As I Lay Dying


When my friend and I sat under a canopy of Jerusalem pines, she asked me the time. Never did I dream that 30 minutes later she would be dead. I had never contemplated that someone would try to brutally murder me. Who does? At only 46 years old, I had never given death a thought.

The half hour leading up to Kristine Luken’s execution (and the attempt on my life) was a madness so debilitating that even the moments necessary for preparing myself for death were strangled by the dread of the manner of it.

On my knees bound, gagged and held captive by moral depravity in the Jerusalem Forest seven years ago, I looked up to heaven and moments later felt the serrated machete tear my flesh. Simultaneously, I witnessed the unthinkable: an innocent woman murdered before my eyes by two immoral, nefarious, hateful psychopaths who murdered with such obscene banality that they could hold a machete in one hand and a Marlboro in the other.

Let me tell you what I did and didn’t think, what I saw and didn’t see during that eternal moment that, unlike other events, cannot be routinely processed like other memories.

When the Angel of Death was beckoning, it never crossed my mind that I had not bought a house or gotten married or had kids or held a high-class career or made a bunch of money. Not for a fleeting moment was I regretful that I had always and only “excelled at average,” and bumbled through life not knowing what I really wanted to do until I was approaching 40.

In some respects, the prospect of death was disappointingly underwhelming. I envy those with near-death experiences who see a light, who see God, who have their lives flash before them, and who feel warm and peaceful. Concerning the mysteries of the World to Come, I had only a dull sense that the Master of the Universe was inherently good and raging at the evil of Adam.

But neither my lack of personal career and family aspirations, nor thoughts of God, was what for the most part occupied my mind.

What did was this:

I was thinking of the people I loved. The grief that I would never see them again was so searing that it competed with the machete ripping my skin. Never again would I embrace them or even hear their voices. I had not made the most of every moment. It was too late to correct anything I had said, or left unsaid. Gone forever were the opportunities to correct the moments when I did not extend kindness, sacrifice my time and think of those I loved before myself. I am often emotionally lazy in relationships; my being right had frequently superseded being kind.

After the attack by the Palestinian terrorists — now jailed in Israel — hundreds of Jews, Arabs and Christians sent me letters, for which I shall be forever grateful. People had taken the time to go out, choose a card, write their good wishes, go to the post office, wait in line and send it off. I had no idea how strengthening such kindness would prove to be, and I suspect neither did they.

In my experience, time does not heal. Time does not lead me to an upward turn, a working through, and finally, acceptance and hope. Unable to cry at the evil done to me, for the past few years I was truly worried that I was becoming a psychopath. Then I grew to understand that time does not heal, and evil does not make me cry. It is kindness that makes me weep.

I swear by the wisdom of the Talmud that says, “He who is merciful to the wicked, will be wicked to the merciful.” Raging at those who murder and maim is one thing, but being unkind toward those in our own communities and families because of political differences is a tragedy. I recognize that sometimes it is impossible to reconcile personal differences. However, the arena in which we conduct those differences can still be one of dignity, self-restraint and kindness.

Trust me, no matter how convinced and passionate you or I may be about our political persuasions, it is good to remember that our opinions are never worth more than our friends and families with whom we may disagree.

I learned that as I lay dying.


KAY WILSON is a British-born Israeli tour guide, cartoonist, musician, educator and survivor of a brutal 2010 Palestinian terrorist attack. 

Israeli man killed after Palestinian drives car into Jerusalem bus stop


A Palestinian man from eastern Jerusalem drove his car into two Israelis waiting at a bus stop, killing one and critically injuring the other.

Police are investigating whether the late Wednesday night incident in the French Hill neighborhood, near the border of eastern and western Jerusalem, was a terror attack.

Shalom Sharki, 25, an Israeli civilian from Jerusalem, died Thursday morning of his injuries. An Israeli woman, 20, was in critical condition and on a respirator.

Sharki is the son of Rabbi Uri Sharki, a community rabbi in Jerusalem, and the brother of Yair Sharki, a reporter for Channel 2 in Israel.

The driver, 37, was treated at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital and was to be turned over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning. He reportedly is married with no children and has no criminal record.

The incident was initially treated as an accident, but police later decided to investigate the driver, according to reports. Police said the driver “swerved from his lane and hit two civilians standing at the station,” Ynet reported.

There have been several terror attacks in recent months in which cars were used to ram into pedestrians in Jerusalem in recent months. In one such incident in October, two people were killed, including a 3-month-old girl.

Palestinian kills Israeli soldier on bus


An 18-year-old Israeli soldier was stabbed to death on a bus in northern Israel by a Palestinian teenager.

Police are calling the Wednesday morning incident in Afula a terrorist attack.

The soldier was stabbed several times in the neck on a bus traveling from Nazareth to Tel Aviv. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he reportedly died during surgery.

Police said the assailant, a 16-year-old male from Jenin, did not have a permit to work or reside in Israel, the Times of Israel reported.

Haaretz reported that the stabber’s brothers are known to Israeli security officials and have been connected to terrorist activity.  The attacker’s uncles are in prison in Israel, Army Radio reported.

The attack comes a day before the one-year anniversary of Pillar of Defense, an Israeli operation in Gaza launched to stop rocket strikes on southern Israel.

Last month, a Palestinian on a bus near Jerusalem threatened riders with a knife before cutting off a sidelock of a passenger and fleeing.

Jewish terrorist Jack Teitel convicted of murdering two Palestinians


Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, a U.S.-born Jewish terrorist, was convicted of murdering two Palestinians and the attempted murder of two other people.

Teitel, 40, also was convicted Jan. 16 in Jerusalem District Court of premeditated murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, arms manufacturing and incitement to violence.

The Florida native, who made aliyah in 2000, has been held in an Israeli jail since his arrest in October 2009.

Along with killing two Palestinians and attempting to murder five Jews and Arabs, he also assembled a package bomb that seriously injured the son of a messianic Jew in Ariel and set up a pipe bomb near the home of prominent left-wing professor Ze'ev Sternhell.

The crimes occurred between 1997 and 2008.

Teitel had been found unfit to stand trial about two years ago, but a year ago the court determined that Teitel could go on trial for murder. Last year Teitel confessed to the crimes but said he did not recognize the court's authority.

The conviction said that Teitel was in full control of mental faculties at the time of the murders and responsible for his actions.

Teitel is a resident of the Shvut Rachel outpost in the northern West Bank. He has four children.

Israeli group agrees to delay court action against alleged Palestinian terror front


Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center has agreed to postpone litigation against an Australian charity it accuses of being a front for a Palestinian terror organization.

On Sunday, Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief executive Peter Wertheim brokered talks between representatives of Shurat HaDin and World Vision Australia.

“Several ideas have been put forward with a view to achieving a resolution of the issues,” Wertheim said Monday in a statement.

Shurat HaDin had given World Vision Australia until Oct. 15 to stop funding the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which it claimed in a dossier released last week “was established by, is controlled by, shares assets with and is operated in concert with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”

While the ideas are under discussion, Shurat HaDin has agreed to postpone launching any legal proceedings, the statement said. Both parties were urged not to make any further public comments while mediation is underway.

World Vision Australia, which since 2005 has aided the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Gaza with more than $1 million from AusAID, the federal government's foreign aid agency, denies the charges and says it has “no interest in supporting terrorism.”

“I can assure you that if such evidence [of ties to the PFLP] is forthcoming, we will not hesitate to act swiftly upon it,” World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello wrote to Shurat HaDin lawyers in late September.

Shurat HaDin had threatened to launch action in the Federal Court of Australia under the Charter of the United Nations Act, an Australian law that makes funding a proscribed terror organization a crime.

Sister of terror victim Shalhevet Pass injured by Palestinian rock throwers


The sister of Shalhevet Pass, who was shot to death more than a decade ago by a Palestinian gunman, was injured by rock-throwing Palestinians in the same Hebron park where her sister was killed.

Nachala Pass, 10, was hurt Tuesday afternoon by a rock while she played in the park. Two other children also were injured.

Shalhevet Pass was 10 months old when she was killed by a Palestinian sniper 11 years ago in the park in Hebron’s Avraham Avinu neighborhood.

Jewish residents of Hebron who entered the city’s Arab market after the attack to protest were separated from the Palestinian merchants and customers by the Israeli military to avoid violent confrontations, Ynet reported.

Munich massacre survivor still carries Olympic scars


SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—The Munich Olympics were meant to be a defining moment in Dan Alon’s life—but not the way they turned out.

Alon was one of five Israeli athletes who escaped the 1972 massacre of Israel’s Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists.

Thirty-six years later, he still can’t shake what happened.

In Berlin last year to deliver a lecture, Alon noticed several Arabs on the staff of his hotel. He changed hotels immediately.

“I don’t feel secure,” says Alon, 63, a former Israeli fencing champion. “I have a paranoia that they are looking for me.”

In the first years after the attack, Alon says he was perpetually nervous, afraid to be left alone in a room. When he traveled abroad, he always went with someone.

For more than three decades, he barely mentioned Munich.

“I really didn’t talk about it, not even to my family or my friends,” says Alon, who recently retired as director general of an Israeli plastics company. “I tried to stay busy with my business, with my family.”

That changed two years ago with the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” an epic film about the attack and Israel’s subsequent effort to hunt down those responsible.

“People started to call me and ask me questions,” Alon says.

Since then he has started writing a book about his experiences, and now he lectures at universities and in Jewish communities around the world.

On Sept. 5, 1972, at 4:30 a.m., Alon and his roommate, fellow fencer Yehudah Weinstein, were awakened by gunfire and frantic shouting. Several bullets blew through the wall over Alon’s bed. They were the shots, he says, that killed weightlifter Yossi Romano, who had been staying in the adjoining room.

Alon hurried to his window below, where he spotted a man in a white hat toting a machine gun. Several feet away, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg lay dying on the ground.

Alon and four teammates—Weinstein, along with two marksmen and a speed walker—huddled in his room. The marksmen suggested shooting the gunman with their pellet guns.

“We decided not to do it,” Alon says. “We didn’t know how many terrorists there were, what kinds of weapons they had, what hostages they had.”

Eventually they agreed to sneak downstairs and outside as quietly as possible. One by one, treading lightly on a creaky, wooden staircase, the athletes descended the single flight of stairs, slipped through a glass door, and went over a first-floor balcony and through the garden to freedom. It took about 15 minutes.

One of the terrorists spotted them as they ran, Alon says, but he did not shoot.

Several hours later the Israelis’ teammates were dead.

“I blame the Palestinians, and I blame the Germans for the failure to [achieve the] release of the athletes,” Alon says. “But I don’t blame myself. I was only surprised that I survived.”

Four years before the attack, Alon took part in the Six-Day War as a technician securing bombs to fighter jets. Just a year after Munich, he did the same in the Yom Kippur War.

Since then he married – his wife, Adelle, is a nurse—and has had three children: Meir, 30; Pazit, 23; and Arik, 28, who has become a champion fencer.

Arik quit to attend college, Alon says, “so I quit, too. I play golf now all the time.”

After the killings in 1972, the Munich Olympics paused for a day, then resumed. Alon says it was the proper move. Not only would it have been unwise to “surrender to terror” and unfair to deny athletes the chance to compete, he says, but the world would have blamed Israel had the Games been canceled.

“For me, the Olympics are a sacred space for sportsmen,” he says. “I believe still that the Olympics are very, very good at trying to unite people around the world. Maybe we need more than one [Summer] Olympics every four years.”

Voice of reason in a sea of insanity, Jewish Dodgers, Prager, archaeologists, politicians and peace


Food Issues

Rob Eshman’s article about food issues is a voice of reason in a sea of insanity (“Food Issues,” April 11).

Much of the meaning behind the holiday is in its simplicity, as Rob indicates. Changing one’s diet for seven or eight days obviously extends beyond the seders. Unfortunately, it is getting swept under the table with the increasing availability of processed foods just like what we eat the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to choose between our day-to-day excessive commercialism or changing our lives for a week and truly appreciating the simplicity and freedom that we normally associate with Pesach.

Ed Rivkin
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Ziman and Lee

I realize that bad news always travels faster than good news — especially with today’s technology(“Four Questions,” April 18).

But the simple and difficult question you asked — is it true — still needs to be answered.

Whatever the answer is, it will say a lot about everyone involved. As you wrote, there will probably be multiple versions of what was exactly said. I think seeing all of them, or at least the generally accepted versions, will be quite revealing.

Philippe Shepnick
via e-mail

Two facts stick out from the Daphna Ziman controversy: She is a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton that included Ziman’s hosting fundraisers for her, and she gratuitously connected Sen. Barack Obama with the Rev. Eric Lee’s alleged vitriolic remarks he has vehemently denied.

She then sent out her version of what he said in an attempt to persuade as many as she knew in the Jewish community to oppose Sen. Obama. Pure and simple, it was just another political hit piece. Hopefully it has not worked.

George Magit
Northridge

Jewish Dodgers

I enjoyed Robert David Jaffee’s history of Jewish baseball players on the Los Angeles Dodgers (“Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players,” April 18).

However, I would like to correct him regarding one of the players that he stated was “hailed by some as Jews even though they are not.”

Scott Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. He considers himself a Jew much in the way Mike Lieberthal identifies himself.

Ephraim Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review
Los Angeles


Period slide show set to Jimmy Durante’s 1963 Sandy Koufax tribute “Dandy Sandy”

Marriage Equality

I am grateful for your publishing the article highlighting Jews for marriage equality (“Battle for Gay Marriage Rights Gains Jewish Support,” April 11).

As a Conservative rabbi, I signed the petition, and I stand fully behind the work of the commission and its desire to bring equality and justice to the many gay and lesbian couples seeking to enter into the sanctity of marriage with all of the rights and privileges that come with that covenant.

Judaism has constantly evolved, and I agree fully with Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a pioneer and leader on this issue, when he teaches that this is a landmark time in the state of Judaism, a time that will require the will and commitment of dedicated Jews to bring yet another group of outsiders into the fold of Jewish life.

Some of the arguments made today against bringing homosexuals into the mainstream of Jewish life are the same arguments made 20 years ago in the Conservative movement regarding women. We overcame those hurdles, and we have started to overcome the current hurdles. Because we are all created in the image of God, all Jews deserve full access to the Torah and equal rights in civic life, as well.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Dennis Prager Ad

Yes, Dennis — I’m a Democrat that fights for carbon dioxide emissions control (Advertisement, April 18).

Had you and your Republican ilk been fighting for that, rather than fighting for more oil around the world, our dependence on your black gold may not be such that we’d need to be sucking it out of places where we are so resented for our presence alone.

Corporate evil — that is what you do not fight!

Kenny Halpern
Oxnard

As a respected nationwide figure and a proponent of moral belief systems, I consider Prager to have a heavy responsibility to present meaningful, well-analyzed arguments.

After reading his ad, “I Used to Be a Democrat,” I was sorely disappointed with the weakening of his own position by the juxtaposition of evil and CO2 emissions.

The implication that being against destroying the earth is tantamount to considering that is more important than nazism, communism and terrorism is absurd and totally unfair. These two hideous problems are not comparable, and one should not have to choose between them to be righteous.

Diane Rowe
Santa Monica

How sad it was to read this full-page ad and realize that Dennis Prager would rather be associated with a presidential aspirant who actively sought the endorsement of the Rev. Hagee and all the hate and bitterness he represents and stands for then remain identified with the true inheritors of the Lincoln legacy, the contemporary progressive movement.

And when he goes on to say that Republicans are for the preservation of liberal values, well, he might as well consider going to an open mike night at the Comedy Club!

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

Web Editor: The Prager ad did not appear online @ JewishJournal.com

Passover Ponderings

As I participated in seders this year, I imagined the early years of the Jews in Egypt. They didn’t come as slaves but came looking for subsistence. They came looking for the opportunity to feed their families.

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.

Israel faces grim intelligence estimate


Last week�(tm)s terrorist attack at a Jerusalem yeshiva and the new Israeli national intelligence assessment presented to the Cabinet on Sunday underscore the acute security problems Israel faces this year and beyond.

The terrorist shooting spree in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, which left eight students dead, raised questions about the vulnerability of Jews in western Jerusalem to terrorists emanating from the mostly Arab eastern part of the city. The gunman was from Jabel Mukhaber, a Palestinian village on the southeastern outskirts of the capital.

While the new intelligence assessment downplayed the risk of war in 2008, it painted a gloomy picture of an Iranian-sponsored missile buildup by Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. It also said Iran is expected to pass the point of no return on creating a nuclear bomb in 2009.

As if all this were not enough, Israelis had another, more immediate concern: Did the terrorist attack in Jerusalem herald the start of a third Palestinian intifada?

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and the intelligence assessment say no. Dichter says there is no evidence of it, and the assessment says the probability of a widespread, sustained Palestinian uprising in the West Bank is low.

But the report added an important caveat: A new intifada could erupt if Jewish extremists attack Muslim holy sites on Temple Mount, or if new Israel Defense Forces actions in the Gaza Strip cause a high Palestinian death toll.

The fact that last week�(tm)s gunman was from eastern Jerusalem has been especially concerning here. There are no barriers or checkpoints to stop Jerusalem�(tm)s Arabs from crossing into western Jerusalem.

Since Israel officially annexed the eastern portion of Jerusalem in 1968, Arabs from eastern Jerusalem carry Israeli ID cards, making it easier for them than for West Bankers to slip through police or army cordons. That is why Jerusalem often is seen as a soft target for Palestinian terrorism.

On the flip side, the Palestinian standard of living in Jerusalem is higher than in the West Bank. Moreover, as Israeli residents, the Palestinian Arabs in eastern Jerusalem receive Israeli health care and unemployment services. Many are loath to put their relatively comfortable lifestyle at risk with a campaign of terrorism.

Nevertheless, 20 percent of Jerusalem�(tm)s 220,000 Palestinians have been involved directly or indirectly in terrorism, according to Israeli police sources.

The special status of Palestinian Arabs from eastern Jerusalem makes measures against would-be terrorists difficult. Dichter says he would deport to the West Bank all Jerusalemites involved in terrorism and their accomplices. But legal experts say that because the Arabs in eastern Jerusalem qualify as Israeli residents, Israeli law does not allow such deportations.

Danny Yatom, a member of the Labor Party and former Mossad chief, advocates building a fence between Jerusalem�(tm)s Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. But right-wing critics say that would be tantamount to acquiescing to divide Israel�(tm)s capital.

In the wake of last week�(tm)s deadly attack, the situation in Jerusalem is even more volatile due to the nature of the target.

Mercaz Harav yeshiva, founded in 1924 by then-Chief Rabbi Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, is religious Zionism�(tm)s most influential theological seminary. It is one of the prime sources of messianic Jewish settler ideology, which sees Jewish settlement of the West Bank and Gaza as a holy mission.

Its rabbis and students are highly critical of Ehud Olmert government�(tm)s attempts to negotiate a territorial settlement with the Palestinians, which they believe flies in the face of the divine order.

That strong anti-government sentiment was reflected in an angry confrontation Sunday with Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who was jostled and heckled when she visited the yeshiva to offer her condolences. Tamir left quickly after some students called her “murderer.”

Prime Minister Olmert later was told by yeshiva leaders that he, too, would not be welcome at the school.

Israeli police fear right-wing extremists might take the law into their own hands and wreak vengeance against eastern Jerusalem�(tm)s Palestinians. Already this week, police blocked right-wing activists from heading to the terrorist�(tm)s mourning tent in Jabel Mukhaber.

The alienation of religious Zionists from government — both because of Olmert�(tm)s willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians and perceived past government betrayals, including Ariel Sharon�(tm)s withdrawal of troops from Gaza in August 2005 — have Israeli police worried about Jewish right-wing violence.

Jewish threats aside, Israeli security�(tm)s main focus is on the external threats to Israel. They were summed up harshly in the intelligence assessment on Iran.

The Israeli estimate is that without any preventative measures, Iran will be capable of producing a nuclear weapon in late 2009 or early 2010. This, the intelligence agencies agree, constitutes the gravest existential threat Israel faces.

In addressing the threat, the agencies suggest Israel is more or less on its own. They do not expect any U.S. military action against Iran, and they argue that international sanctions are having no effect on the pace of Iran�(tm)s nuclear program.

The assessment has a wide regional sweep, providing a country-by-country and issue-by-issue accounting of the updated “threat map” as seen by Israel�(tm)s intelligence agencies.

The main points include:

  • Lebanon: The Lebanese government is tottering and a real danger exists that Hezbollah will take over the country. If that were to happen, Israel would find itself facing a significantly enhanced Iranian forward base on its northern border. In any event, Hezbollah is preparing for another missile war against Israel, possibly on two fronts: Lebanon in the north and Gaza in the south.
  • Gaza: Hamas is building up its rocket capacity, training personnel in Iran and preparing for a showdown with Israel.
  • West Bank: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas needs to be able to show his constituency achievements on the ground, such as the removal of Israeli checkpoints, if he is to make progress in peace talks with Israel.
  • Israeli Arabs: There is a worrying radicalization among Israeli Arabs, evident in demonstrations and stone throwing in response to Israeli military operations against Hamas rocket crews in Gaza.
  • Syria: The regime is stable, with President Bashar Assad firmly in control. Assad is focusing on a long-range rocket buildup in an attempt to reach a measure of strategic parity with Israel in the event of peace negotiations between the two countries. He may be ready to break with Iran and the axis of evil in return for a peace deal with Israel that entails the return of the Golan Heights to Syria and massive U.S. economic aid.

    The probability of war this year with Syria is low, even though Damascus may still seek revenge for the reported Israeli raid last September on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility.

  • Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia: Despite ongoing radicalization in the Middle East, there is no threat to the stability of these so-called moderate regimes.

Tzachi Hanegbi, the chairman of the Knesset�(tm)s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, described the threat map as the “most serious in Israel�(tm)s history.”

Still, Olmert told his Cabinet he is confident that Israel can meet whatever challenges it faces.

“We have answers for all future threats,” he said.

Thousands mourn as yeshiva terrror attack victims are buried


Thousands of mourners turned out Friday for the funerals of the eight students, aged 15 to 26, killed in Thursday’s attack at a prominent yeshiva in Jerusalem.

With Thursday’s shooting, Palestinian terrorists brought the bloodshed that had been limited to an ever-growing area around Gaza to the heart of the Jewish state.

A Palestinian gunman from an Arab neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem stormed into the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem on Thursday evening and mowed down students studying in the beit midrash library. Eight students, including the son of two American immigrants, were killed and several were critically wounded before an army officer arrived and shot the terrorist dead.

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, many Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate news of the attack.

“It’s a tremendously sad day,” Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said. “There are many dead, and right in the heart of Jerusalem.”

The attack took place as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Tel Aviv conferring with his security chiefs on how to move forward after a surge of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, the Israeli military concluded an anti-terrorist operation in Gaza against Hamas rocket crews who have been attacking nearby Israeli communities across the border, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot. Hamas said Israel’s operation left dozens of civilians dead and called for revenge.

Hamas at first took responsibility for Thursday’s grisly attack but then retracted that statement. A Hamas official said his group “blesses the heroic operation in Jerusalem.”

A previously unknown group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh, affiliated with Hezbollah, also claimed responsibility for the attack. Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus last month by an unknown foe; Hezbollah blamed Israel for his death and vowed to take revenge.

The yeshiva students killed in Thursday’s attacks were Yochai Lipschitz, 18; Yonatan Yitzchak Eldar, 16; Yonadav Chaim Hirschfeld; Neriah Cohen, 15; Roey Roth, 18; Segev Pniel Avihayil, 15; Doron Meherete Trunoch, 26; and Avraham David Moses, 16. Moses was reportedly the son of two American immigrants.

After the shooting, anxious relatives of the students rushed to the yeshiva and milled among ambulance staff and security forces. Inside, once the dead and injured had been removed, rescue crews struggled to clean up blood-splattered floors and bookcases. Volumes of Talmud and other religious books were drenched in blood.



Thursday’s shooting marked the first terrorist attack in Jerusalem in four years, and the deadliest attack in Israel in nearly two years. Jerusalem bore the brunt of a Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in 2002 and 2003, but since then Israeli countermeasures largely stemmed the bloodshed in Israel’s capital.

The scene of mayhem and carnage shocked students and teachers at Mercaz Harav, an ideological seedbed for Israel’s national religious movement. Founded in 1924 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the flagship yeshiva at the entrance to Jerusalem combines Orthodox piety with pioneering Zionism. Many of the yeshiva’s alumni have gone on to top posts in politics and the military.

At the funerals on Friday, Mekaz Harav’s director, Rabbi Ya’akov Shapira, delivered a eulogy charging the government with failing to deliver strong leadership and face down a deadly enemy. He called for a “good leadership, a stronger leadership, a more believing leadership” and said, “The murderer did not want to kill these people in particular, but everyone living in the holy city of Jerusalem.”

The yeshiva is identified with the settler movement, and a number of the victims came from settlements. Funeral processions continued to victims’ hometowns.

Israeli police identified the gunman as a driver for the yeshiva, Ala Abu Dahim, 20, from the village of Jabel Mukhaber, which is near Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. Dahim’s family hung Hamas flags outside their home after the attack, according to reports.



Israel said it would continue to pursue U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians despite the attack.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace talks after Israeli troops moved into Gaza a week ago. But after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice this week, Abbas agreed to resume talks, though he did not specify a timetable.

After the shooting, an aide to Abbas, Saeb Erekat, said, “President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis.”

The U.N. Security Council debated a resolution condemning the attack, but passage was blocked by Libya, a temporary council member, which refused to pass any resolution that did not also include language condemning Israeli actions in Gaza.

Condolences poured into Israel from around the world, including from the U.S. president.

The “barbaric and vicious attack on innocent civilians deserves the condemnation of every nation,” President Bush said. “The United States stands firmly with Israel in the face of this terrible attack.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said after Thursday’s attacks, “These terrorists are trying to destroy the chances of peace, but we certainly will continue the peace talks.”

Experts in Israel debated who was behind the yeshiva shooting, differing on whether the Hezbollah-related group could have organized the attack.

Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser to the Israeli government, said it was a credible possibility, noting reports that Hezbollah long has wanted to establish cells in the West Bank.

“This was to be expected,” said Freilich, now a visiting Schusterman scholar at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “If nothing else, Hezbollah has a good record of carrying out their promises.”

Matthew Levitt, a Hezbollah expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Thursday’s shooting does not carry the hallmarks of a Hezbollah operation, which usually is planned well in advance.

Levitt, who has held anti-terrorism positions at the FBI and the U.S. Treasury, said the likelier culprits were Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

If it turns out to have been Hamas, Olmert likely will come under greater pressure to accede to calls for a wide-scale invasion of Gaza to topple the Hamas regime there.


Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

With security focus on Gaza, terror strikes a Jerusalem yeshiva


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Israel cuts power and fuel to Gaza in bid to stop rocket attacks


Critics may be describing Israel’s controversial policy of cutting fuel supplies to Gaza to deter Palestinian rocket attacks as collective punishment, but government leaders in Jerusalem see it as something else: humane.

In the face of unceasing rocket attacks on Israeli towns, cities and kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders approved the new policy to reduce fuel and electricity to the territory as the most humane way of trying to persuade Gaza’s terrorist Hamas leadership to keep the peace.

Critics at home and abroad accused the government of ulterior motives and blasted the policy as immoral and counterproductive.

They say the policy’s real aims are to prepare the way for a large ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas’ burgeoning military infrastructure, to start a process of separating Gaza from Israel economically and to maintain a wedge between Hamas-dominated Gaza and the Fatah-led West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli critics warn the policy will rally Gazans around Hamas and lead to more rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists, not less.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the policy last week after the army’s top brass had urged further sanctions on Gaza following a particularly heavy rocket and mortar attack by Gaza terrorists on Israeli civilian populations nearby.

On Tuesday, Barak appeared to confirm some critics’ suspicions.

“The time is approaching when we’ll have to undertake a broad operation in Gaza,” Barak told Army Radio on Tuesday. “We are not happy to do it, we’re not rushing to do it and we’ll be happy if circumstances succeed in preventing it.”

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai drew up recommendations to impose limits on the supply of fuel, services and goods, and to cut electricity sporadically from the Beit Hanoun area in northern Gaza from where most of the rockets are fired.

Vilnai argues that these steps are in keeping with Israel’s Sept. 19 decision to declare Gaza a hostile entity.

After a daylong debate Monday on legalities, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz approved the new measures but ruled that the move to cut off electricity be deferred until a more detailed plan can demonstrate that no harm would be caused to essential services such as hospitals.

Israel has five electricity lines into Gaza, four of which deliver power to a nearby army base and to hospitals in the Gaza area and cannot be shut down. The fifth line to Beit Hanoun, the source of extensive rocket fire, is where government leaders plan to interrupt power on a random basis for between 15 minutes and an hour at night.

The government already has begun cutting fuel supplies by 5 percent to 11 percent.

Israeli officials argue that it is absurd to supply your enemies with fuel and electricity that they use to fire rockets at your civilians.

Hamas says withholding supplies is a form of collective punishment and a violation of international law. Hamas spokesmen claim they could stop Islamic Jihad terrorists from firing at Israel, but why should they if this is Israel’s response to their offer of a long-term cease-fire?

On the West Bank, Fatah leaders may secretly be pleased at the pressure Israel is putting on Hamas, Fatah’s rivals, in Gaza.

In public, however, Fatah leaders have been fiercely critical of the new Israeli steps.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for Gaza’s estimated 1.5 million Palestinians, not the Hamas usurpers who drove Fatah out in June.

Saeb Erekat, a chief Fatah negotiator with Israel in the run-up to the planned Annapolis peace parley, called the Israeli decision to sever power and fuel supplies “particularly provocative given the fact that Palestinians and Israelis are meeting to negotiate an agreement on the core issues for ending the conflict between them.”

Fatah leaders contend that the tough Israeli measures in Gaza will make it much harder for Abbas to show the necessary flexibility to reach a deal with Israel in Annapolis.

The international community also is taking a strongly critical line. In a tense meeting Monday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Benito Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s commissioner for external affairs, urged Israel to consider the possible humanitarian consequences of its action.

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argued that although Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, it still is responsible for what goes on there. Cutting off supplies would be “contrary to Israel’s obligations toward the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law,” he declared.

In Israel, several human rights organizations have petitioned the Supreme Court urging its intervention.

The plan also has sparked a lively media debate, most of it critical of the government.

The most scathing comments came from Nahum Barnea, the doyen of Israeli political pundits and recent recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize. On the front page of Monday’s Yediot Achronot, Barnea called the government plan “stupid.”

“Rather than severing Israel from the occupation, at least with regard to Gaza, it reinforces Israel’s image as a cruel occupier,” he wrote. “It is incompatible with the effort to reopen dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Arab regimes.”

Writing in the left-leaning Ha’aretz, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff claimed that while Israeli defense officials say the tough measures will reduce rocket attacks, they know full well the opposite will occur.

Therefore, they conclude, “the real aim is twofold: to spark a new escalation to justify a major Israeli military operation in Gaza and to prepare the way for clear separation from Gaza, limiting to an absolute minimum Israel’s obligations to the Palestinians there.”

Israeli officials disagree. They say that the new policy does not look for an excuse to invade Gaza but constitutes an attempt to avoid an invasion.

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer argues that in combating the rockets, Israel had only two choices: cutting the supplies to Gaza or “tomorrow or the next day” sending “three or four divisions into Gaza.”

He added, “And if we do that, won’t innocent people be killed?”

“Maybe this time the people that are responsible for the chaos in Gaza,” Ben Eliezer said, “will start thinking differently.”

World plays waiting game with Hamas


The call for a Palestinian national unity government has unified just about everyone except the Palestinians. After navigating sessions clouded over with vituperation and nuclear threat, leaders attending last week’s U.N. General Assembly seized upon the faint prospect of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, co-opting the Hamas-led Cabinet and moderating its radical Islamist government.

“The world is waiting to see whether the Hamas government will follow through on its promises” of government reform “or pursue an extremist agenda,” President Bush said in his address to the General Assembly on Sept. 19.

“And the world has sent a clear message to the leaders of Hamas: Serve the interests of the Palestinian people. Abandon terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist, honor agreements and work for peace.”

The message was startling only because just months ago there was little doubt that the world had waited long enough since Hamas’ election in January for a reform platform. A sharp uptick in rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern region and the June 25 cross-border raid in which Hamas-affiliated gunmen killed two Israeli soldiers and captured another seemed to close the book on Hamas.

Then, there was little question that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority would remain isolated and there was open talk in Washington of helping Abbas overthrow the separately elected P.A. Cabinet.

Three months later, the sudden war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran’s steadfast refusal to cede the prospects of a nuclear weapon transformed the prospect of a Gaza Strip collapsed into chaos into an intolerable threat.

The fear was apparent in the statement released last week from the Quartet — the grouping of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union that guides the Middle East process.

“Taking stock of recent developments in the region, the Quartet stressed the urgent need to make progress towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” the statement said. “The Quartet expressed its concern at the grave crisis in Gaza and the continued stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians. The Quartet welcomed the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a Government of National Unity, in the hope that the platform of such a Government would reflect Quartet principles and allow for early engagement.”

The three Quartet principles are recognition of Israel, renouncing terrorism and commitment to abide by previous accords.

Abbas capped the General Assembly’s opening week with a Sept. 21 speech that recommitted to those principles.

“Any future government will commit to imposing security and order, to ending the phenomena of multiple militias, indiscipline and chaos, and to the rule of law,” he said.

Hours after Abbas’ optimistic speech, Hamas was already saying it would not recognize Israel.
“I personally will not head any government that recognizes Israel,” Ismail Haniyeh, the P.A. prime minister, said at a mosque in the Gaza Strip during last Friday’s prayers.

As of Monday, Abbas suspended talks over unity, canceling a trip from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas predominates.

Hamas continued to press Abbas to return to talks, desperate for the cash that a unity government could bring even if it was not ready to meet the international community’s conditions for the cash.

“We have not reached a dead end,” Ghazi Hamad, the Hamas government spokesman, said in an interview in Hebrew on Israel Army Radio.

Western leaders indicated they were more than ready to deal if Abbas returns to talks and is able to pull Hamas into a compromise that the West could recognize as meeting the Quartet’s principles.

Elliott Abrams, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, made it clear that the Bush administration was ready to ignore pending congressional legislation that would place strict controls on money headed for the Palestinian Authority or for nongovernmental organizations that assist Palestinians.

It is possible, Abrams told reporters last week, “to give humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people through NGOs, and to work with parts of the P.A. that do not report and are not under the control of Hamas, of the prime minister, of the cabinet, but rather are under the control of President Abbas, or are independent agencies that are like the judiciary,” Abrams said. “For parts of the P.A. that are not, or for direct aid to the Palestinian people through NGOs, that’s fine. That’s neither illegal, nor a policy problem.”

Proposed legislation passed this year by both houses of the U.S. Congress and now stuck in conference — and unlikely to emerge until well into 2007 — does not recognize agencies “independent” of Abbas or Hamas, and places strict limits on money to NGOs.

The fact that Abrams, probably Israel’s fiercest defender in the Bush administration, was ready to blur the lines over how money gets to the Palestinians — even before Hamas made any concession on the Quartet’s three principles — underscored how much had changed since the low point of June 25, when Hamas was declared off limits and Abbas was dismissed as ineffectual.

At that time, the Quartet did not object to Israel’s decision to cut off tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority, as it conformed to an international consensus that Hamas needed to be isolated.

In its statement last week, the Quartet called on Israel to resume the transfer of $500 million in taxes and customs.

“The resumption of transfers of tax and customs revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy,” it said.
It was a new reality recognized by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, in her speech to the General Assembly last week.

“There are no shortcuts on the road to peace, but stagnation is not in our interest and it is not our policy,” she said. “It is in this spirit that I met with Chairman Abbas two days ago and we agreed to re-energize the dialogue between us, and create a permanent channel to pursue ways to advance together.”

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.

Staff Loyalties Stir Concern Over Work


There may be no greater test of the United Nations’ vaunted neutrality than to be a Palestinian staffer of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip or West Bank.

UNRWA has 12,000-plus employees in those areas — where it’s the second-largest employer after the Palestinian Authority — and similar numbers in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In all, more than 99 percent of its staff members are Palestinian. No other U.N. agency boasts such an overwhelming ratio of local to foreign field staff. Nine of 10 UNRWA employees are themselves refugees, according to the agency’s definition of a refugee.

UNRWA employees and their families in the Palestinian territories go through everything that society at large endures, which during the intifada meant the self-described “daily humiliations” of restricted movement, material deprivation and Israeli anti-terrorist raids. Nevertheless, UNRWA employees must sign a code of conduct that compels them to avoid actions that “may adversely affect on their status, or on the integrity, independence and impartiality which are required by that status.”

Realistically, though, some observers ask: Would it be surprising if UNRWA employees were to loathe Israel and embrace the Palestinian cause — and have it influence their work?

Some of UNRWA’s harsher critics speak as if the agency were actively complicit in terrorism, but others say the situation isn’t black and white. With lawlessness, intimidation and violence now widespread — UNRWA itself has relocated some international staff from Gaza to Jerusalem — Palestinian staff members may simply find it prudent to avert their eyes from the militancy around them.

UNRWA officials note that the U.N. General Assembly never gave the agency policing or intelligence-gathering responsibilities in its camps. Moreover, UNRWA officials say, it could be dangerous to ask too many questions about what’s going on around them.

Yet staff certainly can make a difference, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which takes care of the world’s 19 million non-Palestinian refugees.

In some cases, Van Genderen Stort said, UNHCR teams with local military, police or foreign peacekeepers to look out for armed elements stirring up trouble. In other cases, camp residents have established something of a “nightwatch.”

“It’s not that we have intelligence on the ground or that they’re spying on their neighbors, but they know who’s in their community and they keep an eye out,” said Van Genderen Stort, who recently worked in Liberia’s refugee camps. “We, of course, want to help only those who are refugees and in need of help. We don’t want to be an agency that helps rebels who go out at night and fight.”

When it comes to UNRWA, at least some staffers seem to share their clients’ more extreme views. The UNRWA teachers union, for example, reportedly is dominated by members affiliated with Hamas, listed as a terrorist organization in much of the West. Observers have cited numerous instances where suicide bombers and other terrorists were glorified in UNRWA schools, whether through graffiti on school walls or posters in the classrooms. In one incident, Hamas convened a July 2001 conference in an UNRWA junior high school in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp.

“The road to Palestine passes through the blood of the fallen, and these fallen have written history with parts of their flesh and their bodies,” UNRWA teacher, Saheil Alhinadi, said in praise of “martyrdom,” a euphemism for suicide terrorism.

Former UNRWA chief Peter Hansen got into hot water in October 2004, when he told Canadian television, “I’m sure there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime. Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant, and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another.”

Hansen later explained in an interview that he meant Hamas sympathizers, not members.

“Don’t judge people by what you think they may or may not believe,” he said. “Judge them by what they do, in their actions and in their behavior. And there we get back to the very strict behavior code we have in the agency for what staff members are to do and not to do in their behavior.”

Israel, however, says the question isn’t just staff members’ political allegiances but, sometimes, their actions. In recent years, Israel has arrested dozens of UNRWA staffers — 31 from mid-2004 to mid-2005 alone, according to UNRWA — for alleged involvement in terrorism and other activities. Most are released within days or weeks without charges — but not all.

Nahed Attalah, an UNRWA official arrested by Israeli forces in 2002, reportedly confessed to using his U.N. travel permit and his UNRWA car to transport terrorists to attack sites and to entering Syria and Lebanon to arrange weapons purchases for terrorist groups.

In August 2002, Israel arrested UNRWA ambulance driver Nidal Abd Al Fatah Abdallah Nazal, whom officials later said confessed to being a Hamas member and using his ambulance to transport arms and messages to Hamas activists.

In 2003, Israel convicted three staffers: A Hamas member got 32 months for having a machine gun and delivering chemicals to a bombmaker, an Islamic Jihad member received two and a half years for possessing materials for possible use in explosives and a third person was sentenced to seven and a half years for shooting a gun and firebombing an Israeli bus.

In May 2004, Israeli television showed gunmen piling into an UNRWA ambulance.

UNRWA officials said it’s unfair to tarnish an organization of thousands for the actions of a few. They also claimed the Israeli judicial system is biased, with UNRWA denied access to both detainees and the evidence against them — so they’re skeptical about staff arrests and convictions.

Even a former Israeli diplomat chastised his government’s policy of claiming it has a smoking gun that proves UNRWA’s terrorist links, then withholding the evidence on grounds of “national security.” That fuels speculation that Israel doesn’t have the goods, the diplomat said.

“When the U.N. asks for proof and Israel says it’s classified, to me that’s like not having any evidence at all,” the official, who requested anonymity, said in an interview.

The most notorious instance occurred in early October 2004, when Israel announced it had footage of a Kassam rocket being loaded into an UNRWA ambulance. UNRWA asserted that the object in question was a rolled-up stretcher. After further scrutiny, Israel conceded it had blundered — It was indeed a stretcher. But the incident reflected how, after years of tension with UNRWA, Israel was inclined to believe the worst about the agency.

Even UNRWA leaders, however, admit their camps are heavily militarized.

“Of course I don’t condone it, but it’s a fact of life,” Hansen said of the presence of heavily armed militants at an agency function, according to the Associated Press. “Look around the camp. We can’t stop it. We don’t have guns.”

As Hansen later confided to the Danish paper, Politiken, “Who in this camp dares to speak up against an armed man?”

Though U.N. resolutions require armed elements to steer clear of refugee camps, Karen Koning AbuZayd, an UNRWA official, conceded in an August 2002 Jerusalem Report that expelling gunmen from the camps would be “difficult in this region.”

In Gaza and the West Bank, everything is “upside down. The refugees are the armed elements,” said AbuZayd, who at the time of the interview was Hansen’s deputy and who has now succeeded him.

Then there are instances of Palestinian violence that target UNRWA itself.

Last August, three UNRWA staffers — two Europeans and a Palestinian — were kidnapped in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza by what UNRWA described as a “militant group.” UNRWA protested, and the staffers were released unharmed later in the day.

Last New Year’s Day, Palestinians firebombed the U.N. club in Gaza City, which flies the UNRWA flag and is said to be the only establishment in town that serves alcohol, drawing the ire of Islamic fundamentalists. The club’s guard was tied up and beaten.

UNRWA staffers who venture into the fray may risk repercussions.

In April 2004, Israel’s assassination of Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi sparked an outpouring of emotion among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

According to The Daily Star of Beirut, the UNRWA chief in Lebanon, Richard Cook, ordered his staff to go into agency schools and tear down posters glorifying “martyrdom.” Refugee leaders declared Cook persona non grata and reportedly barred him briefly from the camps.

“We have to take the safety of our staff into account,” AbuZayd explained to the Jerusalem Report in her 2002 interview. “If we were to ask our staff to do certain things, we realize that would get them into big trouble.”

At the very least, the United States expects UNRWA to speak up. Washington is UNRWA’s largest donor, providing about 30 percent of the agency’s roughly $400 million budget in both 2004 and 2005. Section 301(c) of the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act compels UNRWA to “take all possible measures to assure that no part of the U.S. contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”

That pressure to vet seems to make the UNRWA hierarchy squirm.

In a November 2003 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office noted that UNRWA balked at the obligation to report what staff members see and hear, “owing to concerns for its staff’s safety” and the “inability to verify beneficiary responses.”

UNRWA’s lawyers countered with a proposal that staffers not “knowingly” provide assistance to those involved with terrorist activities — a standard that critics say sets the bar too high, allowing for plausible deniability. But UNRWA’s request that Congress clarify the meaning of “all possible measures” is a cop out, said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on International Relations’ Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee.

“The representatives of this U.N. agency will argue that they cannot account for their employees’ activities, given the large number of Palestinians on their payrolls,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview. “If they are not exerting oversight over what is taking place in the institutions run by their agency, then the U.S. must exert strict oversight over its contributions to this agency.”

UNRWA camps also have seen a slew of “workplace accidents,” a euphemism for bombs that explode prematurely as terrorists prepare them.

“We talked to UNRWA about it, that if it happens that’s prima facie evidence the person was a terrorist,” a State Department official said in an interview. “But UNRWA’s lawyer says, ‘Well, not really. It’s not a terrorist act simply to make a bomb.’ We say that’s really getting into the weeds legally. We don’t know what other purposes they would be constructing a bomb for, and they fall into our definition for what ought to be excluded. UNRWA agreed in the end, and one reason they did, frankly, is we’re the biggest donors, and they don’t want to get into a spat with us.”

Will Europe Back Hamas Sans Conditions?


Cracks are showing in the international demands on Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism before it takes over the Palestinian Authority.

Ignoring the preconditions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to host leaders of the radical Islamic group in Moscow, prompting similar overtures from elsewhere in Europe.

“We believe that it is an initiative that can contribute to advancing our positions,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau was quoted as saying late last week in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. “We share with Russia the goal of leading Hamas toward positions that would allow for the goal of two states living in peace and security to be reached.

There was consternation in Israel, which had hoped to parlay Hamas’ unexpected victory in last month’s Palestinian Authority election into a chance to make the Palestinian terrorist group embrace a new political pragmatism.

While some foreign analysts wrote off Putin’s move as a bid to boost his diplomatic standing, many Israelis predicted it would spell the end of the “road map” to peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, which had been co-sponsored by Russia.

“As far as Israel is concerned, the Quartet, which adopted the road map in 2003, now becomes a ‘Trio’ whose members are the United States, European Union and United Nations,” analyst Ze’ev Schiff wrote in Ha’aretz.

Fending off a hailstorm of Israeli criticism — as well as a possible showdown with Washington — Russia insisted it only wanted to help tame Hamas.

“We will ask Hamas to change their position according to the latest decisions of the Quartet, which are recognition of Israel, rejection of terrorism and execution of the Palestinian Authority’s past agreements” with Israel, said Russia’s Middle East envoy, Alexander Kalugin.

Such declarations did little to convince Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has worked to persuade the international community that Hamas reform must precede its recognition abroad.

“First they start with talks, after that they ‘try to understand.’ Then give money, then legitimacy. This is what we must act against,” she told Israel Radio.

“This is a black-and-white situation,” Livni said. “The biggest problem is that Hamas does not accept the terms of the Quartet.”

There’s also the matter of funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA). The 25-member-state European Union, which gave the PA some $600 million in 2005, is the PA’s single largest source of financial support.

The initial EU stance toward Hamas could be found in the clear-cut words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who during a recent visit with PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Germany would not speak to Hamas until it renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the front-runner in Israel’s March 28 general election, assumed a resigned tone over the Russian move. But he told his Cabinet that once the new Palestinian Authority Parliament is formed — beginning next weekend — “the rules of the game will change.” The remarks were interpreted as a threat that Israel could sanction a future Hamas-led government by refusing to hand over taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Despite the pressure piled upon it, Hamas insists it has no plan to change its charter — calling for jihad against the Jewish state — or give up its weapons. At best, some Hamas leaders have offered Israel an extended truce — cold comfort given that the group’s theosophy predicts Zionism’s end by the early 2020s.

Some Israelis predict that Hamas will end up paying at least lip service to the idea of peace, which will be eagerly welcomed by an international community feeling hard-pressed by the U.S.-led “war on terror” and the more recent Danish cartoon furor.

“Hamas will say something out of the corner of its mouth,” predicted Ma’ariv’s editor in chief, Amnon Dankner, in a front-page commentary. “A hazy bit of mumbling with deliberate dissembling, in order to allow the world to establish ties with it, talk to it, and recommend it to Israel as a negotiating partner.” Dinah A. Spritzer contributed to this article.

 

Give Peace a Shot


Mahmud, 24, and I, met at a Moroccan falafel place near Dupont Circle on a surprisingly sunny December afternoon. I’d guarantee that even if you looked carefully around the D.C. area, you would find very few “couples” like us — a Palestinian from Nablus, and an Israeli from Herzliya, talking with such sincerity for more than two hours, catching up on life. A week prior to our meeting, Mahmud had returned from a visit to Nablus, his hometown, after four years away living rather comfortably in the United States. The story I heard that sunny afternoon accounts for why Hamas won the Palestinian elections in such a landslide.

“My best friends in Nablus are either masters of card games and snooker, or militia leaders,” Mahmud said. “Most of them, even those who graduated from university, are unemployed. All they do is sit around and play cards. Others who are bored with cards join the city gangs and take arms.”

“Against the Israelis?” I asked, assuming that the answer was yes.

“No,” Mahmud said. “These militias run the city by instilling terror in Nabulsis themselves. They smuggle arms, kidnap people and threaten their lives. They have nothing to do with the Israelis … well, not directly, if you know what I mean.”

The picture of Nablus became clearer as dusk devoured Dupont Circle. Nabulsis were locked in Nablus, unable to commute to other cities for jobs and leisure. Most of the youth were unemployed, and thus occupied themselves in illegal, worthless activities. Disillusionment with Fatah and its leaders Abu Mazen was ubiquitous. Abu Mazen has been promising reforms, but nothing on the ground has changed. The roads were broken, electricity often was shut down and jobs were scarce. Amidst the despair rose Hamas.

“You know, Shira,” said Mahmud to me, our eyes fixated on each other with unusual sincerity, “Hamas is nothing like Fatah. When you go to a Fatah gathering in the city, the chairs are disorganized and people shoot with their guns at the air to demonstrate power and control. At a Hamas rally, which usually takes place in elementary schoolyards, the chairs for the guests are in perfect lines — as orderly as disciplined soldiers — and there is not a single shot heard in the air. It is weird,” he paused, “I think the more conservative you are, the more orderly you become. This is how Hamas operates in Palestine. And people respect that, Shira. Because people know, if Hamas promises something, Hamas makes true. Unlike Fatah, whose words are null and void.”

I listened in silence, holding my head between my hands.

Let the moral of this story be very clear. The outcome of the Palestinian elections reflects not the heroic victory of Hamas, but the crushing defeat of the Fatah. Corruption, empty promises and a deteriorating economy have given way to loyalty to the people and potentially a brighter economic future for the average Palestinian. Sound obnoxious to be attested by an Israeli? It is about time that we begin to talk with our Palestinian neighbors and learn what is happening in the Palestinian streets, before we speculate and are caught unprepared.

My hunch is that Hamas, now controlling most of the Palestinian parliament, will remain passively loyal to its 22nd clause calling for the destruction of Israel. Nonetheless, it will not embrace terrorism as its foreign policy and will remain generally calm and in a state of hudnah (truce) with the Fatah opposition and with Israel. It is in Israel’s hands — it is Israel’s responsibility — not to panic now, as it is standing in a crucial crossroads prior to the Israeli March elections.

If we panic now, and let public opinion shift to the right, Benjamin Netanyahu will rise to power. Being the only real hawk that promises to be harsh on terrorism, he will behave like a bull in a china shop. Wandering between the shelves with good intentions and no real desire to harm, he will shatter the little china figures into pieces and lead us to disaster. Israel will have to pay the price of its own panicking. Again, like in Netanyahu’s previous term in office, buses will be blowing up in the center of Tel Aviv. Four years of sleepless nights are guaranteed.

No, Israel must remain calm. We already know that violence begets violence begets violence. Has anyone tried anything else recently? Let us remain calm and allow Hamas to politicize itself, perhaps re-examine its agenda, now that it is a majority in the Palestinian parliament and responsible for the entire Palestinian population. Let us not panic before we are provided with the reason to do so. Let us not crush with our hands the opportunity for a change before it even surfaces. Let us be unlike ourselves, and just give it a shot. At the end of the day, it’s either we give it a shot, or we shoot at it.

The author is an Israeli sophomore from Herzliya studying government at Harvard.

 

Bush Touts Palestine in Europe


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President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”

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U.S. Hedges Stand on Abbas Victory


 

It was an invitation without an R.S.V.P.

Come on over, President Bush told his newly elected Palestinian Authority counterpart — but let’s wait to set a date. The check is in the mail, I’m just not sure how much.

The decisive election Sunday of Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate favored by Israel, the United States and the international community, has been followed by a flood of “what nexts?” that are decidedly less decisive.

That leaves open crucial questions about the coming year, including the long-term viability of Abbas and his commitment to ending violence, as well as his role in assuming control in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank once Israel pulls out.

Bush called Abbas on Monday to congratulate him.

“The president had a very good conversation with President-elect Abbas yesterday,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Phone calls from Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came after Abbas extended an olive branch to Israel, saying, “We extend a hand to our neighbors. We are ready for peace, peace based on justice.”

That was just the message Bush and Sharon were waiting to hear before extending congratulations.

Bush’s invitation to Abbas was dramatic, in that it was the first to a Palestinian Authority president since the Clinton administration. Bush’s policy was to isolate Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, whom it linked to terrorism.

But it was also hedged: “I look forward to talking with him at the appropriate time,” Bush said Monday. “I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here.”

Bush’s reluctance to set a time for a call and a date for a visit suggested that the pre-election hesitancy to openly embrace Abbas had not passed with his election.

“The United States has decided not to immediately invite him, because if he comes to the United States now, he’d have to go home empty-handed,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a scholar with the Israel Policy Forum, which promotes greater U.S. engagement in the Middle East.

That’s because the administration is looking to see what first steps Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, will take. It is also, in part, because both Bush and Sharon are in the process of switching administrations.

Bush is clearing away much of his top diplomatic staff as he heads into his second term. Sharon is consolidating a national unity government with the Labor Party and United Torah Judaism, having jettisoned his previous hard-line and secularist partners in order to win parliamentary support for his withdrawal plan.

U.S. officials have said that embracing Abbas during the Palestinian’s tenure as prime minister, without allowing him to show immediate dividends, helped scuttle his bid to wrest power away from Arafat then. A public embrace now, without showing results, could end the surge of Palestinian optimism that accompanied the elections. Palestinian officials say that Abbas needs results if he is to survive as a leader.

Diana Buttu, who has negotiated with the Israelis in the past as an official of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, cautioned that Abbas should not be seen as Arafat’s successor as the leader of the Palestinian people, but merely as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

“He is now the person responsible for a very small percentage of the West Bank” and the Gaza Strip, she said Monday in Washington, where she delivered a post-election analysis. “He is a president who is living under direct Israeli rules and conditions.”

While Abbas got an official 62 percent of the vote, she said that only 70 percent of eligible voters actually were registered, and of those, only 70 percent voted in the elections. That adds up to just a 50 percent turnout from the eligible population. This, suggested Buttu, is a sign that many Palestinians were going to wait and see with Abbas.

Turnout for last month’s first round of municipal elections in the West Bank was much higher, she said, because power had devolved to local authorities, a fact she attributed to the ravaging of the Palestinian national infrastructure through four years of the intifada and Israeli military action.

“There is a realization, an awareness that power is no longer wielded on a national level,” she said, suggesting that the terrorist Hamas group sat out the national elections but contended in the municipal elections, because the local authorities offered more immediate powers.

“Palestinians are going to be looking to Mahmoud Abbas to change their conditions,” she said. “If Israel squanders this opportunity, my fear is that it’s going to get even uglier.”

Israelis pointed out that it is not only Israel that has an opportunity to seize — the Palestinians also have much to do.

“There’s not going to be any disengagement with 10 missiles slamming into Israel every day,” said an Israeli official, referring to the rockets being fired against Israeli targets in Gaza.

For his part, Bush made clear he had expectations of both sides.

“It’s going to be very important for Israel to fulfill its obligation on the withdrawal from the territories that they have pledged to withdraw from,” he said Monday.

“It is essential,” he continued, “that Israel keep a vision of two states, living side by side in peace, and that as the Palestinians begin to develop the institutions of a state; that the Israeli government support the development of those institutions and recognize that it is essential that there be a viable economy, that there be a viable health-care system, that people be — that people be allowed to start building a society that meets their hopes and needs.”

Bush also emphasized his expectation that “the Palestinian leadership consolidate security forces, so that they can fight off those few who still have the desire to destroy Israel as a part of their philosophy.”

As for the U.S. role, the White House appeared once again to be adopting a wait-and-see posture. U.S. officials said funding for the Palestinians would be forthcoming — but how much depends on how events unfold.

“We’re going to take a look at what action we might take, as well as what funding,” National Security Council spokesman Shawn McCormack told CNN.

Bush suggested that more answers would be forthcoming at a conference in London next month, which will be attended by Condoleezza Rice, his designated secretary of state. He said he looked forward to helping the conference in London, aimed at helping the Palestinians develop their institutions, and to helping “Abu Mazen’s vision of a peaceful, active, vibrant state to become reality.”

 

U.S. Wavering on Mideast Democracy


 

Last week, President Bush said it plainer than ever before: Palestinian democracy, not just an end to terrorism, is the essential precondition for any new U.S. peace efforts in the region.

With Palestinian elections only a month away, the Bush administration hopes the vote will serve as a launch pad for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a face-saving boost to its sagging Middle East democracy initiative. But the U.S. push for Palestinian democracy will be an outright disaster if it proves to be nothing more than the latest excuse for U.S. noninvolvement in Mideast peacemaking.

It is likely to have only limited impact if Bush refuses to invest any real diplomatic capital in imposing the same standards on some of his best and most undemocratic friends, starting with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Initially, the Bush administration had a straightforward approach to dealing with the Palestinians: end the terrorism and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, and then we can talk about new peace negotiations.

As terrorism diminished — the result of fierce Israeli action, not P.A. efforts — the administration shifted its emphasis to the need for “new leadership” among the Palestinians and an end to endemic corruption. That was the gist of Bush’s June 2002 speech forever casting Yasser Arafat into the diplomatic deep freeze.

But officials here didn’t want too much democracy while Arafat was alive, fearing a new vote would just reaffirm his power. Now that Arafat is dead, the administration has resumed its active talk about Palestinian democratization and made it the new benchmark for improved U.S.-Palestinian relations.

Bush said it plainly last week during a visit to Canada: “As we negotiate the details of peace, we must look to the heart of the matter, which is the need for a Palestinian democracy.”

Bush was reportedly much taken with Natan Sharansky’s argument in a recent book that you can’t make peace with nondemocracies. Sharansky was a guest at the White House several weeks ago to expand on that concept.

However, the Bush administration’s focus on democracy is far from universal. The president doesn’t seem to care much that vital allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan are among the least democratic nations on the planet. Nor is he concerned that these countries have responded to the call for more democracy around the world with even more repression.

When the administration says that Saudi Arabia is a necessary element in any peaceful resolution of the region’s woes, it isn’t talking about some mythical democratic Saudi Arabia of the future but the oppressive, authoritarian, extremist-supporting Saudi Arabia of today.

Pakistan is a valued ally in the war against terror and never mind it is ruled by a repressive military dictatorship. It’s leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, came to power the old fashioned way — through a coup d’état.

Over the weekend, there were reports the administration is retreating from even its limited demands for democratization elsewhere in the Middle East. Its selective vision on democracy building undermines the administration’s goals both in the Palestinian territories and around the world.

Empowering those Palestinians who want representative and transparent government should be a goal of U.S. policy, especially in the run-up to the Jan. 9 elections to pick new leadership for the post-Arafat era.

But what, exactly, are the standards the Palestinians must meet to win U.S. approval? Does the election have to be entirely corruption free — a standard Florida would be hard-pressed to meet?

And do the results have to be ones we approve of? If radicals get the nod from voters, will we simply declare the entire enterprise undemocratic and invalid?

The demand for Palestinian democracy will fall flat if it isn’t coupled to energetic new U.S. peace efforts. In the past year, the U.S. demand for an end to Arafat’s rule as a precondition for such efforts made sense, given the late leader’s penchant for terrorism and gross corruption, but it also served as a handy excuse for an administration eager to avoid further entanglement in the region’s woes, especially before the Nov. 2 U.S. elections.

Now, there are abundant hints the push for democracy — laudable in itself — might be serving the same function for an administration that is getting pressed by European and Arab allies to ratchet up its involvement, but which apparently has little stomach for it.

The Mideast double standard also undercuts the broader effort to make democratization the solid foundation of U.S. foreign policy around the world. Why should people in East Asia or Africa believe pious American words about democracy, when it continues to support their oppressive rulers?

Indeed, the U.S. hypocrisy in the pro-democratization thrust cheapens and undermines what should be an important shift in U.S. foreign policy.

Pushing for fair, open Palestinian elections in early January — and pressing Israel to help make that possible — are commendable goals. Setting unreasonable standards of democracy as a way of keeping the U.S. from being forced to engage in high-risk Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy in the region is a formula for disaster in a region that badly needs active U.S. involvement.

 

Israel Lays Plans for Post-Arafat Era


As Israel looks ahead to the post-Arafat era, the government is considering a series of policy options: in the short term, easing conditions in the Palestinian territories to help a new leadership consolidate power and in the longer term, restarting peace talks based on the “road map” plan.

However, there also are contingency plans for a far more pessimistic scenario: The possibility that the new Palestinian leaders may fail to assert their authority, and that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could degenerate into chaos and internecine violence.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon laid down the general outlines of the new policy in a string of meetings last week with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff; and other senior defense establishment officials.

Sharon made two key decisions. Israel will do whatever it can from a distance to help Mahmoud Abbas, who seems to be emerging as the dominant figure in the new Palestinian leadership, to establish his position, but at the same time it will prepare for chaos if the broad coalition Abbas is forming falls apart.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom highlighted the delicate nature of Israel’s position with regard to the new Palestinian leaders.

“Any name we mention,” he said, “will be stigmatized as a collaborator. But we expect whatever leadership that emerges to be more moderate and more responsible.”

For the time being, Israeli hopes rest on Abbas. He has come out strongly against Palestinian terrorism and in favor of the political, economic and security reforms the Palestinians committed to under the internationally backed road map to peace.

Position papers produced by the Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) suggest Israel made two cardinal errors the last time Abbas held a share of power, when he served as Palestinian Authority prime minister between late April and early September 2003: It embraced him too tightly while failing to make some concessions, like large-scale prisoner releases, that Palestinians expected Abbas to achieve. These are mistakes the Israeli establishment says it does not intend to repeat.

Proposed moves to help the new Palestinian leadership win popular backing can be divided into two areas — military and civilian. A Foreign Ministry paper urges the IDF to go into “defensive mode” and not launch preemptive strikes against terrorist organizations, and the defense establishment seems to be adopting the advice.

The IDF plans to cut offensive “seek-and-destroy” operations to a minimum and to focus on intercepting terrorists on their way to attacks. The hope is that if Palestinian factions also display moderation, it could reduce the level of violence in the territories, improve the quality of Palestinian life and enhance Palestinian support for the new leadership.

Other planned moves are aimed directly at improving civilian life: for example, further easing restrictions on Palestinian movement and encouraging economic activity.

Another goodwill gesture will be to allow Yasser Arafat to be buried in pomp and circumstance, with a full complement of foreign dignitaries in attendance. A special air corridor will be opened to allow Arab leaders technically at war with Israel, such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, to fly directly to the funeral without passing through Israeli border controls.

However, there could be a serious confrontation over where Arafat will be buried. Sharon is adamant that the Palestinian Authority president not be interred in Jerusalem, and Palestinian officials in recent days have spoken of burying Arafat in Ramallah instead. If the Palestinians insist on Jerusalem, it could cause serious tension.

Abbas has been trying to establish a broad coalition of all Palestinian factions, including the radical fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The key question is whether the radicals will agree to a cease-fire with Israel, or whether the coalition will break up over this or other conciliatory moves. Israel is taking into account the possibility of open warfare between Palestinian factions and might even target the radicals if that occurs.

If, however, Abbas is able to establish his position and makes progress toward a general cease-fire and reforms, Israel will consider reciprocal steps such as releasing prisoners. There also would be an Israeli effort to coordinate the withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank, as outlined in Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan, with the new Palestinian leadership.

If all goes smoothly, the next move would be to restart political negotiations based on the road map. This would jibe with European efforts to jump-start stalled peace talks and get the new U.S. administration to join in playing a more active role.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is said to be working on a “street map” that would lead the parties to the road map, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is planning to invite all the relevant parties to an international conference in London to get a peace process restarted.

“We may be starting to get out of the nightmare,” one upbeat Foreign Ministry official, who insisted on anonymity, told JTA. “We have a historic [disengagement] plan in place, a new American administration and Arafat out of the picture. There is a huge opportunity here.”

But some Israeli analysts who know the Palestinian scene well suggest that the government is being far too optimistic, and that Abbas won’t have the clout to make the compromises necessary for peace.

Menachem Klein, a specialist in Palestinian studies at Bar Ilan University, maintains that a relatively weak Abbas leadership would prove to be only a transitional episode, and that Israel soon would have to deal with a new generation of local Palestinian leaders who have far more grass-roots support — people like Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who currently is in an Israeli jail on terrorism charges.

“They are the people who led the previous intifada in the late 1980s, and they are behind the Tanzim today,” he said, referring to the mainstream Fatah movement’s terrorist militia. “They are not a bunch of collaborators.”

In Klein’s view, the young lions would make peace with Israel only on terms similar to those acceptable to Arafat. Though Arafat never spelled out his conditions for peace, they are believed to include Arab control over eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and a “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, conditions no Israeli leader would accept.

“Otherwise they will say, ‘We will fight on,'” Klein warned.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Condi vs. Holbrooke on Foreign Policy


Just days before the U.S. elections, the presidential candidates are sending the same broad messages about their approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the greater Middle East, but they differ sharply on the details.

In exclusive interviews with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, and Richard Holbrooke, a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry, laid out their respective candidate’s vision for the Middle East over the next four years.

A second term of the Bush administration would hope to use Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as the start of new progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

“I think what you will see is, if Prime Minister Sharon is successful in moving forward on his disengagement plan, that that could provide a new impetus for the Palestinians to move toward reform, as they get ready to take responsibilities in the Gaza, and it could provide an impetus then for a beginning of negotiations between the parties,” Rice said in a telephone interview from her White House office on Tuesday.

A Kerry White House would look to appoint an envoy to the region, not to force Israel to make concessions, but to pressure Arab governments to stop sponsoring terror, Holbrooke said in a separate interview.

“You go to Riyadh and tell these guys to stop supporting the worst anti-Israeli elements and the worst anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist literature around the world,” said Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, adding that such an envoy could help reduce Israel’s isolation in the world.

Both advisers said their respective candidate’s would continue the policy of not talking to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and supported Israel’s plans to disengage from the Gaza Strip and to erect a security barrier in the West Bank.

In the minds of the campaigns, the battle for Jewish votes in this election has focused squarely on which candidate will do more to protect Israel and fight the war on terrorism.

The significance of the Jewish vote is what brought both Holbrooke and Rice to Florida this week to address a national gathering of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Both advisers are well-respected in the Jewish community and could, depending on who wins next week’s election, play leading roles in shaping U.S. foreign policy over the next four years. The missions for the two advisers in talking to the pro-Israel community are very different.

Rice and the Bush campaign are working to boost the number of Jews, traditionally a Democratic voting bloc, who will back Bush’s re-election because they like his record on Israel.

Holbrooke and the Democrats, however, are working to maintain the voting bloc and alleviate concerns Jewish voters may have about Kerry’s foreign policy, and specifically the envoy idea.

“If we have an envoy, if we have an effort in the region, it is not at Israel’s expense,” Holbrooke told the AIPAC gathering Sunday. “It is not unilateral concessions with no one to negotiate.”

Some Jewish activists say they think an envoy would pressure Israel to make concessions, and that Kerry’s support for a multilateral approach to foreign affairs would put more stock in the anti-Israel views of European and Arab states. They also fear Kerry could appoint someone they see as anti-Israel, like former President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, both of whom Kerry mentioned in a speech earlier this year as possible candidates as envoy, but the idea has long since dismissed.

Instead, Holbrooke said, an envoy could work in the region to press neighboring states to stop terrorism, singling out Saudi Arabia.

“This is not just about the Palestinian Authority,” he told JTA after the speech, saying the envoy would have immense difficulty dealing with any Palestinian leader, because Arafat would stifle the process.

Rice seemed to mock the envoy idea, suggesting that such a person would “wander around” the region, telling Arab countries things they already hear.

“It may well be that at some point in time, someone else can help in this process, an envoy, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Rice said. “But it’s not the answer, just sending somebody out there to wander around the Arab states and tell them they need to stop incitement. Everyone is telling them they need to stop incitement.”

While Jews across the political spectrum have praised Bush for isolating Arafat and supporting Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip (see page 24) and some West Bank settlements, critics say his administration has not been engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The critics say the White House should more actively push for Palestinian reforms and push both parties to move the process forward.

Rice responded to the criticism, saying: “We continue to be engaged with our Middle East partners, but we have really believed since the spring that the best chance for strong re-engagement will be when the Israeli disengagement plan goes forward.”

In both her address to AIPAC on Monday and in the interview, Rice said the Bush administration would rely heavily on support from states that still talk with Arafat, looking to them to help reform the Palestinian government and pressure Arafat to step aside.

“We can simply not afford to have a situation in which new Palestinian leadership does not emerge,” she said in the interview. “I believe that the international community increasingly understands that.”

She said Bush would continue to work from his vision outlined on June 24, 2002 — which focused on reforming the Palestinian Authority, isolating Arafat and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005 — and was gratified by signals from the Sharon government that he does not see the Gaza withdrawal as an end to the peace process.

“The United States has also been very concerned and very gratified that the Israelis have made clear that it is not Gaza only, that it is Gaza first with four settlements in the West Bank being a part of the initial parts of this to demonstrate that there is a link between Gaza and the West Bank,” she said in the interview.

Cognizant of strong support for Bush’s Middle East policies among AIPAC loyalists, Holbrooke did not challenge the Republican’s Middle East credentials but tried to place Kerry on the same tier, emphasizing that both candidates support Israel’s latest strategy.

“I don’t want us to have a contest over who is more or less pro-Israel, because I don’t think that’s in the national interest in a presidential campaign, when both men are supportive of Israel,” Holbrooke said in the interview.

However, he added, Kerry is better because he had never “played footsie with the Saudis.” He also reiterated Kerry’s criticisms of Bush’s policy in Iraq, and he said that he believed little progress could be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track until the situation in Iraq is stabilized.

Responding to this week’s news that explosives from Iraq may have gone missing in Iraq, Rice defended U.S. action in the region and suggested the United States is on the course to making the Jewish state safer.

“I think you have to ask yourself — was Israel, or for that matter, the United States, safe prior to the invasion of Iraq?” she said. “I think what you had in the Middle East was a false sense of stability, where a tyrannical and dangerous regime like Saddam Hussein was actually not being contained.”

On Iran, Rice credited the president with putting Iran on the international agenda and said the nuclear threat posed by Iran could be handled diplomatically. She told the AIPAC gathering that the world needed to get tough and isolate Iran if it continues its nuclear weapons program, and that the matter would likely be handled in the United Nations Security Council.

“I think we can make diplomacy work here,” she said.

But Holbrooke disagreed. Referring to European efforts to negotiate with Iran on the issue, he said: “Continuing the policy of letting the French, German and British represent an international coalition in Tehran will not succeed. Europe will never be an effective diplomatic tool without the United States taking the lead.”

Rice also said that the Bush administration is continuing to have “pretty intense conversations” with Syria about its support for terrorist groups that target Israel.

“The Syrians, I would say, don’t seem to have gotten the message consistently,” she said. “But I’m confident that if we stay on course and continue to pursue that message, they, too, will understand there isn’t another course for them.”

Both advisers could be central in shaping future foreign policy.

Holbrooke is considered a front-runner for secretary of state in a Kerry administration. And if he doesn’t get that post, he is talked about as a possible Middle East envoy.

While he would not speculate in the interview on possible positions if Kerry wins, he did seek to shore up his credentials. He said he had concerns about dealing with Arafat when he was at the United Nations, and he stressed he was not part of the group associated with the failed Oslo peace plan.

“Oslo was an unsuccessful effort,” he said. “You can’t go back to that situation.”

Rice also would not speculate about the next four years if her boss is re-elected but suggested her desire may not be to continue to serve the administration.

“I am an academic at heart, and there’s a part of me that wants to go back to academic life,” she said. “But I have not made a decision at this time.”

Duke Hillel Fights Pro-Palestinian Forum


The Israeli-Palestinian issue is intensifying the fall-semester buzz at Duke University this year.

In advance of the fourth annual Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, chatter on the limits of free speech and the contours of the Israel-Palestinian conflict have filled the pages of the campus newspaper.

Divisions over the Oct. 15-17 conference represent the latest battle between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian campus activists to take place during the four years of the Palestinian intifada.

The conference, sponsored by the local pro-Palestinian group at the North Carolina-based university, also has some Jewish students and alumni wondering if Duke will lose the momentum it has gained in recent years as a hospitable place for Jewish students.

Conference organizers are calling on universities to drop their investments in Israeli companies, work to “end the Israeli occupation” and accelerate the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

As it has in previous years, the conference has prompted outrage — an online petition asking Duke’s president to ban the event has garnered more than 66,000 signatures — and less-confrontational responses from mainstream Jewish groups.

Like other universities that have hosted the conference, which in the past has drawn some 150 activists across North America, Duke is permitting the event on the grounds of free speech, but reiterating its policy against divesting from Israel.

“We believe the best antidote to speech that others find disagreeable is more speech, not less,” stated Duke’s senior vice president, John Burness. “We are encouraged, therefore, that the Freeman Center for Jewish Life at Duke is proposing to provide opportunities for others to express differing viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian question.”

Indeed, Duke’s Hillel affiliate, the Freeman Center, hasn’t tried to prevent the conference; instead, Jewish students have crafted a response centered on what they believe is a broad-based consensus: condemning terrorism.

From Shabbat teach-ins and lectures to a major rally/rock concert benefiting terror victims, the effort to counter the conference marks a jumping-off point for increased dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is anchored in opposing terrorism.

“We may not know all the issues, and we may have complex political ideas or not, but we understand terrorism is not good,” said Jonathan Gerstl, executive director of the Freeman Center. “I think we’re really looking at this as a uniting” campaign for the campus.

Indeed, in an open letter published in the campus newspaper last month, the Joint Israel Initiative, a coalition of student groups formed to combat the conference, asked the conference organizers to condemn the murder of innocent civilians, support a two-state solution and engage in respectful dialogue.

But the Palestine Solidarity Movement and Hiwar, the campus pro-Palestinian group hosting the conference, refused to do so.

Rann Bar-on, a local spokesman for the solidarity movement and a Duke graduate student, said the group only supports non-violent action, but “would not sign the statement because it violates the philosophy of the organization, which will not condemn any Palestinian action,” Duke’s campus newspaper, The Chronicle, reported.

“The Jewish people have the right to exist in some state,” but the movement cannot dictate its borders or creation, Bar-on told the Duke newspaper.

Bar-on did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment about the group’s agenda.

The group’s Web site, however, indicates there will be workshops on building a Palestinian presence on campus, promoting divestment and discussing the “anatomy of the organized Zionist community in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the anti-terrorism card pushed by pro-Israel students has won the support of key groups on campus.

Duke’s council of residential halls, the student government and the student union have agreed to sponsor the Oct. 14 “Students Against Terror” concert, featuring the band Sister Hazel, with donations aiding terror victims in the United States, Israel, Sudan and Russia, said Mollie Lurey, who heads the Joint Israel Initiative.

On behalf of one of its prominent shareholders, Mitchell Rubenstein, Hollywood.com will co-sponsor a telecast of the concert on its Web site and on the Hillel Web site, Gerstl said.

Rubenstein is the chairman of the Freeman Center’s advisory board.

The anti-conference effort, which includes the weekend teach-in, featuring former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, along with yearlong educational programming, will cost up to $125,000, he said.

Funding has come from Duke alumni and student groups along with local federations and foundations. To date, Hillel has raised $65,000 for the program, with the biggest donation — a $10,000 check — coming from Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

According to Lurey, of the Joint Israel Initiative, previously unaffiliated Jews have now become involved in supporting Israel.

Still, she says Jewish students are feeling anxious about potential rhetoric at the upcoming conference.

Meanwhile, some worry whether Duke’s hosting of the pro-Palestinian conference will tarnish the university’s reputation in Jewish eyes.

Already, an Atlanta Jewish day school cut ties with Duke’s program for middle school students in response to the conference, North Carolina’s News-Observer reported.

“Jewish Duke alumni are very, very, very concerned that all the advances that have been made at Duke in the past couple of decades will end up being for naught,” said Duke alumnus Steven Goodman, a Washington-based educational consultant for prospective college students.

In recent years, Duke has stepped up efforts to recruit Jewish students, who make up anywhere between 15 percent and 25 percent of the student body, Goodman said. But the school’s relationship with the Jewish community is “much more precarious” than schools like Tufts or the University of Pennsylvania, whose deep, generational ties to the Jewish community could withstand a blip on their record.

Duke could be perceived as “indifferent or hostile to the Jewish community,” which could drive away prospective Jewish students, said Goodman, who penned editorials in Jewish newspapers urging Duke not to host the conference.

Gerstl disagrees: “I think the university has worked very well with the Jewish students [by meeting with students and local Jewish federation leaders].”

“The university knows it makes decisions that aren’t always popular,” he said.

Fence Offensive


“People don’t become suicide bombers for the fun of it, you know. They have grievances.”

The statement should have come as no surprise, after all I had heard that day, but still, I was stunned. The speaker was one of two British journalists I’d spent the morning with in and around the West Bank town of Kalkilyah. The Israel Defense Forces were taking reporters to see the security fence late last month; conducting our tour was a lieutenant colonel named Shai, the former battalion commander for the area. Also in the van: Harriet, a foreign editor of the influential publication The Guardian, and Martin, a correspondent for The Times of London.

The Guardian is, by all standards, relentlessly anti-Israel, once questioning the Jewish state’s right to exist. The Times is considered a tad better in its Mideast coverage.

I was, therefore, not particularly expecting objectivity from my fellow travelers, although I embarked on our trip with my own baggage. As a Hebrew-speaking Jew who has spent time in Israel nearly every other year since 1970, I had already come to the tentative conclusion that the security fence was a desperately needed, nonviolent, changeable solution to the murderous wave of terrorism that has taken the lives of 1,000 Israelis over the last four years, injured another 6,000 and wounded the Israeli psyche and the Zionist enterprise in ways that perhaps will not become clear for some time.

Now I was in Kalkilya — the launching point for the suicide bomber who blew himself up outside Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium disco in 2001, killing 21 young people.

Shai, a wiry, fast-talking Israeli with a desert-dry sense of humor, pointed to the bustling highway that skirts the town. “This is Route 6, the main route between the north and south,” he said. “It’s a toll road. I’m not sure how it is in England, but I don’t know any Israeli that will pay money to get shot. We don’t like that over here, so we built this wall to make sure no Palestinians can shoot onto the road.”

While Shai was in charge of the area, a terrorist had opened fire on an Israeli family returning from a wedding. A 7-year-old girl was killed, and Shai removed her body from the car. “When you take out a child with a big hole in her chest,” he said, pointing to the spot where the attack occurred, “you understand why you need this wall. We measured the angle from the highest house where a sniper might be hiding to the road, and built it accordingly.”

Harriet had a question: “So if they build something higher, you’ll raise the wall?”

No, Shai explained, the army has basically cleared the terrorists out of Kalkilya, so one benefit for the residents is that an Israeli army battalion no longer must be stationed there.

Harriet interrupted: “Wait, are you trying to say that the fence is making life better for the Palestinians?”

“In some cases, yes,” Shai replied, echoing recent comments by Palestinian officials, who say the retreat of the Israeli army has led to a revitalization of business, nightlife and investment in their communities.

Martin was having none of it. “This wall is killing Kalkilya, economically,” he opined, “Do you see signs of ordinary citizens turning into terrorists because of it?”

The questions were coming fast and furious now. “Why do you need so much space for the fence? What if Lebanon or Syria said ‘We need a few kilometers of your land for security, in case Israel invades.’ You’d go mad, wouldn’t you?”

As we stood next to the wire fence and its motion detectors, Martin asked, “Is it electrified?”

“Touch it and see,” Shai suggested. As we laughed, nervously, Shai, then Martin, grabbed the barrier. “It’s electronic,” the soldier said , “not electric. We’re not trying to electrocute them; we’re trying to stop them from killing us.”

But Harriet and Martin persevered: “How long must the Palestinians wait at this checkpoint?” “How far inside the Green Line will the fence go?” “You say you compensate Palestinians if you confiscate land for the fence. What if there are olive trees growing on that section for 100 years? How can you compensate them for that?”

Each description of efforts to ease the disruption caused to Palestinian life was met with skepticism; every mention of death and destruction on the Israeli side was bypassed in favor of intricate debates over land confiscation and access to fields.

As our tour concluded, I faced my journalistic colleagues.

“It seems to me,” I began, “that most of the British coverage I’ve seen of this story is inordinately focused on the inconveniences suffered by the Palestinians due to this fence, as opposed to the Israeli lives it is apparently saving. Why might that be?”

After heated denials, Martin said, “Why is there no coverage in America of the root causes of terrorism? We try to understand why Palestinians feel driven to take such extreme measures as suicide bombings. Terrorists only flourish if they have grievances to exploit.”

“Grievances? You know, I’m from New York,” I responded. “Should I try to understand the grievances of the terrorists who flew into the World Trade Center?”

“Well, yes,” Martin answered. “I think Bin Laden tapped into grievances.”

Harriet chimed in, “Do you think they just did it for fun? They have reasons.”

Our conversation was over. I returned to New York, where I later read the International Court’s decision declaring Israel’s security fence illegal, which eerily echoed the deep concern of my English friends about the property of Palestinians over the lives of Jews.

And Harriet and Martin returned to Great Britain, where they may have been enjoying a spot of tea and a scone as they read about the July 11 bus-stop bombing in Tel Aviv, in which more than 30 people were wounded and a strikingly beautiful 19-year-old woman was torn apart by the metal bolts tightly packed into an explosive device. Perhaps the parents of Maayan Naim, who loved to dance and wanted to study and travel the world, would be comforted by knowing the terrorist who so brutally murdered their daughter had “grievances.” Somehow, I think not.

Steve North is a senior producer and radio newscaster at CNBC.

Your Letters


Buy It Now

Thank you for your article about the impending closures of Jewish Community Centers (JCC) (“Buy It Now,” May 14). The Los Angeles Jewish community runs contrary to the rest of the country. Jewish philanthropy is very visible in the secular community, with large contributions to local hospitals and universities. Why is there not an outcry against the closure of our Jewish Community Centers?

As a founder of the West Coast Jewish Theatre (a member of the Association of Jewish Theatres, which is affiliated with the National Council of JCCs), I am heartbroken because I have visited JCCs in so many cities, such as Newton, Mass.; Kansas City, Mo.; Cleveland; Washington, D.C.; and Southfield, Mich., among others. I think The Jewish Federation should reconsider what legacy they are leaving Los Angeles, and a concerted effort should be made to change directions and educate The Federation and the rest of the community as to the importance of the JCCs.

Naomi Jacobs, Marina Del Rey

Lacking Credentials

I read the opinion piece by Nonie Darwish, “When Arab Means Never Saying Sorry” (June 4). I found the polemic to be reductionist and simplistic (what does the term “Arab street” really mean?), so naturally I looked to see what were the credentials of the author. I found none listed; evidently she has no background in Arabic studies, whether literature, history, political science, anthropology, sociology or any other discipline. So what about her personal experience and what might give that experience any legitimacy? Her Web site, replete with misspellings, coyly says that she has a Middle Eastern background but deliberately leaves unclear whether she is Jewish or Arabic. That she is on the board of something called the Mid East Education Team means nothing — anyone can create a pseudo-education “team” or institution that is totally devoid of value. The Institute for Historical Review, for example, is nothing more than a group of so-called historians dedicated to Holocaust denial and ongoing anti-Semitism. I do not understand why The Jewish Journal, with so many experts on every facet of the Middle East and terrorism at its disposal, would stoop to give space to someone with nothing to bring to the discussion and no useful policies to propose.

Deborah Bochner Kennel, Los Angeles

Editor’s note:

Darwish, profiled in The Jewish Journal of April 23,2004, was born in Cairo, Egypt, and raised for much of her childhood in Gaza.She holds a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology and sociology from theAmerican University of Cairo. In Cairo, she worked as an editor at Middle EastNews Agency. For more on Darwish, visit www.StarSpeakers.org  and jewishjournal.com/archives.

New Coalition

Leonard Fein is exactly correct that blind support of Israeli policies and actions does not make one a true friend of Israel (“Pursuit of Peace Requires New Coalition,” June 4).

Fein says, “We have long since learned to swallow hard as the Israelis persist in policies that are ill-conceived and ill-executed, policies that threaten the entire Zionist enterprise.”

I go further and say that as a Jewish American I am embarrassed by those policies, many of which are designed to mistreat and humiliate Palestinians. These policies are not leading to a two-state solution, which is the only resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem that will preserve Israel as a Jewish state.

Fein does not mention the unintended consequences that blind support for Israeli policies and actions by the U.S. government have brought. Clearly the lack of a solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem and the U.S. support of all Israeli actions causes angst throughout the Arab and wider Muslim world, and underlies much of the Islamic terror that the United States is now fighting.

President Bush, fighting America’s war on terror, and Prime Minister Sharon, fighting Palestinians, are in a mutual death dance. It has to stop.

Jeff Warner, La Habra Heights

Leonard Fein is right on target. He states that since the Palestinians rejected the Clinton/Barak plan, Israel is compelled to try new and different approaches. After all, giving them 97 percent of what they were asking for was surely not enough.

Here are some ideas that would fit his predictable ideology: How about forming a binational state? How about letting the descendants of the Palestinian refugees enter Israel? How about making all the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Israeli citizens? Or better still, how about making all the Jews return to their points of origins? These are approaches that will satisfy the Palestinians. And peace will surely follow.

And, then like the Europeans and the Arabs, Fein can polish up a draft of the eulogy for Israel. The world will weep sanctimoniously for the late State of Israel, but the problem with the Palestinians will be solved forever.

Fein has ignored the fact that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are opposite sides of the same coin: one explicitly calling for the destruction of Israel, the other implicitly, and both by their actions.

Jack Salem, Los Angeles

Is Gaza Becoming the Next Lebanon?


It was a loss that brought back the darkest days of Israel’s war on Palestinian terrorism and the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon — and the next day it got even worse.

Six elite soldiers of the Givati Brigade, on their way home from a mission to destroy arms factories in Gaza City, died in a huge fireball Tuesday when their ordnance-laden armored personnel carrier went over a land mine.

On Wednesday, at least five more Israeli soldiers were killed in an attempt to retrieve the remains of the previous days’ dead when their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile.

The losses could not have come at a worse time for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been struggling to promote his beleaguered plan for an Israeli withdraw from the crowded coastal strip.

Wednesday’s renewed raid into Gaza came after Palestinian terrorist groups broadcast a macabre display of Israeli soldiers’ body parts and said they would hold them as bargaining chips to wring concessions from Israel.

"We are fighting a cruel, inhuman enemy and we will not cease fighting it and striking it, no matter where it may hide," Sharon said Tuesday at the Knesset.

Israeli officials said they would not negotiate for the return of the remains. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat reportedly called on the terrorist groups to turn over the remains, fearing bad publicity for the Palestinians.

At least three Palestinians were killed in Wednesday’s fighting, after seven were killed Tuesday.

Despite Israel’s show of force, pundits were quick to draw parallels with the lead-up to Israel’s evacuation of its southern Lebanese "security zone" in 2000, which followed years of public outcry over soldiers killed there by Hezbollah guerrillas.

"The waves of worry and rumors that engulfed Israel today as reports emerged about the operation in Gaza reminded many of the uncertainty, even impotence, of the final months of the IDF’s presence in Lebanon," military analyst Amos Harel wrote in Ha’aretz.

"The catastrophe in Gaza is a blow that will speed disengagement," he said, referring to Sharon’s plan to disengage Israel from the Palestinians by pulling out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Complicating matters is that Sharon’s own Likud Party rejected the plan in a party referendum May 2. Naysayers in the party said any unilateral withdrawal will reward terrorism and the Palestinian Authority’s failure to do anything to stop it.

The day of the Likud vote, a pregnant Israeli woman and her four daughters were killed by Palestinian terrorists while traveling in Gaza. Opponents of Sharon’s plan said the attack was yet another sign that a pullout would encourage Palestinian terrorists to step up their campaign of violence.

A week after the referendum, Sharon announced Sunday that he would replace the original plan with a new, modified version by the end of the month.

"It will take me another three weeks, and then I will present" a new plan to the government, political sources quoted Sharon as telling his Cabinet.

Government officials were silent on whether the new plan would expand or reduce the scope of Sharon’s original proposal to dismantle all settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. Nor was it clear to what extent Sharon would retain key U.S. support for his plans.

Sharon’s office called off a planned trip to Washington next week. Sharon had been scheduled to address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and political sources said they had expected the prime minister to meet with President Bush to follow up on the leaders’ landmark White House summit last month. Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to take Sharon’s place at the AIPAC event.

After this week’s deadly incident in Gaza, some Israeli experts said the soldiers’ exposure to the hazards of Gaza fighting could prompt a groundswell of public support for a pullout. Already, polls have found Sharon’s popularity paradoxically boosted by his loss in the referendum.

"Israelis prefer a weak premier," read one Israeli newspaper headline this week.

"Those Likud members who rejected the disengagement plan because they said they did not have the heart to evict settlers should do some soul-searching," Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service turned grass-roots peacemaker, told JTA. "Do they have the heart to look an average Israeli parent in the eyes and say: ‘We all know Gaza eventually will be evacuated, but it’s OK for your son to go on risking his life there?’"

Is Bush Good for Israel?


Last October, when Israeli air force jets struck a Palestinian terrorist training camp outside Damascus in response to a deadly suicide bombing at a Haifa restaurant, there was some anticipation that Washington might rebuke its Jewish ally. It was, after all, Israel’s first attack inside Syria in three decades. And it came at a tenuous moment both for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for U.S. stabilization efforts in Iraq.

The last thing the Bush administration needed was a flare-up along Israel’s northern border. The expectations were wrong. Yes, the administration, including President Bush, urged Israel to be mindful of the consequences of its decisions. But there was no outright condemnation.

In fact, Bush expressed understanding for the strike; he said he would have made the same choice. “The decisions [Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] makes to defend [Israel’s] people are valid decisions. We would be doing the same thing,” Bush said.

It was perhaps one of the clearest examples of how Bush, influenced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, has come to perceive the U.S. war on terrorism as akin to Israel’s war with Palestinian terrorist groups. That view was evident in his recent press conference, too, when he grouped bus bombings in Jerusalem with a long litany of Al Qaeda attacks, including the Sept. 11 strikes.

Bush’s sympathy for Israel’s security challenges — and Sharon’s domestic political challenges — was evident again most recently at his April 14 meeting with Sharon, when Bush forthrightly endorsed Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, told Palestinian refugees they were unrealistic to ever think they would return to Israel and supported the principle of Israel holding on to portions of the West Bank in a future peace agreement.

American Jews, many of whom have been kvelling for months over Bush’s “pro-Israel” stance, were ecstatic with Bush’s display of affection for Sharon, which was evident not only in the letters of assurances they exchanged but in the jocular atmosphere at their joint appearance before reporters. American Jewish groups from across the political spectrum could not send press releases fast enough praising Bush.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, called it an “exemplary display of historic cooperation.” Israel Policy Forum, a group that strongly backed President Bill Clinton’s efforts to foster a two-state solution said Bush “rose to the occasion.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which fights many of the Bush administration’s social policies, applauded Bush’s comments. Reform movement leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie, so impressed by the Bush-Sharon display, described the prime minister as his “hero” for his unilateral disengagement plan.

There is much evidence that Bush has been an outstanding president for Israel. Perhaps nothing benefited Israel more in terms of its long-term security threats, analysts say, than the U.S.-led regime change in Iraq, which Israel believed posed an existential threat to its existence. Bush carried it out despite warnings from many skeptics who argued that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needed to be found first.

“Certainly Israel’s security is enhanced by the absence of Saddam Hussein,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) told The Jewish Journal.

Bush has made the Iranian threat a top issue, too. Last week, he spoke about the intolerability of Iran achieving a nuclear weapon, “particularly since their stated objective is the destruction of Israel.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, he has given Sharon unbridled leeway to fight Palestinian terrorism. Bush long ago dumped Yasser Arafat as a negotiating partner, acknowledging what Israel has been saying for years — that he is not a partner for peace.

But amid the din of delight about Bush, there are some voices of dissent — including some prominent former U.S. officials in particular, who worry that the American Jewish community is misguided in its praise for the president’s Israel policies. Martin Indyk, the former two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, contends that Bush’s embrace of Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan might harm Israel’s overall security long-term and lead to many more Israeli casualties.

“Look, there’s no question that Bush has been a friend of Israel in difficult times, in his repeated willingness to veto U.N. Security Council resolutions that are hostile to Israel, his sense of principle that Israel has its right to defend itself and to react with force to terrorists who act against it,” Indyk said. “Those things are very important, and I give him credit for that. But what has been lacking is a willingness to help Israel stop the violence and regenerate a process of reconciliation.”

“The problem in terms of the Jewish community is people have come to regard engagement by the United States as pressure on Israel. They have concluded it’s a bad thing. They misunderstand that engagement helps Israel achieves its objectives. Israel has achieved peace with Egypt because of U.S. engagement. It achieved peace with Jordan because of U.S. engagement. But the notion that engagement is the wrong thing is wrong-headed,” Indyk said. “Without that effort, we end up with these kinds of unilateral steps, territory for nothing. There’s no commitment on the other side.”

Most glaring among the Bush administration’s faults on the Israeli-Palestinian front was its failure to encourage Sharon to prop up Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who was forced to resign last autumn after failing to produce any achievements for his people.

“Imagine if Sharon had agreed to evacuate one settlement in the negotiations, the impact that would have had on Abu Mazen’s ability to convey that he could deliver what terrorism could not,” Indyk said. “Instead, the Palestinians reach the conclusion that terrorism works.”

Indyk faulted Bush, not Sharon, for this, saying, “I blame George Bush. Because my experience with Ariel Sharon is he has always been ready to respond to American engagement.”

Instead, Bush, after meeting with Abu Mazen and Sharon in Aqaba last June, became preoccupied with Iraq and walked away from the process.

“The Jewish community agrees that the Palestinians are to blame, and everybody is happy,” Indyk said. “Except Israel isn’t helped by that. If [Bush] had engaged earlier on the Mitchell plan and the Tenet cease-fire plan in the first six months, a lot fewer Israelis would have died.”

Aaron Miller, president of Seeds of Peace and an adviser to the last six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, said, “Rarely have you had a president who is so ideologically attuned to the importance of accommodating Israel’s security needs.”

“In terms of whether Bush has been good for Israel on the narrow issue of Israel’s security needs and requirements, you have an administration that is likely to give Israel the benefit of the doubt that no other administration — at least that I’ve worked for — has been willing to,” Miller said. “It’s rare for a Republican administration to relate so closely and so seamlessly to a Likud government.”

Miller applauded Bush for being the first U.S. president to endorse a state of “Palestine,” the first to talk seriously about the problem of Palestinian incitement and the first to consider introducing monitors, early on, to observe implementation of any interim agreement. But on whether the approach the administration has adopted on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is good for Israel, Miller said, “I think the answer would clearly be no.”

“I don’t want to reach the conclusion yet that what we are facing now [in the wake of the Bush-Sharon agreements on unilateral disengagement] is the beginning of the end of the two-state solution,” he continued. “But what if in effect you are creating enough of a critical mass that the odds against such a solution grow stronger and stronger.”

Echoing Indyk’s criticism of the lack of engagement, Miller said, “We have failed to understand that by sitting on the sidelines and essentially acquiescing — however well-intentioned the reasons may be — we are adopting a course of action that is likely to make the situation worse than better.”

Miller said the political assurances Bush gave Sharon are “not a tectonic shift” from the parameters Clinton outlined on the right of return for Palestinian refugees or the prospect of something less than a return to the 1967 borders. In fact, he said, Bush’s formulations are much more general.

The problem, he argued, is that “the assurances occur against a backdrop of no peace process, no mediation and a climate of hopelessness and despair.”

Bruce Jentleson, director of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University, said the American Jewish community “is too readily equating Bush’s agreeing with Sharon on all issues with acting in Israel’s security interests.”

He doesn’t think they equate. “I think the kind of support the Bush administration is giving to Sharon is not in Israel’s security interests. It’s pretty certain you can’t have security without peace. And this is making peace more difficult.”

Jentleson said Sharon “played Bush like a fiddle” in winning support for his unilateral withdrawal plan by stressing Israel’s war on terrorism and its security needs, issues that resonate with Bush. He said the latest example of this was Sharon saying he told Bush he is no longer bound by his commitment not to harm Arafat. Bush, Jentleson said, “is not calling the shots here.”

The assurances Bush gave Sharon, beyond perhaps endangering a future peace process, also could pose problems for America’s moderate Arab allies, like Egypt and Jordan, whom the U.S. and Israel will rely on for help in implementing the unilateral disengagement plan, specifically the re-training of Palestinian security forces to take control in the Gaza Strip.

While one Jordanian diplomat told me that there would be no formal, fresh consequences for the Israel-Jordan relationship, it seems unlikely that the Jordanian ambassador or the Egyptian ambassador, yanked from Tel Aviv in October 2000 to protest Israel’s handling of the intifada, will return anytime soon.

Washington’s “prejudging these critical issues at this stage will negatively impact the whole region and not just Jordan, also the other moderate countries,” the Jordanian diplomat said. “Anyone who has good relations with Israel will be looked at skeptically.”

A U.S. official said the Bush-Sharon embrace could negatively impact those countries’ willingness to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts and most certainly in Washington’s plan for democratic reform in the region, known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

How much the Bush pledges to Sharon will matter in the long-term will depend largely on whether he is elected to a second term.

“If he has a good legacy in the Middle East, it will be very important. But if he goes down as a one-term president who embroiled the country in a war, I don’t’ think it will have a long-lasting effect, because he will go down as one more president who didn’t really understand the realities of the region,” said Gal Luft, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. A specialist in the Middle East and terrorism, Luft is also a former lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), hoping to boost his credentials with the Jewish community, rather than try to distinguish himself from Bush on the Israel issue — as he has on virtually every other — welcomed the unilateral withdrawal plan and Bush’s endorsement of it. His punting was most evident in his response to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when Tim Russert asked: “President Bush broke with the tradition and policy of six predecessors when he said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?”

Kerry replied, simply, “Yes.”

“He’s basically saying, listen, there are many issues of disagreement between George Bush and John Kerry — from Iraq, to stem-cell research, to choice — but when it comes to the safety and security of the State of Israel, it’s just not going to be an issue,” said Jay Footlik, senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish issues in the Kerry campaign.

Footlik said he understands why the Bush campaign would want to “keep the focus on Israel” with the Jewish community. “It’s a winning message for them,” he acknowledged.

But Footlik predicted that the message will not sway too many Democratic Jewish voters away from Kerry. “Jewish voters are not one-issue voters,” he said. “And while Israel is first and foremost in our minds, we know when we have a strong candidate on Israel and have strong bipartisan support on Israel. [Jews] are at great odds with just about everything the administration has done on domestic issues.”

Jentleson, however, predicted more Jews will vote for Bush than any previous Republican candidate, and that Bush could win perhaps as much as half the Jewish vote. “I think he’ll do really well,” he said. But he does not believe that Bush’s support for Sharon has been motivated by pure politics.

“For Bush it’s a twofer,” he said. “It works for him politically, and it embodies his world view.”


Janine Zacharia is the Washington correspondent for The Jerusalem Post. She
also is a regular contributor to The New Republic and a Mideast analyst for
MSNBC. She wrote this article for The Jewish Journal.

March 11 Attack Hit All Europe


This time it was Spain, one of the principal European allies of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and a strong supporter of Israel’s efforts against Palestinian terrorism.

Following the suicide bombings in Madrid, which left more than 200 people dead and some 1,400 wounded, even countries opposed to the Iraq war feel exposed to the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Within hours of the bombings, which struck trains in the center and suburbs of the Spanish capital on March 11, security was beefed up in cities across the Continent as news of the carnage left Europe as shell-shocked as the United States was on Sept. 11, 2001.

European leaders called for increased security patrols at major sites, and most countries immediately drafted extra troops and police to guard airports and train stations.

Most poignantly, a whole Continent stood at silence for three minutes Monday in memory of those who lost their lives in the worst terror attack on European soil since the end of World War II.

Across the Continent, Jewish communities wondered how the attacks would affect European attitudes toward the Middle East and the war on terrorism.

Some feared that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and by extension, local Jews — would be blamed for bringing terrorism to a European capital. Others said the attacks would make Europe more vigilant against the Islamic terrorist threat that Israeli leaders have been warning about for years.

Even as the European Union hastily announced that it would push for stricter measures to combat terrorism — including demands that all member states accept Europe-wide arrest warrants — there was substantial political fallout from the Madrid attacks.

The fallout was felt principally in Spain, one of the most vociferous supporters of the war in Iraq. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar saw his Popular Party upset by the opposition Socialists in Sunday’s general election.

Aznar’s support for the war, and his alignment with a whole range of Bush administration policies in the Middle East — including strong support for Israel — had come despite widespread public opposition.

However, some analysts believed the defeat stemmed more from Aznar’s initial attempts to shift blame for the Madrid attacks onto the Basque terrorist group ETA, despite mounting evidence showing that the more likely perpetrators were Islamist terrorists.

In recent days, links have been established between the attacks in Madrid and bombings last year in Casablanca and Istanbul that targeted Jewish sites.

Plaudits for the Socialist victory — as well as the announcement that the new Spanish government is set to withdraw its troops from Iraq — came from many sources in Western Europe.

As a first stage, though, European leaders are setting about reorganizing how the European Union coordinates the battle against terrorism.

The European Union’s Irish president has called for an extraordinary meeting of European justice ministers for Friday with the aim of agreeing on a joint response to the Madrid attacks. The meeting is expected to result in a package of anti-terrorism measures to be approved by European heads of state at a March 25-26 summit.

Also expected is a proposal for the creation of a European commissioner with a specific anti-terrorism portfolio, when the commission is expanded in November as a result of E.U. enlargement.

More controversial is a joint proposal by Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria to revamp the European Union’s crime-fighting unit, Europol, to split off anti-terror actions from regular policing of organized crime.

European terrorism experts also will gather Friday for an emergency workshop on "the lessons of Madrid" at the American Jewish Committee’s (AJCommittee) new Brussels institute. Experts from Spain, Germany, France and Belgium are expected at the Transatlantic Institute, said Deidre Berger, head of the AJCommittee’s Berlin office.

European Jewish leaders told JTA they are adopting a wait-and-see approach on new anti-terrorism measures, saying Friday’s meeting of E.U. justice ministers was critical.

However, one senior Jewish leader remarked that he was "already concerned at the reaction of the Europeans, as if they have suddenly discovered that terrorism can strike anywhere and they’re completely naked to deal with it."

In Italy, Andrea Jarach, president of the Federation of Italy-Israel Associations, told JTA he was pessimistic about how fallout from the Madrid attacks would impact Israel and Jews.

On the popular level in Europe, "they will say even more than they do now that if the ‘Jewish problem’ did not exist, there would not be terrorist attacks," he said. "It’s terrible, but I fear that the expansion of Al Qaeda activities into Europe will be a further step that cannot but harm the Jews of the world and Israel in particular."

But that same notion — that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one reason terrorism has come to the heart of Europe — could produce some positive results, Berger said.

"I think this could create a dynamic where there will be more interest in Europe in helping to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because many here in Europe see that as one of the critical incitements to terror," she said. "It is a faulty analysis, but we can perhaps use the emotions of the moment to create a new dynamic toward pressuring Arab countries to create a more peaceful climate, engendering a long-term peaceful solution."

Some commentators, though, doubt that the Madrid attacks will lead to major changes in the European Union’s Middle East policy.

According to Jean-Luc Marret, a leading expert in terrorism at the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation, "Europe does not have a security strategy for the Middle East" but would rather pursue its political goals through "incentives to the region in aid and development."

The Spanish election results were "the quickest and most concrete results I have ever seen after a terror attack," Marret said, though he added that he didn’t believe that states that opposed the war in Iraq were necessarily exempt from Islamic terrorism.

In Spain, maverick left-wing commentator Pilar Rahola said that the Socialists victors would be wrong to think that an anti-American and anti-Zionist stance would provide insurance against Islamic terrorism.

In Britain, perhaps Washington’s closest ally in the Iraq war, insiders predicted that the Madrid attacks and their political aftermath would not change the government’s course.

Lord Greville Janner, a veteran politician with the governing Labor Party, told JTA that Cabinet ministers already assume that the United Kingdom is a target for Islamist terrorists.

David Mencer, chairman of the Labor Friends of Israel lobbying group, agreed.

"There is no doubt that the U.K. is a target," he said, noting that London police officials say that "it’s not a question of if, but when terrorists strike."

But Prime Minister Tony Blair will not alter the government’s course in hopes of lessening the risk of terrorist attack because of his strong personal commitment on matters from Israel to the war in Iraq, Mencer said.

And London has long been quietly supportive of Israel’s hard line against terrorists, sources say.

In fact, much of the new policy set for the European Union is likely to please supporters of Israel — provided it doesn’t include nuances distancing Europe from Israel in the hope of reducing the terrorist threat.

Jerusalem likely would warmly receive proposals expected to be presented by the Irish E.U. presidency calling for clearer definitions of terrorist organizations.

That could mean that Hezbollah would immediately be included on proscribed lists in every state in the European Union. Unlike the main Palestinian Islamist groups, the Lebanese Shi’ite organization is not on certain countries’ terrorist lists — but now it’s likely that even secondary or charity support groups based in Europe will be banned.

One senior Israeli diplomatic source in Europe said the Jewish state might gain both sympathy and empathy in Europe following the Madrid attacks.

"It’s like after Sept. 11, when Americans started to realize what Israelis face everyday," the source told JTA on condition of anonymity.

Nevertheless, he said it was too early to tell if that would translate into a more pro-Israel policy in Europe.

However, the shock of the attacks in the heart of a major European capital has led some countries to issue the kind of statements more commonly heard from Israeli spokesmen.

Visiting a main rail station in central Paris on Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said it was necessary to be "particularly vigilant" but "one should not be overtaken by fear, because that would already give a victory to terrorism."

Similarly, the French press, which almost unanimously opposed military intervention in Iraq, described the attacks in Madrid as an attack on all European democracies rather than direct retribution for Spain’s support for the war or for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In Germany, which fiercely opposed the Iraq war, editorialists wrote that giving in to terrorism wouldn’t stop the terrorists’ demands.

"The withdrawal from Iraq, as the designated Spanish prime minister now has announced, will have an effect comparable to what was produced by the withdrawal of the Israelis from Lebanon," Die Welt said in one editorial.

That resulted in a "bloody increase in Hezbollah attacks and the belief that the Jews ‘hang on to life in a cowardly way, while we are prepared to fight and die’ — as it was said at the time, and today again," the paper said.

While some Jewish leaders felt the attacks would further strain trans-Atlantic ties, European Muslim leaders were worried about a backlash similar to the one they felt after Sept. 11.

Haj Thai. Braze, head of the Union of French Islamic Organizations, the leading group on France’s recently created Muslim Council and an organization with strong ties to the international Muslim Brotherhood, said European states previously had been careful but now would come closer to U.S. policy.

The United States "is going to say, ‘Watch out — you should support the U.S.A. You’ve had your March 11 like we had our Sept. 11,’" he said. "I fear for a crusade against Islam and Muslims."

Marret dismissed that argument.

"Ultimately, the Madrid attacks will not have a marked effect on the European conscience like Sept. 11," he told JTA. "We have had catastrophic events on our soil. [World War I and II] marked Europe and changed policy, but not Madrid."

JTA Correspondents Ruth Gruber in Rome, Richard Allen Greene in London, Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this article.

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
Allah.

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
Israel.

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
desperation?

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

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