Akko riots expose Israel’s Arab-Jewish tinderbox

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Akko, which erupted after an Arab man drove through a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur, shows just how combustible Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are.

Yet after four successive nights of clashes, in which rampaging Arabs stoned Jewish-owned shops and cars as Jewish mobs torched Arab homes, there was no sign of the violence spreading to other mixed-ethnic cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth or Lod.

Nor did the current Jewish-Arab tensions appear likely to reach the proportions they did following October 2000, when Israeli police shot dead 12 Israeli Arabs and a visitor from the West Bank in clashes across northern Israel that coincided with the launching of the second Palestinian intifada.

But the rioting in Akko is more than an isolated violent episode in need of containment. Even if the rioting abates, it is sounding warning bells for the Israeli government. Jewish-Arab tensions in Akko and in the country as a whole have been simmering under the surface for years. The rioting was an expression of Arab frustration and Jewish mistrust.

The latest trouble started on the eve of Yom Kippur, Oct. 8. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar, everything in Israel comes to a halt. For the duration of the 25-hour fast, businesses and places of entertainment are shuttered, and the roads are virtually free of cars. Even completely secular Jews and non-Jewish Israelis refrain from driving in Jewish neighborhoods.

So when an Akko Arab drove his car into a Jewish neighborhood that night, reportedly blaring loud music, the act seemed like a deliberate provocation.

Angry Jews forced the car to stop, pulled out the driver and beat him. News of the beating quickly spread across the city, and from the mosques Arabs were called upon to avenge what by then had been exaggerated to “two Arabs murdered by Jews.”

Hundreds took to the streets, mostly young, masked men who marched into the main Jewish neighborhood smashing shop windows, shattering car windows, slashing tires and torching vehicles. In retaliation, Jewish mobs set fire to several Arab homes in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Police appeared to be overwhelmed by the rioters.

The pattern repeated itself for the next three days and nights. Gradually the police ramped up their response, and by Monday hundreds of police officers were deployed in the city backed up by the Israeli army’s border police. More than 60 arrests were made.

To help defuse the tension, Akko Mayor Shimon Lankri postponed Akko’s annual Fringe Theater festival, explaining that the political content of some of the plays could further aggravate tensions. In any case, he said, audiences would stay away given the new of the riots.

“This is not a time for celebrations,” he declared.

But some saw in Lankri’s announcement an attempt to punish the city’s Arabs, saying Arab businesses benefit most from the business the festival brings to the city.

Meanwhile, right-wing Jewish extremist groups and radical Arab agitators tried to fan the flames while Israel’s political leaders—including some Arab leaders—struggled to restore calm.

Some Jewish extremists called for a boycott of Arab businesses, while Hamas leaders urged Israeli Arabs to start a “third intifada.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused extremists on both sides of “holding the city ransom.”

Mostly, however, leaders on both sides issued appeals for calm and a quick return to coexistence. After meeting Monday with Jewish and Arab religious and community leaders in Akko, President Shimon Peres said he was optimistic and “surprised at the degree of willingness for dialogue on both sides.”

Earlier, Arab community leaders had issued an apology for the desecration of the Jewish holy day. The Arab driver went to a televised meeting in Jerusalem of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, where he said he had not intended any provocation but had made a terrible error of judgment: He said he thought that because it was very late at night, no one would notice his car driving into the mostly Jewish neighborhood where he lived.

In a square outside city hall in Akko, members of the Mapam-affiliated Shomer Hatzair youth movement built a sukkah and invited both Arabs and Jews to visit in a spirit of reconciliation.

One of the first guests was Arab Knesset member Abbas Zakoor, an Akko resident and a member of the radical Raam-Taal party. Arab Knesset members, who often resort to inflammatory language as they compete for an increasingly radicalized Arab constituency, have played a remarkably conciliatory role in the current unrest.

Paradoxically, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were meant to resolve the Israeli-Arab predicament, have sharpened tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews.

Israeli Arabs see their Palestinian cousins, once sworn enemies of the Jews, being offered full statehood, while they, citizens of the Israeli state, are ignored. They still recall with anger the October 2000 clashes in which Israeli police opened fire on Arab rioters. The Arabs point to the harsh police response—Israeli police don’t use live fire against Jewish demonstrators—as evidence of the double standard often applied to Israeli Arab citizens.

Similarly, some Israeli Jews point to the riots of eight years ago as a reminder that Israel’s Arab citizens cannot be trusted: When the Palestinians launched their intifada that month, Israel’s Arabs rioted in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The Orr Commission set up to investigate the 2000 clashes found “years of discrimination” against Israeli Arabs and urged the government to do more to promote Jewish-Arab equality and provide Arab and Jewish municipalities with proportionately equal budgets. This has not happened.

In 2006, Israeli Arab leaders moved to a more publicly critical stance on the Jewish state, producing a document seeking virtual autonomy for the Arab minority and calling for an end to the Jewish character of the state. Titled the “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” the paper demanded veto rights and autonomy in domestic affairs, rejected Jewish symbols of state and provided a narrative of colonial conquest by Jews, naming Israeli Arabs as the land’s only indigenous people.

With the background of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict and day-to-day tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews, particularly in mixed cities like Akko, the rioting there really should have come as no surprise. All that’s needed is something incendiary to set the two sides aflame.

Elie Rekhess, the director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University, says Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are a powder keg waiting to explode. If Akko is not the trigger, something else will be, Rekhess says—unless the government finds a way to give Israeli Arabs a sense of truly shared citizenship.

Clash of ‘right and right’ festers in Jordan Valley

A tragedy, as defined by Amos Oz, one of the Israel’s most outspoken advocates of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is “a clash between right and right.” In the northernmost corner of the West Bank, Oz’s maxim holds true; it is a place where wronged are pitted against wronged. Where the Israeli forced from Gaza meets the Palestinian pushed from his West Bank home.

The tiny settlement of Maskiyot, with just eight families, lies on a gentle rise overlooking the Jordan Valley. Since the Israeli government announced plans to expand the settlement in late July, this settler outpost and one-time army training facility, established in 1982, has emerged as a central symbol for the intractable road to peace between Palestinian and Israeli.

Maskiyot is one of more than 20 settlements in the 75-mile-long Jordan Valley. Date farms, Bedouin shacks and small hamlets break up the brown-and-gold landscape of craggy hills and dry plains. The valley accounts for 28.5 percent of the West Bank land mass controlled by Israel after the Six-Day War. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 6,000 Israeli settlers and 47,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in the ancient city of Jericho.

It is a land where Bedouins shepherd their goats and Palestinian farmers cultivate olives and raise chickens. It is also a place where Israel Defense Forces soldiers guard Israeli settlements surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and lights that face outward.

But more than the physical barriers that separate them, the residents of this valley stand on either side of an unbridgeable ideological chasm. The Palestinians bent on seeing the Israelis go, and the Israelis unwilling to.

Fathy Khdirat is the head of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a Palestinian grass-roots organization that works to publicize the progress of the Israeli presence in the valley. Khdirat sits in a car traveling to a friend’s farm in Al Farsiya, a small community sandwiched between Israeli settlements and military land.

“It is like a needle in your body,” he says, while passing the sign for Maskiyot. “You have to get rid of it as soon as possible.”

However, if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signs off on a plan to build 20 more homes just outside the current perimeter fence — and he has not yet said whether he will — Maskiyot could become a northern Jordan Valley fixture for years to come.

The announcement of the expansion elicited condemnation from the United Nations and many in the international community. Maskiyot would be the first new settlement built by the Israeli government since 1999, in contradiction to the guidelines of the all-but-dead “road map” for peace. Plans to expand the settlement in 2006 were frozen after similar criticism.

Yosi Chazut, Maskiyot’s manager, sits at a picnic table at the edge of the six small, pre-fabricated homes that form the nucleus of the tiny settlement. His family, like six of the eight other families living in Maskiyot, was forced from Gaza during the Israeli pullout in the summer of 2005. And although the 29-year-old says he wants peace, his confidence in his Palestinian neighbors was shaken by their actions after the Israeli government took the significant step of moving 8,500 Jewish families from Gaza.

“I gave up my home there, and what did we get in return?” he says. “We got Qassam attacks on Sderot. This [the Palestinians] is not a people that want peace. The purpose is to kick us out of this land and send us somewhere else.”

But Chazut’s future plans lie firmly in Maskiyot. He sees the tiny outpost growing into a 500-family hub of Jewish life in the northern Jordan Valley within 10 years.

He looks out over the bowl of land that sits below the settlement, where settlers have already planted palm and olive trees. The afternoon winds have picked up, whistling through the homes and barracks, alleviating the intense heat that pounds the valley throughout the day. Because of the harsh conditions, settlement in the Jordan Valley has been slower than in the heavily settled areas in the center of Israel, primarily around Jerusalem.

“I didn’t come to live here to stop the future peace plans,” he says. “But if the Arabs don’t want to live with me in peace, it is their problem, not mine. I am the strong one here.”

The argument over the Maskiyot and the Jordan Valley is one at the core of the existence of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

For the many Israelis, the victory in 1967 and the expansion into the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria were the realization of the full Jewish state as described in the Bible: the Israel that the architects of Zionism had always dreamed of — one which extended from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

But with a larger Israel came a price, most notably the demographic question of the Palestinians — 2.35 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. If Israel were to annex the land, the Jewish majority would be lost to the new Israeli citizens: Palestinians who have a much higher birthrate than Jewish Israelis.

Despite the “demographic time bomb,” settlers like Ephraim Bluth, who lives in a large settlement near Ramallah, don’t see divestment from the West Bank and the Jordan Valley as an option. A native New Yorker, Bluth, moved to Israel 37 years ago. He has eight children, all of whom served in the Israeli army, a fact he alludes to with pride.

There are three different camps of opinion over the question of the land gained in 1967, particularly the West Bank, according to Bluth. One group sees the territories as a strategic asset to be traded for peace, another sees them as a strategic liability, which must be given up, and then there is his constituency.

“I am from the camp that says the land of Israel, including those territories captured in 1967, are in fact a gift from God … this is ours, has been ours and with God’s help, always will be,” Bluth said.

ALTTEXTBut just as Bluth is confident of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank, Khdirat is sure of its end.

“When the Israeli military jeeps leave, he [Chazut and all the settlers] will leave before them,” Khdirat says with a chuckle. “He have experience leaving from many place to the other. He left his homeland in Morocco maybe, or maybe Europe, and he left Sina [the Sinai Peninsula], and he left Gaza, and he will leave the Jordan Valley.”

But until the settlers leave, he sees them as a constant threat. Khdirat visits the farm of Jasser Daraghmeh, who says that the Israeli government has ordered the demolition of his home because it does not comply with Israeli building code.

“Even if they destroy our home, we will build a new one,” Daraghmeh says. “We will never leave.”

Daraghmeh’s farm is at the bottom of a valley hemmed in by land reserved for the Israeli military to the west and a string of settlements along the ridge to the east, including Maskiyot.

As dusk gives way to the deep blue of coming night, Daraghmeh invites Khdirat to sit with his father and a neighbor for tea. They recline around a small table in plastic chairs set on a dusty patch of ground. The lights of the settlements on the hills above flicker on, as bats flit in and out of the growing darkness on the valley floor. The afternoon winds that come up the valley and over the hills have died down completely.

The men tell stories of their sheep being shot from helicopters and of a brother being killed by a mortar shell. They talk of kin being pushed off the land, of the ever growing radius of the settlers’ fences. Whether some of the stories are exaggerated or entirely fabricated, the truth of their pain is clear. This is the tragedy of the place.

“We have been patient, but I don’t know what my children will do,” says Daraghmeh’s neighbor, Faiq Spah. His allusion is to a future of violence. For these men, like those living in the settlements, true co-existence seems impossible — the threshold for peace long passed, despite leaders on either side who say they are working toward it.

In complete blackness, their stories come to an end. The lights of the settlements gleam on the hills, and the farmers on the valley floor retire to their homes, black without electricity.

The dreadful ‘D’ words

Divorce, dissolution, divestment: These are words that spell the end of a relationship and of what might have been — through time and patience — a meaningful and inspiring marriage.

We know how often this happens to people we know, and so it is happening at this moment to the State of Israel. Like meddling in-laws, we, the world community, sit in the family room voicing our interests in the couple’s future, yet the minute we sense marital discord, we rush for the exit or take sides and fan the flames.

Israel has a population of 7.2 million — 76 percent Jews, 20 percent Arabs and 4 percent immigrant workers. The Israeli-Arab citizenry breaks down as 82 percent Muslims, 9 percent Christian and 9 percent Druze. All these groups live together in an intricate array of diverse ancestry, professional ties and domestic dependence. Each citizen has a vote in the functioning democracy that is the State of Israel, and by extension a voice at the family table of the Knesset.

The entire world debates how to intervene in this contentious and vociferous marriage, whose every dispute we mostly hear second-hand from the world media. Do we continue to support Israel, even though we know there are serious domestic disputes and inequities? Should we divest from, abandon, a world leader in high-tech, biotech, medical and environmental enterprises that benefit the world? In our desire to punish the couple, or one partner, do we ultimately punish ourselves?

These were some of the questions we sought answers to when we joined the Los Angeles Religious Leaders Delegation in an interfaith mission to Rome, the Vatican, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in January 2008, a group of Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and a Muslim.

Israeli society is far more complex than we had envisaged. With the exception of the Druze and Bedouins, the Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Nowhere is this glass partition more apparent than in Jerusalem, where we experienced the psychological barrier between Arabs and Jews. Although many Israeli-Arabs earn more than their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, their wages and the social services they receive in Israel are not on par with Israeli Jews. This Israeli-Arab minority needs to be nurtured, ensured equal social status and accorded full civil rights and municipal services.

According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who covers the West Bank and Gaza for various publications and with whom we met, the employment discrepancy can be attributed to two factors: a lower level of education in the Arab work force, resulting in skills more suited to lower paying jobs, and anti-Arab employment discrimination, at all levels of business sectors. Toameh — respected by both Israelis and Palestinians — outlined proposed solutions to the problem, noting that the Israeli government is prioritizing educational reform in the Arab sector, and making genuine efforts to increase Arab employment in higher-paid professions.

As a Christian and a Muslim, who ourselves would be minorities in Israeli society, we believe our most constructive role should be to support responsible investment in Israel, not punishment through divestment actions destined to backfire.

Rather than divestment, we support investment — financial and otherwise — in Israeli enterprises that address social and economic inequalities, enable joint business enterprises, increase employment among the Arab population, and offer high-quality social services to underprivileged and minority citizens. Such enterprises are seeding the ground for a flourishing, mutually beneficial society for Israelis and Palestinians.

For example, at Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, at-risk students from lower socioeconomic level Jewish and Arab families and children of immigrant workers harmoniously coexist in a project partially funded by Cisco Systems. Children find a safe haven at Bialik-Rogozin, and receive a quality kindergarden through 12th-grade education. At Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Multicultural Center in Jaffa, Jewish and Arab teenagers interact socially and engage in a variety of social justice projects together, many of which benefit Palestinians in the West Bank.

We also came to understand how successive corrupt Palestinian leaderships have fed the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the territories. Any wishful thinking that divestment will lead to military calm along Israeli-Palestinian borders is strategically flawed. The present war of attrition between Israel and self-governing Gaza has been instigated and sustained by the extremist Hamas leadership whose charter calling for the eradication of Israel harms the very people it claims to serve, malnourishing the nascent Palestinian state which otherwise has the support of virtually the entire international community.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, we believe people of good will should turn away from the destructive D words of Divorce, Dissolution and Divestment, and work instead for peace, security and happiness for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe in supporting the prosperous marriage that can result from targeted investment and economic partnerships between the respective states, and between their many peoples.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson oversees 390 United Methodist Congregations in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Dr. Nur Amersi is the executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation.

The other refugees

Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Briefs: Some West Bank settlers would agree to leave, Israel OKs Palestinian police stations

Some West Bank Settlers Would Leave If Offered Government Support, Poll Finds

Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.

The poll was conducted at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Minister Ami Ayalon, who want Israel to group settlers within the fence on the assumption that it will serve as the de facto border with a future Palestinian state. The newspaper did not provide details on how many people were polled or the margin of error.

Israel’s failure to satisfactorily rehabilitate many of the 8,000 Jews it removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised speculation that West Bank settlers would think twice about accepting government relocation offers.

Israel OKs Reopening of 20 Palestinian Police Stations in West Bank

Israel will allow the reopening of 20 West Bank police stations under Palestinian control. The stations will have a staff of approximately 500 and are located in a zone under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. This is the first time Israel has permitted such a move since 2001. It is part of commitments made last week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

“This aims to enhance security and impose law and order under the Abbas security plan,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

Al Qaeda Assails Hamas’ Purported Willingness to Support Peace Accord

Al Qaeda came out against Hamas’ purported willingness to support a future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement on the Internet Tuesday attacking the Palestinian Islamist group after its leaders told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that they could support a future peace accord if it passes a Palestinian referendum.

“As for peace agreements with Israel, they spoke of putting it to a referendum, despite considering it a breach of shariah,” Zawahiri said, referring to Muslim law. “How can they put a matter that violates shariah to a referendum?”

Hamas has made clear, however, that it would continue in its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, no matter what peace terms Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaches with the Israelis. The referendum demanded by Hamas also would have to include millions of “exiled” Palestinians, many of them radicalized refugees, making it a nonstarter in terms of logistics and of the possibility of endorsing a vision of two-state coexistence.

Rising Anti-Semitism in Muslim Countries Fueling Hostility to Israel, Study Finds

Official anti-Semitism is on the rise in Muslim countries of the Middle East, fueling long-term hostility to Israel, a study found. Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a study this week arguing that in Iran and Arab states — even those that have recognized the Jewish state — officially sanctioned statements of anti-Semitism with a Muslim slant are increasing, often as a means of diverting internal dissent from the government.

One salient example is Holocaust denial twinned with allegations that Israel is practicing a “real” holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism tends to rise in parallel to progress in diplomatic rapprochement between Arab regimes and Israel, calling into question the long-term efficacy of such accords.

The study singled out Iran as a country whose anti-Semitism poses a potential threat to Israel’s existence, given Tehran’s supposed nuclear program.

“Anti-Semitism supported by a state, which publicly adheres to a policy of genocide and is making efforts to arm itself with nonconventional weapons which will enable it to carry out that policy, is unprecedented since Nazi Germany,” the study said.

IDF Investigating Cameraman’s Death

Israel announced an investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by its forces in the Gaza Strip. Following calls for a probe by Reuters and international watchdog groups, the Israeli military said Sunday it was gathering information to determine the circumstances behind the death of Fadel Shana.

Shana was killed while filming a central Gaza combat zone, and film from his camera showed an Israeli tank firing in his direction. An autopsy revealed that he had been hit by a kind of dart used in Israeli shells.

Some critics have suggested the tank crew targeted Shana, although it knew he was a journalist. The Israeli military rejected this.

“The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations, not only does it not deliberately target uninvolved civilians, it also uses means to avoid such incidents,” the IDF said in a statement. “Reports claiming the opposite are false and misleading.”

Israel Foils Two Hamas Border Attacks

Israeli forces foiled a massive Palestinian assault on a key Gaza Strip border crossing. Using an armored car and two explosives-laden jeeps painted to resemble Israeli military vehicles, Hamas terrorists rammed the Kerem Shalom border terminal before dawn last Saturday. Israeli soldiers at first responded with small-arms fire, but took cover as the jeeps were blown up by their drivers.

In parallel, another Hamas armored car tried to smash through the Gaza-Israel border fence north of Kerem Shalom but was destroyed by tank fire. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the Kerem Shalom incident, and four Hamas gunmen were killed.

Israel’s top brass said Hamas had been denied its objective of killing a large number of troops and abducting others in a blow to the Jewish state’s morale on Passover eve. Six Hamas gunmen and another Palestinian were killed in later Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Israel Upgrades Dress Code for Official Meetings

A more formal dress code is being adopted in the halls of Israel’s government. Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel sent ministers and other top Israeli officials an advisory that following the Passover vacation, they will be expected to dress formally at government-level meetings, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday.

Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Despair?

Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach
antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to
be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.

Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with
guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that
“terrorism” can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of
one group and justify that of another.

One might say I’m an all-around, groovy radical. And yet,
I’ve got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers
blowing up Israeli citizens.

Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an
Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy
gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied
by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel’s fault, the narrative goes, that
these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created
Palestinian terrorism.

Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation
must be remedied — the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible
for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?

The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning
in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal
campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and
North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews
were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of

Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples
to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of
dhimmi — legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances,
Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal
restrictions — forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from
entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically
or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.

When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to
participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would
flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the
response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews
instigated by the government or the masses.

This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of
subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could
enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab
Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.

The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in
the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for
1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world
in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee
from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property
was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of
dollars at the time.

Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North
African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with
them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.

Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees
from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a
Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel
absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been
the majority of Israel’s Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.

To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from
the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West
Bank and Gaza — at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt — and dumped the
refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against

Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and
Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic
medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.

In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem
through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in
Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption
would change the status of the refugees. But wasn’t that the moral objective?

Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian
refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring
responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the
mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians
in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.

And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the
wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian

Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been
a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee
problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by
feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab
propaganda creating this phenomenon, the “progressive” movement continues to
feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East. Â

Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of
“The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle
Eastern Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. You can find her on the web at

There Is No ‘Occupation’

Arab spokesmen regularly complain about what they call "the Israeli occupation" of the Judea-Samaria-Gaza territories. But the truth is that there is no such "Israeli occupation."

To begin with, nearly all Palestinian Arabs currently live under Yasser Arafat’s rule, not Israel’s. Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5 percent of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under Israeli occupation is false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the two percent where Israelis reside.

The term "occupation" is also used to indicate that Israel has no right to any presence in Judea-Samaria-Gaza or the Old City section of Jerusalem, and that the Israeli presence in any of those areas constitutes illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land. In fact, Israel has the strongest religious, historical and legal claim to this land.

The territories of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem were integral parts of the Jewish kingdoms throughout the biblical eras and are explicitly mandated by the Hebrew Bible as part of the land of Israel. These lands were Jewish thousands years ago under King David, King Solomon and other Jewish rulers.

Can anyone name a Palestinian Arab king who ever ruled over Palestine? No, because there never was one.

All of the most important Jewish religious sites are situated in those territories. The very name "Judea" — a term which was commonly used by the international community throughout all the centuries until the Jordanian occupation in 1949 — is derived from the same root as the word "Jew," testifying to the deep Jewish connection to the land.

The reason Jews are called "Jews" is because we come from Judea. This historical-religious right was the basis for the League of Nations decision in 1922 to endorse the Jewish people’s right to all of the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan River.

From the standpoint of international law, it is important to note that prior to 1967, there was no other recognized sovereign power in the territories. Israel’s capture of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 did not constitute an illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land, because prior to 1967, there was no legal or recognized sovereign power there.

The Jordanian occupation of Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem during 1949-1967 was illegal, having been carried out in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. The only countries in the world to recognize it were Pakistan and (in part) England.

Furthermore, Israel captured the territories in self-defense. Israel took over Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in self-defense, in response to aggression by Jordan and Egypt in June 1967. Had Jordan not invaded Israel — ignoring pleas by Israel to stay out of the war — Israel would not control Judea and Samaria today.

As Stephen Schwebel, a former U.S. State Department legal adviser and former head of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, has written: "Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has against that prior holder better title."

It is also significant that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw "from territories" captured in 1967, but the authors of the resolution deliberately left out the word "the" before "territories" because it was their conviction — as articulated by then-British Foreign Secretary George Brown — "that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories." The Soviets tried to insert "the," but that effort was specifically rejected so as not to suggest that Israel is obliged to surrender all of the territories.

Finally, it should also be noted that the Oslo accords recognize Israel’s right to remain in the territories, at least until a final settlement is reached. The accords accept Israel’s presence in the territories, at least until an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement on the final status of those areas is reached.

Chapter Two, Article X, Clause Four specifically recognizes that in the disputed territories, "Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order" until a final accord is reached. Furthermore, the Oslo accords do not require Israel to dismantle any of the Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria-Gaza — in effect, an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to maintain those communities, at least until a final agreement is reached.

In short, the notion that there is an illegal Israeli "occupation" is a myth.

Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

A War of Words

Students, faculty and staff members at CSUN were up in arms last week regarding an exhibit sponsored by the university’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). The "Museum of Intolerance" exhibit, part of planned activities for the campus’ Islam Awareness Week (Oct. 21-27), showed photographs of Muslims under attack in several nations including what it called Palestine, with prominent pictures of Israeli soldiers and of Palestinian Arabs throwing rocks.

The exhibit, put together by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, appeared at numerous locations on campus during the weeklong event, which was billed on the MSA’s Web site as intended "to dispel any confusion, misconceptions and anger towards Islam and Muslims."

"We wanted to say clearly what Islam said and where we stand regarding the events of Sept. 11," said MSA President Husnain Mehdi.

Several Jewish students and faculty members, as well as Hillel director Rabbi Jordan Goldson, confronted Muslim students at the display. "Things got very heated," Goldson said.

In addition to conflicts at MSA’s table, Goldson said he also heard from Jewish students that anti-Israel remarks were made during an Oct. 24 lecture in the CSUN Student Union titled "The Truth About Islam."

Marc Reichman, a 21-year-old junior, was very upset by the exhibit.

"It basically ridicules and degrades Simon Wiesenthal’s Museum of Tolerance," he said.

Sandy Struman, a staff employee at CSUN, said she, too, found the exhibit appalling.

"I attended the Islamic exhibit believing mistakenly that it was intended to promote peace and understanding," Struman said. "But what I saw was a photograph mounted on the exhibit with a slogan underneath that stated ‘Zionism is Nazism’ which is the antithesis of peace and understanding."

Struman was told there was nothing to be done when she spoke to campus management.

"It was a horrendous thing to have on campus, but it all falls under freedom of speech," she said. "I respect that, but there’s a fine line between freedom of speech and inciting hatred, and I don’t know where one starts and the other stops."

"The intention wasn’t to make people confrontational, but to raise awareness as to what’s happening [in Israel] and other countries," Mehdi said. "Just because it’s controversial doesn’t mean it should not be brought up."

The MSA exhibit came as no surprise to Sharon Kupferman, a junior studying child development and leader of CSUN’s Student Israel Public Affairs Committee. Kupferman said she was approached about a joint program by MSA student leaders following the Sept. 11 tragedies.

"They seemed interested but then they changed their minds," she said. "I also went to their lecture the week after [Sept. 11] and it was very anti-Israel, anti-American. So when I heard about the intolerance museum I wasn’t surprised."

Kupferman said Jewish student groups are working on a response to the incident, including setting up their own tables on campus to show support for Israel. Arrangements are also being made to provide interested students with training sessions to learn to respond to anti-Israel sentiment on campus according to Aaron Levinson, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Valley office.

Reichman said he plans to get active promoting pro-Israel sentiment on campus.

"We don’t want people just to be exposed to the Arab viewpoint," he said.

Tragedy or Exploitation?

The photograph of the Palestinian father cradling his terrified son moments before the boy was killed in Gaza this fall was viewed live on television and reproduced on the front pages of newspapers around the globe. Like the photograph of the boy with hands raised standing in the Warsaw Ghetto, nobody who saw desperate Jamal Al-Durrah vainly trying to shield 12-year-old Mohammed can ever forget the terror in their eyes.

From the day that the French television photographer snapped the pictures, the image has mesmerized the world. For Arabs, Mohammed became an icon for all victims of the intifada; his image plastered on countess posters. In Egypt, even tissue boxes were manufactured bearing his likeness.

His father, himself wounded, was interviewed by the world’s leading journalists, appearing on prime-time television in the United States. There was a media pilgrimage to Amman to conduct interviews by Al-Durrah’s hospital bedside. Israeli journalists joined in; Al-Durrah appeared in the Israeli press, on radio and on television.

Israel was well aware of the extremely negative propaganda effect of this incident. Although shortly afterwards the Israel Defense Forces accepted responsibility for Mohammed’s death, some insiders felt this admission was rash and premature. Among them was Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia, the army’s southern commander. Samia conducted an investigation and an abortive campaign to reenact the shooting in an effort to prove that it was Palestinian shooters who had felled the boy. But the Israeli army had already demolished the wall against which the pair had leaned. Samia’s efforts came to naught. The picture had done its damage, or its work, depending on one’s point of view. Even if it could be scientifically proven that Israelis hadn’t fired the lethal shots, it didn’t really matter to the world any more.

Now, more than four months later, the photo is once again in the spotlight.

MSNBC is currently conducting a public poll on its Web site to choose the photograph of the year 2000. To date, 480,000 votes have been cast for 49 entries. The shot of Al-Durrah and his son, titled “A Death in Gaza,” has garnered more than 39,000 votes and is currently in sixth place. The five ahead of it are all sentimental images of animals.

A callous propaganda war is raging to exploit this personal tragedy. In recent days, Jews have received e-mails informing them of the poll and urging them to vote for other photos, trying to calculate which has the best chance of overtaking “A Death in Gaza.” “Obviously,” they write, “we have to try to stop it from winning.” Forward the message on to “everyone you know as well!” instructs the e-mail. Instead of taking the lesson of the picture to heart, people who ought most to be disturbed by its implications are implored to try to minimize it.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are busy disseminating e-mails, too, instructing exactly where to click in order to vote for “A Death in Gaza.” They stress the importance of casting a ballot, since winning may get it renewed exposure, and caution that “once the opposition sees this they will also begin to vote heavily.” Apparently this tactic is not a new one, for the Palestinian e-mail continues: “In the past, we have generally managed to outvote them!”

As bloody as our days have become, it has been said that the real war is the war of the media. Unlike claims that horrific scenes are often staged by cameramen anxious for a scoop, no one dreams of impugning the integrity of the photograph of Al-Durrah and his late son. Yet there seems no limit to the lengths taken to hit home one’s point of view.

The wrong conclusion to reach after reading about the MSNBC poll is to race to one’s computer and to vote either for or against “A Death in Gaza.” An ideological vote either way compromises the voter’s integrity and demeans the dignity of the subjects.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, this one may well be worth a million. Its real lesson is to put all parents in the Middle East on notice. If the perverted hatred which fuels some on both sides overtakes us all, every parent — Arab or Jew — is in jeopardy. Even the parent who tries to keep his children safely inside, out of harm’s way, may some day find himself crouching in front of a stone wall trying to shield a son or daughter, both of them caught in the crossfire. And chances are, no one will be around to take their picture.

Denial Squared

I recently participated in two dialogues about the crisis in the Middle East. One was with Palestinian Arabs at a local university. The second was with Jews who have been longtime supporters of the Oslo accords.
The dialogue with the Arabs took place in a large college gym. Some 2,000 students filled the stands expecting some kind of vicious spectator sport. Instead of two sides coming out fighting, they witnessed a strange conversation.

The Arabs acted as if I did not exist. No matter what I said, it was as if I were thousands of miles away. Never did they relate to any of my points.

I had made a decision going in that my focus for the evening would be the policies of the Palestinian Authority that advocated violence. I showed copies of school books published by the Palestinians calling for a jihad to liberate all of Palestine with maps of the hoped-for country that included not just the West Bank and Jericho, but Tel Aviv, Haifa, Safed and Beersheba. They didn’t say a word about it.

When the moderator asked them about protecting Jewish holy sites and challenged them because of the destruction of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967, they responded that the Jordanians did that. “We,” the dapper Palestinian doctor stated, “will protect all Jewish holy sites.”

I then asked about Joseph’s Tomb and the ancient synagogue in Jericho and finally described the military assault that had been launched that very day against the Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem by the PLO. They had nothing to say.

The evening ended with a new understanding of the Palestinians. No matter what you say, what you suggest, you are not there. Never did they engage in any real conversation or respond to any point that I raised.

A few nights later I did a repeat performance. This time the panel was made up of Jews at an event put on by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The teach-in, a product of a co-sponsorship by several Jewish groups, put me up against three articulate spokesmen in favor of the Oslo accords. They all spoke a similar language.

We are in a politically weak position, they said. We cannot rule over the Palestinians. Jerusalem must be divided. Only after we give in to the PLO demands will we live happily ever after with Yasser Arafat.
They at least talked to me. They were willing to admit that “there were problems.” But the mantra continued: “Oslo, Oslo, Oslo.” they chimed away. Weeks of violence did not sway their religious fervor for the peace process. It was irrelevant that the deal was land for peace. Today 90 percent of the Palestinians live on land they control. We gave up the land and there is no peace.

Under duress they admitted there were problems. The Palestinians’ support of violence is “troubling.” The school system of the Palestinians that prepares the next generation for jihad “needs to be looked at.” “We made a mistake not looking at the culture of violence in Palestinian society,” they said.

But one of the speakers suggested that we too have not kept all the conditions. The Arabs suffer from checkpoints and security checks; both sides have broken the Oslo accords, he lamented.

Comparing terrorists who kill Jews to the Israeli Army’s security procedures astounded me. Jews are being killed. The Israeli Army has reacted with a limited response. It checks Arabs who travel outside Palestinian-controlled territory for weapons, and for good reason: Arabs kill Jews. Comparing the action of a country that seeks to protect itself to a society that teaches violence to children and sends its soldiers to kill civilians is beyond belief.

Here lies the strange commonality between both groups that I debated. The Arabs don’t want to come to terms with the fact that Jews cannot give them more land as long as they advocate violence. They do not want to give up their dream of liberating all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Jews who remain vocal advocates of the Oslo accords refuse to recognize these bitter realities. They still support the dividing of Jerusalem, the uprooting of settlements, and giving up more land to Arafat.
But there is one important difference between the two. The Arabs seemed to keep alive the hope to rid the Middle East of Jews. On the other hand, those Jews who still support the Oslo accords are motivated by a true concern for Israel and the stability of the Jewish people. But good intentions do not buy peace. The harsh reality is that Israel’s security and strategic position has been seriously weakened. Instead of sitting politically impotent in Tunis, Arafat sits in Ramallah, shooting at the citizens of Jerusalem with guns provided by Israel. It’s time to wake up to reality.

Rabbi David Eliezrie is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His e-mail address is

A Time to Mull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under Attack

As leaders of the world community try to bring the Middle East back from the brink of war, Prime Minister Ehud Barak is facing a mounting political challenge to get tougher with the Arabs both inside and outside Israel.

Despite the intermittent violence that continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it was the deadly Arab-on-Jew and Jew-on-Arab violence within the country that sent shock waves through Israelis as they tuned in to the news after Yom Kippur ended Monday night.

The Cabinet, in emergency session through much of Monday night, issued a somber statement deploring the violence involving the state’s majority Jewish and minority Arab populations.

Barak told the nation at dawn Tuesday that each citizen, Jew and Arab alike, shared responsibility for preserving the delicate Jewish-Arab relationship built up painstakingly over the five decades of the state’s existence.

One of the dangers posed by the street battles is that they may quickly become part of the political contest between Israel’s political right and left. This despite the ongoing rhetoric from both sides calling for unity at this time of national emergency.

The death toll among Israeli Arabs since the unrest began in late September rose to at least 13 over Yom Kippur with the shooting in Nazareth of two Arab men on the eve of the solemn holiday.

Three others were seriously wounded by gunshots fired in the city that has Israel’s largest Arab population.
Israeli Arab leaders blamed police for the shootings, but police said the fatal shots were most likely fired by civilians.

It soon became clear, however, that the violence in Nazareth was not an isolated incident. Instead, it was the worst of a series of events that had Arabs attacking Jewish cars and property and Jewish vigilantes attacking Arabs and Arab property around the country.

One day after Palestinian mobs destroyed the Jewish holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, Jewish mobs attacked an old mosque in downtown Tiberias.

The violence continued with arson attacks on synagogues in Jaffa and Ramla and Jewish looting of Arab shops in Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre and other towns.

Israel’s Army Radio said the scenes of violence Monday night looked like “civil war.”

Sunday night’s rioting in Nazareth was apparently begun by Jewish youths marching toward an Arab residential area, but this is still being disputed.

Given the lack of media coverage, apparently due to Yom Kippur, the exact order of events remains unclear. The lack of clarity has reinforced the Israeli Arab leadership’s demands for a state inquiry into what happened.

While these leaders have stopped short of calling for a general strike, they want to know who is responsible for the mounting number of deaths among Israeli Arabs since turmoil engulfed the region late last month.
Even within Barak’s own coalition, there has been increasingly strident criticism against the police for acting too forcefully against Israeli Arab rioters.

And the violence within Israel’s borders has become the subject of debate among the nation’s politicians.
Salient among the voices calling for unity was that of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Silent through the previous week of crisis, he went on the air Monday night to “offer my support to the prime minister.”

Netanyahu pointedly refused to be drawn into any criticism of Barak’s performance, either on the home front or when dealing with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s measured tone contrasted with the sharp criticism of the prime minister expressed the next day by the leader of the Likud opposition, Ariel Sharon.

On Tuesday, Sharon accused Barak of vacillating when it came to diplomatic efforts and displaying a lack of resolve in military matters.

Some observers put these different stances down to a rivalry within the Likud Party.

They note that, despite all the talk of unity and a unity government, Barak is plainly hesitant to take Sharon into his government. He is, no doubt, at least partly concerned about the effect such a move would have within the Arab world and the wider international community.

In addition, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin is leading a group within Barak’s Labor Party that publicly opposes the idea of Sharon serving as a senior minister in a unity government.

At least to some extent, this group shares the broad international judgment that Sharon’s high-profile visit to the Temple Mount on Sept. 28 was a reckless act that triggered the subsequent crisis.

For his part, Sharon, who has repeatedly denied that his visit there was intended as a provocation, has been stridently defending Alec Ron, the commander of the northern district of Israel’s police force.

Ron has been criticized by the Israeli Arab community and by the left of the political spectrum for his handling of the confrontations involving the Arab community.

Barak, however, said that Ron was acting under orders and that the entire police force deserved the nation’s support at this difficult time.

But the sense of unease over the police force’s performance has been spreading in coalition circles.
Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg called Tuesday for new orders to be issued to the police to prevent them from making an immediate use of firepower.

Barak is, meanwhile, being attacked for several other decisions he has made during the ongoing crisis.
The premier on Tuesday rejected criticism of his decision to extend the 48-hour period he gave the Palestinians to end the rioting.

The premier said his initial ultimatum to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to end the rioting by Monday night had prompted a wave of intervention by world leaders, and these efforts must now be given time to bear fruit.

Barak’s standing has also suffered in the wake of the Israeli army’s sudden withdrawal from Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus on Saturday and the Palestinian mob’s subsequent destruction of the Jewish holy site.
The Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) withdrawal came just one day after Barak said that to leave under pressure of violent action would be “to create a precedent” and therefore the army would not abandon the site.

The premier has also been weakened by Saturday’s kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah gunmen. The IDF failed to stop the kidnappers from advancing north, and efforts to rescue the kidnapped soldiers have since shifted to the diplomatic front.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in the region this week, seeking to mediate the release of the prisoners.

The kidnapping affects Barak’s leadership because as minister of defense, he carries ultimate responsibility for what was apparently a serious lapse of judgment on the part of local IDF commanders.

The incident also cast a pall over what Barak has projected as his most notable success since he assumed office: the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon last May.

Rallies for Israel

West Valley Jewish Community Center
Thurs., Oct. 12, 7 p.m., 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills
Sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other organizations. For information, call (323) 761-8075 or (818) 464-3210

Federal Building
Sun., Oct. 15, 11 a.m., Wilshire Blvd. and Veteran Ave.
Sponsored by the Council of Israel Organizations and others. For information, call (818) 757-0123.

Sinai Temple
Mon., Oct. 16, 7 p.m., 10400 Wilshire Blvd. Sponsored by the Federation and other organizations. For information call, (323) 761-8075.

The Two Sides of the Street

The only thing Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab shopping malls had in common when news broke last Friday of the Wye II deal was that no one was dancing in the streets. There was relief that something at last was about to move on the Israeli-Palestinian front, but it takes more than Madeleine Albright playing what she fetchingly called an American “handmaiden” to disperse the suspicions of half a century.

As if to underline the dissonance, the two sides of town were operating on different time zones. For reasons known only to a handful of kabbalistic sages, Israel has put the clock back for the winter while temperatures are still topping 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The Palestinians are still on summer time. Seasons apart, Jews and Arabs are still trying to fathom Israel’s tenacious new prime minister, Ehud Barak.

“Every step is one-sided,” said a grumbling Aharon Ringwald, locking his watchmaker’s shop for Shabbat on Ben-Yehuda Street. “It can only work to the Palestinians’ advantage. They haven’t kept any agreement they’ve signed, right from the beginning. They don’t recognize our right to be in this land. They would still like to drive us out. And we’re making it easier for them.”

His neighbor, Herzl Muthada, confessed to mixed feelings. “We give, but we don’t get,” he said outside his narrow flower shop, which overflows with bronze, purple and white chrysanthemums, Michaelmas daisies and stately gladioli. “But it’s too soon to know whether we’re going to fare better under Barak. We have to wait — and give him credit.”

Avi Ben, a liquor store owner, had more faith in his prime minister. “Barak’s done an excellent job,” he argued. “He’s playing tough, and it’s working. It’s the same in the way he handles his coalition. He’s somebody with guts. It’s important that he’s strong, that he’s a leader. That’s how he has to be.”

At Cafe Atara, the manager, Yehudit Levisohn, was cautiously pleased with the deal. “We have to aim for peace,” she said, “but I hope Barak will do it in the right way, even if it takes time.” Two years ago this month, Levisohn was wounded by a Hamas suicide bombing outside the cafe. “I’m sure crazy people will continue to cause problems, but we mustn’t let them succeed.”

Yair Baruch, an 18-year-old who’s waiting to start his three years’ army service, had no reservations. “This agreement,” he said, “is a good move for both sides. What’s important is to create a better atmosphere. If there is an atmosphere of welcoming peace, that should work. The details are less important.

“Barak’s already proving better than Bibi Netanyahu. Netanyahu wasn’t consistent, so nobody trusted him. Barak is trying to do just the opposite.”

Across town, on Saladin Street, Wahib Tarazi, an Arab veterinarian, was less confident. “At least we’re getting something,” he said. “But the Palestinian street won’t be satisfied that they’re only freeing 350 prisoners. It’s ridiculous that we’re making peace, and our prisoners are still in jail.”

What did he make, I asked, of Barak? “Netanyahu was better,” he said. “He presented the real face of Israel. They want to take everything, but they don’t want to deal with the Palestinians as human beings. Barak is more pragmatic. We all know how it’s going to end. There’ll be a Palestinian state. So why is he making it take so much longer than necessary?”

We met in a bookstore, where Tarazi was looking for an Arabic-French dictionary. I asked the woman behind the counter, a Christian Arab with a cross hanging from her neck, what she thought of the peace agreement. “What peace?” she said. “What agreement?”