250,000 To Be Evacuated By Israel From Potential Northern Border War

The Home Front Command declared that it has a special contingency plan in place in Israel to evacuate up to a quarter of a million residents living close to the Lebanon border. This was confirmed by a senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Around 1 million live in Israel’s North and in the event that a war starts with Hezbollah, evacuations can start. According to the officer:

“In the past we didn’t think of needing to evacuate whole communities, but now we understand that we will have to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people. “

This is mainly because of the fact the battlefield experience and technological abilities of Hezbollah are growing “thanks” to the fighting happening against Syria. Regional changes that the military did not expect happened. Israel’s borders witness changes and the IDF has to get ready for war against various groups instead of country armies.

While students from other countries do not have to worry about much except where to buy essays and similar, those living in northern Israel should be aware of the potential of war breaking out. The Home Front Command evolved though and it is ready to protect Israeli citizens. It was said that the army did always think about whether or not it is prepared or relevant. That is not just because of the Hezbollah rocket barrage threat that became a possibility in the past few months. The real reason is the possibility of faced with ground attacks carried out by terrorist groups against the civilian communities.

Israel is listening to everything that Hassan Nasrallah says and the threats issued are taken seriously. Civilians were told in the past that they simply need to go to the special bomb shelters but this needs to be changed as having civilians in front lines is not at all a good idea.

Unfortunately, it is close to impossible to evacuate all the residents in the area. However, it was stated that the army is working with communities and emergency services in order to prepare people that live in the northern communities for a mass evacuation scenario. Evacuated communities would eventually be housed in guest houses, schools and hotels in Jerusalem, Eilat, Jordan Valley and West Bank. The goal is to take people away from the North front lines. Whole communities can end up being housed together based on the experienced situation.

IDF believes that Hezbollah will most likely not attack Israel soon. The border with Lebanon is the one that is highly explosive and it is possible that the very next conflict is going to be truly devastating. Hezbollah did rebuild the arsenal it had since the 2006 Lebanon War, having access to over one hundred thousand short range rockets and even thousands of other missiles that would be able to reach the middle of Israel. This does include Tel Aviv.

The news broke out as Nasrallah issued a warning that Israel has to think “a million times” before a war with Lebanon would be started as the fighters he has will not have “Red lines” in the following conflict.

Hezbollah says Iran nuclear agreement ‘rules out specter of regional war’

The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah said on Monday that a framework nuclear agreement that Iran reached with world powers last week rules out the specter of regional war.

“There is no doubt that the Iranian nuclear deal will be big and important to the region,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Syria's al-Ikhbariya television.

“The agreement, God willing, rules out the specter of regional war and world war,” he said.

The tentative accord, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for a settlement to allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.

Nasrallah said the accord would prevent conflict as “the Israeli enemy was always threatening to bomb Iranian facilities and that bombing would definitely lead to a regional war.”

The Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah was founded with Iranian help in the 1980s to fight Israel in Lebanon. It has grown into a powerful political and military force and is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's army in Syria's civil war.

EU adds Hezbollah’s military wing to terrorism list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syrian military threatens Israel following border victory

Syria’s military threatened Israel after reportedly capturing the town of Qusair on the Lebanon border.

SANA, Syria’s state news agency, said the Syrian army on Wednesday took control of Qusair from rebels who had been fighting government forces and Hezbollah volunteers for more than two weeks as part of Syria’s two-year civil war. Qusair had been in rebel hands for more than a year, according to reports.

“The victory that was achieved at the hands of our brave soldiers sends a clear message to all those who are involved in the aggression against Syria, on top being the Zionist enemy and its agents in the region and tools on the ground. Our armed forces will remain ready to face any aggression against our dear homeland,” read a statement from the General Command of the Syrian army issued Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Also Wednesday, two rockets exploded near Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights. It is unclear on which side of the border they fell.

In addition, two Syrian citizens who were injured during fighting on the border between the army and rebels were taken to a northern Israeli hospital. One died on the way and the other was admitted with shrapnel injuries, according to the Times of Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Monday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Israel Defense Forces is caring for wounded Syrians at a field hospital set up on the border and transferring the severely wounded to Israeli hospitals.

Hezbollah weapons depot reportedly blows up

An explosion in southern Lebanon on the border with Israel is reported to be a Hezbollah weapons depot.

The blast seriously damaged the building that the weapons were housed in and killed nearby farm animals, but there were no reports of people being injured, according to Reuters.

Members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, were investigating the cause of the explosion.

Hezbollah reportedly sealed off the area, preventing the entrance of the UNIFIL observers, and claimed that the explosion was caused by an Israeli shell that was fired on southern Lebanon during the 2006 war and did not explode at the time.

Israel: Syria Government Still in Control of Chemical Weapons

The Syrian government is still in full control of its chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Israel’s foreign minister warned separately that the Jewish state would act decisively if Syria handed over any chemical or biological weapons to its Hezbollah enemies.

“The worry, of course, is that the regime will destabilize and the control will also destabilize,” the defense official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio.

But he added: “At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime.”

Western countries and Israel have voiced fears that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militant groups as the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erodes.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said Israel would consider military action to ensure those weapons did not reach Assad’s Hezbollah guerrilla allies in Lebanon. Israel says Hezbollah has some 70,000 rockets in its arsenal.

But Israel appeared to harden its line on non-conventional weapons reaching Hezbollah when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday that decisive action would have be taken against such a move.

“The moment we see Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah this is a red line for us. And from our point of view it is a clear casus belli. We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint,” Lieberman said.

On Monday, Syria acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign nations intervened in the 16-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Israel/Wikileaks: ‘Hezbollah expected to launch 100 missiles a day at Tel Aviv’

Israeli officials expect Hezbollah to fire about 500 missiles a day at Israel, including 100 that will reach Tel Aviv, in the next war.

A batch of U.S. diplomatic leaks shared with Israeli newspapers through WikiLeaks were published Friday. Summaries of conversations in 2009 between U.S. officials and Israeli intelligence officials show that Israel expects the next war with Hezbollah to last two months.

Israel has long complained that U.N. pledges in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon war to stem the flow of missiles into Lebanon have proved not only worthless, but that Hezbollah is stronger than it was before that war.

The terrorist group, which is now a leading party in Lebanon’s government, “is preparing for a long conflict with Israel in which it hopes to launch a massive number of rockets at Israel per day,” an Israeli officer is quoted as saying. “In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Tel Aviv was left untouched − Hezbollah will try to change the equation during the next round and disrupt everyday life in Tel Aviv.”

In other WikiLeaks revelations, released through Ha’aretz and Yedioth Achronoth, Israeli officials in 2009 accused Turkey of helping Iran evade sanctions and describe Mohammed Tantawi, the Egyptian defense minister, as unreliable in the joint Egyptian-Israeli effort to stem arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

Tantawi now chairs the military council leading Egypt in the wake of the revolution earlier this year.

‘Lebanon’: An unflinching look at war

In the past three years, Israel has come up with a trio of films about the Lebanon war that, for unflinching honesty, are unmatched by Hollywood or, I believe, any other country.

First came “Beaufort,” then “Waltz With Bashir,” both landing among the five Oscar finalists for best foreign-language film in successive years.

The latest production is “Lebanon,” the most harrowing of the three, but which shares with its predecessors an unswerving look at the emotional price combat imposes on all but the most mindless of soldiers.
Israel’s defense forces earned a well-deserved reputation for toughness, ingenuity and high morale during the 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars, but the mood and outlook shifted sharply with Israel’s incursions into Lebanon in 1982 and 2006.

“Israel’s initial wars were for survival; we were really motivated,” writer-director Samuel Maoz said. “Lebanon was our Vietnam. Israel had the better army but lacked motivation. It was the other side that was motivated.”

Maoz, like the directors of “Beaufort” and “Waltz With Bashir,” fought in Lebanon; the films are drawn from their own experiences, and it took them decades of wrestling with their own demons before finding some kind of healing in making their movies.

“Lebanon,” the film, is told and viewed entirely from the perspective of four soldiers in their early 20s, crammed inside a hot, stifling tank code-named “Rhino” and bearing the macho motto “Man is steel, the tank is only iron.”

Inside, what Yigal (Michael Moshonov), the driver, sees through a narrow aperture and Shmulik (Yoav Donat), the gunner, through the lens of a periscopic gun sight, is all that the audience sees.

Rounding out the crew are Oshri Cohen as rebellious shell loader Herzel and Itay Tiran as tank commander Asi, who ultimately breaks under the pressure.

The 94-minute film covers the first day of the war — June 6, 1982 — as Rhino, with its novice crew, is dispatched to reconnoiter a hostile Lebanese town already bombed by the Israeli air force.

The scenes are gut-wrenching, especially of civilian casualties such as a distraught mother searching for her baby or a truck driver with his arm torn off. In counterpoint are the split-second decisions facing the tank crew — is the fruit peddler with the donkey-drawn cart really a disguised terrorist who will lob a grenade when he gets closer?

At one point, an Israeli major drops, literally, into the tank to announce that the use of phosphorus shells was unlawful. To overcome such a restriction, he tells the men to refer to phosphorus shells from now on as “flaming smoke” ammunition.

It took filmmaker Maoz 20 years to come to terms with his traumas and start to write of his experiences, and the trigger was the outbreak of the second Lebanon war in 2006.

“We realized that a new generation of kids was moving into Lebanon with no idea what they were going to encounter,” Maoz said.

The director said he structured “Lebanon” as an “experiential” film through which the audience could share and feel the dirt, fears and atrocities of war through the four men of the tank crew.

This remark led to a discussion of whether even the most truthful movie or book could convey the experience of combat to someone who had never been exposed to it.

An analogous point was raised by Elie Wiesel some time ago, when he insisted in an interview that only someone who had gone through the Holocaust had the ability — or, indeed, the right — to speak or write about it.

Maoz conceded the point, “At best, I can convey 5 percent or 10 percent of my actual wartime emotions,” he said. “My generation of Israelis is the Lebanon generation, and, despite any limitations, we have the responsibility to make others understand, as best we can, what happened to us.”

“Lebanon” will screen as part of the L.A. Film Festival on June 20 at 4:30 p.m. and June 21 at 10:45 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas Stadium 14 at L.A. LIVE. For information, phone (866) 345-6337, or visit

Northern Israel needs investment to bolster it — security and development are linked

The graffiti on the Galilean bomb shelter that greeted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wasted no words: “Wake up Sharon, Olmert’s in a coma.”

Watching Olmert tour upgraded and refurbished bomb shelters in the north after the release of the Winograd Report last spring prompted jokes in Israel about rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Much worse, the hapless images of Olmert checking the bomb shelter shower knobs suggested unfortunate associations for more than 1 million Israelis who fled the war temporarily, many of whom have been scouting for new locations ever since.

As a former intelligence chief told me upon reading Milken Institute’s data on Galilean economic conditions: “You are right. There is negative out migration from the north to the center of the country and from the center to the Diaspora.”

And that out migration is Israel’s enemies’ ultimate objective in launching wars they can’t win in conventional terms. They seek to create the perception that the country has no future.

Thanks in part to the Israeli government’s inaction, that plan is succeeding. The economic situation of northern Israel was deteriorating even prior to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Five years before rockets fell, the north experienced net negative out migration of 23.2 percent. In other words, 33,000 Israelis had already abandoned the north even prior to rockets falling.

These problems were only exacerbated after the war. Poverty levels continue to hit 29 percent of families in the north vs. 20 percent nationwide. Regional family income in the north is only 74 percent of the national average, and unemployment rates run 20 percent higher in the north than in the rest of country.

But now we are told, the showers in the bomb shelters now are supposed to be working, even if the people aren’t.

All measures of the growing social and economic gaps in Israel are refracted and amplified in northern Israel. According to national security authorities, the strategy of Iran and Hezbollah is to weaken Israel’s northern region what Israelis call “the periphery” economically and make a small country claustrophobic.

This strategy successfully weakens morale and created military and diplomatic advantages during and subsequent to the war. Facing conditions of asymmetric warfare, where the home front and front lines of conflict blur, the linkage between national security and economic security become central. Investment is of urgent importance to fully integrate regions of Israel that are peripheral, due to lack of physical, transportation and social infrastructure.

Many long-term and long-promised projects by the central government in the sphere of infrastructure and commercial/industrial development have been postponed. Emergency aid that poured into the north was insufficient and targeted to relief, rather than economic development. Conditions in northern Israel remain vulnerable and its status is worsening.

According to the evaluation by the government examiner’s report (May 21, 2008), most of the Israeli government’s actions in response to the north remain unfulfilled. The report concludes:

  • The government budgeted NIS 4 billion for northern Israel economic development but only allocated NIS 1.6 billion since the war.
  • The government based the budgetary increase upon contributions from abroad that failed to materialize or were deployed to the southern front with the attacks on Sderot and the northern Negev.
  • The government did not operationally execute the rehabilitation plans proposed by government ministries.
  • Government ministries were not obligated to execute northern Israel rehabilitation plans and failed to allocate budgets for that objective.

The next Israeli prime minister, like all the others, will speak loudly and often about national security. But the goal of national security is inextricably linked to economic development.

The next government must lead a private-public partnership that will invest billions in infrastructure and economic projects to fully integrate the north to the country’s dynamic growth center. Israel and the Diaspora have the resources to make “periphery” an anachronistic word in the Hebrew lexicon. But we don’t have much time.

Glenn Yago directs the Milken Institute’s capital studies program and the Koret-Milken Institute Fellows program in Israel. Further information can be found in their report on northern Israel at www.milkeninstitute.org.

Through the looking glass with Friends of Sabeel

Covering a meeting of Friends of Sabeel is a strange experience. “Strange” as in walking through the looking glass and encountering a reverse universe on the other side.

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, they are mourning six decades of the nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

Where we see resolute defenders of the Jewish people, they see cruel persecutors of a downtrodden minority.

We quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his support of Israel and friendship for the Jewish people. They cite him as saying that the oppressed must take their rights back from the oppressor.

A recent meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena was hosted by the Southern California chapter of Friends of Sabeel, which supports the work and aims of the Nazareth-based Sabeel movement and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

According to the organization’s brochure, “Sabeel is an Arabic word which means ‘the way’ and recalls the Christians of first-century Palestine, who were called ‘the people of the way.'”

Founded by Palestinian Christian church leaders 18 years ago, Sabeel draws its support from predominantly Protestant churches and their congregants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Scandinavian countries.

Sabeel is hardly a mass movement. According to Darrel Meyers, a retired Van Nuys Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Southern California chapter, there are no dues-paying members, but about 300 names on his mailing list in Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 75 people, predominantly white and middle-aged Christians, with a smattering of Jews, attended the meeting in Pasadena.

Sabeel’s influence, however, seems to exceed its small number, partly through cooperation with some 50 like-minded organizations listed in its brochure, and partly through its persistent push for boycotts and divestment measures against Israel by mainline churches.

The primary speakers were two Jewish women, who addressed the audience with the passion and conviction of those who first had to throw off the shackles of ancestral beliefs before discovering the truth through long, painful struggle.

Judging from audience questions and suggestions, the speakers were preaching to the choir. As in most ideology-based groups, there seemed to be a considerable gap between the rather moderately phrased goals of the mission statement and the more militant attitudes of its followers.

Officially, Sabeel describes itself as a nonviolent “international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seek a just peace based on two states — Palestine and Israel, as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.”

However, the two speakers, both self-avowed “anti-Zionists,” moved well beyond the two-state solution to advocate a single “democratic” country of Arabs and Jews, which would welcome back all “Palestinian refugees” who wish to return.

Anna Baltzer, the first speaker, is an animated, 28-year old woman, author of “Witness in Palestine — A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” and granddaughter of a refugee from the Holocaust.

She noted that American Christians may fear that their criticism of Israel would be labeled as anti-Semitism and urged her listeners to define themselves not as pro-Palestinian, but as pro-human rights.

In a mighty semantic leap, she told her Christian listeners that “Jesus lived under Roman occupation and now Palestinians still live under occupation.”

The second speaker, Marcy Winograd, is a public school teacher and co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, which claims a server list of about 100 names.

She explained her advocacy for a single Arab-Jewish state by saying, “We are not talking about ‘destroying’ Israel, but about a transformation to a one-state solution.”

Among Winograd’s targets is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and she urged pressure on school boards to stop transporting students there on educational trips.

She claimed that the museum’s Holocaust exhibits are used for pro-Israel lobbying and demanded exhibit space for the Palestinian nakba.

The windup speaker was the Rev. Monica Styron, a Presbyterian minister from Sonoma, who announced plans for the upcoming seventh International Sabeel Conference, from Nov. 12 to 19, in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Nazareth, with side trips to “decimated Arab villages.”

The theme of the conference is “Beyond Remembrance: Facing Challenges of the Future Sixty Years After the Nakba,” and Styron promised dialogues with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Audience comments and suggestions were perhaps more revealing than the speeches, including the following sampling:

  • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Holy Land, on the model of post-apartheid South Africa.
  • Bring empty suitcases to work in support of an alleged plan by Palestinians in Lebanon to march on the Israeli border carrying suitcases.
  • “Israel and the Zionists don’t care what we say here. But they scream if we can apply political and economic pressure.”
  • “Tell the Israelis to choose peace over war and light over power.”
  • “I’m Jewish and have been an anti-Zionist for 40 years. There is increasing anti-Zionism in the Jewish community, especially in Southern California … Jewish youth, in particular, is open to enlightenment.”

The only exception to the litany of anti-Israel charges came from an elderly gentleman, born in Korea, who suggested that if people wanted to see what a real occupation was all about they should try living under Japanese domination.

When the man was gently upbraided for his heresy, he responded plaintively, “But I like the Jewish people.”

After the meeting, Baltzer, the initial speaker, sat down for a brief interview. On her business card, she lists herself as a “Teacher, Writer, Activist,” and her resume includes graduation from Columbia University, linguistic research in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow and the Web site www.AnnaintheMiddleEast.com.

An intelligent, outgoing young woman, she said she had evolved over the past five years from protesting the “occupation” to anti-Zionism, shocked by Israeli human-rights violations.

She is busy as a full-time speaker at churches and on college campuses, and her May 1-14 calendar listed 13 speaking engagements, from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to UCLA. Being Jewish is a definite advantage in her line of work, Baltzer said, making her a much more credible anti-Zionist than Palestinian speakers.

She has experienced little harassment for her controversial views, she said, though plenty of “offensive” e-mail, while mainstream Jews tend to label her as “naïve” or “brainwashed.”

At least while speaking to a Jewish reporter, she allowed that she could understand the “other” point of view, such as the Israeli fear of terrorism.

For expressing such soft-hearted sentiments, she said, “I have received criticism from the left.”

Israel labor strike called off; U.S. Jews against Iraq war most strongly

Israeli labor strike called off

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert summoned Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini on Tuesday and persuaded him to call off the nationwide protest action, which had been slated to begin Wednesday. Previous strikes have frozen Israeli public services, including work at airports and seaports. The Histadrut has been upset by non-payment of municipal workers’ salaries, something Olmert agreed to tend to.

“Withholding employees’ salaries is an unacceptable norm that must be condemned while taking steps against those employers who do not pay their workers on time,” Olmert’s office quoted him as saying.

Report: Hezbollah redeploying on Litani River

The Times of Britain reported Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, which lost most of its strongholds on the southern border to Israel’s military offensive last year, is establishing new positions along the Litani River. According to the newspaper, Hezbollah businessmen have been buying up riverfront land from Christians and Druze with a view toward settling loyal Shi’ites there. Hezbollah had no comment on the report. Under the Aug. 14 truce that ended the war between Israel and Hezbollah, U.N. peacekeepers are empowered to prevent an armed presence by the militia between the Litani and Lebanon’s southern border.

Israeli Cabinet minister under fire for phony resume

A Yediot Achronot expose on Tuesday noted that Esterina Tartman, who took over the tourism portfolio last week as part of a Cabinet reshuffle, falsely claimed on her party’s Web site that she has a master’s degree in business. The online resume was rephrased in recent days. Tartman had no immediate comment, but a colleague of hers in the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, Yoel Hasson, said the allegations would be checked.

“If this is not true, it’s sad, and if it’s true, it’s sad,” Hasson told Israel Radio.

Tartman has already been the subject of controversy after she said a decision to nominate an Israeli Arab to the Cabinet was an “axe-like blow to Zionism.”

Israel media reports country requests more U.S. aid

Israeli media reported Sunday that a Finance Ministry delegation heading to Washington this week will ask the Bush administration for an extra $1 billion in defense aid spread over the next decade.

Israel has received some $2.4 billion in mostly military U.S. aid. Under a restructuring deal signed in 1998, the United States reduced civilian grants to Israel while boosting defense assistance. Israeli officials voiced optimism on the chances of obtaining the extra funds given the mounting strategic threats facing the Jewish state and on Lebanon’s southern border.

Anti-Semitism up in France

Anti-Semitic incidents in France rose by 24 percent in 2006 over the previous year, according to a new study. The Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community’s report cited 371 attacks in 2006, compared to 300 in 2005.

“We’ve seen an elevation of 45 percent in physical aggressions from 2005 to 2006 and a 71 percent elevation in verbal insults,” Elisabeth Cohen-Tannoudji wrote in the report.

However, the last third of 2006 showed a 21 percent decrease in anti-Semitic incidents, “which has continued through January 2007,” said the report, which was carried out under the auspices of CRIF, an umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups.

Last year also saw the kidnapping and murder of French Jew Ilan Halimi, 23, as well as Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Farrakhan pushes conspiracy tracts and Carter book in address

The Anti-Defamation League noted that Louis Farrakhan concluded his Saviours’ Day address in Detroit by recommending several books for his listeners. Among them were “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” which claims that the slave trade was dominated by Jews; “The Secrets of the Federal Reserve,” which claims that the world’s banks are controlled by the Jews; and Carter’s “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which alleges that Israel has set up a de facto apartheid system for Palestinians in the West Bank. Copies of “The Synagogue of Satan,” a book written by a Nation of Islam member that says that the world is being manipulated and corrupted by Satanic powers led by Jewish elites, were available for purchase at the event.

“Farrakhan may have held his anti-Semitic views in check while on the dais, but if this is what he wants people to read, then the leopard hasn’t changed his spots,” ADL National Director Abe Foxman said in a statement Monday.

Obama to address AIPAC meet in Chicago

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat and presidential candidate, has been negotiating with various Jewish groups in recent weeks for a forum in which to outline his views. Obama, a relative unknown on Mideast policy, will speak to American Israel Public Affairs Committee members Friday in Chicago, the pro-Israel group said.

U.S. Jews most against Iraq war

A review of 13 polls over two years shows more U.S. Jews are opposed to the Iraq war than are members of any other religious minority. The review by Gallup, published Friday in the Hotline political newsletter, showed that 77 percent of Jewish respondents believed “sending troops to Iraq was a mistake,” more than the general average of 52 percent.

Next were those who said they had no religion, 66 percent of whom opposed the war. Among Protestants, 48 percent were opposed, 53 percent of Roman Catholics were opposed and 27 percent of Mormons opposed the war.

Overall, 12,061 people were interviewed with a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point. Of them, 303 were Jewish, with a margin of error of plus or minus six percentage points.Bill Clinton raises $100 million for Israel Bonds

Former President Clinton reportedly helped raise more than $100 million for Israel Bonds in a single sitting. The Washington Post on Friday reviewed Clinton’s post-presidential career as a public speaker. Most of Clinton’s speaking income goes to his foundation, which fights poverty and AIDS, and he speaks pro-bono for causes he favors, but Clinton has earned nearly $40 million in six years from speeches for which he charges $150,000 apiece.

“The former president in 2005 helped the U.S. arm of Israel’s treasury authority sell $101 million in investment bonds by speaking at a luncheon at the Pierre Hotel in New York that was jammed with real estate executives who wanted to hear his keynote address,” the Post reported.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The fab fundraising fifth-grader

Many people took it upon themselves to raise vast sums of money for Israel during the conflict with Lebanon this summer, but how many were still in elementary school?

Ten-year-old Shira Bouskila was. The Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy fifth-grader raised $24,000 for the children of Shlomi, a northern border town of about 5,000 people hit by Katyushas from Lebanon.

Bouskila first learned about Shlomi when she visited the town during a summer 2005 trip with her father, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Westwood’s Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. That same year she and her friends decorated spoons with Israeli flags and sold them to buy Chanukah presents for Shlomi’s children.

“When the war broke out, we were watching Israeli television and Katyushas landed on Shlomi. Shira was quite frightened because she knows the kids, and she wanted to go there and be with them,” Rabbi Bouskila said.

“It’s not the right time,” he told her.

“They were really going through hard times — they were in bomb shelters all summer, and I felt really bad for them,” Shira said.

So Shira decided to raise money for the town instead.

She and her friends made and sold High Holiday cards and solicited donations from her friends, school and synagogue. (The temple held two separate campaigns, which raised about $200,000 each, for Israeli towns in the north and south.) Donations to Shira’s campaign exceeded expectations — instead of sending in $18 dollars, some people sent in $180.

Rather than sending the money directly to Shlomi, Shira wanted to do something special for the kids.

“I really thought about ‘what would I want to do?’ I’m just a kid like any other kid,” Shira said.
She decided to take them to “Festigal,” the December Israeli rock festival for children that features a roundup of Israeli pop stars. The show is the largest stage production in the country, featuring 80 concerts in nine different cities.

In December, Shira went with her father to Israel to throw a party for the Shlomi children, and sponsored 350 third- to fifth-graders for a day at the festival in Haifa. The remainder of the funds will go to sponsoring more “days of fun” for the kids on Tu B’Shevat, Purim and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

“I’m extremely proud to see a 10-year-old girl have such a strong love for Israel and particularly have a connection to kids and care about their well-being,” said Rabbi Bouskila, who is planning a February trip to Israel with some members of his synagogue.

Shira is happy she could bring joy to the kids of Shlomi, and she said she’s learned a lot about her own life in the process.

“I learned I’m so lucky to have a community that helps me have everything I have,” she said. “I have so much, and the kids that I did this for really aren’t as lucky as I am. I feel more appreciative of everything more now.”

Fatah-Hamas conflict forces Palestinians to choose

In calling for elections, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sharpened the choice facing the Palestinian people: Back his Fatah party and have peace with Israel and the promise of economic prosperity, or support the rejectionism of Hamas, whose nine months in office have brought only war, chaos and impoverishment.

Abbas’ call Saturday for early elections in the Palestinian Authority triggered fierce street fighting between Fatah and Hamas, which won the last election in January. Despite a hastily arranged cease-fire Monday, the two factions remain on the brink of civil war.

The United States, Israel and other Western countries are hoping for a Fatah election victory that could pave the way for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The United States is actively helping Fatah, but Israel — fearing that support for Fatah will backfire and undermine the moderates — is staying out.

The turmoil in the Palestinian camp comes as Syria launched a new initiative for peace with Israel. Peace with Syria would be a major strategic gain for Israel, breaking up the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, and it would put additional pressure on the Palestinians to cut a deal with Israel.

But Israel is not biting. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not trust Syria’s intentions and does not want to cross President Bush, who opposes dealings with Damascus.

The internal Palestinian struggle and the Syrian overtures are both part of a greater regional struggle for hegemony, pitting Iran and radicals such as Syria and Hamas against Western-leaning moderates such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Abbas’ Fatah. How the Palestinian struggle plays out, and whether Syria comes over to the moderate side, will have major implications for Iran’s position in the region.

In his speech Saturday calling for elections, Abbas launched a scathing attack on Hamas’ policy of violence and non-recognition of Israel.

“The settler land” — parts of Gaza that Israel evacuated last year — “should have flourished with economic, tourist and agricultural projects, but some people insist on firing rockets,” he scoffed.

“They kidnapped the Israeli soldier,” a reference to Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by Gaza gunmen last June. “And since then they paid with 500 martyrs, 4,000 wounded and thousands of homes destroyed.”

The subtext was clear: Violence is getting the Palestinians nowhere, while peace moves could bring economic reward.

But Abbas did not set any date for elections. Analysts say he hopes to use the threat of elections to pressure Hamas into forming a national unity government with Fatah. That might enable the Palestinian Authority to accept the international community’s benchmarks for dialogue — recognition of Israel, acceptance of past agreements and renunciation of violence — paving the way for peace talks and the lifting of the international economic boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Some Hamas leaders are in favor of this. Others still hope to circumvent the boycott by bringing in Iranian money.

P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas was intercepted recently trying to smuggle $30 million from Iran into Gaza in a suitcase. Indeed, Hamas strategy is built on financial and political ties with Tehran.

“Iran gives us strategic depth,” Haniyeh declared during a recent visit to Tehran.

The thinking behind this is the basis for Hamas rejectionism. Hamas leaders believe that if they can hold out until Iran gains regional dominance, they’ll be able to defeat Israel. Therefore, they argue, any attempts to make peace with the Jewish state are short-sighted.

The fighting on the streets was the worst between Fatah and Hamas in years, with children caught in the crossfire. Leaders on both sides also came under fire: There was a shooting attack on Haniyeh’s convoy as he returned to Gaza from Iran. Hamas blamed Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan and threatened to assassinate him.

Later, mortars were fired at Abbas’ presidential compound in Gaza.

Pundits say the slide into civil war can only be averted if there is an agreement on holding elections or if a unity government is formed. Hamas has been adamantly against elections, describing Abbas’ call for an early ballot as an “attempted coup” against a legitimately elected government.

Despite efforts to reach a compromise, analysts argue that an eventual showdown is inevitable, since the two groups’ basic positions on Israel and the nature of a future Palestinian state are irreconcilable.
As both sides prepare for armed conflict, the West is openly backing Fatah. The United States has pledged funds, and an American general, Keith Dayton, is training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Ramallah on Monday to back Abbas’ conception of peacemaking as something that brings significant economic benefits. By outlining a vision of economic prosperity, Blair hoped to convince the Palestinian people that Abbas’ approach has a good chance of success.

Abbas also has the backing of moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, which is providing funds, and Egypt, which reportedly is supplying weapons.

Syria, however, continues to host Hamas leaders in Damascus, and that is one of the reasons Israel is wary of its new peace offer.

The Syrian peace rhetoric was unprecedented. In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, President Assad invited Olmert to meet him and test his intentions, while Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the Washington Post that a commitment to return the Golan Heights was no longer a precondition for talks.

Israeli leaders are divided on how to respond. Olmert, and most of the government, argue that Syria must first show whether it’s on the side of Iran or the West. It can do that by expelling Hamas and other terrorist leaders from Damascus and stopping its meddling in Iraq and Lebanon.

Others, in Labor, the left and the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, say Israel should use the chance to engage Damascus and try to swing it to the moderate camp. In a briefing of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan came down firmly on Olmert’s side, arguing that Syria isn’t really interested in peace but simply wanted to use talks with Israel as a means of easing Western pressure.

Some pundits argue, however, that Olmert is making a huge strategic blunder. The most scathing was Ma’ariv political analyst Ben Caspit.

“I wonder what Ehud Olmert will say to the members of the next commission of inquiry — the one that is set up in two or three years time after war with Syria or after it becomes clear just how big a chance was missed to split the axis of evil and isolate Iran,” Caspit wrote.

The big con about Iran

Despite all the skepticism, the United States and Israel do have a military option in Iran: pre-emptive nuclear annihilation.
The United States and Israel, or the United States by itself, or maybe even Israel by itself, can destroy Iran and its 69 million people, probably in a matter of hours or even less, and then nobody in the world will have to worry about those crazy maniacs getting the bomb. Things would be sort of weird afterward, it’s hard to say what the consequences might be, but the Iranian threat would be behind us.
Other than that, though, there is no military option in Iran. If we didn’t learn this from the Americans’ ongoing experience in Iraq, we should have learned it from Israel’s recent experience in Lebanon.
Many people think it’s possible to wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least cripple them, from the air. But did Israel manage to wipe out or cripple Hezbollah’s weapons from the air? Incidentally, Iran is about 150 times the size of Lebanon. And Hezbollah’s underground military bunkers were built by the Iranians; imagine what they’ve built for themselves at home.
But I don’t want to misrepresent the case for an air attack on Iran’s nuclear works; those in favor allow that it might well require commandos and maybe small infantry units to ferret out the nukes and make sure they’re destroyed.
When I hear this, I think of American soldiers roaming around Iraq looking futilely for weapons of mass destruction, then I remember that Iran is four times bigger than Iraq, with more than twice the population, and a military that dwarfs what Iraq had when the United States invaded in 2003.
I think, also, of how small units of Israeli infantry went into south Lebanon at the start of this summer’s war, and how everyone soon realized that those soldiers wouldn’t be enough — which happened at about the same time everyone realized the Air Force wouldn’t be enough, either — and that instead, a massive ground invasion would be necessary.
And all that was just for tiny little Hezbollah and south Lebanon. How many troops and how big a war effort would be needed to take on Iran?
No one knows. How long would the soldiers have to stay in Iran before the nuclear threat were removed, if it could be removed? How would Iran fight back? Would it fire missiles at Israel? Would it use chemical and biological weapons? How far beyond Iran would the war spread? How many soldiers and civilians would die?
Again, nobody knows. And on the basis of what we’ve seen in Iraq and Lebanon, nobody can even make a decent guess, least of all the calm, confident generals and politicians who are so good at promising “victory.”
But I think people know by now that before a country goes to war, it has to be prepared to weather the worst possibilities, not just the most blissful ones. I don’t think anybody will believe the same sort of pie-in-the-sky predictions about fighting a war in Iran that they believed about fighting one in Iraq and in Lebanon. And I suspect the non-believers include George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert, no matter what they say publicly.
I figure they know that trying to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities by conventional means requires a huge military commitment and huge risks with no guarantee of success. It means being prepared for a much bigger war than the United States has been fighting in Iraq for the last three and a half years, and counting.
America won’t do it. No way on earth. With the United States so hopelessly out of its depth in Iraq, the American people will as soon let Bush start a war in Iran as they’d let him bring back the draft, which would be necessary to fight such a war. So forget it. America might be up for a quick little in-and-out operation, something like it did in Granada or Panama, but that’s not a military option with the likes of Iran.
And what is Israel going to do? It would be nice to have maps and satellite photos of a big, vulnerable Iranian nuclear reactor sitting out there on the ground in plain sight, so a few jets could fly over, bomb it to hell and fly back in time for dinner, just like they did in Iraq in 1981. But that isn’t an option this time, either. Iran’s nuclear facilities, wherever they all might be, are spread out, underground, thickly defended — and the element of surprise is long gone.
So with no quick, painless solution available, is Israel willing to start the kind of war necessary to even have a chance of getting rid of Iran’s nuclear potential — to start the kind of war America clearly won’t?
No, Israel isn’t willing. For a war of choice, this is too big and dangerous, and that’s what it would be — a war of choice. Israelis may have convinced themselves that Iran will nuke us once they get the chance, but while this is a possibility — a remote one, I think — it is by no means an inevitability, and to treat it as such is hysterical, which is what Israelis, inevitably, have become over Iran.
I’m not saying Iran, especially a nuclear Iran, is nothing to worry about. Iran is plenty to worry about, but as for what to do about Iran, how to stop it from getting nuclear weapons, neither the United States nor Israel nor anyone else has a conventional military way to go about it.
There are all sorts of diplomatic pressures that can be applied to Iran and its arms suppliers, but if Iran gets the bomb, which I think is likely, we are going to have to learn to live with it like we lived with Stalin and Mao having the bomb. They weren’t any less fanatical than the Iranians, and when it comes to genocide and conquest, the Iranians talk about it, but Stalin and Mao did it. So there’s good reason for worry, but not for hysteria.

Israel should probe accusations of war crimes

The recent charge by three human rights organizations that Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon seems at first like just another reflexive anti-Israel (or, at worst,
anti-Semitic) condemnation.
The truth, though, is more complex. Those who are making the accusations appear to be acting with good motives. The real problem is the inherently vague nature of the law under which they have made their accusations.

The accusations are serious: They claim that Israel’s soldiers committed acts that merit criminal prosecution and jail time. Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, stated that she believed that Israeli bombings that killed civilians constituted war crimes for which Israeli military personnel could be held individually, criminally liable. Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel’s “indiscriminate attacks against civilians” constitute war crimes. Most recently, an Amnesty International report opined that Israel committed war crimes such as “attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.”
There is no reason to think that these accusations are motivated by anti-Semitism. These human rights organizations are devoted to protecting the rights of civilians — a laudable goal — and can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict, whether the conflict involves Israel or anyone else. Nor did the United Nations or Human Rights Watch refrain from criticizing Hezbollah in the most severe terms. In the words of Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah’s missile attacks intended to kill Israeli civilians are “without doubt a war crime.” (Amnesty International’s report criticizing Israel, by contrast, makes only the cryptic statement that Hezbollah’s actions are “being addressed elsewhere.”)

The basic problem with the charges, however, is the vague and subjective nature of the law that Israel stands accused of violating. Contrary to popular imagination, the term “war crime” covers not only atrocities like genocide and other clear-cut misdeeds. Instead, the term also applies to nuanced and highly debatable issues concerning whether a particular military campaign was properly conducted.
The accusations against Israel involve the more subjective provisions of international law relating to civilians in wartime. The 1949 provisions of the Geneva Convention require that armies “shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” Much more vaguely — and importantly for present purposes — the treaty also prohibits attacks against a military target “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life … which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

This sliding-scale provision, forbidding not all civilian casualties but only excessive losses in light of the military objective, is at the heart of the current round of accusations. As Human Rights Watch senior emergencies researcher Peter N. Boukaert has explained, his organization’s charges “don’t accuse the Israeli army of deliberately trying to kill civilians.” Rather, they claim that Israel did not take enough care to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and that the damage Israel caused was excessive in connection with the military advantage it sought — standards that are far less easy to quantify. Under the same analysis, it is quite clear that the United States’ World War II firebombing of Dresden and dropping of atomic bombs on Japan would have qualified as war crimes, too.
So subjective is the relevant standard that a war crimes accusation is almost inevitable when an army fights a militia like Hezbollah, entrenched deep within the civilian population. Strikes against Hezbollah will tragically and inevitably lead to civilian deaths.

There will then be grounds for debating whether or not the civilian damage caused by any particular strike was “excessive” or specifically enough tied to a particular military objective. The laws in the Geneva Convention were designed with much clearer army-to-army conflicts in mind, not the case of a guerilla army operating and hiding among civilians.
Because of the issue’s inherent subjectivity, a critical question becomes: Who decides? The idea of letting the Zionism-is-racism gang at the United Nations adjudicate the propriety of Israel’s military operations would make anyone vaguely sympathetic to Israel shudder. The newly functioning International Criminal Court in The Hague, which both the United States and Israel find controversial, reflects the United Nations’ makeup; neither Israel nor Lebanon are members of the court, which therefore lacks jurisdiction. And humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch are “biased” in the sense that their agenda is the broadest possible application of these legal rules.
As a practical matter, there is unlikely to be any real-world prosecution of anyone from Israel (or Hezbollah) arising out of the Lebanon War.
In truth, Israel itself should decide. It should analyze the facts to make sure that it is complying with the rules governing the protections of civilians.
Rather than dismiss these charges out of hand, Israel and those who care about it should look at them carefully for the sake of determining the right course of conduct in future battles. For example, Israel should make sure that the losses to Lebanese civilians were truly incidental to military objectives and as limited as possible, rather than (as Amnesty International claims) a means of punishing Lebanese civilians for supporting Hezbollah, conduct that would be unlawful.
The accusations are an occasion for careful self-reflection about how Israel can fight for its existence while minimizing civilian casualties as required by international law.

Joseph M. Lipner is a Los Angeles attorney.

Signs of life

On Sept. 6, the day Israel announced it was lifting its air and sea blockade against Lebanon, I sat across a conference table at the Israeli consulate from KarnitGoldwasser, and she was livid.

“I know Resolution 1701 is starting to be implemented,” she said. “That means the last Israeli soldier will leave Lebanon; Israel will stop the blockade; Israel will do whatever the implementation says for it to do.”

Goldwasser’s voice became a bit more strained, the voice of someone on the verge of screaming or tears. “But the preamble to 1701 says the captured soldiers should be sent back home. And no one is asking: What about them?”
Goldwasser was referring to the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on a July 12 raid into Israeli territory. Those captured soldiers are Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, Karnit’s husband. Since the afternoon of July 12, when an area commander came to visit her with the news, she has devoted herself to freeing the two, as well as Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in Gaza 17 days earlier.
She has traveled across Europe and America, met with heads of state and anybody else she thought could help and spoken out on behalf of the captured soldiers. She wants to make sure that they are not forgotten.

To even think that Israel would forget about the three seems ludicrous. After all, Shalit’s capture in Gaza led to an ongoing series of Israeli reprisals. Israel caught and imprisoned a quarter of the Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet in retaliation.

The capture of the soldiers in the north provoked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch a second Lebanon War that led the Mideast to the brink of a regional conflagration. The two reasons for the war: to stop Hezbollah missiles from landing in northern Israel by disarming or removing the terrorist group within southern Lebanon and to force the return of Goldwasser and Regev.

But the international politicking and larger strategic aims of the war could easily overshadow the fate of three lone soldiers, Karnit knows. And as if she needed a reminder that captured Israelis can languish for years in enemy hands, Lebanese TV last week broadcast a video showing captured Israeli airman Ron Arad, taken prisoner by Hezbollah 21 years ago. Today, Arad’s whereabouts are still a mystery.

So Karnit refuses to let the world — including her own government — forget. “One of the goals of the war was to bring him back,” Karnit said, “which means the war hasn’t ended. Not for me.”

Karnit, 30, and Ehud, 31, grew up in the same northern Israeli town of Nahariya. They attended the same schools, though they didn’t get to know each other until nine years ago, just prior to entering university. They have been together ever since. Their first wedding anniversary will take place Oct. 14.
Both are pursuing master’s degrees in environmental engineering at the Technion. Karnit, who is on a full scholarship, is in her final year — though she has put her studies on hold. Udi — Ehud Goldwasser’s nickname — is midway through his course of study.

I asked Karnit to describe her husband’s qualities. The hardness disappeared from her voice, and I noticed, suddenly, that she is a beautiful young woman, her brown hair pulled back to reveal strong but delicate features. Picture Justine Henin-Hardenne, the Belgian tennis champion, without the racquet but with just as much, if not more, resolve.

“His qualities?” she said. “How many hours do we have?”
She described her husband as a man who loves books, culture and movies, “but good movies,” she said. Then she told a story.
Several years ago, Udi and Karnit were walking home with friends on Yom Kippur. A heated discussion raged over whether, in the future, they should leave Israel to live elsewhere. Everyone else agreed that they had to stay.
“We are educated; we serve in the army,” Karnit said. “If we leave, who will stay?”
Udi said everyone should leave. Not for good but for a few years to experience and learn from what the world has to offer.
“I got so mad at him,” Karnit said. “I said, ‘Udi, why do you always have to go against the flow?’ He said, ‘Karnit, someone always has to offer the opposite point of view. Someone should always think differently. This is the way you have a deeper discussion.'”
I asked Karnit about her husband’s politics. Right? Left?
“He didn’t want to vote for either,” she said, with a smile. “He voted for the Greens. He voted for nature.”
At the time he was captured, Goldwasser was patrolling a section of road between two community centers near Moshav Zar’it in the Western Galilee.
Early on the morning of July 12, Hezbollah sent a barrage of rockets into northern towns as a diversion, then infiltrated across the international border and fired antitank rockets at Goldwasser’s unit, killing three soldiers and abducting him and Regev.
A tank sent to retrieve the soldiers triggered a large explosive device, and four more soldiers were killed.
Karnit was visiting with friends when the regional commander arrived. It was Udi’s last day of reserve duty, and she was planning for his arrival.”Usually they come to tell you when someone is dead,” she recalled. “I was out of the room. I walked in and saw the look on my friend’s face. I told her I will never forget that look.”
The commander told Karnit that the army didn’t know what happened to her husband. But of the seven dead soldiers, one was still unidentified. The army needed a DNA sample to help identify the last body.
Karnit drove with her mother and army personnel from the couple’s apartment near the Technion back to her home in Nahariya. Ehud had been in the reserves for a month. In preparation for his expected return that day, Karnit had washed all their laundry and even cleaned his toothbrush. As she searched home for any genetic trace of Udi, she felt in her heart it was unnecessary. “I knew he was not dead,” she said, ” because he is my soul.”

Post-war belt-tightening: Israel could cut Falash Mura dreams in half

Israel’s Finance Ministry is proposing substantial cuts to Ethiopian immigration next year as part of widespread belt-tightening following Israel’s war in Lebanon.

The plan, announced on Sept. 5 as part of Israel’s proposed budget for 2007, would halve the number of Ethiopian immigrants brought to Israel per month, to 150 from the current rate of 300.

If adopted, the change would represent a major setback to U.S. backers of Ethiopian aliyah, who launched a $100 million campaign last year designed in part to pressure the government to increase the rate of Ethiopian immigration. Israel’s Cabinet decided in March 2005 to double the rate of Ethiopian immigration to 600 people per month, but the decision was never implemented.

“I hope the Jewish leaders overseas will understand this breaks all the rules, all the agreements, all the understandings,” said Shlomo Molla, an Ethiopian-Israeli politician and head of the World Zionist Organization’s department of Zionist issues. “We won’t let this happen. It’s a scandal.”

The proposal to slash Ethiopian immigration signals the failure of a complex agreement reached a year and a half ago to complete mass Ethiopian immigration to Israel by the end of 2007.

That agreement would have seen the takeover of Jewish aid compounds in Ethiopia by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the end of lobbying campaigns for immigration by the main Jewish advocacy group in Ethiopia and the raising of more than $100 million by North American Jews to help Israel foot the bill for the airlift and absorption of up to 20,000 additional Ethiopians.

The collaborative effort was intended to bring the mass Ethiopian aliyah to a close in under three years.

Now it seems the estimated 12,000 remaining Ethiopian petitioners for aliyah — known as Falash Mura — will have to wait even longer in shantytowns in the Ethiopian cities of Gondar and Addis Ababa before they can emigrate to the Jewish state, if at all.

“I think it’s morally reprehensible,” Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said of the proposed budget cuts. “We’re going to obviously ask the government not to go in that direction.”

The Israeli government repeatedly has delayed implementing the decision to accelerate the aliyah, with various ministries shifting the blame. Under the current budget proposal, an increase in the aliyah rate wouldn’t be reconsidered until the 2008 budget discussions.

Last year, the United Jewish Communities umbrella group of North American federations launched a campaign called Operation Promise to raise $100 million for Ethiopian aliyah and motivate the Israeli government to move ahead with its March 2005 decision.

The UJC raised about half of the amount before the campaign stalled and was overshadowed this summer by special emergency fundraising for the war with Hezbollah.

“Even considering a cut from the current level of 300 a month would be unacceptable,” said Howard Reiger, UJC’s president and CEO. “UJC and the federations will continue their partnership with the government to help populations most in need, including the Falash Mura. We hope and expect that the government of Israel will keep its commitments in this regard as well.”

Some U.S. Jewish leaders say they’re not sure whether the proposed slash in the Ethiopian immigration budget is a legitimate cutback resulting from the war or just an excuse to avoid bringing more Ethiopians to Israel.

One federation official said he’s beginning to doubt Israel’s commitment to accepting the Falash Mura as immigrants.

“I think there will be great skepticism that this is not about something beyond money,” said John Ruskay, executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York. “I think many of us are aware of the complexity and costs involved, but the signal that will be sent if the number is in fact reduced will, in my judgment, weaken the partnership with world Jewry.”

“Every prime minister has said to us over and over again that the issue of aliyah is a No. 1 priority,” Ruskay said. “The rabbinate has indicated that these are Jews. Ultimately, this is an issue in the hands of the Israeli public and the Israeli political system.”

The government’s reticence to bring the Falash Mura to Israel has been both economic and ideological — and, some charge, racist.

Each Ethiopian immigrant costs the state approximately $100,000 over the course of his lifetime, according to Israeli government estimates. The Ethiopians are considered far more expensive than other immigrants, since the background they’re coming from is so different than Israel, and they need extensive support services after immigrating.

Many Israelis also doubt the Falash Mura’s Jewish credentials, despite their being classified as Jews by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the three major religious denominations of American Judaism.

The Falash Mura are Ethiopians of Jewish ancestry whose progenitors converted to Christianity several generations ago to escape social and economic pressures. Now they have begun returning to Judaism — in order to immigrate to the Jewish state along with their extended families, some charge.

Given the state of record-keeping in Ethiopia, the Falash Mura’s Jewish pedigree is virtually impossible to prove. Unlike Ethiopian immigrants who came to Israel in Operations Moses and Solomon in 1984 and 1991, the Falash Mura have not continuously maintained Jewish traditions and practice, so Israel has been accepting only those Falash Mura who can demonstrate a familial connection with Ethiopians already in Israel. Some of those now coming to Israel have no claims to Jewish heritage at all and are linked to descendants of Jews only by marriage.

It’s not clear exactly how many Falash Mura remain in Ethiopia, though aid officials say the number is probably not more than 12,000.

The longer it takes Israel to bring the current group of Falash Mura, the more petitioners for aliyah there will be, warn Israeli and American Jewish officials stationed in Ethiopia.

Labeling ourselves as ‘right’ or ‘left’ limits us

I’m not done.

Beverly Hills TV Agent Casts Himself in Reality Show: Lebanon War

Most American Jews were upset when the conflict broke out between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon this summer. Many felt frustrated and helpless watching the news from so far away, wondering what they could do about it.
Matt Altman knew what he had to do: He had to get on a plane to Israel to volunteer up north.

The 30-year-old Angeleno was not the only American to volunteer during the war — there were a few emergency missions from synagogues and young professional groups, such as Care for Israel, which organized a weeklong trip of 80 people. But Altman went on his own, and he was also not your typical rabbi or synagogue member on a mission: A television agent at Creative Artists Agency, he just took off, using his vacation time from work, despite protests from family and friends.

“A couple of people said, ‘It’s crazy, don’t do this,’ but I had had enough of people saying they were giving money and not knowing where the money goes, and I thought it was important to go there.”

Go there he did, leaving abruptly on Aug. 6 on an airplane that was practically empty and arriving at an airport that was practically empty — especially of arriving tourists — for a 12-day trip.

“I always told my parents that I would have fought if I were in the Holocaust, I wouldn’t have just stood there,” he said. “For me, this was something that was like the Holocaust of my time, and I had to go.”

Altman is not a child of survivors. He grew up Conservative in Newton, Mass., attended Solomon Schechter Day School, became bar mitzvahed in Israel and, until this trip, had only visited the country two other times with his family.
“I think that any Jew is a survivor,” he said in the impassioned tones he uses when talking about Israel.

“I must write to tell you all what is happening right now in Haifa … it is horrible and Hezbollah MUST BE STOPPED!!!!” Altman said on a blog he wrote from Israel, which originally started as a letter to friends and family and then was posted on The Jewish Journal’s blog site, along with his photos of bombed-out buildings, empty cities and attractions, soldiers and people he met and spoke with in the north.

Looking at Altman in his Beverly Hills regalia — a shimmery silver pinstriped suit and thin azure tie perfectly matched to bring out the subtle stripes, his power hair supergelled and spiky short — it’s hard to believe this is the same scruffy guy that appears in the Israel photos wearing jeans and a T-shirt, which was sometimes filthy from his work.

Altman got down and dirty in the trenches, volunteering at a different place each day of his trip, which was coordinated by Dani Neuman, executive director of the Haifa Foundation.

“He was amazing,” Altman said. “He was able to take me to many different places — I was able to work at hospitals, a food shelter, help make packages for the army and help make packages for children. I was able to see a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to see,” Altman said, including a visit to a city hall meeting in Haifa and a meeting with the city’s mayor, Yona Yahav.

Altman rented a studio apartment in Haifa — paying the rent of a student there who couldn’t afford it because of the war’s economic devastation — from where he could hear the sound of war.

“A lot of the missiles were hitting north of where I was staying; you’d hear boom, boom, boom in the distance,” he said.

Like many people on the missions, Altman toured the sites of the devastation — the shelled, caved-in buildings; the cement walls riddled with ball bearings from the rockets. “The whole cement looked like it was torn off. It was a frightening thing.”

But he wasn’t exactly frightened, at first. He visited with soldiers who hadn’t seen their families for weeks, delivered meals to people in shelters who had evacuated their homes and sat with soldiers and civilians hurt in the conflict.
“There was an old Russian woman who went to the post office and her leg got blown up. She was in the hospital and only spoke Russian — no Hebrew or English — and to me that was the most horrible thing, seeing this woman who was already incredibly poor, how her life had changed. She had her leg [amputated], and yet she was still very sweet. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation,” Altman said.

Before he went, Altman also couldn’t imagine being in a situation of war, and many of his postings read like they were from a naive, earnest foreigner.

“Please tell everyone you know that they must get behind Israel now, as Israel is fighting the worst terrorists in the world, and if Israel doesn’t destroy them, we are about to enter World War III. The news media is INSANE, and the fact that they report anything positive about these murders is asinine! [sic] ….Israel NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Altman is not all ideologue, however. Some of his postings are quite funny, such as one from Aug. 11, when he worked at the Koenig Soldiers Center, where the navy puts together boxes for every soldier.

“On this particular day, I happened to be helping when we received a virtual mountain of men’s dress socks with little cartoon characters on them. I joked with the soldiers that if we ran out of bullets, we could always scare them away with the horrible looking socks,” he wrote.

But his humor is mixed with the realities of war.

“One soldier and I went out to take a break, and he told me about his uncle who was driving home from work last week and was killed by a direct hit on his car. It is so maddening to me, as well as him, that nothing was said on TV.”

Most days didn’t turn out as expected. One day he was at B’nai Zion Medical center thinking he was going to visit with the patients but ended up in the kitchen, preparing food because they were short-staffed.

“After meeting the crew of 15 chefs, the crazy Russian chef took a special liking to me. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Armageddon,’ he was exactly like that crazy Russian cosmonaut, except he didn’t speak a lick of English. He was the clown of the group, and he spoke to me the whole time, knowing I didn’t know what the hell he was saying…. I should have listened to my parents when they told me to study at Hebrew school; it would have been very handy in this situation.”

Handy is not really the word for something that could help you in a life-threatening situation.

Altman couldn’t hear anything over the clang of the pots and pans. So when the Russian chef motioned Altman should follow him upstairs, Altman thought they were going to get food.

“The next thing I knew, we were on the roof, overlooking the entire coastline. Sirens were going off, and while everyone in the building was running to the opposite side, we ran up a stairwell.” Alone on the roof, the chef looked at him and said one Russian word Altman did understand: “Katyusha.”

What Altman saw next changed his life forever: “FOURTEEN rockets were flying in the air…. To say it was scary was an understatement. He had wanted to show them to me, and that’s why we were running. I was paralyzed. My heart was in my throat, and I nearly sh — myself. It was unreal; I watched rockets come at me, not being able to even move.”

Altman could not stop shaking for the next two hours. “Try serving soup while shaking; most of it lands on the ground,” he writes jokingly.

But the sight of the Katyushas was not all that shook him to the bone. So did the barrage of rockets on Haifa on Sunday, Aug. 6, killing three and wounding dozens and hitting near his apartment.

“When the missiles hit six doors down, I thought I was going to die,” Altman recalls. “It was the largest, scariest noise I ever heard.”

On his blog he wrote, “The first few hits sounded like normal … but then think what the loudest firework you can ever imagine sounds like … one hit outside where I am staying. Then another! Then another! It is complete and utter chaos right now! Sirens are going off everywhere!”

“It’s very real. You could die,” he explained later. Altman cut his trip short — which was a good thing, he said, considering the terrorist plot thwarted in Britain the following weekend. He decided he’d be more use talking about his trip than packing more food for soldiers and families. “I had been there; I had experienced it; I could be more helpful telling people what happened there from a first-person view,” he said.

Altman left Israel on Aug. 16, and he plans to speak to groups at friends’ homes and synagogues to discuss what he saw and learned there, and to raise money for the Haifa Foundation.

“I think it’s something that no one understands. The bomb sirens go off, and you have to go into a bomb shelter and get into between two buildings, it’s pretty scary. It’s amazing and frightening to me. I don’t know how I could do that every day. I don’t know how they could go outside — to me it’s a very hard way to live. That’s why we need peace. These people should not have to live like this. Nobody should have to live like this.”

On Sept. 13, Altman will be at the Israel in Crisis Fund’s winetasting fundraiser in Santa Monica.

During his time in Israel, Altman saw the remnants of war, such as these ball bearings that killed Israelis and inflicted damage on homes.

On Sept. 13, from 7:30-10:30 p.m., Israel in Crisis Fund will be holding a wine tasting fundraiser with an auction and live music at Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. $25 (in advance), $36 (at the door). For more information, contact (310) 963-5674.

Will They Ever Understand an Israeli’s Mind-Set?

I am lying in my Tel Aviv bed long after midnight, soaking my pillow with tears.

My cries are echoing in the house. My folks are fast asleep. The war with Lebanon has finally hit me.

In my mind, I see my father crying the evening before, watching the Channel 2 news report. The news shows how nurses and brothers refuse to leave the bombarded northern part of Israel, so as not to abandon the elderly living there.

Touched by the courage and good-heartedness of these nurses, my father breaks into tears against his will. He often sobs while watching the daily news. The daily news in Israel is simply awful to watch.

Then another flashback appears. At dinner, my dad reveals that he wants to go back to the army and help the soldiers fight in Lebanon. “Better I die, who have lived my life fully, than an 18-year-old.”

My father is 61 years old; God bless his soul. I love him dearly. More than a decade after he completed his reserve duty he suddenly wants to go back to the army. Die in the battlefield as a grandfather?

I break into tears again.

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel near the beach, I am stuck in a basement for four hours without food or water. I came to be auditioned for a position of a spokeswoman who delivers to the foreign TV networks information about the suffering of the Israelis during this war. One-hundred fifty people, mainly from the bombarded north, came to the auditions. They are all eager to share their horrors with the rest of the world.

At first I want to finish the auditions as soon as possible and go home, but something tells me to be patient. I end up sitting on my chair for several hours without leaving it. Dumbstruck, I listen to the stories of my countrymen.
“Explosion. The windows shatter into pieces. My seniora runs to me from the other room. She is hysterical. A minute earlier, she had entered the house from our backyard, where the Katyusha just exploded.” The man tells the story in Portuguese. He is angry, and he starts yelling at the camera until the interviewer asks him to calm down or to leave.

A mother and her young daughter step up to the camera. They are so similar that it is hard to tell who is the mother and who is the daughter.

The interviewer gives them the cue to start. The daughter begins. She hugs her mother tight. “I am standing here today because last year, my older sister was murdered in a terror attack. Our lives have changed ever since. It cannot go on for much longer. We must protect ourselves.”

She is done talking. The interviewer asks the mother if she wants to add anything. The mother straightens her look to the camera and begins sobbing. Cut.
Shattered windows. rockets in the backyard. Murdered siblings. Babies living in shelters for 28 days in a row. Anxiety attacks. As I listen to these stories, I manage to put together in my head pieces of an inconceivable puzzle of pain and bereavement.

Yet these stories are somehow alien to me. After all, I am a resident of the center of the country, a bubble not yet shattered by Katyusha missiles from the north or Qassam rockets from the south. It would take a long-range missile to pop my Tel Aviv bubble.

I almost regret not having a heart-breaking story to reveal to the cameras. What can I say? That my cousin, an infantry soldier, almost got killed on the first day of the war on the Lebanese border? That he now suffers from anxiety attacks and cannot return to his own house in the north? That every time he crosses a certain point in the northern part of Israel, he feels as though a Katyusha is chasing him? Or that my pregnant sister almost fainted at Shabbat dinner when she heard a Katyusha explode 30 miles north of her house? That her father-in-law, who runs a children’s village in the north, has to deal both with cancer and with keeping 200 children in a shelter for a month?

I am terribly ashamed of myself. I have no real stories to tell, a spoiled brat from Tel Aviv.

In Hebrew, the word “hasbara” literally means “explaining.” It refers to Israel’s attempts to explain to the rest of the world why: Why Diaspora Jews ought to make Aliyah. Why Israel still has to defend itself from its neighbors. Why it is in control of the West Bank. Why we will never give up the Golan Heights.

Why and why and why I think to myself. Explaining is one thing, but do they really understand?

Do they understand what it means to grow up wishing that when you are 18, you will be recruited to an elite combat unit (the Ivy League of the army)? Or what it feels like to sit on your grandpa’s lap and hear how he came by boat to Eretz Israel with nothing but a swimming suit and became a dignified English teacher? Or what strength it takes every morning just to glance at the front page of the newspaper, where photographs of murdered civilians and soldiers appear? Or how it is possible that when there is war, Israelis who are abroad return to Israel and not vice versa?

How can anyone understand? Academic essays about the Holocaust will not tell you that. Six-Day War archives will be incomplete. News reports from Kiryat Shmona can reveal only some of the picture. How can anyone who did not grow up here grasp the impossible reality we live in?

The world understands comparative statistics: the number of dead in Lebanon vs. the number of dead in Israel. Ratios of casualties: 10 to 1. Laws: international law, humanitarian law, ICC, ICJ, I-See-You-and-You-See-Me. Weapon arsenals: tanks and fighter jets and smart bombs and JDAMS.

But what do they understand about us? About the people who love their country to death from infancy? Who admire Diaspora Jews who leave their convenient lives behind and ascend to the Holy Land? Who have to be on high alert from sunrise to sunset, or else they will simply cease to exist?

We Israelis can go on and on explaining, but will they ever understand?

Shira Kaplan is a 23-year-old Israeli junior studying government at Harvard. She served in the Israel Defense Forces intelligence unit.

War Takes Environmental Toll

As the people of northern Israel finally return to their homes, they’re going back to more than empty streets, freshly dug gravesites and a beefed-up military presence.

They’re also coming home to a radically altered physical landscape.
Devastated by fires sparked by Katyusha rockets, northern Israel has seen its forests obliterated, its grazing lands laid waste and its wildlife annihilated over the past four weeks.

The country may never look the same, experts say.

“We have very serious damage,” said Moshon Gabay, spokesman for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. “In previous wars we did not suffer damage like this. Every Katyusha that falls starts a fire.”

The green hills of the Galilee have turned orange and black, smoldering with the remains of forest fires. The sky, usually bright blue this time of year, is shrouded in thick gray smoke. The large animals and many birds that live in the area have taken flight, and countless numbers of smaller and slower animals have been killed in raging fires that have turned verdant hills to ash.

So far, officials say, more than 7,000 acres of undeveloped land have been destroyed, including about 2,500 acres of woodlands encompassing roughly 700,000 trees. Some of those trees were as old as the State of Israel.

“It’s an ecological catastrophe. Animals are dying. Trees are getting burned,” said Orit Hadad, an official with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in Israel, where it is known as Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael. “Even if every tree is replanted, to bring these forests back to the state they were in will take 50 to 60 years.”
That means that most of the survivors of this war will not live to see the landscape return to its prewar state.

Among the hardest-hit areas have been the Naftali forest range near Kiryat Shmona, where more than three-quarters of the forest was obliterated, and the Birya Forest in the Western Galilee, near Safed, where more than 600 acres have burned.

Less is known about how the animals that live in this largely rural area have fared. Firefighters have found the remains of many slow-moving animals, such as snakes and turtles, in burned areas. Larger animals that managed to escape likely will suffer from loss of food sources and a sharp reduction in available grazing lands, experts said.

“We’re very aware of this problem of disruption of the food chain, even if there is not much we can do,” said Michael Weinberger, a JNF forest supervisor in the Central Galilee and Golan Heights.

Tourists who return to this area after the war may be startled to find Israel’s most popular hiking spots, where waterfalls pour over lush ridges, virtually unrecognizable.

On Aug. 8, the fires from Katyushas reached Mount Meron, already scorched, and nearby Nahal Amud, a strikingly beautiful canyon that runs from the Upper Galilee to the Kinneret Lake and is replete with waterfalls, blooming plant life and animals ranging from gazelles to wild boars.

There is little that Israel’s Nature Protection Authority, which maintains the area, can do for these lands at risk. Even after the war ends the authority will not replant, since the areas are protected reserves or natural areas where the rule of thumb is to let nature take its course.

Even if officials tried, there would be no way to restore the variety of plant life, wildlife and woodlands native to the area.

“It all depends on the rain that will fall,” Gabay said. “We let these areas repopulate naturally.”

The JNF says it will try to replant as many trees as possible after the fighting is over. Each acre will cost an estimated $5,500 for the first two years to resoil, replant and treat, officials said.

For now, the focus is on putting out the fires.

Because most firefighters in northern Israel are busy trying to extinguish blazes sparked by the Katyusha rockets in urban areas where human lives are at stake, the fight against forest fires has been conducted mostly from the air.

Israel’s Interior Ministry has run out of money to pay for the planes, so the JNF is picking up the tab with an emergency fund, for which it has raised nearly $4 million. The money has gone and is going to send kids to summer camps away from rocket attacks, build security roads on the Gaza border and purchase firefighting equipment, including fire trucks, helmets, vests, goggles and a fire retardant the planes are using to douse the fires.

“We are all working 12- to 16-hour days — crews on fire trucks and on the ground,” said Paul Ginsburg, JNF’s head forester for Israel’s northern region. “Forests that have taken 50 years to grow, that saw two generations of foresters, are burning. Everything we do is under the threat of Katyusha attacks. The work is stressful and heartbreaking.”

Many more environmental threats loom, experts say. In Haifa, petrochemical plants and refineries vulnerable to Katyusha rockets pose a serious danger to area residents. If such a site is hit in the future, it could send toxic chemicals that would contaminate the entire city.

“The concern is very problematic from an ecological point of view,” said Ronit Fischer, director of the Haifa branch of the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel. “If something falls there, it will be a very complicated disaster.”

The damage to Israel’s environment has not been limited to the North.
In the area around the Gaza Strip, along Israel’s southern coast, more than 15,000 trees have been destroyed as a result of Palestinian Kassam rocket attacks, according to the JNF. Additionally, the Israeli army has had to alter the natural landscape in many places to accommodate new military bases, lookouts or patrol roads.

The heaviest damage from the war was where Hezbollah missile crews were aiming their rockets: the Galilee, a mountainous area covered by fir and pine trees, abundant grazing lands and bountiful wildlife. Some Katyushas fell in the Golan Heights, but the damage there is small by comparison, and experts say the burned grasslands there should be able to recover by next year.

Shalom Blayer, CEO of the Golan Heights Winery, said the vineyards of northern Israel have been spared so far, although some vineyards abutting the Lebanon border have been declared no-go zones by the military.

Underscoring the vulnerable state of agriculture-based businesses in northern Israel, he said, “This is what I know for now; I can’t tell you what will be five minutes from now.”

Dems and Don’ts

Last Sunday evening, in a Westwood office tower, I sat behind a one-way mirror and watched a group of about 30 voters — half Democrats, half Republicans –respond to images and opinions about Israel’s war in Lebanon.

Pollster Frank Luntz had arranged the session as part of his research to gauge American attitudes toward Israel. Luntz is the Republican opinion maven who helped fashion Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. His work for Israel is nonpartisan, he said, inspired by his devotion to a state whose leaders’ posture has long been that actions speak louder than words. Luntz has been trying to get Israelis to understand that, in the information age, what you do often matters less than what they say about what you do.

The details of what transpired at Luntz’s “Instant Response” session were off-the-record, but I can say that the overall results were as shocking as they were commonplace: the opinion of Israel among the Democrats was consistently 10 to 20 points lower than that of the Republicans.

For the study, respondents watched various Israeli representatives on a television prompter while holding dial devices in their hands. They turned the dial left or right, depending on whether they felt warmer or cooler to the speaker’s words, and the aggregate levels registered as two graph lines across the screen, red for Republicans, green for Democrats.

This research aims to reveal which words and phrases resonate with voters. A speaker who forcefully explained how Israel risks its own soldiers’ lives to present civilian casualties in Lebanon sent both graphs higher than one who simply said the deaths were regrettable.

I kept waiting for the green line — so to speak — to run alongside the red, for the Democrats to feel as cozy to Israel as the Republicans. They never did.The danger signs of such results stretch far beyond a research session. A Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll in late July found, “a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.”

While 50 percent of that survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to stand by Israel, Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.

“Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel,” wrote the Times, “while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.”

Two rallies last week drove the point home. On Sunday, the extreme left-wing A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) turned out between 1,000 and 5,000 protestors on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, carrying signs accusing Israel of genocide and blaming “the occupation” for the death of innocent Lebanese. (The occupation of what, Kiryat Shemona?)

Two days before, about 100 protesters blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard calling for an end to the war.

Sure, these protesters — who, I’m going to assume, tend to vote Democratic — are not in the party’s mainstream. The mainstream still belongs solidly to people like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told a group of Arab representatives last week in clear terms that he would never apologize for his support for Israel. And the House of Representatives’ July 21 vote supporting Israel in its war with Hezbollah passed on a 410 to 8 vote.

That’s the way it should be. For most of Israel’s history, America’s support for Israel was the result of a strong bipartisan consensus. It was a Democratic President, Harry Truman, whose recognition helped birth the Jewish state, and politicians from both parties — from John Kennedy to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton — have played key roles in strengthening it. Most historians agree that Israel’s chilliest reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. came when a Republican, George H.W. Bush, was president.

Yet the change in attitudes among some Democratic voters has sparked gleeful Republican e-mails and blog entries across the Internet, and provided talking points for any number of GOP hacks. They want to use Israel as a wedge issue to beckon Jewish longtime Democratic voters away from the fold.

But Luntz and others who care about Israel understand this fissure is no cause for celebration, that treating the State of Israel as the equivalent of flag-burning or the morning after pill is dangerous and foolish.

Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum swings. Voters will kick the ruling party to the curb, and Congress, and perhaps even the White House, will go to the Dems. People who truly care about Israel and not about scoring points on Crossfire need to figure out ways to close the gap, to make support for Israel neither Democrat nor Republican, but American.

The challenge is especially great here in Los Angeles, where liberal Jews make up substantially more than a minyan in the entertainment industry. People took Hollywood’s Marranos to task for remaining largely mute when actor Mel Gibson went on his anti-Semitic bender. But Hollywood’s silence has been positively deafening during the war Israel just fought.

A terrorist group invaded Israeli territory, lobbed in thousands of rockets, killed dozens of Israeli citizens and soldiers and emptied the country’s north. And Hollywood Jewry spoke out in a collective voice about as loud as a Prius in neutral.

These Democrats, who have the power to influence public and political opinion, are being carried along in a wave of liberal antipathy toward Israel. Steven Spielberg, who went public with a $1 million donation to support Israeli hospitals and social services affected by the war, is the notable, high-profile exception.

So what’s the solution? Step one is to stop politicizing Israel. Israel and, by extension, world Jewry, faces an enemy in Islamic fascism that hardly differentiates between Jew and non-Jew, much less Republican and Democrat.

Step two is to uncouple support of Israel from support of Bush, or of the Iraq War. As much as the president understands the danger of “Islamo-fascism,” he has greatly fouled our ability to fight that threat by launching and mishandling the war in Iraq and over-politicizing homeland security. But don’t punish Israel for Bush’s sins.

Step three is for Jews of all political stripes to find ways to come together in support of Israel. I suggest a red-and-blue coalition of American Jews lobby hard to eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil.

“A stable, peaceful and open world order are being compromised and complicated by high oil prices,” wrote Fareed Zakharia in Newsweek. “And while America spends enormous time, money and effort dealing with the symptoms of this problem, we are actively fueling the cause.”

The technology exists to resolve our oil dependency and deprive the worst anti-Israel regimes of their billions in surplus (see “Winning the Oil Endgame” by energy expert Amory Lovins at oilendgame.com), and Jews can come together to spur politicians and corporations to implement it. It’s not red or blue. It’s pro-Israel, and it’s time.

American-Born Spokeswoman Big Asset to Israel

Final Reckoning — Israel’s Defeat

However hard Ehud Olmert tries to spin it, the U.N. ceasefire that began this week is a disaster for Israel and for the war on terrorism generally. With an unprecedented green light from Washington to do whatever necessary to uproot the Iranian front line against Israel, and with a level of national unity and willingness to sacrifice unseen here since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, our leaders squandered weeks restraining the army and fighting a pretend war.

Ehud Olmert
Only in the two days before the cease-fire was the army finally given the go-ahead to fight a real war.

But, by then, the U.N. resolution had codified the terms of Israel’s defeat. The resolution doesn’t require the immediate return of our kidnapped soldiers, but does urgently place the Shebaa Farms on the international agenda — as if the Lebanese jihadists fired some 4,000 rockets at the Israeli homefront over the fate of a bare mountain that the United Nations concluded in 1967 belonged not to Lebanon but Syria. Worst of all, it once again entrusts the security of Israel’s northern border to the inept UNIFIL.

As one outraged TV anchor put it, Israeli towns were exposed to the worst attacks since the nation’s founding, 1 million residents of the Galilee fled or sat in shelters for a month, more than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed along with nearly 1,000 Lebanese — all in order to ensure the return of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.

This is a nation whose heart has been broken: by our failure to uproot the jihadist threat, which will return for another and far more deadly round; by the economic devastation of the Galilee and of a neighboring land we didn’t want to attack; by the heroism of our soldiers and the hesitations of our politicians; by the young men buried and crippled in a war we prevented ourselves from winning; by foreign journalists who can’t tell the difference between good and evil; by European leaders who equate an army that tries to avoid civilian causalities with a terrorist group that revels in them; by a United Nations that questions Israel’s right to defend itself; and by growing voices on the left who question Israel’s right to exist at all.

At least some of the disasters of the past weeks were self-inflicted. We forfeited the public relations battle that was, in part, Israel’s to lose. How is it possible that we failed to explain the justness of a war fought against a genocidal enemy who attacked us across our U.N.-sanctioned international border?

It’s hard to remember now, but we began this war with the sympathy of a large part of the international community. Some Arab leaders, for the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict, actually blamed other Arabs for initiating hostilities with Israel.

That response came when Israel seemed determined to defeat Hezbollah, but, as the weeks dragged on and Hezbollah appeared to be winning, moderate Arabs adjusted accordingly. They didn’t switch sides because we were fighting too assertively but because we weren’t fighting assertively enough.

Even before the shooting stopped, the reckoning here had already begun. There are widespread expectations of dismissals for senior military commanders who — when finally given the chance to end the Hezbollah threat they had been warning about for almost 25 years — couldn’t implement a creative battle plan. But demands for accountability won’t be confined to the army alone.

Journalist Ari Shavit, who has taken on something of the role of Motti Ashkenazi — the reservist soldier who led the movement to bring down the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War — wrote a front-page article in Haaretz calling for Olmert’s resignation. And that is only the opening shot.

Even Maariv’s Ben Caspit, one of Israel’s most pro-Olmert journalists, published an imaginary Olmert speech of apology to the nation. A cartoon in Maariv showed Olmert as a boy playing with a yo-yo inscribed with ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES. None of Israel’s wars was ever fought with greater micromanagement by a government, and no government was ever less qualified to manage a war as this one.

Just as the post-Yom Kippur War period destroyed military and political careers and eventually led to the collapse of the Labor Party’s hegemony, so will the post-Lebanon period end careers and perhaps even the short-lived Kadima Party experiment.

A long list of reckonings awaits the Israeli public. There’s the scandal of the government’s abandonment of tens of thousands of poor Israelis who lacked the means to escape the north and were confined for weeks in public shelters, their needs largely tended to by volunteers.

There’s the growing bitterness between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, many of whom supported Hezbollah in a war most Jews saw as an existential attack on the state. And there’s the emergency need to resurrect the military reserves, which have been so neglected that a majority of men over 21 don’t even serve anymore and those that do tend to feel like suckers.

Still, in the Jewish calendar, the summer weeks after the fast of the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, are a time of consolation. “Be consoled, be consoled, my people,” we read from the Torah on the Sabbath after the fast. And so we console ourselves with the substantial achievements of the people of Israel during this month of war.

First, our undiminished capacity for unity. My favorite symbol of that unity is the antiwar rapper, Muki, whose hit song during the era of Palestinian suicide bombings lamented the absence of justice for the Palestinians but who, this time, insisted that the army needs to “finish the job” against Hezbollah.

Second, our middle-class children, with their cell phones, iPods and pizza deliveries to their army bases. In intimate combat, they repeatedly bested Hezbollah fighters, even though the terrorists had the advantage of familiar terrain.

This generation has given us some of Israel’s most powerful images of heroism, like the soldier from a West Bank settlement and father of two young children who leaped onto a grenade to save his friends, shouting the Shema — the prayer of God’s oneness — just before the grenade exploded.

Along with the recriminations, there will be many medals of valor awarded in the coming weeks.

But the last month’s fighting is only one battle in the jihadist war against Israel’s homefront that began with the second intifada in September 2000. Israel won the first phase of that war, the four years of suicide bombings that lasted until 2004. Now, in the second phase, we’ve lost the battle against the rockets.

But the qualities this heartbreak has revealed — unity and sacrifice and faith in the justness of our cause — will ensure our eventual victory in the next, inevitable, bitter round. Such is the nature of consolation in Israel in the summer of 2006.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for The New Republic and senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission of The New Republic.

Worldwide Anti-Semitism Rises With Mideast Conflict

Since the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah began in mid-July, a form of hate older than the Jewish state increasingly is rearing its ugly head: anti-Semitism.
July saw an attack against a synagogue in Sydney, Australia; vandalism of synagogues and Jewish businesses in Miami; and a fatal shooting at Seattle’s Jewish federation.

August brought more of the same: Molotov cocktails and rocks were thrown at a synagogue in Brazil, a menorah was smashed at a Jewish chapel near Los Angeles and anti-Israel vandals defaced some 20 Jewish shops in Rome.

It’s no coincidence that the number of attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions spikes at a time of violence in the Middle East, as people sympathetic to the Arab cause often take out their anger at Israel on Jews closer to home.

Jews in Europe typically bear the brunt of attacks far more than U.S. Jews. After the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000, anti-Semitic incidents in Europe skyrocketed.

“This country does not have the tradition of political violence and extremism that Europe has,” says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The United States also has fewer frustrated and angry immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries, he says. More importantly, Foxman contends, the United States has made sure perpetrators pay the consequences for anti-Semitic acts.

But even if Israel’s war in Lebanon resumes, American Jews’ security will not be threatened significantly, say Jewish leaders, who already have stepped up security measures at community organizations.

That may not be true for Jews in Europe and elsewhere, however.

Britain, in particular, has seen a spike in anti-Semitic incidents following the start of the war in Lebanon. The Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors the security of British Jewry, has recorded at least 90 such incidents during July, says Mark Gardner, the group’s spokesman.

The incidents are primarily nonviolent and tend to involve abusive rhetoric, threats, e-mails and graffiti.

There’s “a range of things being said,” Gardner says, “most commonly, sympathy for Hezbollah and calling Israel ‘Nazis,’ and at the same time saying Hitler should have finished off the Jews.” anti-Semitism.
In an average month, when tensions in the Middle East are not running high, Gardner says the CST records 20-40 anti-Semitic incidents. During the 1990s, before the intifada, those figures were substantially lower, some 15-25 per month.

In 2004 the Trust saw a record high of 532 incidents. In 2005 that number dropped to 455, still the second-highest total since CST began recording such incidents in 1984.

Gardner calls conflicts in the Middle East “trigger events.” When accusations against Israel intensify — recently some in Britain have accused Israel of propagating a massacre in Lebanon — people “take their hatred out on any Jew they can find,” Gardner says.

Anti-Israel sentiment in Britain has become conflated with anti-Semitism, he says. This results in Jews becoming scapegoats for Israeli policy and increases their chances of coming under attack.

Despite the recent spate of incidents, members of the Jewish community continue to lead their lives, Gardner says.

“There isn’t panic,” he says.

Anti-Semitic incidents also have risen in the United States in the wake of fighting in Lebanon.

According to the ADL’s annual audits, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States had declined slightly before the war began. The ADL’s most recent audit recorded 1,757 anti-Semitic incidents in 2005, slightly down from 1,821 incidents in 2004, the highest level of U.S. anti-Semitism in nine years. Foxman expects that when the group tallies the number of incidents for 2006, the figure will again be higher.

Still, that doesn’t mean anti-Semitism here will approach the levels of Europe during the intifada.

In the United States, there’s “less tolerance for racism, bigotry and anti-Semitic behavior,” Foxman says. And Americans are much quicker than Europeans to condemn such behavior, calling it “un-American, immoral, un-Christian.” anti-Semitism.
Other experts on anti-Semitism agree.

In the United States, “it’s really hard to find a Jew who cannot participate in their society either individually or collectively on a day-to-day basis because of fear of anti-Semitism,” says Jerome Chanes, author of “A Dark Side of History: Anti-Semitism Through the Ages.” anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, he says, whatever anti-Semitic expression there is in Europe is related to the state of security of Jews there, which is not the case in the United States.

While the Seattle shooting was directly related to the Middle East conflict — the shooter, a radical Muslim, said he acted out of anger toward Israel — Chanes emphasizes that it’s still a single incident in a country of 280 million people.

Neil Kressel believes he knows why there haven’t been more such attacks. In publications and religious sermons coming out of most Muslim countries, “you find hate on the level of Nazism in terms of demonization of Jews,” says Kressel, a professor of psychology at William Paterson University of New Jersey and author of “Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror.” “That hatred does not appear as much in Western Muslim populations or mosques.” anti-Semitism.
The chance that frustrated Muslims will turn hateful words into violent actions is much greater in Europe, given its history of Nazism and the fact that its social contract and application of free-speech laws differ greatly from America’s, says Shai Franklin, director of international organizations at the World Jewish Congress.

“We give people more latitude in what they say,” he says. “In Europe, the effect of words can be a lot more incendiary, and the political atmosphere, the press atmosphere is much more critical of Israel.” anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is frustrated at the importance pundits place on trying to find out why. The founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has grown weary of the constant refrain that the West must understand the root causes of Islamic fundamentalism and that these people are really angry over injustice at the hands of the West.

“Why should we understand the root causes?” Hier asks. “They’re the only people in the history of the world who’ve been angry? Other people do not behave in that manner. That’s what we should understand.”

Tallying Success and Failure

As a U.N.-brokered cease-fire takes effect after 33 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, criticism is growing of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s handling of the war.

Some politicians and opinion-makers are calling for his resignation. Israelis are also asking more searching questions: Did Israel win or lose the war? And what are the regional ramifications likely to be?

The strongest attack on Olmert came from the influential journalist Ari Shavit. In a front-page Op-Ed in Ha’aretz titled “Olmert Must Go,” Shavit wrote, “You cannot bury 120 Israelis, keep a million in shelters for a month, erode our deterrent power, bring the next war very close, and then say, ‘Oops, I made a mistake. That’s not what I meant. Pass me a cigar, please.'”

The main arguments Shavit and others make against Olmert are that his decision to go to war was made hastily and without considering all the possible consequences; that he was persuaded into believing that air power alone could do the job; that he was late in ordering the large-scale entry of land forces into Lebanon and left the home front exposed to rocket fire far longer than necessary; and that he did little to alleviate the suffering of people in the North, who were forced to spend more than a month in bomb shelters.

Olmert’s perceived blunders have given the Israeli right a new lease on life. They believe the war has dealt a lethal blow to Olmert’s plans for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

Their argument is that both of Israel’s previous unilateral pullouts — from Lebanon in May 2000 and the Gaza Strip last summer — were perceived by Israel’s enemies as weakness and led to heavy rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from precisely those areas the Israel Defense Forces no longer controlled.

This pattern would be repeated with far worse consequences if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, the right-wingers say.

Some right-wingers believe that without its defining idea of unilateral withdrawal, Olmert’s Kadima Party may start to implode.

Likud Knesset member Yisrael Katz says he expects a sweeping shift in Israeli public opinion that could lead to a major shake-up in Parliament. To make the most of it, he’s urging the Likud to form a parliamentary bloc with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and to bring vote-catching outsiders like the former IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon — tipped as a possible candidate for defense minister — into the Likud.

Katz speaks about a possible reversal of the “big bang” in Israeli politics that led to the formation of Kadima last November and the Likud’s subsequent ouster from power.

“The Likud must take the lead in forming a strong, centrist Zionist alternative opposed to further unilateral moves,” Katz said.

Independent polls show that Olmert’s West Bank “realignment” plan is in trouble. Before the war, it had more than 60 percent support; now, according to a poll by the respected Dahaf Institute, 47 percent of Israelis are in favor and 47 percent against.

Moreover, other polls show that Olmert’s approval rating has plummeted from 75 percent at the start of war to under 50 percent. Worse: Less than 40 percent are satisfied with the way he handled the war, and some polls suggest that if elections were held today, Kadima would crash from 29 Knesset seats to around 16.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are two schools of thought in Israel on the probable regional fallout of the war. Pessimists maintain that the inconclusive fighting with Hezbollah has undermined Israeli deterrence and altered the regional balance of power in favor of Israel’s enemies in Iran and Syria, and that a wider outbreak of fighting is simply a matter of time.

In their view, Syria may be tempted into thinking that by following the Hezbollah model, it will be able to recapture the Golan Heights by force.
Optimists contend that the pounding taken by Hezbollah and Lebanon actually has enhanced Israel’s deterrent capacity, that the regional power balance has shifted in Israel’s favor and that it could create momentum for peace talks with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.

What ends up happening could depend on the extent to which Hezbollah is able to rearm and whether Iran is able to produce a nuclear weapon. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, on which the cease-fire is based, calls for Hezbollah’s disarmament; Security Council Resolution 1696 urges Iran to stop enriching uranium by Aug. 31 or face possible sanctions.

So far, however, Hezbollah is refusing to hand over its weapons, and Iran’s leaders say they intend to go ahead with their nuclear program.

There are sharp differences of opinion among Israeli pundits over whether Israel won or lost. In a piece headlined “We did not win,” Yediot Achronot analyst Nahum Barnea writes: “Israel goes into the cease-fire bruised, divided and concerned. The question of what happened to Israel in this war deserves a searching debate. In this war Israel was battered, Lebanon was battered and Hezbollah was battered. We naturally focus on the blows we took. And they are not insubstantial. The number of dead, the paralysis of the home front, turning hundreds of thousands of Israelis into refugees, and perhaps the hardest blow of all: the realization that the IDF cannot meet our expectations.”

But on the same page, Barnea’s colleague Sever Plotsker takes a diametrically opposite view. Plotsker describes Resolution 1701 as a major political achievement for Israel, “perhaps one of the most important in its history. It can be summed up in a phrase: Israel and the world against the Hezbollah thugs.”
Winner or loser, it’s clear that Israel has been shaken, and there well could be a state commission of inquiry into the war and the way it was prosecuted, with tough questions for the political and military echelons.

If there is, Olmert — whose term of office began with such promise just more than 100 days ago — will be the main target.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Mideast Fighting Strains Fragile Interfaith Ties

For more than three decades, Rabbi Allen Krause has believed in the power of interfaith and intercultural dialogue, especially between Jews and Muslims.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the head rabbi of Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo offered to have members of his congregation guard local Muslim day schools, he stood alongside other religious leaders to publicly decry a vicious assault on a Yorba Linda Arab American high school student and he invited a Palestinian to address his congregation to talk about the hardships of living in the territories.

However, the interfaith ties that Krause and others like him have carefully cultivated are now being tested as never before. Against the backdrop of Hezbollah rockets raining on Israel and Israeli bombs exploding in Lebanon and Gaza, friends are splitting into two sides. In mid-July, several Muslim members of Common Ground, an Orange County interfaith group Krause helped found, declined to attend a scheduled meeting, because they “might say things they might regret,” he was told.

Krause’s experience is not unusual. As war in the Middle East rages, one of the casualties has been the fragile ties between Muslim and Jewish interfaith and other groups. Already weakened by the failed peace promise of Oslo and the second intifada, in recent weeks Muslim-Jewish relations have hit their lowest ebb in more than a decade. The increased strain has re-sown the seeds of mistrust in some interfaith group that enthusiasts hoped to have forever banished.

To be sure, a few Muslim and Jewish groups have redoubled their efforts to bridge the growing chasm. The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) will soon announce a sweeping interfaith collaboration with a yet-to-be-named Muslim group, said PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which has a longstanding relationship with the Islamic Center of Southern California, soon plans to open a Center for Religious Inquiry that would invite members of all faiths, including Muslims, Jews and Christians, to discuss and examine the world’s major religions, said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein. A new outfit named L.A. Jews for Peace recently held two peace vigils outside the Israeli Consulate and sent a representative to a large anti-Israel peace protest co-sponsored by Muslim and other organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Overall, though, Jewish-Muslim relations are strained, and tensions will likely worsen before getting better, predicts Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“I think the current state [of Jewish-Muslim relations] is non-existent and will be even more alienated in the near future,” he said.

Rosove, once a major proponent of the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue, quit the now moribund group soon after Sept. 11 when, he said, several Muslim participants savagely criticized attempted to de-legitimize Israel. The dialogue, founded in 1998 amid great expectations, lost considerable Jewish and Muslim support over the years, including the withdrawal of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAIR, because of internal arguments over the Middle East. The group has not convened a meeting in more than a year.

David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., a Los-Angeles-based human relations organization that promotes civil rights, said he favors Jewish-Muslim dialogue. However, “unrelenting” anti-Israel attitudes he believes are shared by the majority of Muslim-American leaders makes that dialogue all but impossible.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us to find moderate Muslim voices. They’re out there; they’re just not leading the Muslim organization that Jewish organizations have traditionally dealt with,” said Lehrer, who served as the ADL’s regional director when the group quit the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue after Sept. 11.

On the other side, Reed Hamzeh, an L.A.-based attorney and regional director of the Arab American Institute, a civil rights group, believes that Israel’s actions in Lebanon are stoking anti-Semitism as well as anti-Americanism in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

“I’ve spoken to many Jewish-American friends,” said Hamzeh, whose parents were visiting Lebanon when the bombing began there. “We are in agreement that Israel’s actions are not in the best interest of Israel, the Jewish people and for the prospects of peace in the region, which should be everybody’s desired goal.”

In one reflection of the changing climate, a longtime Jewish member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blasted the group’s local chapter for planning to honor an activist whom he characterizes as an anti-Israel propagandist. Joel Bellman, press deputy to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, sent a blistering e-mail on July 20 to the ACLU questioning the local chapter’s intention to honor Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) at the ACLU’s 43rd annual Garden Party in September.

“I guess I’m extremely pissed off, because MPAC has been extremely successful in packaging its message in very soothing and moderate tones,” Bellman said. “But when you strip away the dainty and decorous language, their positions are almost indistinguishable from anti-Israel, anti-Jewish attitudes found in much of the Muslim and Arab world.”

This is not the first time that Al-Marayati has been the focus of controversy: In an interview just after the Sept. 11, attacks, Al-Marayati suggested that Israel could be behind the terrorists. He later apologized for his comments and said they were taken out of context.

Al-Marayati, who said Bellman’s attack caught him by surprise, also said his group supports a two-state solution, denounces terrorism and reflects the outlook of moderate American Muslims. Yet Al-Marayati says that now more than ever, Jews and Muslims need to work together on issues of mutual interest such as hate crimes, civil rights and the separation of church and state, despite their differences about the Middle East.

Sande Hart, the Jewish co-founder of the Orange County-based Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope (SARAH), a four-year-old women’s interfaith group, also believes Jews and Muslims need to talk to one another as never before. Unfortunately, she said some Jewish and Muslim members no longer want to interact for the time being. Two Christians, no Muslims and just two Jews attended the group’s most recent meeting. Typically, two to three Muslims, five Jews and several Christians come to the interfaith gatherings. Hart said both Muslim and Jewish SARAH members told her they needed “space.”

“Our common ground is a little smaller than it was three weeks ago,” said Hart, who vows to patch-up relations among the group’s members.

Like their Jewish counterparts, many Muslims fear that events overseas could poison relations locally. They have expressed surprise at what they characterize as the “ferocity” of Israel’s strikes against Lebanon and Gaza.

Orange County resident Osman Umarji called Israel’s military campaign “vicious,” and said it nearly claimed the life of a close friend, who, in attempting to flee from the fighting in southern Lebanon , crossed a bridge with his mother just moments before Israeli bombs destroyed it.

The former president of the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine — a group often at odds with pro-Israeli student groups at the university — said he thought Israel’s war in Lebanon would galvanize pro-Palestinian forces and breathe new life into the divestment movement at UCI and other campuses.

“I’m sure the discussion will intensify, and more Muslim and Arab students will get involved in educating people and speaking out against the atrocities Israel’s committing,” said Umarji, now an engineer at Broadcom Corp., a global leader in semiconductors for wired and wireless communications.

For Hussam Ayloush, Israeli “aggression” is personal. The executive director of the Southern California chapter of the CAIR said he grew up in Lebanon and left in 1989 during the civil war. Coming to America to study, he eventually settled in Southern California. Now married with three children, he said he returns to Lebanon once every couple years to visit family members, including a brother who lives in the capital city of Beirut.

Soon after Israel’s air campaign began, Ayloush said he fell out of contact with his brother and his parents for four long days (His parents were in Lebanon visiting their son). Scared for their safety, Ayloush said he barely slept. He checked e-mails incessantly and watched the news round-the-clock. Although relieved when he finally reached his loved ones, he said he knows their lives continue to remain in peril.

“We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t realize that this new conflict will increase hatred among Arabs, Muslims and Jews. It’s not going to just increase anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia and anti-Arab feelings,” Ayloush said. “That’s a tragedy.”

But not all hope for continued dialogue has been dashed. Despite the July disappointment, Temple Beth El’s Krause persisted with his group, and after some heart-to-heart talks, the Muslim members have agreed to attend a mid-August gathering, much to Krause’s satisfaction and

Northern Israeli Hotels Feel the Pinch

With the fighting along Israel’s northern border showing no sign of letting up, Israel’s most popular summer tourist region has been turned into a battle zone.
Instead of the sounds of kids splashing in swimming pools and canyons, there is a constant booming of artillery shelling and tank fire. Instead of birds quietly hovering in the skies over the Hula Nature Reserve, attack helicopters and fighter jets streak across the sky headed north, into Lebanon.

And instead of hotels in Haifa, Tiberias and Rosh Pina packed with tourists, hoteliers are shutting down operations and turning off the electricity, with a whisper and prayer for peace — and the return of tourists.

“Until this operation is over, we won’t see anyone here, and I can’t say how much time after the war it will take to return to the routine,” said Moshik Givaty, manager of the Rosh Hanikra Tourist Center, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast next to the Lebanese border.

The center, which includes grottos, a cable car, restaurant and historical sites, usually draws 35,000 visitors in July and August. This year it was shut down on the morning of July 12 — shortly after Hezbollah precipitated the crisis by killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two in a cross-border raid — by order of the Israel Defense Forces, which has commandeered much of Rosh Hanikra for military operations.

“Rosh Hanikra is in the conflict zone, and we must be in secured rooms or bunkers,” Givaty explained.

Unless the fighting ends soon, he warned, the summer will be a complete loss.
All across northern Israel, the resorts, hotels and bed and breakfasts that normally are full this time of year are closed or virtually empty.

“We’ve unplugged the fridges and shut off the electricity,” said Yoela Shany, who owns Siesta vacation cottages in Ramot, in the Golan Heights. “This never happened before.”

Dozens of bed and breakfasts in Ramot, a popular vacation village, have been left empty. Three Katyusha rockets have landed in or near town, but so far none has caused casualties or major property damage.

Many hotels in Haifa have closed their doors, and those that remain open have been able to do so only because of the influx of journalists in town.
“Everything fell apart in the second half of the month,” said Shimon Cohen, general manager of Haifa’s Nof Hotel. “For August, we are almost at a 0 percent occupancy rate.”

Tourism in the rest of the country is mostly holding up, but tourism workers all over Israel are worried that their livelihoods may be devastated if the fighting drags on. That, in turn, could wreak havoc on the economy as a whole.

“The situation is very fluid,” said Yonatan Pulik, spokesman for the Tourism Ministry. “There are no significant cancellations on incoming tourists from abroad — yet. Of course, there is damage to internal tourism, particularly in the north.”

There are no statistics available yet, Pulik said, though 2006 had looked like a banner year for tourism in Israel — until three weeks ago.

The economic impact on Israel’s tourism industry already has run into the millions of dollars, but the damage may be limited if the fighting ends quickly.
Tourist industry professionals in places like Jerusalem and Eilat say they’re making up for any cancellations with extra business from people leaving northern Israel — both Israelis and tourists rearranging their itineraries to avoid the conflict zone.

Jamie Salter, a licensed tour guide in Jerusalem, said the conflict’s impact on tourism goes both ways: Some tour guides are making up for canceled gigs by picking up the appointments of fellow Israeli tour guides who have been called away to military reserve duty.

Hoteliers say they haven’t yet suffered the wave of cancellations they saw during the worst years of the intifada, but they warn things will quickly get bad if the fighting doesn’t end soon.

“The situation is stable,” said Rodney Sanders, general manager of Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel. “We have cancellations for the month of July, but there is also pickup from the Jewish organizations that have come to support Israel in this situation.”

In the southern resort town of Eilat, the fighting hundreds of kilometers away might as well be in a different country — except for the northerners who have gone to Eilat to escape the war.

“We are almost entirely full,” said Eytan Loewenstein, spokesman for Isrotel Hotels, which has more than half a dozen hotels in Eilat. “This is normal for July-August, when it is high season for hotels in Eilat. Even if there were a few empty rooms, they’ve been taken up by people arriving from central and northern Israel.”

By comparison, he noted, the Isrotel-owned Carmel Forest Spa Resort, near Haifa, is at 25 percent occupancy at a time of year when it normally is full.
“This is supposed to be the high season, and everything’s empty,” lamented Sara Shavit, who along with her husband owns the Shavit Guest House in Moshav Arbel, just north of Tiberias. “We are in a serious problem. We have no other source of income.”

Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?

How is Israel’s security served by the creation of a failed state on its northern border? This is the question that has fallen like a dark shadow across the landscape of stunningly unanimous Israeli, Jewish, and American support for Israel’s ongoing attack on Lebanon. Has Israel truly attacked Lebanon, or has it merely attacked Hezbollah as a terrorist organization operating from within Lebanon? On July 23, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seemed to answer that question for the benefit of his cabinet: “We have no war with the Lebanese people, and we have no intention to harm their quality of life.”

On the same day, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the Israel’s activity would be limited and was intended to complement “broad international activity to complete the process” of subduing Hezbollah and restoring security along Israel’s northern border.

Ten days earlier, however, as Olmert was launching Israel’s invasion, he had spoken very differently.

“I want to make it clear,” he said. “This morning’s events were not a terrorist attack, but the action of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation. The Lebanese government, of which Hezbullah is a member, is trying to undermine regional stability. Lebanon is responsible and Lebanon will bear the consequences of its actions.”

His targeting Lebanon as a whole rather than only Hezbollah was echoed by Dan Halutz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who said on the same day: “Everything is simple: there are no longer any safe places in Lebanon.”

Whatever the intent of Israel’s attack, its effect has been catastrophic for Lebanon as a whole. Entire neighborhoods of the capital have been reduced to rubble. (Imagine the Upper West Side of New York demolished as a “Zionist stronghold.”) The national airport has been put out of service. Three of every four bridges — more than 50 in all — have been destroyed. Power plants have been blown up. Key roads have been rendered impassable. The beaches have been fouled. Telephone and media transmission centers have been put out of service. More than one out of every six Lebanese has been rendered homeless.

As Prime Minister Fouad Siniora summarized it, “Israel in a matter of five days took Beirut and the whole country 50 years backward.”

Could Lebanon have spared itself this Israeli onslaught by “cracking down” on Hezbollah activity in its southern region? It could have tried, but the price of the attempt would have been a civil war in which Hezbollah might well have been the victor. As the most powerful political and military voice of Lebanon’s Shiite population –at 45 percent, its largest minority — Hezbollah commands not just two seats in the Lebanese cabinet and 14 in the legislature but also outside logistical support from Syria and Iran. The regular Lebanese army enjoys no such support and, to complicate things, includes many Shiites in its ranks.
Hezbollah, a virtually insuperable opponent even for the massively armed Israel Defense Forces, might have made short work of the ill-equipped Lebanese army.

And even supposing no outright Hezbollah victory, the return of civil war in Lebanon — Sunnis and Christians in a tense alliance on one side, Shiites on the other, with endlessly shifting tribal coalitions in between — would have been the return of the very conditions that enabled the Palestine Liberation Organization to operate with impunity from Lebanese soil and prompted the first Israeli invasion a generation ago. In mid-2006, just a year past the “Cedar Revolution” by which Syria was unexpectedly expelled, Lebanon under Siniora has been called the second most democratic state in the region, but it is a weak democracy. Olmert’s invasion may now be turning it into a failed democracy, Israel’s Iraq.

A failed democracy in Lebanon will serve the interests of Syria much as the failed democracy in Iraq is serving the interests of Iran. Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki maintains the diplomatic niceties when dealing with Washington, but Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi parliament, may be a better clue to the mood of his country.

“The U.S. occupation is butcher’s work under the slogan of democracy and human rights and justice,” al-Mashhadani said on July 22 as Israel was escalating its assault on Lebanon. “Leave us to solve our problems. We don’t need an agenda from outside.”

Similarly, though Siniora expressed more sorrow than anger as he diplomatically declined the peace proposal of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, spoke for much and perhaps most of devastated Lebanon when he served blunt and bitter notice to Rice that her mediation was unwelcome.

Lebanon is on the verge of becoming Israel’s Iraq in another regard as well. Like the Bush Administration, the Olmert Administration has taken major unilateral military action without exhausting lesser and/or nonmilitary alternatives, confident that in the aftermath it will have created if not an overwhelming success, then at least a problem that the international community will have no alternative but to help solve. As Michael Oren, the head of a center-right research institute in Israel put it to the New York Times:

Iran’s War on Israel


The border raid by Hezbollah that sparked swift and strong Israeli military reaction in southern Lebanon was not only an act of war by Hezbollah, but an act of war by
proxy by Iran. It is inconceivable that such a provocative act could have been undertaken without the knowledge and approval of people at the highest levels of Iran’s government.

The warfare was even foreshadowed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in a burst of inflammatory rhetoric warned in advance that Israel would be hit by an “explosion” of Muslim anger.

“The fury of Muslim nations is getting more intense,” Ahmadinejad said. “It is likely to reach an explosion point soon. If this day arrives, the shockwaves of this blast will not be restricted within our regional boundaries and will strike the supporters of this fake regime.”

The day after the Iranian president uttered those words, the attack was launched by the Hezbollah terrorist organization that Iran founded and funds.

Congress rightly has condemned Hezbollah for “engaging in unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel on undisputed Israeli territory.” The House passed a resolution by a vote of 410 to 8 supporting “Israel’s right to defend itself, including the right to conduct operations in Israel and in the territory of nations which pose a threat to it.”

Hezbollah, Hamas and Ahmadinejad have all declared that their policy is the destruction of Israel. They advocate the ethnic cleansing of 5 million Israeli Jews. They advocate genocide. In their quest for peace, Israeli leaders have made concessions, but now the terrorists are using the very territory from which Israel has withdrawn to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. Israel withdrew from Gaza, and now kidnappers and missiles come from Gaza into Israel. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, now kidnappers and missiles come into Israel from southern Lebanon.

The Israelis must know that when they vacate a territory, it will not be used as a rocket-launching pad against Israel, and that if it ever is, that Israel will have the full support of the United States. We all want peace, but we cannot have peace; we cannot have any Israeli territorial concessions unless Israel knows that those concessions will be met with goodwill, not missiles.

There are some who say the Israeli reaction has been “disproportionate.” It cannot be overstated that the recent outbreak of warfare was not simply a reaction to one event. The truth is that there have been five kidnapping raids and hundreds of missiles fired during six years of attacks. If anyone is going to say that Israel’s reaction is disproportionate, let them say that Israel is doing too little.

There also are those who have called for a cease-fire. I hope we get there soon. But this all started with rockets and kidnapping, and it would be a phony cease-fire unless the soldiers are returned, and unless Hezbollah is disarmed as required by U.N. Resolution 1559.

There are those who talk of prisoner exchanges, but we should not tell Israel to exchange the guilty for the innocent. Some have called for the release of women and minors held in Israeli prisons. Yet is it clear that terrorist organizations have increasingly used minors and women to perpetrate suicide attacks. It was, after all, a woman who was arrested in 2001 for helping to carry out the bombing of a pizza restaurant in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including seven children. It is also the stark reality that teenagers have been caught carrying pipe bombs and attempting suicide attacks. Should Israel release those who would resume their terror?

World opinion matters in the Middle East. We should step up our efforts to help our friends in Israel. The United States should spearhead diplomatic efforts to isolate the terrorists who have targeted Israel. We should call every major ambassador from Europe and demand that Europe list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. We should insist that European governments prevent their residents from sending money to Hezbollah. Finally, we must demand that the World Bank stop making concessionary loans aid to Iran, the source of the money and the missiles that Hezbollah is firing on Israeli civilians.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is a senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and the ranking Democrat on its International Terrorism and Nonproliferation Subcommittee.