys the fruit of her harvest.

Addressing a delegation of Jewish-American leaders from Los Angeles who spent a week in Kenya last year at the invitation of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which oversees Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, or MASHAV, Deen called Israel “wonderful.” (This reporter was part of the subsidized trip.)

Since 2012, Israel has been exporting its innovative fish farming technology to Kenya as part of an arrangement with MASHAV, the Kenyan Ministry of Fisheries Development and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The countries entered into the agreement in response to dwindling fish stocks in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which overlaps Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, and to a rising demand for fish, all to assist commercial farmers like Deen.

The agreement also supports a longstanding partnership between Israel and Kenya as Israel seeks to nurture positive relationships with African countries in an effort to bolster its image in the international community. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda last year, in part to gain allies beyond the United States and Europe.

The cooperative agreement has resulted in the training of Kenyan aquaculture farmers; the establishment of an aquaculture training unit at Kenya’s Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technologies; and the training of fish feeds and fingerling (young fish) producers.

Deen said she wants to share her skills with fellow Kenyans. To that end, she has constructed a training hall on her land that provides students from the institute with an educational facility focused on fish farming, in order to give them hands-on aquaculture experience.

Israel plays an important role in the global fish farming industry. The International Symposium on Tilapia in Aquaculture, hosted and sponsored by the Society of Israeli Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology, was held in Jerusalem in 2013.

One Israeli company capitalizing on fish farming growth is AquaMaof Aquaculture Technologies. The company runs an experimental indoor fish farm that has raised four types of fish species, including barramundi, an Asian sea bass, in Revivim, a kibbutz in the Sinai Desert. The yields have provided fresh fish for the hospitality industry, according to the company website.

Meanwhile, one of the specialties at the Agricultural Research Organization Volcani Center, an Israeli agriculture research center near Tel Aviv, is farming fish in environments facing water shortages.

The relationship between Kenya and Israel dates back to 1963, when Kenya became independent from Great Britain. Golda Meir, then Israeli minister of foreign affairs, attended the inauguration of the Israeli embassy in Nairobi. Today, a large photograph of Yoni Netanyahu, the prime minister’s brother, who died during the 1976 raid of Entebbe, Uganda, hangs above a conference room table inside the Israeli embassy in Nairobi. Kenya served as the staging ground for the famous Israeli rescue operation.

Through MASHAV, Israel is working with Kenyans on agriculture, education and women’s issues. MASHAV, which launched in 1957, also is active in the Middle East, Asia, Central Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Michael Baror, current deputy ambassador at the Israeli embassy in Nairobi, said Israel’s assistance to Kenya and other developing countries is a reflection of Jewish values.

Addressing the delegation at Tigoi Fish Farm, which included Deen and a German representative, he said, “For our world to be a better place, knowledge must not only be kept but shared.” n

Michael Baror, deputy ambassador at the Israeli embassy in Kenya (with watering can), plants a tree at the Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology in Kisumu, Kenya. Photo by Ryan Torok

The blessings of prayer, liturgical or personal


With the celebration of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, on Feb. 11, environmentally friendly Jewish organizations and individuals fill social media feeds with exhortations to protect the environment and to appreciate the bounty of produce that most of us enjoy.

But do you know what blessing to say for planting a tree? And what if that tree is in Kisumu, Kenya, to celebrate a partnership of Kenya, Israel and Germany that has yielded great strides in tilapia fish farming?

This example sounds random enough to be made up, but it really happened for 12 of us on an Israeli Consulate-sponsored trip to Kenya last November to see the work of an Israeli international development organization called MASHAV.

As we watched a representative from each partner country plant a tree at the Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology, I asked fellow trip participant Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, “Is there a blessing for a trilateral fish farming partnership tree-planting?”

He said there wasn’t one, so we riffed on the concepts and words relating to the physical act of tree-planting as well as thematic meanings of partnerships. The rabbi’s version went biblical, invoking Eden, the first garden sown by humans and the notion that God creates everything. My version was more interpersonal: about God as the overseer of human existence and both witness to and nurturer of relationships between people and the earth.

We settled on the Shehecheyanu prayer that expresses gratitude for having reached a new or special moment or occasion.

But an idea also had taken root: Was there really no blessing for tree-planting? When I got home, I asked my favorite always-on-duty religious expert, Rabbi Google. I learned there is a blessing said on a fruit-bearing tree once a year during the month of Nisan, but generally, no blessing for tree-planting. Shouldn’t there be, especially when it marks a deepening of human relationship as well as the intention of seeding the earth?

I thought: Why not teach people to use their words to find their own blessings? And yet, the thought seemed heretical. Who was I — or anyone without rabbinic training — to negate the canonized liturgy? And if everyone was “vigilante blessing” things, would that put Farkas and my other rabbi friends out of a job? Would there still be a need for synagogue and community around standardized prayer?

Pondering these thoughts, I read the reflections of my friend and Jewish Journal colleague Ryan Torok, who also was on the Kenya trip.

“It’s comforting how the words of the Amidah are the same in Kenya as they are back home,” he wrote in the Journal. “No matter where one is in the world, Judaism is Judaism.” 

There is a tension between institutionalized liturgy and personal prayer. We have a robust liturgy, sanctioned by rabbis, time and generations of people who have intoned the same words in different geographical and emotional places. They have called on the same phrases for strength, as mantra, as comfort, as praise in countries around the world. Indeed, there are “official” blessings for lots of Jewish acts and occasions — even observing strange things or unusual people.

But in moments during which there are no standardized blessings, how do we non-rabbis — or those of us unfamiliar with the liturgy, unfamiliar with Hebrew, or even lacking a traditional belief in God — mark those moments?

There’s a Chasidic folktale about a young shepherd who was nearly illiterate and went to a synagogue, where he recited the letters of the Hebrew alphabet repeatedly. When asked why, he said he didn’t know the prayers but knew that if he spoke the letters, God would assemble them to form words expressing his intended prayer.

Depending on the audience, this story — and its many variations — is invoked to teach several lessons. In my interpretation, I learn two things. First, you don’t need officially sanctioned words to pray or express gratitude. Second, even when you are expressing your heart’s desires, gratitude or prayer — which may be very much outside of the communal norm — there is value and power to being in the presence of community.

We have our own letters, and we have our own words. We don’t need words that are biblical in origin, or grandiosely phrased, or rabbinically sanctioned. If the “God” concept is a challenge for you, opt out of language like “blessed are you, oh God,” and instead use “how incredible it is to be having this experience” or “how grateful I am to be in the presence of this thing.” Prayers don’t have to be in Hebrew, either, because if God is an entity or concept that has meaning for you, you can bet your bracha (blessing) on the fact that any deity worth anything would be fluent in any language.

I think that institutionalized liturgy provides a framework, something to rely on if we aren’t having a spontaneous or creative prayer moment. It also suggests words and phrases to guide us in our own interpretation of what it means to use language to express vulnerability, humility, respect, praise and gratitude.

Of course, most people — and that includes me most days — don’t create their own prayers. They may not see the point in prayer at all. Or they may feel unworthy, unpoetic or unholy. Or they may think personal prayer is forbidden or some sort of hubris, that when it comes to Jewish prayer, it’s codified liturgy or bust. And maybe that belief creates a stronger bond to both community members and to places of institutionalized prayer.

But perhaps, when we’re seeking ways to connect to prayer and gratitude, it’s not “this” or “that.” Rather, it’s worth looking to our structured community spaces, as well as into the unique words that we hold within ourselves and our unique experiences, to find the answers.

Chabad in Africa encounters crime — and spirituality


Rabbi Shmuel Notik was on his way to blow the shofar on a Friday evening in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi when six men armed with knives intercepted him on a dark street.

Notik — a follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch stream of Judaism, who had moved to Kenya to serve local Jews just days prior to that incident in 2014 — gave the assailants his prayer book and a lapel pin, along with his shofar, the ceremonial horn that Jews blow on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This was all he had on him because observant Jews are generally not allowed to carry objects on Shabbat.

It was a jarring experience for Notik, a 28-year-old father of two from Israel. But in hindsight, he says, it was an inexpensive first lesson in the challenges facing Jews in Africa — including five Chabad couples who moved there recently as emissaries in the movement’s effort to cater to a growing community of Israelis and other Jews working in Africa’s fast-developing economies.

Despite rampant crime and other problems, Kenya is set to receive a second rabbi on Rosh Hashanah: Chabad emissary Avromy Super plans to transform Nairobi’s century-old synagogue into a community center. His arrival, with his newborn son and wife, is the latest development in an effort that has included the opening of six Chabad houses since 2011 in Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Angola.

Notik wasn’t sent by the Chabad movement — he arrived in Africa on his own two years ago to serve Israelis living there — but his community in Nairobi over the past decade has grown from having just a few dozen members into a congregation comprising hundreds, with its own Jewish kindergarten and preschool, Hebrew classes, a mikvah and two locations that serve as synagogues and community centers.

As in many other African countries, the community’s core comprises agriculture and technology experts living in Nairobi with their families, though Jewish businessmen who frequently travel here from Israel and beyond are also an important contingent.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is a difficult place but also exhilarating, dynamic and spiritual — a combo that attracts Israelis especially,” Notik said.

The growing presence of Western Jews in Kenya — and in Africa, in general — is an example of how “the continent is developing at a breakneck pace that’s attracting communications, agriculture and construction professionals from all over the world, and from Israel disproportionately,” Notik said.

The growth isn’t always apparent in a metropolis that the New York-based Mercer consulting agency, which compiles quality-of-life ratings globally, recently ranked as the world’s seventh least-safe city for expats and which locals jokingly call “Nairobbery.” Street crime confines some observant Jews to their homes on Shabbat, when driving is prohibited to them and walking is too risky. Sometimes the curfews are without electricity due to shortages that also affect medical services. Fast mobile wireless internet is spotty and network crashes are frequent.

In Ghana, Chabad emissary Rabbi Noach Majesky, who moved to Accra last year, relies on a generator because “for every 36 hours of electricity, we have 12 without,” he said. Observant Jews across Africa have no reliable supply of fresh kosher meat. Many families wash babies in pre-boiled water for fear of pollutants and malaria is always a concern, especially for families with children.

These hardships mean that Chabad emissaries to Africa need to be hardy, motivated and not overly worried about the paucity of Western-standard medicine, according to Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, Chabad’s head of operations there. Bentolila has been living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the early 1990s, when he settled in the capital Kinshasa to cater to expat Jews primarily from France, Belgium and Israel.

But Bentolila’s deputies can’t be too aggressive either, he said, or they will alienate local Africans whose goodwill and cooperation they need.

“The interpersonal aspect is very important to get by in Africa,” he said. “You have to be outgoing, a people person. Rudeness and a sour face will get you nowhere.”

This Israeli ex-diplomat is Kenya’s biggest pop star


Zipping between meetings at Nairobi’s five-star hotels wearing a suit and tie, Gilad Millo looks every bit the ex-diplomat he is.

But looks can be deceiving: Though he may be balding and slightly pudgy, Millo is one of Kenya’s hottest pop stars.

He’s so popular, in fact, he’s known throughout the country simply as Gilad, a la Madonna or Prince.

“The word ‘celebrity’ feels strange, but, yeah, people now ask me to pose for selfies with them,” said Millo, the former deputy head of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Kenya, speaking to JTA by telephone from his home in Nairobi on Monday.

Millo made his musical debut in April with the song “Unajua” — “Do You Know” in Kiswahili, one of Kenya’s four official languages.

By May, “Unajua,” a mellow tune about the lingering attachment of ex-lovers, topped the weekly chart of X FM, a popular Kenyan radio station, and stayed on the top 10 lists of other stations for months. By August, the track received a rave review in the Daily Nation, one of Kenya’s largest newspapers.

In the video, Millo, an Ashkenazi Jew, walks with his bicycle and guitar around the Nairobi neighborhood where the song’s producer lives. A classier indoors set is used for the song’s guest artist: Wendy Kimani, a young Kenyan singer who rose to fame in 2008 as a finalist on the East African version of “American Idol.”

Kimani — who recently moved to Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband — concedes that Millo does not exactly possess the looks that Westerners would expect for an up-and-coming pop star. But in Kenya,“the masses are still quite rural, so they’re not so much into looks and fashion,” she said.

“For them it’s all about the music,” Kimani said. “If someone has the music, that’s all that they care about.”

Plus, the song topped the charts before the video was released — so few people knew Millo was what East Africans call “mzungu,” a white man.

“And even after, many couldn’t believe Gilad was really singing because few white people in Kenya speak Kiswahili,” Kimani said.

Music has always been a major part of Millo’s life. In his 20s, he was a member of a Jerusalem rock band, White Donkey. Millo was planning to become a professional musician rather than follow in the footsteps of his late father, Yehuda Millo, who served as a diplomat for 37 years.

But when Millo’s son was born, his wife, Hadas, said that “there’s no money in music and we need to find a real job,” Millo recalled in an interview that he gave last month to Israel’s Channel 2.

After working as a journalist, he became a diplomat in 2003. Millo served in Nairobi and Los Angeles before leaving Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 2008 and settling in Nairobi permanently.

“The connection with Kenya was instant,” Millo said. “I’ve never encountered a more open, generous people.”

It was only recently, a quiet afternoon when his wife and teenage kids were away, that Millo called up a music producer, M.G., whom he had met through a friend. Millo showed up at the studio with a song he wrote just “to see how it goes,” he recalled.

“We realized we had a hit the second we finished recording,” Millo said.

Thanks to “Unajua,” he has landed dozens of guest appearances on Kenyan radio and television shows. There he promotes his campaign about farming for the Balton CP Group – the British firm where Millo works as head of business development and public relations — which represents mostly Israeli agriculture and communications companies.

“After we establish that I’m white, that I sing in Kiswahili and that this place is home for me, there’s still 10 minutes of airtime, so the interviewers and I often go into other things that I’m passionate about,” Millo said.

Titled “Farming is Cool,” the campaign tries to appeal to the millions of young Africans who swapped their  now-aging rural communities in favor of the perceived opportunities of big metropolises like Nairobi and its suburbs and slums, where only a third of about 6 million residents have adequate sewage systems. The aim is to attract young people to more sustainable and advanced agriculture.  

Last month, Millo released his second single, “Sema Milele” (“Say Forever”), which the well-respected online magazine Afrika Nmbiu crowned as “the perfect wedding song.” He is working on a third single with a Kenyan artist, 22-year-old HK Gachago.

He may be big in Kenya now, but Millo says he’s not making money from his music — yet. Still, whatever income his musical career may generate, he hopes to donate.

In addition to hoping to help empower youth through farming, another cause is Israel for Africa, the nonprofit that Millo and his family established in memory of his father that promotes Israeli innovation and culture in Africa.

“Europeans and Americans don’t always get the connection that many Israelis have with Africans,” he said. “But we feel it instantly, every time we crack a joke or slap one another’s back.”

Al Shabaab kills at least 147 at Kenyan university; siege ends


Gunmen from the Islamist militant group al Shabaab stormed a university in Kenya and killed at least 147 people on Thursday, in the worst attack on Kenyan soil since the U.S. embassy was bombed in 1998.

The siege ended nearly 15 hours after the Somali group's gunmen shot their way into the Garissa University College campus in a pre-dawn attack, sparing Muslim students and taking many Christians hostage.

Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said four gunmen strapped with explosives were behind the attack, the same number that killed 67 people during the 2013 bloodbath at a shopping mall in Nairobi.

“The operation has ended successfully. Four terrorists have been killed,” Nkaissery told Kenyan media.

Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinet said the attackers had “shot indiscriminately” when they entered the university compound.

Police and soldiers surrounded the campus and exchanged gunfire with the attackers throughout the day but were repeatedly repelled. At least 79 people were injured and many airlifted to Nairobi, Kenya's national disaster body said.

Al Shabaab, who carried out the deadly attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013, claimed responsibility for the raid on the campus in Garissa, a town 200 km (120 miles) from the Somali border.

The group has links to al Qaeda and a record of raids on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Nairobi sending troops to fight it in its home state of Somalia.

Al Qaeda bombed the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on the same day in 1998, killing 224 people and wounding thousands of people.

The United States condemned the latest attack and offered Kenya help in fighting al Shabaab.

One image provided by a local journalist showed a dozen blood-soaked bodies strewn across a single university classroom in Garissa. But some students managed to escape unaided.

“We heard some gunshots and we were sleeping so it was around five and guys started jumping up and down running for their lives,” an unnamed student told Reuters TV.

Authorities offered a 20 million shilling ($215,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of a man called Mohamed Mohamud, described as “most wanted” and linked to the attack.

Police chief Boinet said Kenya had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on four regions near the Somalia border.

TOURISM AND RELIGION

Al Shabaab, which seeks to impose its own harsh version of sharia law, has separated Muslims from Christians in some of its previous raids in Kenya, notably late last year in attacks on a bus and at a quarry.

Its repeated raids, together with attacks on churches by home-grown Islamist groups, have strained the cordial relations between Kenya's Muslim and Christian communities.

Having killed more than 200 people in Kenya over the past two years, Al Shabaab has also brought the tourism industry to its knees.

Thursday's attack undermined a renewed drive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to persuade foreigners the country is now safe to visit.

On Wednesday, he had urged Kenyans abroad to help attract tourists back despite the wave of militant violence, criticizing a warning from Australia of a possible attack in Nairobi and an advisory from Britain urging its citizens to avoid most coastal resorts.

Grace Kai, a student at the Garissa Teachers Training College near the university, said there had been warnings that an attack in the town could be imminent.

“Some strangers had been spotted in Garissa town and were suspected to be terrorists,” she told Reuters.

“Then on Monday our college principal told us … that strangers had been spotted in our college… On Tuesday we were released to go home, and our college closed, but the campus remained in session, and now they have been attacked.”

Many Kenyans living in the crime-ridden frontier regions blame the government for not doing enough to protect its citizens from the militants.

Israeli start-up hoping USB drives will bridge digital divide


In Peter Jairus’ Nairobi neighborhood, almost nobody has a personal computer.

Mathare is one of the Kenyan capital’s largest slums. Buildings are constructed from sheets of corrugated metal and Internet access is rare, found only in places like schools or community centers. Even then, the connection can be spotty.

So when Jairus heard about Keepod, a cheap device that places a computer’s operating system on a small USB drive, he jumped at the idea. Last April he met with Keepod’s creators, and six months later 60 of the devices were delivered to Mathare.

Jairus, a musician and youth activist, now runs a cybercafe where 30 to 40 people come daily to go online with their Keepods.

“The Keepod is very personal to everyone,” Jairus told JTA. “People use it for studying, someone else is using it for YouTube, Facebook, social media. This one is using it for research.

“It helps the community very, very much because a lot of people cannot afford the laptop, and 99 percent of the community could not have computer access.”

Based in Tel Aviv, the Keepod company aims to provide the world’s poorest countries with widespread computer and Internet access. By putting a modern computer operating system on affordable USB drives, users are able to connect to the Internet using older — and much less expensive — computers.

Founders Nissan Bahar and Franky Imbesi say their innovation will help bridge the so-called digital divide — the gap between those with and without regular computer access.

“People can access information to empower themselves,” Bahar said. “That means education, health care, personal growth, being able to read and see what’s going on around the world through a free medium.”

Attempts to bring Internet access to the world’s poorest people are hardly new. Nearly a decade ago, the United Nations backed an effort to create a $100 laptop through One Laptop Per Child, a project that aimed to bring inexpensive computers to developing nations.

But Bahar believes such efforts are impractical on a large scale because even $100 can be hard to afford for citizens of developing countries. Keepods cost just $7 a pop, and by allowing users to store their personal information on the drive, people can use their individual Keepods to share a single computer, further depressing the cost of Internet access. Keepod has arranged to collect some of the tens of millions of computers discarded each year and ship them to schools and community centers in the developing world at a cost of under $100 each.

“[It’s] something very cheap that people won’t even try to steal, that if you lose it, you replace it,” Bahar said. “We don’t believe in making a cheap computer; $140 will never be cheap enough.”

When they began Keepod in 2011, Bahar and Imbesi aimed to create a USB drive that kept all of a user’s data on a small external drive rather than on a computer’s internal hard drive. By keeping sensitive information off the computer, the product gave users an added layer of security.

In late 2013, Bahar and Imbesi realized their device could be a boon for those in the developing world who shared computers. Keepods can run a modern Android operating system even on older computers. And because every program will be run from the USB drive, viruses won’t infect whole computers.

“After a couple of years, my partner and myself started seriously questioning what we were doing in life,” Bahar said. “How we could make a positive impact on the world around us instead of just making products?”

Keepod has already sold more than 30,000 USB drives. This year, Bahar hopes to vastly increase that number. About half of the company’s sales have been made through partnerships with NGOs; the rest are purchased directly from Keepod’s website. The device is also available through retailers.

College Socka Bongue, a 500-student high school in Cameroon, bought USB drives for its students last year along with 26 used computers. Philippe Socke, the executive director of a foundation that funds programs at the school, said the drives have allowed them to conduct research on the Internet for the first time.

After so many years of limited digital access, the transition has been a challenge. Socke said only about 5 percent of the students have computers at home.

“The administration was still relying on pads of paper and chalkboards,” Socke said. “Not having computer experience negatively affected the education. Our collaboration with Keepod literally allowed us to put computer access in the hands of every student.”

Still, Keepod has encountered some challenges in putting their product into the hands of those who would most benefit from it. Two of the five funded projects listed on Keepod’s website have fallen through because the company’s NGO partners could not afford it or faced infrastructure challenges.

At one of the two, the WhyNot Academy in Mathare, 26 students had Keepods last year. Now only seven have them. Students either lost them or transferred to other schools, taking the devices with them. The school also lost Internet access for several months, making the Keepods far less useful.

Mike Dawson, CEO of Ustad Mobile, which installs educational programs on smartphones for children in the developing world, said that spotty electricity, plus the challenge of maintaining old computers, present obstacles to the wide deployment of Keepod technology.

“The problems come from electricity costs, come from maintenance costs, come from access to skilled people,” he said. “These are all costs, and they don’t add up to $7 per person.”

Unreliable infrastructure may continue to hinder Keepod, but Bahar hopes that selling the drives through retailers — in addition to providing them through NGOs — will give increasing numbers of people access to the digital world, at least when the Internet is on.

“We want to enable anyone to buy a Keepod and use it, if not part of an NGO or organization,” he said. “We want to be sustainable.”

Gunmen kill 28 in northeast Kenya bus attack


Attackers ambushed a bus and killed 28 people early on Saturday in northeast Kenya, police and the Ministry of Interior said.

It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.

“Bandits ambushed a bus from Mandera that was heading to Nairobi at dawn and killed 28 passengers of the 60 that were in the bus,” the ministry said on its Twitter feed.

Police Spokesman Masoud Mwinyi confirmed the incident.

The government-run National Disaster Operations Centre said on its Twitter feed that the attack took place some 30 km from the town of Mandera.

Tensions have escalated in Mandera County, near the border with Ethiopia and Somalia, in the past year as clashes between clans have displaced hundreds of people.

The region is awash with guns due to its proximity to Somalia, where al Shabaab has been fighting to topple the government, and Ethiopia, from where the armed Oromo Liberation Front has made incursions into Kenya.

The attack underscores fears over the lack of security, especially in the remote parts of northern Kenya.

In early November, gunmen killed 20 police officers and two police reservists in an ambush in Turkana county in the northwest of Kenya.

Israeli NGOs bringing their expertise to meet Africa’s needs


When they first arrived in northern Kenya in 2011 at the height of a massive drought, the Israeli refugee aid organization IsraAid planned to offer food and other core necessities to the 100,000 residents of the Kakuma refugee camp.

When the drought subsided a year later, IsraAid’s directors saw that this sort of assistance was becoming less crucial. Much larger organizations were providing food, clothing and medicine.

But rather than leave, IsraAid shifted its focus from short-term aid to long-term support through something Israelis do best: post-trauma counseling. Decades of terror attacks have equipped Israeli experts to serve the camp’s residents, many of whom are survivors of hunger, torture or the violent death of relatives. IsraAid has trained 18 camp residents to be social workers; most of them are now helping other camp residents cope with their pain.

“Part of the health of a person is mental health,” said Naama Gorodischer, IsraAid’s Kenya country director. “We can do what we know, and what we do in all our projects is use Israeli knowledge and specialization to perform capacity building.”

IsraAid is one of several Israeli NGOs working to improve the lives of Kenyans by importing Israeli technology and expertise. Their work is enabled by a history of friendly ties between Israel and Kenya and the relative stability of Kenya’s government and economy.

Nairobi, a booming city where new malls and roads intersect with destitute slums and gated communities, has emerged as a center of humanitarian work in East Africa. International organizations from the United Nations to Oxfam have located their regional headquarters there. Even after the terrorist attack on the city’s upscale Westgate mall in September, international aid workers continue to operate in Kenya with little fear.

“Nairobi is an international hub in East Africa for development,” said Gilad Milo, the founder of Israel for Africa, a Kenya-based nonprofit that teaches young people to farm using Israeli technology. “It’s like an entry point, spreading to Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi. It’s a good melting pot for ideas.”

Kenya has been a friendly destination for Israelis since it gained independence in 1963. Israeli businesses helped build the country’s infrastructure and boost its agriculture sector, and the two countries coordinate on security issues. Exchange between the two countries has been robust, with Israeli military personnel advising Kenya in the wake of the Westgate attack and Kenyans routinely traveling to Israel for professional training programs. Israeli experts come to Kenya to lead seminars on everything from agricultural technology to Krav Maga, the martial art developed in Israel.

“There’s a strong sense of affinity with Israel as a country struggling for liberation,” Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, Gil Haskel, told JTA. “Kenyans understood that they could benefit from relations with Israel.”

Such close relations have led to a booming industry in Israeli humanitarian assistance. Israel for Africa provides impoverished young Kenyans with farming kits that include the equipment necessary to raise a small plot of crops, from Israeli-made greenhouses to Israeli-designed drip irrigation systems.

Members of one of the youth associations with which Israel for Africa partners, a dance group called Ramsa Africa, begin work at 6 a.m. on rows of tomatoes, peppers, spinach and kale, watering the crops with drip-irrigation hoses and checking each plant for signs of disease. After lunch they have dance rehearsals.

“It doesn’t make any sense that we invented drip irrigation [only] for our little strip of land,” Milo said as he rode a 4-by-4 along the bumpy roads of a Nairobi slum. “There’s got to be a bigger picture.”

A similar mission drives Brit Olam, an Israeli nonprofit running an agriculture development program in the semi-arid northwest region of Turkana. Droughts have made reliance on grazing cattle impossible, so Brit Olam imported Israeli technology for desert farming to give local residents economic independence.

“This is a change in mentality for people who never had to wake up early and go every day to the field to do a routine,” Brit Olam project developer Millet Biberman said. “But until you have water and food, you can’t do anything else.”

The Israeli nonprofit Save A Child’s Heart, which was founded in 2008 and is active in 44 countries, brings underprivileged Kenyan children in need of heart surgery to Israel. Its Kenya branch went on hiatus from 2009 until this year, when founding director Rina Attias returned to the the helm. According to Attias, the waiting list has 250 children.

Attias, who survived the Westgate attack by hiding in a closet, said that experiencing terror in Kenya only made her more dedicated to saving lives there.

“Every place has terror,” she said. “This can happen anywhere. If I was supposed to die, I would have died, but my time apparently has not come yet. So I chose to do more for this community.”

Between past and future: Israel, Africa and the Apartheid Canard


Israelis were not surprised by the terrorist attack by last month’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, killing 67 people. They had been on alert against such dangers since two attacks on Israeli targets in Mombasa in 2002. Indeed, there were reports that Israeli experts helped Kenyan forces deal with the Mall takeover.

There are signs of expanding Israel – Africa relations. During the past two years, more than 40 senior African dignitaries—including the presidents of Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, South Sudan, as well as the prime minister of Kenya—have visited Israel, with the Nigerian president expected soon.

The Israeli-African nexus is not a new story — its narrative not merely comprised of current shared struggles against terrorism.  Dating back to 1958, there is a famous picture of Israel’s then Foreign Minister Golda Meir—her sturdy pocketbook in hand — visiting Ghana, one year after that country became the first African nation to win independence and a mere ten years after the establishment of the fledgling Jewish state.

In some respects, the visit of the one-time Milwaukee housewife was prophecy fulfilled. In the 1890s, Edward Wilmot Blyden, pioneering founder of the African freedom movement, later led by led by W.E.B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, among others, lauded Theodor Herzl for launching “that marvelous movement called Zionism.” Herzl reciprocated in his novel, Altneuland (1902) envisaging “the return of Negroes” from their Diaspora to help liberate Africa.

By the early 1970s, 10 African states had embassies in Jerusalem, and Israel maintained relations with 32. After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, Israel vociferously criticized South Africa’s apartheid regime, resulting in a temporary rupture of relations that had been established in 1948. An Israeli embassy was not opened in Pretoria until 1974. But then in wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, 21 Black African broke diplomatic relations with Israel. Then in 1975, just a month before the UN General Assembly passed the “Zionism equals racism” resolution, Uganda’s President Idi Amin spoke before the General Assembly calling for “the extinction of Israel.”

In 1976, during Operation Entebbe Kenyan government official Bruce McKenzie—subsequently assassinated on Amin’s orders—persuaded Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta to permit Israeli Mossad agents to gather information prior to the hostage rescue operation in Uganda, and to allow Israeli Air Force aircraft to refuel at aNairobi airport after the rescue.

Throughout the 80s, Israel’s focus shifted to Ethiopia’s Black Jews, known as the Falashas or Beta Israel, and their epic struggle to reach the Holy Land. With Operation Moses in 1984-1985 and Operation Solomon in 1991, Israel airlifted, respectively, 6,500 and over 14,000 Beta Israel into the Jewish state. Today, all remaining Jews from Ethiopia have resettled in Israel, struggling, as each immigrant grouphas, to make the transition into the mainstream of Israeli society. Meanwhile, there was the stormy drama of the small sect of self-identified, Black Hebrew Israelites who settled in the Negev town of Dimona. They were initially made into a metaphor by critics of Israel who portrayed the Jewish state as a racist society. While it took over twenty years to fully resolve tensions, today the Black Hebrews—including the first born in Israel who was killed by Palestinian terrorists during his Bar Mitzvah in 2002—have come to symbolize how anybody with commitment and persistence can make a future for themselves in Israel.

A third act in the Israel/Africa drama is the recent influx of African refugees into Israel. Authorities have been struggling to balance human rights and security and societal concerns,with mixed results. The Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that these individuals cannot be detained indefinitely and then expelled. A solution to their plight remains a significant challenge for Israeli society.

So against the backdrop of historic affinity of African with Jewish freedom struggles, with expanding economic opportunities and continuing humanitarian interchange, the future course of Israel-African ties seems promising.

There remains however, a significant threat to those hopes; a threat based on a powerful lie: The canard that Israel is the apartheid heir to the deposed South African Apartheid regime. The Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement was officially launched in 2005 declaring it was “inspired by the struggles of South Africans against Apartheid.” No one less than Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports this ‘big lie’ that debuted at the UN’s 2001 Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa where NGOs made toxic attacks on the Jewish state its centerpiece.  Unfortunately, officials of today's South African government, continue to embrace the slander rhetorically and diplomatically, aligning not just with the Palestinian cause in general but especially with Hamas.

Which narrative will ultimately prevail? We should take heart from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stirring words:

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

From Nairobi to Pakistan religicide rears its ugly head


The carnage at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the homicide bombers massacre of worshipers at an historic church in Peshawar, deposed Muslim Brotherhood loyalists torch scores of Coptic churches in Egypt, a series of vicious attacks against Nigerian Christians and churches…

Nigeria’s Boko Haram, (recently described by US State Department merely as a group with grievances about Nigerian governance) through its murderous targeting of innocent Christians, served as a cruel prequel to the Kenyan and Pakistan attacks. All wars are hell, but we are now witnessing not only a quest for conquest but a campaign to destroy anyone whose path to G-d deviates from the pure theology of hate.

Last month, Boko Haram terrorists disguised as Nigerian soldiers set up roadblocks between the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. Motorists were stopped and asked their names. If Muslims, they were allowed to pass only after reciting a line from the Koran. On that day, 143 motorists were identified as Christians. They were dragged out and killed–their bodies dumped along the side of the road. Two days later, more Christians were murdered at a different location.

We know of no evidence directly linking the attacks in these countries.  But Kenya's chief of general staff, Julius Karangi was correct in describing Al-Shabaab terrorists as “a multinational collection from all over the world… We have also have an idea that this is not a local event.” Coordinated or not, these terrorists all selected their victims according to religion.  In Pakistan it was simple enough—attack the embattled Christian minority at the historic All-Saints Church. The Nairobi murdererstook the time to identify Muslims and let them exit the mall.

On November 2nd, 1943 Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spoke at Berlin’s Luftwaffe Hall. Having met both Hitler and Himmler, he knew of what he spoke when he declared, “The Germans know how to get rid of the Jews.”

Little did anyone know that some of the Nazi techniques would be used 70 years later by al-Husseini’s heirs, jihadists who like the Nazis brazenly select who shall live, and who shall die.

Georges Clemenceau, one of the chief architects of Versailles said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”  The world has been slow to understand that for some Islamists, victory is defined not merely by conquering territory, but by destroying people—especially people of (another) faith. The Nazis called it extermination. We call it Religicide- but whatever the label, we must act to thwart this horrific trend.

To have any hope, the counterattack must be led by Muslims. After the latest outrages, an important condemnation was expressed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Those who have committed this heinous act have gone beyond basic principles of humanity…There is no cause that can justify the killing and maiming of young children, the elderly and the most innocent in society. This perverted mindset that sheds blood without regards to any humanity must be confronted and challenged by all of us,” its statement declared.

An important message – especially in light of the silence of religious leaders around the globe who failed to quickly and unequivocally expressed their outrage. It was diminished only by its depiction of these heinous crimes as “senseless violence.” Alas, the violence of the jihadists is anything but senseless, or simply uncontrolled barbarism.  It makes all too much sense to the demagogues who teach it to their followers. The platform of global jihadists includes religicide and genocide of anyone who prays and thinks differently than they.

Four hundred years ago, Rabbi Judah Loewe of Prague, known as the Maharal, puzzled over the biblical narrative of Cain and Abel, the earliest fratricide. As the curtain comes down, the good brother, Abel lies dead; his guilty brother Cain cops a suspended sentence. This sends a confusing message. Would it not have been better for good to triumph over evil, or at least for the murderer to have been brought to stricter justice? In answer, Maharal points to Abel’s name in the original Hebrew – hevel, which means vacuousness and emptiness.  Abel may have acted more properly than his brother, but his commitment to good was weak and flimsy, not firm and determined. Abel loses to Cain because good does not always win out over evil. Strong, resolute evil will beat outweak, irresolute good. It is a lesson that 21st century humankind would do well to ponder and internalize. 

If we don’t want to go the way of Abel, we better be prepared to take on Cain.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Kenya widens mall attack probe, alert for UK ‘White Widow’


Interpol issued a wanted persons alert at Kenya's request on Thursday for a British woman who has been cited by British police as a possible suspect in the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed at least 72 people.

The alert was issued as Kenyan police broadened the investigation into the weekend raid by the al Qaeda-aligned Somali al Shabaab group, the worst such assault since the U.S. Embassy was bombed in the capital by al Qaeda in 1998.

Interpol – which has joined agencies from Britain, the United States, Israel and others in the Kenyan investigation of the wrecked mall – did not say when Nairobi requested a so-called “red alert” notice for Samantha Lewthwaite, 29.

The widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005 is believed to have evaded arrest two years ago in the port city of Mombasa, where she is wanted in connection with a plot to bomb hotels and restaurants.

Interpol's “red alert” cites the previous 2011 plot.

Police in Mombasa, a tourist hub, said they were also tracking four suspected militants, following the siege of the swanky Westgate mall in Nairobi which militants stormed on Saturday armed with assault rifles and grenades.

The mall attack has demonstrated the reach of al Shabaab beyond Somalia, where Kenyan troops have joined other African forces, driving the group out of major urban areas, although it still controls swathes of the countryside.

Al Shabaab stormed the mall to demand Kenya pull its troops out, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has ruled out.

Many details of the assault are unclear, including the identity of the attackers who officials said numbered about a dozen. Speculation that Lewthwaite, dubbed the “White Widow” in the British press, was triggered by witness accounts that one of raiders was a white woman.

FORENSIC WORK

But Kenya's government and Western officials have cautioned that they cannot confirm the reports she was involved, or even that there were any women participants in the raid.

The government said five of the attackers were killed, along with at least 61 civilians and six security personnel.

Eleven suspects have been arrested in relation to the attack, but it is not clear if any took part.

Although the Red Cross lists 71 missing people, the government said it does not expect a big rise in the death toll.

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed in the siege, burying some bodies and hindering investigations, although forensic experts have started work while soldiers search for explosives. Officials said some blasts on Thursday were controlled ones.

“The army are still in there with the forensic teams,” said one senior police officer near the mall.

Mombasa police said they were tracking a network of suspects linked to al Shabaab in the coastal region, home to many of Kenya's Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the nation's 40 million people. Most Kenyans are Christians.

“We have four suspects within Mombasa who we are closely watching. They came back to the country after training in Somalia,” country police commander Robert Kitur told Reuters.

Another counter-terrorism officer, who asked not to be named, also said four suspects were being tracked and added that two well-armed suspected militants killed in an August operation could have been planning a similar attack in Mombasa.

“I will be surprised if they don't link the Nairobi attackers to those terrorists we killed in Mombasa,” he added.

DENTED IMAGE

The mall attack has dented Kenya's image as a tourist destination, damaging a vital source of revenues. But rating agency Moody's said that although the attack was “credit negative” it would not affect foreign direct investment or a planned Kenyan Eurobond later this year.

In 1998, al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy, an attack that killed more than 200 people. Since then, Kenya has faced other smaller attacks, many claimed by al Shabaab, particularly along the border region next to Somalia.

On Thursday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing two policemen in an assault on a administrative post in Mandera county next to Somalia. The border has been closed.

Experts say the insecure border has allowed Kenyan sympathizers of al Shabaab to cross into Somalia for training.

“They are coming back because our armed forces destroyed their training ground there,” said Kitur.

The coastal region also has been the target of attacks by a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, although that group has long denied it has connections with al Shabaab.

Additional reporting by James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Kevin Mwanza and Edmund Blair in Nairobi, Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa and Carolyn Cohn in London and Alexandria Sage in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan

Kenyan police search mall wreckage after militant attack


Bomb disposal experts and investigators searched through the wreckage of a Kenyan shopping mall on Wednesday after a four-day attack by Islamist militants that killed at least 72 people.

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning after troops defeated the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group that targeted the upscale shopping center popular with prosperous Kenyans and foreigners.

The militants stormed the mall, known for its Western shops selling iPads and Nike shoes, in a hail of gunfire and grenades on Saturday lunchtime. The attack ended on Tuesday when Kenyan troops set off a series of explosions inside the building.

Kenyatta said five militants and six security personnel were killed and 61 civilians had so far been confirmed dead but an unknown number of corpses are buried under the masonry.

Three floors collapsed after the blasts and a separate fire weakened the structure of the vaulted, marble-tiled building. Officials said the blaze was due to militants lighting mattresses as a decoy.

“Forensic investigators are on the site now,” said a senior official from the National Disaster Operations Centre, speaking near the mall and adding that foreign agents were on the scene. He did not identify the agents.

Al Shabaab, which said it launched the assault to demand Kenya withdraw its troops fighting with African peacekeepers in Somalia, said hostages were killed when Kenyan troops used gas to clear to the mall. Officials dismissed this as “propaganda”.

Kenyatta has said Kenyan forces would not quit Somalia.

“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” he said in a televised address on Tuesday.

Israel has sent advisers to help the search, according to an Israeli source. The United States also has Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel on the ground. Others countries including Britain have offered help. Several foreigners have been listed among the dead.

The attack has highlighted the reach of the Somali group and the capabilities of its crack unit believed to be behind the attack, confirming Western and regional fears that as long as Somalia remains in turmoil it will be a recruiting and training ground for militant Islam.

IDENTIFICATION

“The bodies are still lying there in the rubble. We don't know how many exactly,” said the NDOC official.

“The investigators will be looking to see what information they can extract to identify the terrorists and their nationalities, including DNA tests,” he said, after Kenyan officials said the attack was a “multinational” operation.

Eleven people suspected of involvement with the well-planned assault were in custody but he did not say how many, if any, were gunmen taken alive and how many may have been people arrested elsewhere.

A British citizen of Somali origin was detained at Nairobi airport, a Kenyan security source said. A British newspaper said he was a 35-year-old, trying to leave on Turkish Airlines.

It was unclear whether intelligence reports of American or British gunmen would be confirmed. Al Shabaab denied that any women took part, after British sources said the fugitive widow of one of the 2005 London suicide bombers might have some role.

Smoke still rose into the damp air on Wednesday morning above the Israeli-built mall that had been a symbol of Africa's economic rise that has drawn in foreign investors.

Faster growth has also created wider wealth gaps, adding to grievances tapped by several violent Islamist groups from Mali to Algeria and Nigeria to Kenya. All have espoused an anti-Western, anti-Christian creed.

President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, said he believed the country – scene of one of al Qaeda's first big attacks, in 1998, when a bomb devastated the U.S. embassy in Nairobi – would continue to be a regional pillar of stability.

Al Shabaab, which taunted Kenya when militants were battling inside the mall, said action by Kenyan troops using gas were responsible for the “lives of the 137 hostages who were being held by the mujahideen (fighters).”

“After 4 days of exposing the vulnerability of their nation, the Kenyan govt ended the siege in a morally reprehensible manner #Westgate,” the group said on its Twitter account @HSM_PR

MILITANTS

Kenyatta said he could not confirm intelligence reports of British and American militants. One minister denied speculation that women were among the guerrillas, but said some had been dressed as women, a possible ploy to get weapons past the unarmed private security guards who normally checked entrances.

It is unusual, if not unknown, for Islamist militants to use female fighters: “We have an adequate number of young men who are fully committed & we do not employ our sisters in such military operations #Westgate,” al Shabaab said on Twitter.

The group dismissed comments by one Kenyan minister that two or three of the militants were young Somali or Arab Americans.

A British security source said it was possible Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of one of the London suicide bombers of July 7 2005, was involved in the Nairobi siege. “It is a possibility. But nothing definitive or conclusive yet,” the source said.

Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack expensive hotels and restaurants in Kenya.

Kenyatta thanked other leaders, including Obama, for their support and used his address to praise the response of the Kenyan people and call for national unity, six months after his election was marked by ethnic tensions.

“Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed,” he said.

Many Kenyans agree that the bloodshed has helped foster a greater sense of national unity.

“We are all talking about it. The one good thing is that the whole of Kenya has become one, except for al Shabaab,” said Vipool Shah, who helped pull bodies out of the mall.

Kenyatta's focus on Kenya's troubles, and of his role in a global campaign against terrorism, was a reminder that he faces trial at The Hague in a few weeks time for crimes against humanity over violence that followed a 2007 election.

The International Criminal Court adjourned the trial of his vice president this week because of the Westgate attack.

Kenyatta and his government have urged the ICC to drop the case and warm words for the Kenyan leadership from Western allies during the siege may have boosted their hopes that the court might be pressed to shelve proceedings in the interests of shoring up an important partner in the fight against al Qaeda.

Al Shabaab had threatened revenge since Kenyan troops joined the war against Islamists in its northern neighbor two years ago. The group created funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya.

Reporting by James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Pascal Fletcher in Nairobi; Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Anna Willard

Netayahu offers condolences to Kenya as Nairobi mall crisis nears end


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta over the al-Qaida-linked terror attack on a mall in Nairobi.

“Israel empathizes with the Kenyan people’s pain and with your own personal loss due to the terror attack. We value your nation’s determined struggle against terrorism,” Netanyahu said in a phone conversation on Monday night, according to his office.

The call came as security forces at the upscale Westgate mall worked to secure the area, free hostages and apprehend the terrorists.

At least 62 people are known killed in the attack and siege which began on Saturday afternoon, though the death toll could rise once the siege is completely over.

An explosion and gunfire were heard in the mall at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, despite Kenyan government reports that the crisis was over.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that two to three Americans and a British citizen of Arab origin were among the gunmen.

The French news agency AFP reported that Israel agents were involved in the rescue operations, something that was neither confirmed nor denied by Israeli officials.

One Israeli was injured and three others escaped harm, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several Americans also were injured.

Militants from al Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Shabab said the attack was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia that began nearly two years ago.

Smoke pours from Kenya mall as forces ‘close in’


Thick smoke poured from the besieged Nairobi mall where Kenyan officials said their forces were closing in on Islamists holding hostages on Monday, the third day since Somalia's al Shabaab launched a raid that has killed at least 62 people.

It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by black smoke billowing from one part of the complex.

Kenya's interior minister told a news conference militants had set fire to mattresses in a supermarket on the mall's lower floors. The ministry later said the blaze was under control.

Two attackers had been killed on Monday, the minister added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.

The gunmen came from “all over the world”, Kenya's military chief said, adding: “We are fighting global terrorism here.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed on Sunday a demand that he pull Kenyan forces out of neighboring Somalia.

Kenyatta, who lost one of his own nephews in Saturday's bloodbath, said he would not relent in a “war on terror” in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have pushed al Shabaab onto the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Security officials near the mall said the explosions heard at lunchtime were caused by Kenyan forces blasting a way in, but Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said he had no information on any blasts and a military spokesman declined to comment when asked if militants had set off charges.

Al Shabaab warned it would kill hostages if police moved in.

Echoing other officials, who have highlighted successes in rescuing hundreds of trapped people after Saturday's massacre, Ole Lenku said most of the complex was under the authorities' control and escape was impossible.

A senior police officer said the authorities, who have been receiving advice from Western and Israeli experts, were “closing in”. Ole Lenku said: “We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end.

“The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control.”

Ole Lenku said all the attackers were men, after witnesses had reported seeing women brandishing arms in the attack.

But three sources, one an intelligence officer and two soldiers, told Reuters that one of the killed attackers was a white woman. This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005.

Asked if it was Samantha Lewthwaite, called the “white widow” by the British press, the intelligence officer said: “We don't know.”

CINEMA

President Uhuru Kenyatta refused on Sunday to pull Kenyan troops out of Somalia, where they have pushed al Shabaab on to the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Asked on Sunday about whether captives had been wired with explosives, he declined comment. Kenyatta said all the gunmen were in one place. But a Kenyan soldier told reporters near the mall on Monday that the assailants and hostages were dispersed.

“They're in the cinema hall, with hostages. There are other terrorists in different parts,” the soldier said. “They are on the upper floors, the third and fourth floors.”

Previously, officials had indicated that the militants may have been grouped in a supermarket on the lower floors.

The president, who lost a nephew in Saturday's killing, vowed to hold firm in the “war on terror” in Somalia and said, cautiously, that Kenyan forces could end the siege.

“I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralize the terrorists as we can hope for,” he said. “We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully.”

It was unclear who the assailants were. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for another Briton, Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in the London 7/7 attacks of 2005.

Some British newspapers speculated on the role the “White Widow” might have played at Westgate. The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants in Russia for women taking part in bombings and assaults after the deaths of their husbands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, confirming that at least three Britons were already among the dead, said: “We should prepare ourselves for further bad news.”

U.S. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer condolences and support. Israel, whose citizens own stores in the Israeli-built mall and have been targeted by Islamists in Kenya before, said Israeli experts were also helping.

As well as Kenyans, foreigners including a French mother and daughter and two diplomats, from Canada and Ghana, were killed. Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor was a renowned poet. Other victims came from China and the Netherlands. Five Americans were wounded.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges later this year.

MULTINATIONAL AFFAIR

Ole Lenku acknowledged “support” from foreign governments but said Kenyan forces were managing without it so far. Western powers have been alarmed by a spread of al Qaeda-linked violence across Africa, from Nigeria and Mali in the west, though Algeria and Libya in the north to Somalia and Kenya in the east.

Nairobi saw one of the first major attacks by al Qaeda, when it killed more than 200 people by bombing the U.S. embassy in 1998. While some analysts said the latest raid may show al Shabaab lashing out in its weakness after the successes of Kenyan troops in Somalia, the risk of further international violence remains.

Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenyan general staff, called the gunmen “a multinational collection”. He said they had set the fire as a distraction but could now have no hope of evading capture: “If they wish, they can now surrender,” he said.

“We have no intention whatsoever of going backwards.”

On Sunday, President Kenyatta said 10 to 15 assailants were holding an unknown number of hostages in one location, apparently the supermarket. On Monday, it was not clear whether they may be more dispersed, including on the upper floors.

A spokesman for al Shabaab warned they would kill hostages if Kenyan security forces tried to storm their positions. “The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in an audio statement posted online.

On Twitter, the group posted: “They've obtained large amounts of ammunition and are, by the blessings of Allah alone, still firm and still dominating the show.”

The Red Cross and Ole Lenku put the death toll so far at 62. The Red Cross said it had also recorded 63 people as missing.

Survivors' tales of the assault by squads of attackers throwing grenades and spraying automatic fire have left little doubt the hostage-takers are willing to go on killing. Previous raids around the world, including at a desert gas plant in Algeria nine months ago, suggest they are also ready to die.

SECURITY CHALLENGE

It remains unclear who the assailants are. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for the “white widow” Lewthwaite.

The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants for women taking part in attacks after their husbands have died.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges in November.

Al Shabaab's siege underlined its ability to cause major disruption with relatively limited resources, even after Kenyan and other African troops drove it from Somali cities.

“While the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare,” said Abdi Aynte, director of Mogadishu's Heritage Institute of Policy Studies.

Others said divisions within the loose al Shabaab movement may have driven one faction to carry out the kind of high-profile attack that may help win new support.

Al Shabaab's last big attack abroad was a double bombing in Uganda that killed 77 people watching soccer on TV in 2010.

Reporting by Edmund Blair, James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Drazen Jorgic, Humphrey Malalo, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Kevin Mwanza in Nairobi, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Roberta Rampton in Washington, Anthony Deutsch at The Hague, Myra MacDonald in Tbilisi and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Edmund Blair and Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp

Obama pledges U.S. support after Kenya ‘outrage’


U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday condemned an attack at a mall in Kenya as he prepared for a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in which he will call for international solidarity against a fresh wave of violence from Islamist extremists.

Obama immersed himself into diplomacy shortly after arriving from Washington, sitting down for talks with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and presiding over a meeting of civil society experts who were critical of governments that crack down on non-governmental aid organizations.

Obama on Tuesday is to give his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, a speech that this year will face greater scrutiny because of diplomatic efforts to contain Syria's chemical weapons and Iran's nuclear program.

A weekend attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall carried out by al Shabaab, a militant Somali Islamist group, killed at least 62 people, a sharp reminder that al Qaeda-type violence is not limited to the Middle East.

“The United States will continue to work with the entire continent of Africa and around the world to make sure that we are dismantling these networks of destruction,” Obama said.

Obama, whose father was from Kenya, said he had spoken to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and pledged U.S. support.

“We stand with them against this terrible outrage that's occurred. We will provide them with whatever law enforcement support that is necessary. And we are confident that Kenya will continue to be a pillar of stability in Eastern Africa,” Obama said as he met the Nigerian president.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Obama would bring up the Kenya violence in his U.N. speech, which will also covers events in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The fact of the matter is al Shabaab is precisely the type of issue that we are increasingly confronted with. As al Qaeda's core is degraded in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we see affiliates take root in different parts of the world,” Rhodes said.

Nigeria's Jonathan said during his meeting with Obama that he sympathized with Kenya. Nigeria has battled the Islamist insurgency group Boko Haram, which wants to establish a breakaway Islamic state. The Islamists are seen as the main security threat in Africa's top oil producer.

“Terror anywhere in the world is terror on all of us,” said Jonathan.

Kenya jails two Iranians for life for plotting attacks


Two Iranian men were sentenced to life in prison by a Kenyan court on Monday for planning to carry out bombings in Nairobi and other cities last year.

Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi were found guilty last week of planning the attacks and also possessing 33 lb of explosives. They were arrested in Nairobi in June.

Kenyan investigators said at the time of their arrest that it was unclear whether the pair had ties to al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia or were part of another network.

Their lawyers said the two, who had both pleaded not guilty, would appeal against their sentence.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the verdict was “unacceptable,” Iran's state television reported.

“The two citizens entered Kenya on a valid visa for tourism purposes last year and were arrested as part of a pre-planned plot with baseless accusations,” he said, adding he expected Kenya's new government to review the case in a “desirable way.”

Israel's domestic intelligence service Shin Bet said at the end of last year that Kenya had arrested “two senior (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives who were in the midst of preparing a terrorist attack on an Israeli target in Kenya”.

The agency did not say whether the two Iranians it referred to were Mohammed or Mousavi, but an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity had told Reuters in Jerusalem when the two were convicted that they were thought to be the same.

Dozens of people were killed last year in a spate of bombings and attacks in the capital, the port city of Mombasa and the frontier region with Somalia.

The Nairobi government mostly blamed those incidents on the Somali al Shabaab rebels, who Kenyan troops have been battling inside Somalia as part of a peacekeeping force.

(Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by James Macharia and Edmund Blair; Editing by Alison Williams)

East Africans, American clinch six top spots in Jerusalem race


East African runners and a U.S. Air Force captain won the six top spots in the annual Jerusalem marathon, which drew over 20,000 participants from 52 nations.

Abraham Kabeto Ketla of Ethiopia won with a time of 2:16:29.25, a new record for the Jerusalem Winner International Marathon.

In second and third place were Luka Kipkemoi Chelimo of Kenya who finished in 2:19:01.95 and Vincent Kiplagat Kiptoo of Kenya who crossed the finish line with a time of 2:20:12.60. 

In the women’s division, Mihiret Anamo Anotonios of Ethiopia took first place with a time of 2:47:26.40, setting a new record for a woman finisher. 

She was followed by Radiya Mohammed Roba of Ethiopia in second place with a time of 3:05:58.15.

Third place went to Elissa Ballas, a U.S. Air Force Captain and winner of the 2012 women's Armed Forces Marathon, with a time of 3:11:37.70.

Organizers announced they had received 1,750 international applications. 

The event, which was held for the third consecutive year, was promoted by the Jerusalem Development Authority.

There were three competitive courses: the full marathon at 42.2 kilometers (26.22 miles), the half marathon (13.11 miles) and a course of 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles.  Youth and families enjoyed shorter “fun runs.”

Ethiopian immigrant is top Jewish finisher in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon


Ashrat “Assaf” Mamo is such a common sight when he pounds the pavement in Jerusalem that he’s on a first-name basis with city bus drivers who, he said, always “ask me about the marathon and encourage me.”

On Friday, Mamo, a 27-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, became the first Israeli to cross the finish line in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon, coming in 11th with a time of 2:33:12. David Cherono Toniok, of Kenya, won the race in 2:19:52, breaking the course record. Ethiopian Mihiret Anamo Antonios was the female winner, with a time of 2:48:38, and Moran Shabtai, with 3:38:35, was the first Israeli female finisher.

In an interview at the finish line in Sacher Park, Mamo told JTA he had expected to do better after completing a personal best time two months ago, with 2:22:32, in the Tiberias Marathon in northern Israel. But Mamo, wrapped in warming foil, appeared happy to have been Israel’s top finisher even though the country’s best marathoners did not participate.

“Jerusalem is the holy city,” Mamo said. “It is my home court.”

More than 14,000 runners from 52 countries competed in the event, which was launched just last year. The route takes runners through the walled Old City, past the president’s residence and up to the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hanoch Shahar, participated in shorter versions of the race’s 26-mile course.

In the lead-up to the race, runners had spoken about the capital’s notorious hills as the most likely impediment to posting good times. But weather conditions for the race—rain and hail fell through the morning and the the sun only periodically poked through thick clouds—heaped on additional challenges.

Mamo, for whom this marathon was his eighth, said he blocked out the distractions of familiar neighborhoods and the kaleidoscopic lures of the Old City during the course’s brief foray there, staying focused on his running and continually checking the pace on his running wrist watch.

Mamo left the northern Ethiopian city of Tigry for Israel in late 2000 along with his father, who has since passed away. He lives in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood and is unmarried.

The slight Israeli with silver braces and a winning smile works as a contractor repairing car windshields. He described himself as a traditional Jew who attends synagogue only on High Holy Days.

Toniok said he was thrilled that, as a religious Catholic, his first ever marathon win came in Jerusalem. He expressed mild disappointment that the event did not start in the Old City, but said that he hoped to visit the following day before returning to Kenya on Saturday night. He lives in Eldoret, which is where the country’s legendary long-distance runners also reside and with whom he trains.

“I’m very happy because most Christian people [back home] learn about Israel but don’t have the chance to visit,” Toniok said. “I know about King David. I am King David of Israel because I won the Jerusalem Marathon.”

Marathon’s wrong turn, Dylan’s return, underground hospital


Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed:

Race to the (wrong) finish

With all the twists and turns in Jerusalem, perhaps it was no surprise that the first three runners to complete the city’s first official marathon ended up at the wrong finish line.

Three Kenyans mistakenly ended up at the finish line for the half-marathon, but they were still credited with their spots in the international event after their official finish times were calculated.

Some 1,500 runners from around the world, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, participated in the 26.2-mile race on March 25. More than 8,000 competed in the half-marathon and 10K races.

The marathon took place just two days after a bomb attack in central Jerusalem left a British tourist dead and more than three dozen people were injured. No runners reportedly withdrew due to the attack.

Dylan’s return

Nearly two decades after his last concert here, Bob Dylan is making his way back to Israel.

Dylan agreed to play Tel Aviv in June during the middle of his world tour following lengthy negotiations between his people and Israeli concert promoters. The folk rock icon last played Israel in 1993; he also had performed here in 1987.

He is among several musical heavyweights coming to Israel, notably the teen sensation Justin Bieber, who will be performing April 14. Less than a week later the British singer Bryan Ferry, who reached the heights of his popularity in the 1970s and ‘80s, also will perform in Tel Aviv.

Megadeth will play Tel Aviv in May—the heavy metal band’s fourth appearance in Israel. Its former guitarist Marty Friedman, who is Jewish, will perform a solo show on May 31.

Finally, Irish musician Bob Geldof, who in 1985 staged the Live Aid charity concert to help famine-stricken Africa, will visit Israel for the first time in May to receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The award will honor his successful musical career and his charitable activities.

While in Israel, Geldof also will participate in the conference “Israel in Africa: Past, Present and Future,” organized by IsraAID-The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid.

Hospital under attack? Go underground

When is an underground parking lot not for cars?

When it becomes an underground hospital able to provide protection against conventional, chemical and biological attack.

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv in March unveiled the largest bomb-proof medical facility in Israel. The building, which goes four stories underground, can hold up to 1,000 hospital beds. The facility will be able to function for a week without external power sources.

When not needed as an emergency hospital, the below-ground floors will be used for short-term parking for patients.

Above ground, the 13-floor Sammy Ofer Heart Center will house internal medicine departments, cardiology units and other departments that handle heart problems, blood supplies and testing, and brain trauma.

Barlclays ready for high finance in Israel

Tel Aviv is the new home for a technological research and development center for Barclays Capital.

The IDEC, or Israel Development and Engineering Center, will provide development and engineering services that will support the international finance operations of Barclays Capital.

The financial group is taking advantage of the Israeli government’s Comparative Advantage program, created by the Ministry of Finance and Industry to encourage the establishment of knowledge-based industries in Israel. The program includes tax breaks and subsidizing some labor costs.

“We are proud to be the first international financial institution to take part in this program,” said Len Rosen, CEO of Barclays Capital in Israel. “The significant involvement of Barclays Capital in the Israeli market, and our work with clients in the technology field, allowed us to benefit from the existing capabilities in this high tech market. This project indicates Barclays Capital’s commitment to the Israeli market, as shown in recent years by the expansion of our operations here.”

Israel already is the site of R&D centers for global behemoths such as Intel, IBM, Motorola, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. All told, some 35,000 Israelis are employed in R&D.

Something old, something new

The rededicated Hurva Synagogue located near the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter hosted its first official wedding ceremony since its destruction in 1948.

The ceremony was held in the synagogue courtyard. Prior to its rebuilding and rededication, couples were married among the synagogue’s ruins. A second wedding took place several days later.

While the wedding in March is the first official chupah to be held at the synagogue since its rededication, a video on YouTube and several bloggers are reporting that a chupah actually took place in front of the synagogue on the day of the rededication last year, when a young American soldier, his Ethiopian bride and their handful of guests came to the Old City in search of a place to hold a chupah. The guests from the dedication ceremony reportedly remained and danced the couple to their chupah.

‘Central Park’ in Bnei Brak

The mostly haredi Orthodox city of Bnei Brak is planning its own version of Central Park for city residents.

The plan for the 105-acre park along the Yarkon River includes an artificial pond with observation posts, footpaths, bicycle trails, a skateboard park and extreme sports fields, picnic areas and a promenade, Ynet reported.

Property taxes will fund the project.

Upgrade to iPhone

Israeli senior civil servants can’t get enough of Angry Birds, it seems.

Some 500 senior civil servants, including government ministers, have upgraded to the iPhone 4 in recent weeks, according to Globes.

Up to 2,000 government employees are eligible for the upgrade. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet asked for an upgrade, according to Yediot Achronot.

Israel in fashion

Fashion-forward consumers looking for clothes in the Urban Outfitters spring catalog will enjoy Israel in the background.

The American fashion chain spent a week photographing fashion models at popular and scenic sites throughout the country, including Dead Sea, the Judean Desert, Jaffa and the Tel Aviv coast. The models also were given cameras to photograph their own experiences.

The photos taken in Israel are published in the brand’s catalog, and posted on its Facebook page and blog.

In other fashion news, Ivanka Trump has signed a deal to import and market her line in Israel. The daughter of Donald Trump, who recently converted to Judaism, will begin selling her accessories for women in Israel next August. She also plans to open a store in central Israel.

Meanwhile, senior buyers for the French cosmetic chain Sephora visited Israel to discuss collaborations with some Israeli cosmetics companies. The chain doesn’t have plans to open stores in Israel.

The new face of currency

A new series of Israeli banknotes will feature some beloved national poets.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher in March announced the personalities who will grace the new notes in denominations of 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekels: Natan Alterman, Leah Goldberg, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Rachel the Poetess.

The list was finalized following more than a year of heated debate and still must be approved by the government. Others considered for notes’ appearances were writer Shai Agnon and former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.

The members of the Committee for the Planning of Banknotes, Coins and Commemorative Coins, and Fisher said in a statement that featuring these personalities on the banknotes will “help to instill in the younger generation of Israelis an appreciation of their contribution to Israeli society and to the state.”

Alterman, an author, playwright, poet and newspaper columnist who died in 1970, won the 1968 Israel Prize for Literature. Rachel, who died in 1931, is a leading poet in modern Hebrew whose works have been set to music.

Goldberg, who died in 1970, was a poet, author, playwright, literary translator and researcher of Hebrew literature who translated “War and Peace” into Hebrew. Tchernichovsky was a two-time winner of the Bialik Prize for Literature.

The current faces on Israeli currency are former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett on the 20 shekel note; Agnon on the 50 shekel note; and former presidents Yitzhak Ben- Zvi and Zalman Shazar on the 100 shekel and 200 shekel notes.

Three Kenyans take Jerusalem marathon


Three Kenyans won first, second and third place in Jerusalem’s first marathon.

Raymond Kipkoechh, 34, was first to cross the finish line Friday with a time of 2:26:44.

Second place was taken by Mutai Kopkorir, 24 with a time of 2:26:55 and third was Kiman Njorage, 33 at 2:27:19.

The first three women were: Oda Worknesh, 26 of Ethiopa with a time of 2:50:05; Rosaline David, 35 of Kenya at 2:50:06; and Wioletta Kryza, 42, of Poland at 2:51:21.

More than 10,000 runners—over a thousand from 40 countries, the rest local—ran a hilly, challenging race that included the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the promenade overlooking the Holy Basin and the Knesset.

Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, ran in the marathon and said it was a triumph over the terrorists who planted a bomb Wednesday at Jerusalem’s central bus station that killed one woman and wounded dozens.

“Just two days ago our city was targeted once again by a deadly terrorist attack, but our people and our city are strong—and the terrorists will not prevent us from running on this important day,” Barkat said.

The run was sponsored by the city, its development authority and Israel’s tourism ministry.

A number of teams raised money for a variety of charities.

My Kenya Adventure: Volcanic ash and existential angst


A women’s delegation to a microfinance conference, headed by writer and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, was what initially brought me to Nairobi, Kenya, on April 5, but it was volcanic ash that kept me in Kenya indefinitely.

Three days after the cancellation of my Virgin Atlantic flight — a total of 61,000 other flights were canceled in Europe, Australia and America — I was one of 7 million travelers who were stranded across the globe. I didn’t know when I might be able to return to my home, to my family and friends, to life as I knew it.

In the interim, I had a rare opportunity to examine my ability to stay centered in a time of personal uncertainty. I chose to view the spreading cloud of gray volcanic ash and severe disruption of air travel around the globe as a time for self-reflection, a test of my faith and a reality check.

Self-empowerment was the theme I was most keenly aware of at the Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit held April 7-10 and attended by 2,000 people, including distinguished keynote speakers Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus; Queen Sofia of Spain; Crown Princess Maxima of the Netherlands; Mwai Kibaki, president of the Republic of Kenya; and other notable individuals who have helped
shape the worldwide microfinance movement during the last 30 years.

The goal of the conference was to compare methodologies and share evolving organizational models used to help provide microloans to the poorest populations of the world, so that the most marginalized and helpless would be able to lift themselves out of a vicious cycle of poverty and hunger. The solution to world poverty and hunger, everyone at the conference agreed, is not handouts, but an opportunity for self-empowerment, extending small loans without any of the usual bank requirements of collateral or guarantors, in order to help families, in general, and women, in particular, become self-sufficient and productive members of society. 

The key for success in all of this has been self-empowerment, not charity. And, as Yunus so succinctly and eloquently phrased it, “The world will be rich when there are no more poor.”

I joined other participants of the conference on field trips to visit the worst slums in Nairobi, as well as a new settlement called Kaputei being built by and for 10,000 former slum-dwellers. It is the brainchild of an organization called Jamii Bora (which means “good family” in Swahili), one of the most successful and inspiring microloan associations in Africa, run by people who were once homeless, hungry and destitute.

Kenya has a proud history of helping Jews escape pogroms, economic hardship and the Holocaust, and offering those Jews a chance for a new life and opportunities to practice their Judaism — and also opportunities to contribute to Kenyan society.

The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation celebrated its centennial in 2004, and though at times its members have numbered in the thousands, today it consists of about 300 Jews from around the world, mostly Israeli-born. Not large enough to maintain a full-time rabbi, the congregation counts on its congregants for religious leadership, or on the itinerant rabbis who pass through.

I visited the Nairobi Jewish community twice. The first Friday night I arrived with Williamson and members of our women’s delegation. I had been asked to address the small congregation, which often has difficulty reaching a minyan.

My talk was related to Passover, which had recently ended, and I drew a parallel between the Israelites in Egypt and the poor of the world today, who desperately need to be lifted out of their modern-day slavery. Moses, empowered by God, delivered the Israelites from slavery, and in our modern-day scenario, microfinance organizations are helping free the poor from the vicious cycle of poverty and economic slavery that they, like the Israelites, are too weak to break.

Self-empowerment unexpectedly became my personal theme during my last few days in Kenya, as I sought to recalibrate the locus of my life.

We were lucky. Those of us who held a boarding pass at the time of the volcanic eruption were installed in upscale Nairobi hotels at the airlines’ expense — this as millions of other passengers around the world had to fend for themselves until the crisis was over.

In sharp contrast to the places I’d visited in the days before, I was ensconced in a five-star hotel complete with fluffy white towels, terry cloth robes, five-course meals and doting hotel personnel. I felt I was living in a fairy tale. I am not used to first-class accommodations; I usually go economy and stay with friends when I travel abroad, so my new luxurious reality prompted a personal existential crisis. I tried to make sense of the paradoxical situation of — through no virtue of my own — being treated to an upper-class lifestyle when the people I was visiting were living at a subsistence level.

On Saturday morning, instead of going to synagogue, I chose to spend time with children who live near one of the 10 most notorious dumps and slum dwellings of the world. My English friends, Jenny Wilson and Sam Cole, both in their 20s, who had hosted me during the conference, teach at a private school in Nairobi for children of wealthy families. Every Saturday, however, as part of their project called “Tent of Refuge,” they devote five hours to reading stories and playing with the children of the slum of Dandora.

We met with the children at a churchyard, adjacent to the dump. I spent the morning reading fairy tales about princes and princesses to children ranging in age from 4 to 14. Some 25 kids were present — although usually about 40 show up — and they received a cocoa-flavored porridge once during the morning, perhaps the only food they could count on for that day.

The children hung on every word I uttered, staring at me and the books’ illustrations with equal fascination. When it was time to go, they clung to me, pressing their faces against my body, holding tight to my hands, three and four of them crowding together on each arm, not wishing to release me back to my world, a world they would probably never know. Their expressive eyes, affectionate hugs and ready laughter would be etched in my memory for a long time.

I returned to my five-star accommodations, my hot shower and a dinner of roasted quail with plum sauce.

I found myself eating less and less of the gourmet buffet in the days that followed, as I waited for a 5:30 a.m. call from the airlines. I skipped meals because I felt guilty at having so much food available, designed to satisfy every palate. It didn’t seem fair, and I could only enjoy my good fortune for brief interludes.

When the call to leave the hotel came, I was grateful to be going home to a life that has never lacked for food or shelter. May I never forget the homeless or the hungry, because my people, too, were once strangers in the land of Egypt.

Filmmaker and freelance journalist Ruth Broyde Sharone is the producer/director of the prize-winning film “God and Allah Need to Talk.” She is co-chair of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, a global organization promoting interfaith dialogue. Her new book, “Minefields & Miracles: My Global Adventures in Interfaith” will be published this year.

Volunteers seek Jewish way to serve in Africa [SLIDESHOW]


Here in this humid and leafy village in eastern Uganda 20 minutes from the Kenyan border, 16 American college students sit in a circle. They are protected by the shade of a straw thatch structure adjacent to the complex where they have been living for the past month.

It is the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, the summer fast day marking a series of Jewish calamities, and the students are contemplating the meaning of hunger, of suffering. This year, however, it means something different now that they have witnessed such things firsthand: extreme poverty, rampant (and often curable) disease, hunger, a lack of education, employment opportunities and hope.

“I have had a hard time comprehending what we read in Eicha and what we are seeing in Uganda,” says Judith Frank, 22, a Mount Holyoke College political science major, referring to the tract about ancient Jerusalem’s destruction that the group read the previous night. “I have a hard time connecting it to what we are seeing here, that people are suffering.”

But connecting Jewish texts, Jewish philosophy and Jewish identity to suffering in the developing world is all part of the mission of the American Jewish World Service, which sends about $13 million overseas each year to fund 400 grantees in 36 countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia. The AJWS has also sent more than 3,000 Jewish volunteers to work with local NGOs around the world, either alone or in groups, on short- and long-term projects. It sends high school, college and post-college students, and rabbinic and community delegations.

By sending volunteers, AJWS aims to implement the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world—to commit Jews to social justice and inspire passion about their role as “global citizens.”

“The rabbis and the Jewish leaders have discussed the balance between helping Jews and non-Jews,” says Ruth Messinger, the president of AJWS. “It doesn’t say, ‘Build justice just for Jews.’”

(story continues after the jump)

Find more photos like this on EveryJew.com

It seems like Jewish summer camp here in Uganda as Tisha B’av comes to a close and the AJWS group sits around reading, writing in journals, playing cards, talking and waiting for the fast to end on this rare mid-week day of rest. This camp has no running water and only intermittent electricity; it has mosquito netting to prevent malaria (one girl caught it, but was better a few days later) and a tough work schedule, with participants building a school and putting the roof on a church in conjunction with the Uganda Orphans Rural Development Programme, a local NGO.

This is exactly the type of program—volunteering in a developing country under basic living conditions with a group of Jewish peers in a Jewish context—that drew these unusually idealistic and enthusiastic participants from all walks of Jewish life.

“I wanted to travel and go to Africa and I preferred service, because I wouldn’t have seen the culture. I felt volunteering was a better conduit,” says Leran Minc, 23, a self-described agnostic raised by Israeli parents. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Minc, like many participants, was involved at school in protesing genocide.

Some participants said they felt a Jewish sense of responsibility to come volunteer.

“My grandparents are Holocaust survivors and I began to wonder what are we doing to try and stop genocide we know of?” said Faigy Abdelhak, 22, a graduate of Queens College who is working in Chicago with Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, which sends participants to work with anti-poverty organizations in the United States. “In Rwanda, they could point their fingers at us and say, ‘You said, never again!’”

Abdelhak, who is Orthodox, said she likes the Jewish aspect of the AJWS curriculum, which ties volunteers’ experience to Jewish learning with segments like the one about Tisha B’av, or about Shabbat and sustainability, or tzedakah and Maimonides’ eight levels of charity. “I love seeing that Judaism asks people to do what I already want to do,” Abdelhak said.

Some of the volunteers who came to Uganda were not particularly involved in Jewish or social causes. No matter their past experience, most suggested that nothing had prepared them for what they are witnessing here in Uganda.

“As much as you read about what’s going on in the developing world,” said Shani Mintz, 23, a graduate of Stern College, the women’s college of Yeshiva University, “it’s different to experience it.”

The experience involves manual labor in the morning, and meetings with the local community or working on individual projects such as teaching in schools or volunteering with health care workers in the afternoon.

“You, sir, I don’t know your name. Come with me,” work site contractor Jon Jones (J.J.) Okoth says in clipped British tones to Adam Klein, one of the three AJWS group leaders, as Okoth tries to teach Klein to saw into a metal rod to create a chisel. Okoth takes the finished chisel over to the church—a red brick structure with a partial roof—being finished by his staff: half a dozen local workers and the AJWS group of 19. Some are already on the roof, using the wires to affix the triangle wood beams they had lifted up onto the roof the previous workday.

It is this sight—not only women working with men, but white, American college students (their Jewishness not necessarily a factor in a country that’s barely heard of the religion) working together with the locals—that makes a difference in the community.

“The people that we help are most often indigenous leaders and people who have stepped forward,” Messinger says, back in New York. “Their leaders are empowered, and we are empowering them further to build society. It’s not charity work—we’re helping them to do more to help themselves.”

While the physical work is a valuable part of the trip, the participants say they are most moved by hearing the locals’ stories and witnessing their lives.

“There was a girl here who couldn’t go to school because she couldn’t see the blackboard,” says Philippa Munitz, a British student at the London School of Economics. “I’ve only seen one person here wearing glasses. My whole family wears glasses. What would happen to them?”

In addition to grappling with disease, poverty, hunger and poor education, students are shocked at the other sorts of issues that they encounter.

“Husbands go off to a job in Kampala [the Ugandan capital] and have another mistress, and he can get AIDS and his wife can’t ask him to wear a condom or they will beat them,” says Natalie Goodis, 20, a feminist studies major at Stanford University who helped facilitate a women-only community meeting between volunteers and the local Ramogi women. Although she studied poverty and gender inequality at university, “it seemed intangible. I was studying it at a meta-level,” she says.  But after meeting with the women, “that’s turned these big words into something I can comprehend. I’ve seen it, smelled it, touched it, heard it.”

Not that it’s easy for the participants.

“One time I was on the bus and said, ‘I hate this! I hate seeing how tired they are, how neat they look, how they were born into poverty and the government won’t help and they are ignorant of their own situation,’” says Aaron Kessler, 19, a broadcasting and communications major at Temple University, whose parents—a Reconstructionist rabbi mother and cantor father—suggested he take part in the AJWS program to broaden his horizons. “You have to try to look past it. You have to appreciate the finer things, the smiles and the conversations,” Kessler said.

Indeed, the local community has been very welcoming to the group, from the barefoot children trailing the cars shouting “Muzungo!” (white person) to the shy women somewhat surprised but pleased at these pants-wearing, church-building young women.

“We are happy they are here—we are friends and we share ideas and tell stories; they are very good people,” says Getrude Ochwo, a community leader. “We will feel sad and we will miss them when they are gone,” she says. Yet their influence “cannot last long if they don’t come back,” she adds.

That may be the biggest question: What in the end, is the impact of the AJWS mission?

After six weeks, group members leave the Ramogi Village with a new school and a new church, but they return to the United States, where they have tests to study for, semesters abroad to attend, graduate school to apply to. Will this summer have any long-term effects?

“Our job is to facilitate the experience for participants so that they will come to view the world in a different way and have certain realizations that might affect their long-term decisions,” says group leader Jamie Zimmerman, 25, who was a participant on the program a few years ago, choosing AJWS because of the way the organization ties the experience “spiritually and philosophically” to participants’ real lives back home.

For example, this group is taking part in what’s called a Volunteer Summer, a yearlong program in which participants attend retreats, raise money for AJWS and are encouraged to go on public speaking tours and publish articles about their experiences.

“I don’t want people to feel miserable, but to be more aware,” says Zimmerman, who made a documentary about Congolese refugees and has just started medical school. “They should be aware of their opportunities.”

While AJWS does not have long-term studies following their volunteers, the organization says that many of them end up working with underserved populations in the United States and around the world in fields like medicine, social work, politics, public policy and economic development.

But not everyone is going to work with underprivileged communities. Many participants will continue with their studies in investment banking, music, broadcasting. “That’s OK,” Zimmerman says. “They should use this summer to create a positive impact.”

Klein, a group leader who has led other summer tours, as well as Alternative Spring Breaks, and himself has spent two years in Mali with the Peace Corps, added: “If they settle down and get married and raise kids with these good values, then that is enough.”

Kenya crisis puts Jews on alert


While the Jews of Kenya seem unscathed by the country’s political crisis, Jewish nongovernmental agencies that work there and elsewhere in Africa are bracing for the long-term effects of the sudden outbreak of violence.

Interethnic violence erupted Dec. 27 after the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, declared himself the winner of the country’s presidential election amid evidence of widespread fraud. Opposition leader Raila Odinga maintains he won the election.

An estimated 500 to 1,000 people have been killed and more than 250,000 left homeless as a result of rioting and pitched battles between members of minority tribes, including Odinga’s Luo tribe, and members of the Kikuyu tribe, the elite clan that has controlled Kenyan politics since the country gained independence in 1963.

The unrest has shaken the nongovernmental organizations that work in eastern and central Africa. Rioting and roadblocks set up by vigilante groups have made travel impossible, and the violence has endangered workers.

Although the violence has eased somewhat this week, Jewish groups are on alert.

“People are afraid about the violence and are staying home and out of the street, and it is very difficult to reach people,” said Julia Greenberg, the director of grants for the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which funds the relief work of 14 organizations in Kenya.

The AJWS works mostly with groups in the slums of Nairobi, including Kibera, and in western Kenya, where the fiercest violence has occurred.

It wasn’t until Monday that the AJWS was able to regain contact with the groups it funds, according to Maitri Morarji, the program officer who oversees East Africa for the organization. The AJWS is assessing the needs of the groups it funds and may distribute small emergency grants to help feed people, Morarji said.

“Everyone is looking at security issues, and everyone is holding back new projects,” said Will Recant, the assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Recant oversees the JDC’s international and nonsectarian projects, including the construction of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, which the JDC is building to house orphans of that country’s 1994 genocide.

A spike in gas prices over the past week resulting from the violence already has made the use of cars and buses difficult, Morarji said. Recant said he is concerned that the instability in Kenya will spark across-the-board price hikes.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s small Jewish community seems unscathed by the violence.

Nairobi has 400 to 500 Jews — mostly British, Australian, Canadian and American expatriates. The community has a synagogue congregation that meets weekly, according to the director of Chabad of Central Africa, Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila.

Bentolila is stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about a three-hour flight from Nairobi, but he arranges for Chabad rabbis to serve Nairobi’s Jewish community on holidays. He said he has been in contact with Jews in Nairobi and in Mombasa, a resort town on Kenya’s coast, where a dozen or so Jews live.

“There is some high tension,” Bentolila said. “Kenya is a country which has always been stable. It’s a country where there are no revolutions. It is a noble country where people go to work every day and come home at night. They are not used to revolutions.

“For the last few days, the country has been upside down, but in Nairobi it was only in the slums,” he said.

In the residential part of town, where the Jews live, Bentolila said the streets were empty last week, but as the violence ebbed this week people began to return to their lives and livelihoods.

But, he cautioned, “They know things can turn in an instant.”

During the height of the violence, the key to remaining safe was staying vigilant and trying to avoid hot spots, said Daniel Pollack, a 21-year-old senior at Queens College in New York, who was in Nairobi when the violence broke out.

Pollack, who had gone to distribute money he raised to help repair a school in Kibera, left Sunday for Egypt. He said the U.S. Embassy told him to expect a war in Kenya.

“The embassy had called me and said stock up on food,” Pollack said.

“I saw a lot of destruction. I saw minivans burned out in the middle of the road, hundreds of shops burned and destroyed. When I would come home from Kibera, I would have to pick glass out of my shoes,” he said.

Pollack said he did not feel threatened immediately, even though he was within a 10-minute walk of the violence, “but you had to be aware.”

“I felt safe because I didn’t put myself in harm’s way,” he said, “but I could have easily gotten killed.”

Kenya has a history of calm in a volatile continent, with the country relatively immune to the tribal warfare that has torn apart other African nations. NGOs have used Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, as a safe hub from which to dispatch aid workers and materials into nearby countries.

In one example of the ripple effect of the unrest in Kenya, contractors seeking to transport goods through the country to landlocked Rwanda say they may need to find alternate, and longer, routes for their goods. The price of concrete already has risen as a result.

“We have heard from our contractor that we should expect a rise in cost,” Recant said. “If one pipeline breaks down, it has a ripple effect and everything is affected.”

Recant said the JDC would not abandon the Agohozu-Shalom project, but it may have to scale it back because of rising costs.

“We might not have a library,” he said.

Teen makes a difference for orphans in Kenya slum


Instead of splurging on a Wii or a state-of-the-art laptop, Ryan Silver, of Manhattan Beach, donated a portion of his gift money to orphans in a Nairobi slum.

“I think the best thing you can do is help another person,” said Silver, 13. “I have a better life than the kids [in the orphanage], and I wanted to help them.”

Silver’s inspiration stemmed from a 2006 family vacation to Africa. Silver, his parents and his younger sister went on safari and explored Kenya and Tanzania. While the incredible sights of wild animals and tribesman remain with him, Silver’s most memorable moments were meeting the children in the Nyumbani Orphanage in Mukuru, a slum in Kenya’s capital. The orphanage houses about 100 children whose families have been affected by AIDS/HIV.

Silver and his family had traveled with Micato Safaris and chose to participate in the New York-based tour operator’s nonprofit AmericaShare program, which allows travelers to spend time with the orphans in Nairobi.

AmericaShare supports about 2,000 Kenyan children, many of whom have been affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the continent. The organization places underprivileged children in schools and orphanages throughout East Africa. Through Lend a Helping Hand, a subprogram of America-Share, travelers can meet local children and offer financial support if they so choose.

It’s “main accomplishment is travelers hooking up with children whom they now support,” said Dennis Pinto, Micato’s managing director. “Many of these children were homeless or living on streets, and this gets them out of that situation.”

Often, this means living in the safety of the orphanage and getting a boarding-school education.

For Silver, Mukuru was a far cry from the clean, upscale neighborhood he knows in Manhattan Beach, where he surfs daily and plays on the school lacrosse team. Home to about 700,000, Mukuru has no infrastructure and little access to water and electricity.

“It was shocking,” Silver said.

After walking through narrow streets filled with mud, past large piles of trash and tiny, rundown shops, he arrived at the orphanage.

When Silver entered the facility, two toddler orphans, a brother and sister, took him by the hand and showed him their play area and vegetable garden. The juxtaposition of the devastation and the happy children was overwhelming. Silver says he was overcome with emotion.

“They were the cutest kids I’d ever seen, and they were so excited to see us,” said Silver, his soft-spoken voice evoking a mixture of sympathy and enthusiasm.

During Silver’s visit, the children and their caretakers sang songs for him in Swahili and played games. Although he only spent about two hours there, the experience changed his life.

“It definitely made me realize how lucky I am to have a home and a family and have the food and I water I need,” said Silver, who is in the eighth grade.

According to Pinto, Silver is not alone. For many children, especially teenagers, a trip through the slums of Africa can be life- altering.

“It is an experience that reaches quite deep into the psyches of teenagers,” Pinto said.

When Silver returned home, he began preparing for his bar mitzvah. Without hesitation, he knew that his mitzvah project would involve helping the children in the orphanage.

When it was time to send the invitations for his March simcha, Silver enclosed a letter about the cause and asked guests to donate money to AmericaShare at the reception. At the party, he played a video of the children from the orphanage and gave guests handmade decorative pins and bracelets that they bought from the women from the orphanage. Between the guests’ donations and his own, Silver raised more than $2,700.

In addition to completing a Jewish rite of passage, Silver was pleased that his celebration helped educate others about the plight of the children in Africa and to ultimately offer financial support.

“Instead of just coming for a party, [my guests] came to see what Mukuru is like and how they can help,” he said.

Silver now sponsors a teenage boy from the orphanage named Evans. The donated funds cover Evans’ $1,500 tuition for one year, and the remainder of the money will go to help support an additional orphan.

Silver says he plans to continue to support Evans and other orphans in the years to come.

“Ryan is quite a special kid who is sensitive to the world beyond him,” said Rabbi Mark Hyman of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach, who officiated at Silver’s ceremony. Hyman said that becoming a bar mitzvah means one becomes responsible for transforming the world — something the teen has certainly taken on.

Silver said his experience in Africa continues to influence him.

“It has definitely given me a more positive look on life,” he said. “We can make a difference helping kids less fortunate.”

For more information, visit http://www.americashare.org/

Terrorism of ’70s Forced Israeli Move


The dates and times are all one blur. What remains crystal clear, however, is what it was like to be an Israeli in the early 1970s, when the phenomenon of international terror began: Japanese terrorists landing at Lod Airport and gunning down dozens of pilgrims just arrived from Peru; German terrorists trying to shoot down an El Al airliner taking off from Kenya; the hijacking of Israeli and foreign aircraft en route to Israel; attacks by the Red Brigades on Israelis and on embassies in London and Seoul, and in Athens, Paris and Rome. And, of course, the horrible massacre at the Munich Olympics.

Israel’s response to the Munich killings was the targeted assassination of the perpetrators, a strategy that became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Munich.”

To understand Israel’s decision, it’s necessary to understand what that time was like. Nowhere on earth, it seemed, was it safe to travel, let alone do so openly as an Israeli. The attacks were at home, abroad, everywhere. And the attackers — in addition to the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenite and other assorted members of the various arms of the Palestinian liberation movements — were radicals from half the member states of the United Nations.

In the early 1970s, when on my first work trip abroad, I remember receiving written instructions from my travel agent, obviously supplied by the authorities, that I was to wear or show no overt sign that I was an Israeli, such as carrying an El Al travel bag, for example, and I was advised to buy a cover for my passport so that only immigration officials and not others in line would know my nationality.

But it was more than that. Suddenly, Israeli embassies around the world needed to implement new security regimes costing hundreds of millions and fully guaranteeing nothing. Every Israeli delegation traveling abroad, especially after the Munich massacre, needed professional security protection. Every suitcase going onto every flight to and from Israel needed to be checked; every check-in counter turned into a fortress.

Israel was again being strategically challenged, despite its string of successes: the 1967 War — when Israel conquered the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, re-united Jerusalem and destroyed Arab air forces as far away as Iraq; its steadfastness during the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal; and its ultimate victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

This time, it was a different kind of enemy playing on a different battlefield. And while not posing an existential threat to Israel, this danger threatened to cripple the country economically, physiologically and diplomatically. It was something that could not go unchallenged. If not confronted, the threat would bask in its own success and grow. It had to be defeated.

Assigned by Prime Minister Golda Meir to mastermind the effort was a diminutive figure by the name of Aharon (Arele) Yariv, a retired major general who had served as Israel’s head of military with distinction for nine years. He had retired in 1971 and had subsequently served as a minister in Meir’s government.

What he headed was not a rogue operation made up of foreigners; nor was his mission vengeance. He was chosen because he was trusted by the prime minister and respected by the head of the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), as well as by the senior echelons of the military. And he had the skill, ingenuity and experience to understand the new threat and to formulate Israel’s strategic response.

The strategy Yariv developed — and one that has been refined ever since, culminating in the current concept of “preemptive targeted killing” — was not to waste energy and resources to go after the rank-and-file echelons of terrorist movements but their operational capabilities and leadership.

“Use a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” he once told me in the temporary offices he had set up on the second floor of a cinema adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle in the mid-70s.

“Place them on the defensive, and they will suffer operationally, having to defend themselves, rather than having the luxury of only having to think about how to plan the next attack on Israel,” he said in an interview that was off-the-record at the time. “When one of their leaders is exposed, they wonder who exposed him. That leads to mistrust in once-cohesive and secretive organizations. They look to find the leak. It distracts and weakens them.”

Was Israel’s campaign against the terror movements effective or did it lead to more terror in revenge for Israel’s actions?

The question is not really relevant. In declaring its war on terror in the 1970s, Israel was responding to a threat of international proportions and strategic consequences; it was not on a campaign of vengeance.

These terrorists were not the Nazis of the past who deserved retribution but a new enemy using new means on new turf and requiring a new answer. The answer was Yariv’s policy of going for the jugular in order to strangle the body. It was pinpoint, effective and ultimately successful at the time, despite the mistakes — like the killing in Lillehammer, Norway, of an innocent waiter, Ahmed Bushiki, wrongly identified by Israeli agents as a terrorist.

The overall capabilities of the terrorist movements dropped dramatically; international terror groups, including the Red Brigades and others, faded into history. And international cooperation to challenge terror was born. Yariv and the Israeli government demonstrated that while one may not be able to fully defeat terror, it can be thwarted.

Hirsh Goodman is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself,” published in April by PublicAffairs and a senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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Kenya Attacks Blur Lines of Terrorism


The attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya are not expected to divert the United States from a possible war with Iraq — or change U.S. limits on Israel’s response to Palestinian terror. One immediate effect of the Nov. 28 attacks, thought to be the work of Al Qaeda, may be a subtle change in the way Israel is perceived in the context of the war on terror.

Until now, the Bush administration has tried to distinguish between terror attacks like those of Sept. 11 and Palestinian terror attacks against Israel. Essentially, the administration has argued that the U.S. struggle is an uncompromising one against terrorists bent on destroying democratic values, while Israel’s war is a nationalistic dispute that must be solved through negotiations.

While the administration has condemned both kinds of attacks, some have argued that the distinction granted a sort of legitimacy — at least in many parts of the West — to Palestinian terrorism.

But last week’s attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and an Israeli passenger plane in Kenya may blur those lines, analysts said.

"It highlights the fact that the myth — that all terror against Israel is because it occupies Palestinian territories — is wrong," said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The blurring of the line between Palestinian and other terrorism may make Arab support harder to come by if the United States goes to war against Iraq, a State Department official said.

Arab states have been leery of what they see as the war on terror’s disproportionate focus on Arab and Muslim states. Their resistance to an Iraq war may rise if the Kenya attacks are subsumed into the war on terror and Arabs begin to believe that the United States is attacking Baghdad because of the attacks on Israel.

The attacks initially were claimed by an unknown group calling itself the Army of Palestine, but both Israel and the United States believe the attacks were carried out by Al Qaeda.

"Despite the name of the group that claimed responsibility, this does not seem to be a perceived act of Palestinian nationalism," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

An Internet posting attributed to Al Qaeda claims responsibility for the attacks. A "Letter to the American People," also purportedly from Al Qaeda and posted to the Internet several days before the Kenya attacks, for the first time defines support for Israel as the root cause of Al Qaeda’s hatred of the United States.

Analysts say the use of the front name indicates that Al Qaeda is trying to capitalize on the Palestinian issue to build support.

For Israel, the attacks may garner more sympathy from the American public and the Bush administration, but they are not expected to ease U.S. constraints on Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorism. They also are not expected to alter the U.S. position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be solved diplomatically, or change U.S. backing for the "road map" toward peace crafted by the diplomatic "Quartet" of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Israel probably will still find limits to the steps it can take against Palestinian terrorists, experts say.

The State Department frequently has criticized Israel for "targeted killings" and other tactics against Palestinian terrorists. Any Israeli actions that cause civilian casualties still will likely earn American reprimands. However, Israel may be given more leeway to strike at the perpetrators of the Kenya attacks.

"We recognize it creates pressure for the Israeli leadership," one State Department official said. "The Israeli people desire to have justice done as well."

If Israel does launch an attack with U.S. blessing, it will be a shift in policy for the Bush administration, which has tried to keep Israeli military action to a minimum during the run-up to a possible U.S. war with Iraq.

But the State Department seems to understand that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may feel it necessary to respond to preserve political face, especially as Israeli elections approach next month.

Israeli officials hope the Kenya attacks also will solidify perceptions of Israel as a victim of terrorism, and lead to an increase in international and American support. The attacks may make it easier for the United States approve up to $10 billion in loan guarantees and an extra $200 million in emergency aid for Israel. But the United States is not likely to shift its policies on the war against terrorism because of the Kenya attacks.

"Our problem with Al Qaeda didn’t need this to get people’s attention," Alterman said. "It highlights the importance of a global war on terrorism, with the emphasis on global."

The Reality of Desert Life


Draped in a deep, earthen-red shukah, adorned with circles of brightly beaded necklaces and head-to-toe with body paint made from ochre and sheep fat, the Masai warrior keeps a silent vigil in the midst of the relentless equatorial heat of East Africa. His life is a mission from his god, Ngai, to protect and care for his herd of cattle and the earth itself.

The Masai live in small, tightly circled villages smack in the midst of the African plains, exposed and vulnerable to the lions, cheetahs, jackals and other predatory animals that roam that forbidding landscape at will. The village has perhaps 50 small huts; the straw woven by the women and then covered in dung and mud by the men. It is built in a tight circle to serve as safe haven for both humans and cattle during the long and threatening nights.

A few days ago, my wife Didi and I were standing in the midst of the Masai in just such a village in Kenya at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. As we have our Sinai, the Masai have Kilimanjaro — for it is this towering mountain, rising some 19,000 feet above the plain that the Masai believe to be the home of the gods and the source of the commandments for their way of life. The Masai feed entirely off the blood, milk and meat of their cattle; they believe that god forbids any cultivation of the earth. They say the earth is sacred and no one should be so irreverent as to scar it with tools or deface its natural beauty.

As usual, Didi ended up surrounded by children who laughed and giggled in amazement as she entertained them with songs made up of their tongue-twisting names from their native language. It was at the same moment heartwarming and heart-wrenching.

Heartwarming, for perhaps the most beautiful music in the world is that universal sound of children’s laughter that accompanied their eyes wide with wonder as she gave them their own pictures taken with her pocket Polaroid.

Heart-wrenching to feel helpless knowing that even now in the 21st century, these children with smiling faces oblivious to the constant crawling flies and dirt, were facing lives filled with preventable childhood death and diseases and an average life expectancy in the mid-40’s.

They live today as they have lived for hundreds of years, and as seminomads have lived throughout Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years. And I recognized faint echoes of our own ancient Biblical past in their lives.

In Metzorah, the Torah speaks of what the priests and people are supposed to do when a disease is discovered in one of the houses in the camp. The procedures that are outlined in this week’s portion are the result of a natural fear of contamination from one person to another, and one house to the next. In Leviticus 14:45, we are told that when there is a serious disease infecting an entire house, we simply demolish the house itself stone-by-stone, and then rebuild it from scratch.

It startled me into recognizing the reality of desert life when the Masai told me that whenever they discover a serious disease in their village, they destroy the village, move to a new location and simply build a new village from scratch.

Spending a week with the Masai was like going back to an ancient world. It reminded me that we have more in common with the primitive terrors of our ancient ancestors than we are eager to admit. Even in the 21st century, we still share the same dreams and needs and fears that have driven human beings for all time. So when the Masai warriors held their hand out for mine, I took it, and smiled.


Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D. is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation of Pacific Palisades.