Israeli soldiers allegedly looted flotilla ships

An Israeli officer and soldier are suspected of selling goods they confiscated from the Gaza flotilla after the May raid.

Military police are investigating whether an officer sold items to another soldier that were confiscated from the flotilla ships while they were docked in Ashdod, Ynet News reported. Three soldiers have already admitted they bought laptops from the second soldier, who was arrested Monday night.

The investigation comes as a number of Israeli and international committees are investigating the incident.

“The investigation has just begun, but as it appears now it will prove embarrassing and shameful,” a high-ranking Israeli officer said, according to Ynet.

The officer under suspicion commands a unit that had access to the ships while they were docked at Ashdod. Police say they think the second lieutenant stole four to six laptops from the ships. The three soldiers who admitted to buying the laptops said they were told the laptops were stolen from the flotilla, but did not report the theft to their commanders.

The officer and soldier have not appeared before court yet. Police say they will make more arrests but did not give details, Ynet reported.

Not long after the May raid, passengers aboard the flotilla ships complained credit cards, cell phones and other equipment had been confiscated and used. At the time, an IDF spokesman said all personal items had been transported from the country.

The IDF confirmed reports of an investigation but, according to Ynet, said the stolen items may not have been from the flotilla. An investigator said if it turns out the items were taken from on of the ships, the activists would be recompensed.

Nation World Briefs

Ground Troops in Gaza

Israel sent troops into the Gaza Strip for the first time since it withdrew from the territory. Commandos entered northern Gaza on Monday night and attacked a Palestinian squad about to launch a rocket into Israel. Four suspected terrorists were killed and another five wounded. There were no Israeli casualties. Israel had previously relied on its air force and navy for operations in Gaza, partly out of concern that a ground operation could bolster Palestinian claims that the coastal strip continues to be occupied, despite the removal of all 21 settlements and army bases there last August.

Olmert, Mubarak to Meet

Israel’s Ehud Olmert will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a June 4 summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, the site of May 21 talks between Olmert’s top two deputies and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Egyptian officials said they expected the meeting to pave the way for a summit between the P.A. president and the Israeli prime minister.

Jewish Groups Gather Aid for Indonesia

Several Jewish groups set up funds to aid victims of the recent earthquake in Indonesia. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and B’nai B’rith International are accepting donations for victims of Saturday’s earthquake, which killed an estimated 5,000 people and left tens of thousands injured. The AJWS is accepting donations through its Web site; The JDC is taking credit card donations by phone, (212) 687-6200; personal checks should be made out to JDC: Indonesia Earthquake Relief and mailed to JDC: Indonesia Earthquake Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017; and online contributions can be made at Those wishing to contribute through B’nai B’rith may send checks to its general disaster relief fund, at B’nai B’rith International, 2020 K St. NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

Israel Boycott Recommendation Blasted

British Jewish leaders blasted a decision by a British teachers union to recommend a boycott of Israel. Monday’s vote by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which forces Israeli academics to “publicly declare their political views and subject them to the scrutiny of British academics, is especially pernicious,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement. The boycott applies to Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that don’t publicly declare their opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Canadian Union Backs Israel Boycott

A large public-sector union in Canada voted to back a boycott against Israel. Some 900 members of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees voted unanimously at a conference last week to support the campaign until Israel “recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination.” The president of the union, Sid Ryan, condemned Israel’s security barrier, calling it an “apartheid wall,” and urged that Israeli wines be removed from the shelves of provincial liquor stores. Steven Schulman, regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress in Ontario, blasted the move.

Jerusalem Compensates Gays, Lesbians

The Jerusalem Municipality was ordered to pay out $70,000 to the city’s gay and lesbian center. Jerusalem District Court on Monday found in favor of a petition filed against City Hall by the Jerusalem Open House, which had been deprived of funding from the municipal cultural chest since 2003. The petitioners were also awarded $5,200 in court costs. Gay and lesbian activists have been at odds with the Jerusalem Municipality before, given Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s misgivings over the annual Gay Pride Parade in the city.

Cancer Patients Call Off Strike

A hunger strike by Israeli cancer patients was called off after the government agreed to boost state-funded treatment. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday ordered some $75 million added to the 2006 “health basket” of medications covered by the state. The funding meant a reprieve for Israeli colon-cancer sufferers who until now have had to pay thousands of shekels a month for some of their treatments. Several patients had set up camp outside the Knesset more than two weeks ago and went on a hunger strike in protest. But there was partisan rancor at the prospect that Olmert would provide the money by cutting the defense budget.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose Labor Party is chief coalition partner in the Olmert government, voiced outrage at the decision, prompting speculation that the government could have trouble passing its budget.

Senate Delays P.A. Vote

The U.S. Senate delayed consideration of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act. The Senate was due to have voted last Friday on the act, cutting off assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but a security scare stemming from an erroneous report of gunfire in the Rayburn Senate Office Building delayed business until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend. With 89 co-sponsors, the act is guaranteed passage. It would cut assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but differs from a version passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives by allowing the president greater leeway in delivering emergency assistance to the Palestinians. It also narrows the bill’s scope, limiting its restrictions to governments led by the Hamas terrorist group.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


U.S. Faces Tough Policy Challenges


With Sunday’s elections, the Bush administration got something it demanded from the Palestinians: the beginnings of a democracy. Whether that produces a real, functional democracy remains to be seen — and as that drama plays out, the administration faces some tough decisions and some big policy snares.

Mahmoud Abbas won the battle to replace the late Yasser Arafat as undisputed Palestinian leader, after a campaign that included both examples of his vaunted “moderation” and statements suggesting that he isn’t so different from his predecessor, after all — such has his insistence that he will never abandon the demand for an unlimited Palestinian right of return, a guaranteed deal breaker.

Peace process supporters in this country say that was just an acknowledgment of the political realities he faces; critics say it’s the same old Palestinian line in a new package.

All of this will create some huge challenges for the Bush administration in the months ahead. Here are a few of the big questions officials here will face:

How Much Democracy?

When, exactly, will the Palestinians have achieved enough democratic reform to justify a serious, new U.S. peace push, not just feel-good talk about Palestinian statehood?

Abbas will probably be a big improvement over Arafat, but he will be setting up his government in a society seething with undemocratic forces and in a region where democracy is regarded as toxic by autocratic leaders.

The transition will be uneven and incremental, providing the perfect excuse for those here and in Israel who want to use the democracy demand as a way to bar any new peace negotiations or any new U.S. pressure on Israel.

Finding a realistic democratic threshold that encourages the Palestinians to move forward and strengthens Abbas, without letting him get away with just the trappings of democracy, will be one of the toughest tasks for the administration in the next few months.

What About Hamas?

In recent municipal elections, the terror group decided to engage in the electoral process and did much better than analysts predicted. It boycotted the presidential election but did nothing to interfere, and has promised to cooperate with Abbas.

What will the U.S. attitude be if Hamas involvement grows, especially after parliamentary elections in June?

Will the Bush administration make the judgment that these groups are moving toward peaceful coexistence with Israel, and that participation in the emerging Palestinian democracy could accelerate the process? Or will it react according to its post-Sept. 11 view of a world sharply divided between terrorists and their uncompromising opponents?

A lot of that will depend on how Hamas leaders respond. Softening their rhetoric, curbing attacks and indicating a willingness to accept Israel’s existence will make it easier for the administration to give a cautious yellow light to their political involvement, or at least not to regard it as the poison pill of Palestinian democracy.

The Corruption Conundrum.

International donors have met in recent weeks to discuss a big infusion of aid to help a Palestinian population mired even more deeply in poverty, and President Bush has given $20 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, with promises of more to come.

But this time, international donors are demanding mechanisms for accountability and transparency to make sure that the money doesn’t end up lining the pockets of P.A. officials or financing new weapons. But financial responsibility — not exactly the norm in the Arab world — won’t come overnight, and the need for an infusion of aid is immediate and overwhelming.

Just how accountable do the Palestinians have to become before they get the aid that’s been dangled before them? Without aid, the plight of ordinary Palestinians will not improve, spawning new terrorism and dimming hopes for new negotiations. But throwing more money at corrupt officials could undermine the Palestinian experiment in democracy.

Dealing With Sharon.

With Abbas’ election, there is a widespread assumption that the administration will become a little firmer in pressing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to fulfill his part of the Mideast “road map” peace plan, including freezing settlements and rooting out illegal outposts. But Sharon is also in the middle of a ticklish Gaza disengagement plan, which the administration has incorporated into its road map.

Just how hard can Washington push without creating a domestic backlash in Israel that will make it harder for the premier to get out of Gaza quickly?

Too often in the past, Sharon has used the specter of domestic opposition to turn aside prodding from Washington, but with settlers in open revolt and the threat of virtual civil war looming, there’s little question he faces an unprecedented domestic challenge.

Pressure is a matter of fine tuning that will test the talents of incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Too much pressure could topple Sharon’s shaky coalition and derail the Gaza plan; too little could damage U.S. credibility in the region.

What About Europe and the Arab Nations?

How can the Bush administration encourage these countries — too often the willing enablers of corrupt, reckless Palestinian leaders — to play a more constructive role?

Without U.S prodding, these nations could lapse back into their unhelpful role, but too much prodding will only play into the reflexive anti-Americanism that leads many to oppose almost anything America proposes, with especially disruptive results in the Middle East.

That will require nuanced diplomacy, not the brute-force approach to international relations that characterized the first Bush administration.