Changing the status quo in Jerusalem?


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

After more than a month of violent Palestinian attacks that have killed 11 Israelis, and the deaths of at least 75 Palestinians in both attacks and clashes with Israeli troops, Palestinians insist that Israel wants to change the “status quo” at the Jerusalem holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Palestinians the Noble Sanctuary. Israeli officials insist there has been no change in the “status-quo.”

That status quo allows non-Muslims to visit the site, but not to pray there. However, many Palestinians believe that the recent increase in the number Jewish visitors to the site is meant to pave the way to allow Jewish prayer there. The site is run by the Jordanian Waqf, or Muslim religious trust, but Israel is responsible for the overall security at the site.

Speaking at a PLO Executive Committee meeting this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Israel must preserve the status quo that prevailed before the year 2000, when few Israelis visited the site. September of that year is when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli policemen. His visit set off rioting that became known as second Palestinian intifada.

After that visit, Israel closed the site to visits by non-Muslims for almost three years, but then reopened it after public pressure. Recently, the number of visitors has grown to 12,000 Jews annually, many of them activists with right-wing organizations that seek to rebuild the Jewish Temple at the site that is holy to both Judaism and Islam. To Judaism, it is the site of the First and Second Temples; to Muslims it is the site where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

The increase in the number of Jewish visitors came after more mainstream Orthodox rabbis ruled that it is permissible for Jews to visit the site, and there is no fear of entering the “holy of holies”, a part of the original Temple off-limits to anyone except the High Priest, and only on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Israeli security officials say that the increase in Jewish visitors, along with claims from prominent Israeli Arabs such as the head of the northern branch of the Islamic movement Raed Salah that “al-Aqsa is in danger” sparked the current wave of violence. Israeli officials insist there has been no change, and the original agreement worked out between Israel and Jordan in 1967 when Israel acquired the area, remains in force.

“This claim is not true and it is dangerous,” Knesset member Mickey Levy, who was also a former Jerusalem police chief told a conference at Hebrew University. “This man endangers the security of Israel, and even the Middle East. A war that begins over water or borders will eventually end. But a war over religion may never end.”

Salah is due to start an 11-month prison term for remarks made in 2007 that an Israeli court has called “incitement.”

Levy said that Israel must make work hard to end the current wave of violence and must make sure that there are no Palestinian deaths at the holy site itself.

“When I took over in 2000 I took away the police officer’s guns and left them only with riot gear,” Levy said. “Since then not one Palestinian has died at the site, and that is in our interest.”

Levy, who left the job in 2004, and is today a Knesset member for the centrist Yesh Atid said that he sometimes felt like “the boy in Holland with his finger in the dam trying to stop the violence from exploding.”

In September, Israeli cabinet minister Uri Ariel visited the site and called for the building of a “third Temple” there, sparking angry Palestinian reactions. Netanyahu soon prohibited both Jewish and Arab Knesset members from visiting the site.

“The main cause (of the current violence) is the provocative visits by settlers and right-wing activists to the al-Aqsa mosque with a clear plan to control this area and declare that it belongs to the Jewish people,” Youssef Jabarin, an Israeli Knesset member from the Arab Joint List told The Media Line. “These visits have been supported by Israeli government ministers and the plan is basically to divide al-Aqsa so that for some of the time only Jews can enter while keeping Muslims outside the gates.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo at the site. But police say they have occasionally kept Muslim worshippers from entering the area, if a large group of Jews were visiting and they feared violence.

Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry held separate talks with Israeli and Jordanian officials on how to tamp down the violence. He announced that 24-hour surveillance cameras would be set up. Palestinian opposed the idea saying that Israel would use the cameras to “arrest Palestinians on the pretext of incitement.”

This current wave of violence, which some are calling “the third intifada” or Palestinian uprising is characterized by stabbing attacks, often by teenage perpetrators. A few of the attackers have been as young as 13, with a significant proportion falling between 15 and 18, at least a third of them from east Jerusalem.

“They are little boys, not even young men,” Amir Cheshin, a former advisor on Arab affairs to the Jerusalem municipality told The Media Line. “They are responding to Israel’s long-time neglect of Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. The youth there feel a deep sense of despair and that they have no future.”

Palestinians criticize Temple Mount surveillance plan


Palestinian officials are opposing a plan to install 24-hour surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount.

Several Palestinian leaders criticized the proposal on Monday, Bloomberg News and Reuters reported.

“The placement of cameras in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not only a violation of the status quo; it also enables Israel to exercise security control and provides it with more enhanced means of surveillance,” Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “Israel, as it has repeatedly done, will use it against the Palestinians and not against extremist Jewish settlers or Israeli officials.”

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Voice of Palestine radio that the plan was “a new trap,” according to Reuters. Maliki accused Israel of planning to use the footage to arrest Muslim worshippers that it believes are “inciting” against it.”

The plan, which was announced by the United States on Saturday with support from Israel and Jordan, aims to deter violence at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the plan proposed by Jordan as a “game-changer.”

Israel announces new measures to stop Palestinian attacks


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Under pressure to stem attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved plans to boost police numbers with the deployment of soldiers in Israel’s cities and to increase security checkpoints around Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Government officials also said they would take away the Jerusalem residency permits of terrorists, a move which must be approved by Israel’s Attorney General.

Outside Jabel Mukaber, home to two Palestinian men who conducted an attack which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen others, police checkpoints have already been set up, with other neighborhoods reportedly to follow.

Local residents and human right groups have expressed concerns that these security measures fail to reduce the risk of attacks and instead hamper the lives of ordinary Palestinians. They contend that will increase rather than reduce simmering tensions.

At some locations Israeli police set up concrete roadblocks instead of police search teams. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) expressed concern over the use of this tactic which could be longer-term.

“It is ok for the police to curtail freedom of movement for short periods of time for (something) specific. (If) there’s a stabbing on the street it’s acceptable to close the street for a few hours,” Ronit Sela, from ACRI, told The Media Line. Mass unrest such as an ongoing riot could necessitate sealing off a geographic location – a violent incident which was no longer occurring and had been carried out by an individual or small group did not, Sela explained.

Police previously closed off the entrances to whole Palestinian neighborhoods for extended periods of time, beginning last summer when tensions spiked after Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and Israeli extremists kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.

ACRI’s concern is that rather than a targeted security measure the roadblocks are being used as a blanket punitive measure. The human rights organization received reports from community leaders in several different Arab neighborhoods stating that police had informed them checkpoints will continue until disturbances in their area ended, Sela said. The police are holding the neighborhood to account for what the teenagers living there are doing which is effectively collective punishment, the activist said.

Any notion of collective punishment was rejected by Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli Police spokesperson.

“After recent terrorist attacks and recent disturbances a number of roadblocks have been set up – they’re temporary. They’re not closing off the neighborhood but they’re there in order to make sure that we can identify any suspicious vehicles,” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. Residents in neighborhoods with checkpoints at the entrance could still enter and leave freely, Rosenfeld said, pointing out that such procedures were standard police practice.   

But Palestinians say these moves just make life harder for Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are not involved in the violence.

“All the clashes are by teenagers, they don’t have cars and they don’t do attacks using cars. They’re on foot,” Hatem Khwess, a field researcher for the dovish organization Ir Amim and a Palestinian resident of the Mount of Olives, told The Media Line. Police checkpoints, or concrete blocks placed in the road, will not stop the young men involved in the disturbances.

A lack of investment in infrastructure by the Jerusalem Municipality in east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods was to blame for the feeling of resentment held by the young generation towards Israeli police, Khwess said. “Look in the classrooms – what’s new?” Khwess argued.

Ir Amim and ACRI have both issued reports about a shortage of classrooms in Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem, and a lack of qualified teachers in some subjects. Israel’s deputy mayor Ofer Berkovich says he is aware of the gaps and the city is working hard to eliminate them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected any argument that linked Palestinian violence to frustrations within the Arab community. “Terrorism comes from the desire to annihilate us,” Netanyahu said during the opening of the winter session of parliament.

A motion to deploy army personnel into city centers across Israel was also approved by the Israeli cabinet, something that would represent a step up in security measures. Reports suggest that 300 Israeli Army personnel have been deployed to support police on the ground, though a spokesperson for the military would not comment on this. In Jerusalem’s city center small numbers of soldiers could be seen checking the identification of shoppers and residents, a role normally performed by the border police.

Other measures discussed by the cabinet have been the imposition of a curfew on Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for not only a curfew but the imposition of full military rule in east Jerusalem if further unrest were to take place in the coming days.

Such measures were not likely to lead to an increase in security and could exasperate Palestinian residents, Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. “These are measures which only make it more difficult for people to lead their daily lives (and) have no strategic significance,’ Herschman said. The director went on to say that a more effective short term solution to curbing attacks would be efforts to convince Palestinians that their “collective identity in the city” was not threatened.

 

Jerusalem’s population of 800,000 is about 64 percent Jewish and 36 percent Palestinian. Most of the Palestinians are not citizens, but carry the same type of ID cards as Jewish Israelis giving them freedom of movement throughout the city. Almost all of the attackers in the current wave of violence came from east Jerusalem.

Israel slams Palestinian Authority incitement


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Jerusalem was quiet on Wednesday, a day after Palestinian attackers killed three Israelis and wounded more than 12 others. Police said that in the late afternoon, a young Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli policeman near the Old City, and the attacker was shot and killed. The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported he was 14 years old. In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, another young Palestinian was killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers.

The Rami Levy supermarket chain, which has branches in the West Bank, and which employs both Jews and Palestinians, announced it would stop selling knives in its stores, according to the Israel National News website.

In Jerusalem, Israel deployed hundreds of extra police and sent army units to major cities to beef up forces. Israel also sealed off several Palestinian neighborhoods and police checked Palestinian ID’s throughout the city.

Israeli officials went on the offensive against the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of systematic incitement against Israel.

“What sends young people out with butcher knives to attack Israelis?” Dore Gold, Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry asked a news conference? “It emanates from incitement, particularly religious incitement. The incitement surrounds the false accusation that Israel seeks to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.”

Gold was referring to a Jerusalem site that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Palestinian attackers, who have killed seven Israelis this month, have been fueled by rumors that Israel wants to change the status quo at the site, which allows Jews to visit but not to pray there.

“We said and I am repeating it now in the name of the Israeli government and Prime Minister,” Minister for Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told the news conference. “We are committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount. We are defending the holy sites of religions in Jerusalem.”

Steinitz said that the young Palestinian attackers, using knives, have been inspired by Islamic State’s beheadings in Syria and Iraq.

He charged that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is behind the current wave of incitement, quoting statements by Abbas in September saying “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem,” and “They (Israelis) have no right to desecrate the al-Aqsa mosque with their filthy feet.”

Steinitz says that statements like these can be directly connected to the violent attacks.

“We hear again and again the slogan, “Itbah al-yahud”, “Kill the Jews, knife the Jews, death to the Jews in the name of Allah, in the name of defending Islam, in the name of defending the al-Aqsa mosque,” he said. “This is not new. It’s just a new way of terrorism and violence and this time it’s totally clear that the main approach here is a religious approach – defending Islam against the enemy of the mosques, against the Jews.”

For their part, Palestinian officials have complaints against the way that Israel has handled the current wave of violence. Palestinian officials say that in several cases, Palestinian attackers were killed after they had already been subdued and when they no longer posed a threat.

“The occupation has spread a culture of hate and racism that justifies all kinds of atrocities, including collective punishment and cold-blooded executions,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement. “It’s the Israeli government that has made clear to the Palestinian people, both in actions and statements that they refuse to end their belligerent occupation and will do everything possible to erode the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Steinitz dismissed these claims as nonsense, and said that in some cases Palestinians have tried to attack a second time, even after they were lying on the ground.

Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal


Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.

The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.

But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.

“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.

Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.

Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.

“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”

After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.

The separation barrier winding through the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israel's security barrier winding through the West Bank has proven controversial since it first started being built in the early 2000s. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90/JTA

Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.

The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.

The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.

“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.

“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.

Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.

“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”

But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.

“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”

Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.

“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”

Four Israeli policemen injured in Jerusalem shooting, riots


Four Israeli officers of the police’s Border Guard sustained were injured from gunshots and firebombs hurled at them by Palestinian rioters in Jerusalem.

The incident occurred on Friday at the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabl Mukabar after the conclusion of Friday prayers by Muslims, Ynet reported.

The officer shot was evacuated with medium to serious injuries after a bullet hit his leg, according to Army Radio. Another officer sustained a minor inujry to his hand while the remaining two receive minor burns from firebombs hurled at them by the rioters.

The officers were evacuated for medical treatment as other policemen pursued suspects, arresting one young man. Several rioters were also injured, including one who was shot in the leg and evacuated with minor injuries to medical treatment.

On Thursday, a Palestinian man who hurled a firebomb at an Israeli car near a settlement was critically injured by soldiers who fired back at him, in one of several violent clashes in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Passengers escaped injury in the incident Thursday night near the settlement of Itamar in the northern West Bank, where Israel Defense Forces troops lay in ambush for terrorists, the news site nrg.co.il reported. The passengers were not hurt. The wounded Palestinian was taken to a hospital in Nablus, the report said. Another Palestinian was apprehended nearby and is suspected of being involved in the attack.

There has been a rise in violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in and around Jerusalem.

On Friday morning, Border Police officers used crowd-dispersal means on rioting Palestinians near the Lions’ Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, nrg reported. Police also cordoned off streets and evacuated the light rail station near the Machane Yehuda market in the city’s west because of a suspicious object. Other disturbances were witnessed in A-Tur, where Palestinians said one protester was lightly injured, and across the Old City.

In Ras al-Amud in east Jerusalem, Palestinians set on fire an Israeli bus on Thursday night. Locals said that the bus, belonging to the Egged company, went up in flames after youths targeted it while it traveled through the neighborhood, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported. No one was hurt in the attack, according to Israel’s Army Radio.

The radio said the bus was pelted with stones, forcing the driver, who is Palestinian, to leave it parked and call police. It was set ablaze after the driver parked it and left.

Tensions at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque spill over onto international stage


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Following three days of clashes between Israeli security forces and Muslim demonstrators at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the King of Jordan has warned Israel that its “provocation” is risking the relationship between the two neighbors. The compound surrounding the mosque – the Temple Mount to Jews; the Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims, and sacred to both – is located in the center of Jerusalem’s Old City, but remains under the custodianship of Jordan which controlled the area before 1967.

“Any more provocation in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel,” Abdullah II, monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom, said, adding that his government “will not have a choice but to take actions, unfortunately.”

Jordan is one of only two Arab states, along with Egypt, that have signed peace treaties with Israel. Tensions rose in the Old City during the religious holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. With a number of Jewish holy days taking place in the upcoming weeks, including the holiday of Yom Kippur – coinciding this year with Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice – there are possibilities of further clashes. This could lead to increased diplomatic tensions between Israel and Jordan, which temporarily withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv last year following similar confrontations.

The Hashemite Kingdom’s view of Israel is based on two separate levels – the government and the population, Yoav Alon, from Tel Aviv University’s department of Middle East and African history, told The Media Line. Both governments share a number of strategic interests including countering the Islamic State, links between military and intelligence institutions and curtailing Palestinian nationalism, Alon said.

It is only on the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque that the two struggle to see eye to eye. “Jordan sees itself as someone that is responsible for the Temple Mount and that is why they are so touchy about the status quo,” Alon suggested.

Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan controlled the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Following the capture of this territory, and the holy sites within the Old City by Israel in the Six Day War, Jordan remained custodian of Al-Aqsa.

However the strategic ties of the government in Amman with Israel are not supported by many Jordanians.

“There will always be tension as long as the Palestinian situation is not resolved… because half of the population in Jordan originate in Palestine,” Alon said. This forces King Abdullah II’s government to maneuver between its commitments to the wishes of its people and to the pragmatic approach of realpolitik. “The Jordanian regime has to walk on a tightrope doing a balancing act,” Alon explained.

Negative views of Israel are strong on the streets of the Hashemite Kingdom. “The majority in Jordan are looking to Israel as a government of occupation… especially with the latest escalation against the Palestinians civilians around Al- Aqsa Mosque,” Mohammed Shamma, a Jordanian journalist, told The Media Line. There are activists within Jordanian society who aim to see the peace agreement with Israel cancelled. These groups use events like the clashes in Jerusalem to draw attention to their cause, said Shamma, pointing to a recently held anti-Israel protest in Amman.

Additionally, during Arab spring protests in Jordan in 2011, along with calls for reform and democracy there were widespread demands to change the relationship with Israel, Shamma said. Clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque always push public perception in this direction, with social media users widely disseminating images and videos they believe demonstrate abuses by Israeli security forces, the journalist explained. 

Irrespective of what ordinary Jordanians may think, relations between the government and its Jewish neighbor have remained strong for years. It is worth noting that the King spoke about the relationship with Israel being changed without specifying what that could entail, Uli Wacker, the Jordan director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, told The Media Line.

The king knows that once he hints Israel has crossed a line it will get the message, Wacker said. Both states share an interest in stable relations and since this confrontation happens every year there is no reason to believe it will affect their relationship, Wacker said.

“The only concern of the Jordanians is that Israel might change the rules on the Temple Mount,” Wacker argued, suggesting that if Jews were allowed to pray there this would bring the whole Islamic world against Israel. But the Jewish state is not stupid enough to do this, he added.

“This little area is one of the tensest areas on this world, because two faiths maintain religious aspirations to this place – the Jewish Temple and the Al-Aqsa mosque,” he concluded.

Jerusalem tense after days of clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

For the past three years Shai, an ultra-Orthodox man wearing a black suit and black hat despite the oppressive heat, has lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, where his children study. Last month, he was walking on Shalshelet Street in the Muslim quarter, when he says his path was blocked by a group of teenagers, one of whom spat at him.

“I just lost control and shoved him hard, and a fist fight started,” Shai, who asked not to give his last name told The Media Line. “The border police showed up, and they grabbed the teenager and really beat him up. He was knocked unconscious. It was really traumatic for me, and I decided to leave the Old City.”

Earlier this month, Shai said he packed up his family and moved them to the French Hill neighborhood in northern Jerusalem.

“I miss the Old City, but I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.

Tensions rose again this week, when police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque after they said that Palestinians had barricaded themselves inside.

“Over the last 72 hours there were disturbances by masked Arabs in and around the Temple Mount. The Israeli police had received specific information about disturbances including attacks on the Temple Mount itself,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “Police units were organized and responded and entered the Temple Mount area, at about 6:30 in the morning to prevent those disturbances. We had a full scale riot on the Temple Mount. The Israeli police locked down and shut the entrances to the Temple Mount maintaining the disturbances within a few minutes and regular visits continued by both Arabs and tourists.”

He said two Palestinians, and five policemen were slightly injured.

Palestinians, however, say that the police entered the al-Aqsa mosque without provocation. Palestinian officials said they would submit a complaint to the United Nations Security Council.

“Israeli attempts at changing Jerusalem’s status quo will be met with more Palestinian steadfastness on the ground, including legal and political efforts to end Israel’s culture of impunity,” Palestinian senior official Saeb Erekat said in a statement. “Israeli attempts at turning Jerusalem into an exclusively Jewish city are part of Israel’s attempts at being recognized as a “Jewish State,” something the State of Palestine rejects for this being a clear step toward erasing Palestinian history, consolidating discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, negating Palestinian refugee rights, and in direct conflict with the principles of democracy.”

On the streets of Jerusalem, locals and tourists said they had not cancelled their plans because of the violence. Some had not even heard of the clashes.

“We’ve been totally out of the loop and haven’t even watched the news,” Sylvia Becker, who is visiting Israel for the first time with her fiancé at the tail end of a six-month trip through Europe, told The Media Line. “It is odd to see the police with heavy machine guns but I guess that means we’re protected.”

Her fiancée Daniel Stein, who has a lot of family in Israel, says his uncle told him to stay out of the Muslim quarter but that visiting Jerusalem and its holy sites was not dangerous.

“We hear bits and pieces but as my fiancée said the whole family is here and they keep us posted,” he said. “We trust them that if they say it’s safe to come, it’s safe to come, but we always have our wits about us.”

The Old City, with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places attracts more than three million tourists each year from abroad, as well as millions of Israelis. Every Israeli soldier visits Jerusalem during his army service, as well as hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren.

Adelina Schanger, a Christian Arab from Nazareth studying to be a tour guide, said she had heard the news of the clashes but was not deterred.

“I had some things to do in Jerusalem and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the Old City because it’s very special to us,” she told The Media Line.

Tamir Rabina, a Jewish Israeli from northern Israel, was showing his girlfriend from Mexico the sights.

“I heard there were some demonstrations,” he told The Media Line. “But you see, everything here is peaceful and I trust our soldiers to protect us.”

Kalman Levine: Born in Kansas City, transformed in L.A., murdered in Jerusalem


Rabbi Kalman Levine, born Cary Levine in Kansas City, Mo. on June 30, 1959, was murdered Tuesday morning in a terror attack at Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was in the middle of the daily morning prayer service.

A man who in many ways came of age while living in Los Angeles as a young adult, Levine was killed by two young Palestinian men who also murdered three other worshippers and injured at least another 12 in the synagogue.

The assailants, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32, attacked their victims with a gun, knives and axes.  Both were killed in a subsequent shootout with police. Zidan Saif, an Israeli Druze policeman who engaged the two Palestinian attackers, was shot in the head and died of his wounds Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

Levine leaves behind a wife, Chaya, who’s from Cleveland, and 10 children and five grandchildren. He was 55.

Shimon Kraft, Levine’s best friend from childhood, lives in Los Angeles and owns The Mitzvah Store. He shared memories of Levine just hours after he learned of the murder. He is also Levine’s former brother-in-law from Kraft’s previous marriage. He spoke about their lives growing up and how Levine, who was not raised Orthodox, was transformed when he spent six months at a kibbutz after high school and then moved to Los Angeles for college only to drop out after becoming engrossed in Torah study and inspired by an influential rabbi in North Hollywood.

Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.

“We lived at Royals Stadium in the summer,” Kraft said. “We used to trade baseball cards.”

After Levine graduated from Kansas City’s Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in the late ’70s, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for six months and then returned to the United States to enroll at a pre-dental program at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. Although he grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Kansas City, Levine’s time in Israel led to a religious transformation that led him to become Sabbath and kosher observant.

Levine, after he came to Los Angeles, became very close with Rabbi Zvi Block, who established the first Los Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah—an international Orthodox educational group—in North Hollywood. Levine’s relationship with Block helped solidify the transformation that began in Israel, and Levine eventually decided to drop out of USC and pursue Torah study full-time.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, a discernibly heartbroken Block spoke warmly of his former student. “I became a father to all these children, to all these talmidim (students)—they are like my children,” Block said. “This is a huge loss for me. You’re talking about someone who was 18 or 19 when we first met.”

Levine was one of Block’s first five students at Aish HaTorah and the Los Angeles rabbi remembers Levine as one of the brightest young minds he ever encountered. “When you start off a program you are not sure if you are going to be successful. I feel I owe a lot of gratitude to the ones that helped me start, to the original students,” Block said.

The rabbi also said that he encouraged his small group of students to improve their knowledge of Judaism and Torah by moving to Israel to learn in an environment immersed in yeshiva students.

“My goal at the time was really to send people off to Israel,” Block said. “I thought that would be the best way for them to develop, to really pursue their Judaism to the fullest.”

While Kraft visited Levine in Los Angeles in 1977, the two decided to travel to Israel together to learn Torah. They attended two years of yeshiva before they returned to Los Angeles to attend a post-high school study program at Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA).

Kraft said that Levine decided to return to Israel again in the early 1980s—this time he never left. Over the years in Jerusalem, Levine built a family and continued pursuing the passion of his life—Torah. Kraft said Levine even organized a group of men who would get together for the sole purpose of self-improvement and strengthening character traits.

“He was truly great,” Kraft said. “He was so unusual, so special.” Block remembered Levine as being a great entertainer during weddings and goofing off during skits that he and others would put on for the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. “I remember him being extraordinarily talented at weddings and doing all sorts of shtick,” Block said.

On Monday night in Los Angeles, as Kraft was going to bed, he heard about the attack in Har Nof, but didn’t think more of it. On Tuesday morning though, Kraft’s son called from Baltimore and told him the news—his best friend had been murdered.

“He died in the beit midrash [synagogue], which is where he lived his whole life,” Kraft said. “It’s where he lived and died.”

Block, while on the phone, found two books of Jewish law that Levine once gave to him as a symbol of gratitude. Block recalled that Levine wrote a note in one. Eventually finding the note, Block read it aloud as he tried to hold back tears:

“Dear Rabbi Block, here is a small token of appreciation for sending me to Eretz Yisrael. If it wasn't for you it is very possible I would never have had the opportunity to learn Torah. Thank you for changing my life, Kalman Levine.”

Palestinians clash with Israeli troops again over holy site


Palestinian protesters fought with Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday, the latest clashes in a fortnight of violence over access to Jerusalem's holiest site.

At the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem, troops fired rubber bullets as several hundred protesters marched, some throwing rocks and petrol bombs.

In East Jerusalem, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters hurling firecrackers and burning tires that sent up huge clouds of black smoke in Shoafat refugee camp.

Palestinian and regional anger, still simmering over Israel's war with Gaza's Hamas movement in July and August, has focused in the last two weeks on Jerusalem's holiest site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount.

For decades, Israel has maintained a ban on Jews praying at the site, which houses the Dome of the Rock and the 8th-century al-Aqsa mosque and was also the site of ancient Jewish temples.

But in recent weeks, protests have gathered momentum against a campaign by far-right Jewish nationalists to be allowed to pray there.

Israeli security forces have clashed at the compound with Muslim worshippers angry at what they see as an assault on the shrine, which is administered by Islamic authorities, and last week Israel shut down all access to the site for the first time in more than a decade, after a Palestinian gunman shot an Israeli ultranationalist. Palestinian drivers have rammed into Israeli pedestrians in the city, killing four people.

RISK OF MORE VIOLENCE

The EU's new foreign affairs chief said the upsurge in violence made it all the more critical that Israel and the Palestinians resume peace negotiations.

“The risk of growing tensions here in Jerusalem … is that, if we do not move forward on the political track, we will go back, and back again to violence,” Federica Mogherini told reporters after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during her first official visit to the region.

The last talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in April after months of largely fruitless negotiation, with the Palestinians angry at the continued building of Jewish settlements in occupied territory, and Israel furious at attempts to bring the Islamist group Hamas, which officially denies Israel's right to exist, into the Palestinian government.

Mogherini said it was time for the EU to take a bigger role in brokering peace talks, a task until now shouldered by Washington.

After meeting her, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that the status quo governing Temple Mount would not change.

At the same time as calling for calm, Netanyahu has accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of instigating the violence, putting the prospect of any return to negotiations even further out of reach.

HOMES TO BE RAZED?

An official in Netanyahu's office who declined to be named said the prime minister had sought judicial authorization to raze the homes of Palestinians involved in lethal attacks against Israelis.

Israel has often demolished Palestinian homes in the West Bank in retaliation for attacks, despite the protests of human rights groups who say it amounts to collective punishment, but it has rarely done so in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, for their part, are far from presenting a united front.

Abbas's Fatah movement and the Gaza-based Hamas, at daggers drawn since Hamas drove Fatah's forces out of Gaza in 2007, agreed in June to form a “reconciliation” government, but have so far failed to put the unity cabinet to work.

On Friday, around 15 small explosions targeted the homes and vehicles of Fatah officials in Gaza, causing minor damage but no injuries, witnesses and members of Fatah said.

One of the targets hit was a stage where the 10th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president and Fatah leader, is to be commemorated on Nov. 11.

Fatah and Hamas blamed each other for the blasts.

“We will not allow the return of internal conflicts, chaos and anarchy to the Gaza Strip,” said Eyad Al-Bozom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, run by officials loyal to Hamas.

“The security services will pursue anyone who had any connection to these criminal acts.”

The tension between Fatah and Hamas has hampered efforts to rebuild Gaza after the July-August war, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, as well as more than 70 Israelis.

Mogherini was due to visit Gaza on Saturday for talks with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Temple Mount closed following Palestinian rioting, later reopened


The Temple Mount was closed to visitors following rioting by Palestinians there but was reopened later in the day.

One Palestinian man was wounded in the rioting on Wednesday morning by a sponge-tipped bullet fired by Israeli forces.

The security forces, who were pelted with rocks and firecrackers, pushed the rioters into the Al-Aksa Mosque on the site, from where they had launched their attack using stockpiles of makeshift weapons stored there.

A Palestinian manager of the mosque told Reuters that Israel Police officers entered the mosque itself, which the police deny.

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, who has been suspended from the Knesset for six months over statements she made, among other things encouraging Palestinian “popular resistance,” challenged police after being refused entry to the site that is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

“Someone did this to you, decades ago. Remember that? Somebody did rule over you and screwed you over decades ago. You did not learn the lesson,” she reportedly yelled at police.

Zoabi and several other Arab-Israeli lawmakers who had been prevented from entering the Temple Mount were allowed to continue to the site later on Wednesday when it was reopened to worshipers and to the public.

Several hours after the Temple Mount rioting, a Hamas-affiliated Palestinian man from eastern Jerusalem slammed his car into crowds waiting at a light rail stop and a bus stop in Jerusalem in what is being considered a terrorist attack. One person was killed and more than a dozen people were injured.

The driver then exited his car and began hitting people around him with a crowbar until police shot and killed him.

Jordan on Wednesday recalled its ambassador to Israel “to protest against the unprecedented and escalated Israeli aggressions at the Al Haram Al Sharif compound in occupied Jerusalem, and its repeated violations in the holy city,” according to Petra, the official state news agency.

Kerry, Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem to discuss restarting peace talks


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Jerusalem to discuss restarting negotiations with the Palestinians.

In their three-hour meeting Tuesday, the last day of Kerry's three-day visit to Israel, the two leaders also discussed the Iranian nuclear threat and the dangers of the civil war in Syria.

Netanyahu said in remarks before the meeting that Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and security are “foremost in our minds.”

“I am determined to not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians, but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all,” Netanyahu said. “This is a real effort, and we look forward to advance in this effort with you.”

Kerry addressed the Iranian issue.

“President Obama could not be more clear: Iran cannot have and will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “And the United States of America has made clear that we stand not just with Israel but with the entire international community in making it clear that we are serious, we are open to negotiation, but it is not an open-ended, endless negotiation; it cannot be used as an excuse for other efforts to try to break out with respect to a nuclear weapon.”

Kerry on Monday participated in Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies and met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, a day after meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

It has been reported that Kerry is pushing for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel a comprehensive peace with the Arab countries in the region in exchange for all land captured in 1967.

Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem vandalized


A historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem was vandalized in an apparent price tag attack.

Stars of David, as well as the phrases “death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead” were discovered spray painted on gravestones in the Mamilla Cemetery in central Jerusalem on Thursday, according to reports.

The cemetery dates back to at least the 11th century, and was an active burial site up until 1927. Part of the cemetery was turned into a parking lot in 1964.

Fifteen gravestones were vandalized in the same cemetery in a November 2011 attack.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

The cemetery was at the center of controversy over the site of the planned Museum of Tolerance. Skeletons were moved from the building site adjacent to the cemetery and reburied in order to prepare the ground for construction of the museum, according to reports. Construction had been delayed on the museum from its groundbreaking in 2004 until final approval in 2011.

Police quell Temple Mount riots


Police dispersed Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount who apparently had been spurred by reports that Jewish extremists planned to enter the site.

Reports said the rioters, among the Friday worshippers at the site’s mosques, hurled rocks at the Mughrabi Bridge entrance, prompting a rare incursion by police, who used stun grenades.

At least 11 police and 15 rioters were hurt and four Palestinians were arrested.

The rioters were spurred, police said, by a Jewish extremist website that promised a mass incursion into the enclave this Friday, Israel radio reported.

Police have arrested one man for alleged incitement, and further arrests are planned, the report said.

A plan by Jewish extremists to enter the site in 1990—one that also was thwarted by police—sparked some of the deadliest riots in the site’s history.

The 2000 visit by Ariel Sharon, then the opposition leader, to the site preceded riots that launched the Second Intifada.

The site of the ancient Jewish temple now houses two mosques Muslims believe to be the third holiest in Islam. Below it is the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

U.N. Security Council states condemn Israel over housing


Members of the U.N. Security Council criticized Israel’s decision to construct additional housing in the settlements and the United States for blocking a vote to condemn the action.

The four European Union nations on the council—Britain, France, Germany and Portugal—issued a joint statement slamming Israel for settlement building. They cited a briefing by the U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, who said such construction is preventing the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians.

“One of the themes that emerged was the severely damaging effect that increased settlement construction and settler violence is having on the ground and on the prospects of a return to negotiations,” the EU council members said in their joint statement, Reuters reported.

The president of the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, indirectly blamed the United States for its role in the stalled negotiations.

“There is one delegation which would not want to hear anything about it, any kind of a statement, which believes that somehow things will sort of settle themselves somehow miraculously out of their own,” Churkin said.

Statements from the Nonaligned Movement, the Arab group and the group of emerging powers that includes India, Brazil and South Africa also condemned Israel and the United States, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement expressing her “strong disapproval” of Israel’s announcement earlier this week issuing a tender to build more than 1,000 housing units in the West Bank, including in eastern Jerusalem.

“I urge them not to proceed with this publication,” Ashton said in the statement. “The EU’s position is clear: Settlement construction is illegal under international law and further complicates efforts to find a solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By ensuring the suspension of the publication of these tenders, the Israeli government can contribute positively to these efforts.”

Shimon Peres ‘ashamed’ at anti-democratic moves


Israeli President Shimon Peres said in remarks published on Tuesday he was “ashamed” at a rash of legislative proposals from right-wing members of parliament targetting pro-Palestinian groups.

Peres told Israel’s most widely circulated newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth he has fielded complaints from world leaders against a proposal to bar Muslims from publicly summoning their faithful to prayer and to restrict foreign support for dovish groups.

“This is simply a march of folly,” said Peres, a former prime minister who was the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in achieving an 1993 interim accord with Palestinians.

“I am personally ashamed there are attempts being made to pass such laws,” Peres said, adding that these only “ruin our image.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intervened to delay passage of proposals to rein in the powers of Israel’s Supreme Court and finance for left-wing groups. His cabinet has also delayed discussion of a proposal to prevent Muslim clergy inside Israel from announcing prayers by loudspeakers.

A far-right party behind the proposed restrictions argues the clerics’ pre-dawn chants are often too loud.

Peres said Israel already had noise-control laws and that lawmakers must avoid legislation with any “religious flavour.”

“You don’t have to raise the ire of all the Muslims in the Arab world against us,” he said.

Some 20 percent of Israel’s population are Palestinians descended from those who remained while others fled or were driven away in a war over Israel’s establishment in 1948. Most of Israel’s Arab citizens are Muslims.

“There is no democracy without tolerance,” Peres added. “You cannot separate Judaism from democracy. There is no such animal.”

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Matthew Jones

Israelis are not in a partying mood


Israel is turning 60, but few here in the Jewish State seem in the mood to crack open the champagne.

Israelis are still gloomy about the country’s perceived failures in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and every day brings fresh reminders that no solution has been found for the growing problem of cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t see Israel as a failure, but what makes this anniversary less of a celebration is that we cannot proclaim a happy ending,” veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot, said in an interview. “We did not reach a point that we can say, ‘OK, the period of state building is finished, and now we can live happily after.'”

The contradictions of life here can be painful. Israel has an outwardly robust economy that produces high-tech giants but also a record number of people living in poverty. There is a feeling of security that has come with a decline in terrorism-related deaths, but also a widespread resignation that peace remains a distant dream.

All this, to say nothing of government corruption, one of the problems most troubling Israelis.

“I don’t feel very festive,” said Shaanan Street, lead singer of the popular Israeli hip-hop band, HaDag Nachash, shortly before taking the stage at a Tel Aviv club recently. “Israelis are not too happy. They are worried instead about the next war and how they are going to finish the month.”

In a country where one in three children lives in poverty, there has been grumbling about the $28 million the government has budgeted to mark the country’s 60th birthday, even though some of the money is earmarked for educational and infrastructure programs.

Meanwhile, many say, the list of celebratory events is a bit of a snooze.

Aside from the bigger-ticket items like local fireworks shows, a huge dance party in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and sound-and-light shows, scheduled events include a concert titled, “Military Orchestras Playing Peace,” and the display of the world’s largest Israeli flag, measuring 656 feet high and 320 feet wide.

The week after the anniversary, President Shimon Peres is also hosting a conference with a star-studded guest list on the future of the Jewish people.

Israel at 60 is a modern-day Sparta and Athens, Barnea said, walking a fine line in its dual existence as both a garrison state and a thriving cultural and business locale.

“It’s not easy to live successfully in these two worlds at the same time,” Barnea said.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator who runs an independent think tank in Tel Aviv, the Reut Institute, agrees.

The national mood, he said, exists in “tension between exuberance and concern, because Israel is a country that offers very polarized performances on a number of levels.”

“Let’s start with socioeconomic,” Grinstein said. “According to certain indicators, we are world leaders in research and development and ranked in the top 10 in the world in terms of business and technology. And at same time, other sectors are badly underperforming, like education and law enforcement and the entire government structure, which is in crisis.”

Grinstein advocates structural reform of the government to make it less beholden to sectarian interests, yet, he asks, which Israel will prevail in the next 60 years, “the Israel of excellence or the Israel of mediocrity?”

A recent Haifa University poll of Israeli Jews found their faith in state institutions at an all-time low. Fewer than half those surveyed, 48 percent, said they have faith in the Supreme Court, 15 percent said they had faith in the police and just 9 percent said they had faith in the government.

Mitchell Barak, who heads Keevoon, an Israeli research firm in Jerusalem, said recent surveys conducted by his firm show Israelis are more concerned with corruption than with threats from the Arab world.

Earlier this month, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav turned down a plea bargain offer that would have required him to admit to sexual misconduct in exchange for the dropping of a possible indictment against him on more serious charges, including rape. Katsav now may face those charges and go on trial.

“We are seeing a significant rise in people who’ve had it with their elected officials,” Barak said.

Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for Ma’ariv, said Israelis do not know whether the government has viable plans to deal with the country’s ongoing threats, both external and internal.

“They don’t have the slightest idea about what is really going on,” he said.

Eti Doron, a toy store owner in Tel Aviv, said a weariness has descended upon Israelis.

“There is a feeling of being down. People are not sure what is happening with the country,” she said. “Socialism has disappeared, the corruption is worrisome and our leaders are powermongers.”

A nearby grocer, Danny Horvitz, sounded a different note as he packed bags at his small store.

“Overall I feel positive,” he said. “There is corruption here, but overall things are good. Israel will be here in 60 years, and it will be even stronger. There will be a deal by then with the Palestinians.”

Horvitz paused before adding, “That is what I hope for, at least, and that things will be good for both us and them. Otherwise, neither one of us will be here.”

Debra Winger explores Jewish/Arab day schools


Students at the Hand in Hand Max Rayne Bilingual School in Jerusalem didn’t know they were meeting a celebrity. They weren’t born when the films “Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment” garnered Debra Winger her Oscar nominations.

But Winger’s tour last month to the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish day schools was not necessarily meant to move the students, but to enrich her own understanding of pathways for Arab and Jewish co-existence.

“I’d like to think I’m helping, but in the end, it feels selfish — how much I got out of seeing this and what it did to my heart,” the 53-year-old actress told a group of reporters in the library of the school’s new Jerusalem campus.

Raised in a secular Jewish household in Cleveland, Winger volunteered on a kibbutz in 1972 and has maintained her connection ever since. In fact, she was introduced to the bilingual schools following a talk at the Jewish Federation in Florida on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Speaking to the federation audience, she recalled a “fight” she had with an Arab American friend that was triggered by the Second Lebanon War, which broke out while Winger served as a judge for the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“We couldn’t even talk to each other,” Winger told The Jewish Journal, recounting the episode. “She would forward me e-mails with newspaper articles for me to read, and I would reply, saying could you please replace ‘Zionist occupation’ with ‘Israel’ before you send it to me, and then I’ll read it, because I want to hear different opinions, and you have to show some respect.”

Eventually the two reconciled and made their private peace.

“I think in a way we have a deeper, richer understanding and more openness,” she said.

At first, the audience — perhaps expecting a more “what-Israel-means-to-me” type speech — responded with silence to the story. But then Lee Gordon, director of the American Friends of Hand in Hand and the bilingual schools’ co-founder, initiated a contagious round of applause. After the talk, he spoke with her about the schools’ efforts at promoting dialogue.

Initially, Winger was skeptical of the educational franchise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s another Jewish school that’s inviting a few Arabs, kumbaya, and, you know, it doesn’t ultimately work,'” she said.

But she accepted Gordon’s invitation and went to Israel with her husband, director and actor Arliss Howard, and their 10-year-old son. Upon touring three of the Hand in Hand schools, Winger’s skepticism softened.

“I used to think I could see the face of a peacemaker,” she said, “but clearly, I’ve been wrong way too much. The [students] look like peacemakers to me. They understand the dilemma in a different way.”

At one point, Winger stopped two children in the yard, and they admitted they didn’t know who she was. They thought she was just some American visitor.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Winger asked.

They stared and smiled.

The students carry on their day as usual in what comes across as a typical elementary school. Teenagers roam the halls in jeans and sneakers, and toddlers storm the yard at recess. At one point, Winger joined the children for folk dancing in the yard.

Several clues hint to the school’s uniqueness. Two languages are spoken: Hebrew and Arabic. Some female teachers wear the traditional Muslim hijabs. Universal messages of love and peace taken from the Torah, the Gospels and the Quran, as well as from great Western thinkers, are printed in Hebrew and Arabic on classroom doors.

The Jerusalem student body is equally diverse — 50 percent Jewish, 40 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. The majority of Arabs are Israeli citizens.

A good portion of the classes are taught by an Arab-Jewish team. The school supplements the state curriculum with programs that attend to the dual nature of the school. From fourth grade on, Jews and Arabs study their respective religious traditions independently.

The Jerusalem branch opened 10 years ago, along with the Galilee branch, followed by new schools in Wadi Ara and Beersheva. The new Jerusalem campus testifies to the growth of the school from a small, first-grade class to a full-fledged day school with 450 children. The school is expanding into high school, and this fall will add a 10th-grade class.

Seventh-graders Areen Nashef, a Muslim, and her Jewish best friend, Yael Keinan, both 12 years old, smiled mischievously when they got called out of class to speak with The Journal. This is not the first time they’ve spoken to the press. Friends since first grade, they often get together outside of school and sleep over at each other’s houses.

“I thought Areen was a Jew when we first met,” said Yael who has long, dirty-blond hair and a pink paper clip dangling from her earring. “After a few days, she told me she was an Arab, and after that it didn’t matter.”

Both are proud for breaking stereotypes of the “other.”

“I went to my cousin who lives in Taibe, up north,” said Areen. “They didn’t know that I study at a bilingual school. They study in Arabic and learn Hebrew because you have to communicate. When I told them I study with a Jew, they asked, ‘What, they didn’t hit you, hurt you?'”

Yael, who describes herself as traditional, has encountered similar suspicions.

“I have a friend who couldn’t believe I had an Arab friend. She saw only what she saw on the news,” Yael said.

Both thoroughly enjoy their studies.

“It’s fun to speak more than one language and also learn another culture,” said Yael.

Speaking in Hebrew, the students have much to say about sensitive issues, particularly politics. Areen described wanting “to feel that Jews were hurt by the Nazis.” On the same note, Yael recalled visiting Arab villages that fell to the Israeli forces during the War of Independence.

“I don’t identify with the Jews or the Palestinians,” said Areen. “I just know you have to have two nations. I think you may need a Jewish state, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of another people.”

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.

Abbas-Hamas Showdown Looms


Three and a half months after fundamentalists swept to power in the Palestinian elections, the Islamicist Hamas and the secular Fatah are on the brink of a major showdown that could have far-reaching implications for Israel and the government’s plans for a unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah seized the initiative in mid-May, by backing a call by Palestinian prisoners for a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders with Israel. In doing so, he forced Hamas to face up to the challenge of recognizing Israel or losing power. Abbas’ move also opened up the possibility of international pressure on Israel to negotiate on the basis of those borders.

Abbas’ move could also clear the way for ending the Palestinians’ diplomatic isolation and freeing the flow of much-needed international funds. Those funds were blocked in the wake of the Hamas government’s refusal to recognize Israel, accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renounce terror. But while the Fatah leader’s initiative could break the diplomatic logjam, it is fraught with danger.

Fighting between small groups of Hamas and Fatah members on the streets of Gaza shows signs of intensifying. Both sides have mobilized large forces in Gaza and the West Bank, and some Palestinian observers are predicting civil war.

Abbas’ call in late May for a national referendum on the prisoners’ document pushed the sides closer to the brink.

Yet despite the mounting tension, the Fatah-Hamas confrontation could still play itself out politically.

On Tuesday, Abbas was supposed to set a date for the referendum, but the Fatah executive deferred the deadline for agreement on the prisoners’ document for a “few days,” ostensibly to give the sides more time to negotiate. But the move was seen as an effort to step back from confrontation.

Even if Abbas eventually does set a date for a referendum, the outcome could still be a nonviolent political solution.

In one scenario, victory for Abbas in the referendum could bring Fatah back to power. A loss on the other hand, could see Hamas winning the presidency as well as maintaining control of Parliament and the government. Or, an 11th hour agreement between the two parties could see the formation of a national unity Fatah-Hamas government, with Abbas taking the lead in Palestinian diplomacy on the international stage.

Abbas’ determination to go through with his initiative and the way he has gone about winning support for it has gained him considerable prestige on the Palestinian street. He spent weeks traveling the Middle East getting Arab leaders behind the initiative. He also met with Jack Wallace, the American consul in eastern Jerusalem, to coordinate the move with Washington.

Often seen in the past as a weak, vacillating leader, afraid of confrontation, Abbas is now perceived by Palestinians as someone who could make a difference.

A recent poll showed that if the referendum goes ahead, Abbas would win with more than 80 percent of the vote. Since he embarked on his initiative, his own rating has gone from 51 percent to 62 percent, and that of Fatah from 34 percent to 45 percent.

Conversely, support for Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is down from 49 percent to 38 percent, and Hamas is down from 42 percent to 29 percent. The figures reflect Fatah’s newfound confidence on the street. The freezing of international aid is starting to bite, and many Palestinians blame the Hamas government for the nonpayment of salaries and the lack of food and medicine.

Heartened by the new mood, Fatah leaders have stopped their internal bickering and are rallying around Abbas. Fatah received an additional fillip last week when it won a sweeping 80 percent victory in student elections at the Gaza branch of Al-Quds University.

As tension mounts, both Fatah and Hamas have been trying to show their strength. Fatah, which wields considerably more firepower in the West Bank, has put large forces on the streets in Jenin and other West Bank cities. Hamas has beefed up its street presence in Gaza, where it is believed to be stronger.

Nevertheless, 10,000 mainly Fatah security personnel demonstrated in Gaza last Thursday against the Hamas government for its failure to pay their salaries.

Commenting on the street clashes and the general mobilization on both sides, dovish Fatah leader Kadoura Fares declared that he could see ”all the signs of civil war.”

Fatah leaders depict the prisoners’ document as an attempt to find the lowest common denominator for a Fatah-Hamas agreement that, once adopted, could get the wide international boycott of the Hamas government lifted.

“The referendum constitutes a lifeline to the Hamas government to rescue it from international isolation, but they are finding it difficult to grab hold of it,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top PLO official, declared.

For Haniyeh, the internal dilemma is that if he accepts the document, he could run afoul of the more radical Hamas leadership abroad; if he doesn’t, he could come in for criticism from the influential Hamas prisoners who signed it.

Whether or not he reaches agreement with Abbas on the document, Haniyeh opposes the referendum idea in principle. He sees it as a ploy to overturn the result of the January election that he won. Some Hamas spokesmen say ominously that the movement will not allow a referendum to be held, others that they will merely boycott it.

Either way the looming clash with Fatah, whether violent or political, could change the face of Palestinian politics.

So far, Israeli leaders are studiously avoiding comment on what they describe as an internal Palestinian affair. But the implications for Israel could be huge.

A clear-cut Hamas victory could accentuate questions about whom Israel would be handing back territory to after a unilateral withdrawal. An unequivocal Fatah victory could lead to pressure for a negotiated settlement. In the face of Palestinian developments, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have to draw on all his diplomatic skills to keep his unilateral withdrawal plan on the table.

 

Israel, Russia Sign Memo on Terrorism


Israel has a new, if somewhat reluctant, partner in the war on terror: Russia. Reeling from the loss of at least 335 of its citizens, roughly half of them children, at the hands of Chechen terrorists, Moscow signed a security cooperation memorandum with Jerusalem on Monday, despite a lingering diplomatic dispute on how terrorism should be defined.

"The terrorism that struck Russia is exactly the same kind of terrorism that strikes us," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, referring to last week’s siege of a school in the disputed Russian region of North Ossetia.

Visiting Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov said contacts were already underway between the two countries’ security agencies and thanked Israel for its help but demurred at the bid by Sharon to establish a sense of common cause.

Although he called terrorism a "universal evil," Lavrov suggested that the Palestinians could be seen as resisting Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the Muslim separatist cause based in Chechnya is illegitimate.

Russia, a member of the Middle East "Quartet" that pushed the now-moribund "road map" peace plan, was also at pains to make clear that it would not neglect the Arab world.

"I believe the key to the solution of the problem is to bring all countries to fight terror, and I can assure you that in addition to our very close counterterrorist cooperation with Israel, we have similar counterterrorist cooperation with Arab countries," said Lavrov during his one-day visit as part of a Middle East tour.

It was not clear what form the new Israeli-Russian cooperation would take.

Yet, for many in Jerusalem, just the declaration of empathy from a major European player was an achievement. Israeli media quickly called the outrage at the school in Beslan "Russia’s 9/11," hinting that it could bring Moscow more into line with the U.S. war on terror launched following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking attacks.

"The Soviet Union was notoriously pro-Arab, and the sense in Israel is that Russia has not quite gotten over that," a Sharon confidant said. "It was important that Russia understand, even the hard way, the sort of terrorism we have endured for decades, and especially over the last four years."

Despite killing more than 100,000 Chechens in its 13-year crackdown on the restive region, Russia has regularly censured Israel for its handling of the Palestinian revolt.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom put the new security pact to its first test by calling on Russia to oppose anti-Israel moves by the Palestinians and their Arab backers at the United Nations. In the last 21 U.N. resolutions on Israel, Russia has voted against the Jewish state 17 times and abstained on the others.

Russia did not immediately respond.

Job or Genesis?


A few weeks into our annual summerlong stay at our home in Jerusalem, my wife, Andy, and I became honorary citizens of this extraordinary city — the first North American Jews to be so honored. It was a tremendously humbling moment in a summer of emotional ups and downs. We have many close friends here, many philanthropic and business interests and we immerse ourselves in an intensity of Jewish spirit that we find nowhere else in the world. Nevertheless, as deeply as we are connected to this land and this people, we have no family living in the danger areas, we have no children or grandchildren serving in the army — so we are here and yet, we are witnessing the "situation" through a window.

It’s a window onto many Israelis. First: the one where we live, where we feel as safe as in any other place in the world, where we dine along with dozens of others in a first-class restaurant. One may think that people aren’t going to public places. The truth is far from that. The other night, the Israel Philharmonic, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, performed a great "Concert in Jeans" to a packed house of over 3,000.

Then there is the Israel where the relentless suicide-murders leave a pall over everyone. The way the news is delivered reveals some of the tactics this society has adopted to cope. First comes the factual information, delivered as dispassionately as possible. Later in the day, some of the details: who was killed, details about the bomber, structural damages. The next morning, in the press and on television and radio, the names and ages of the dead, where they will be buried that day and at what times. The day after the June 5 Megiddo murders (17 men and women, all army kids returning to their base), I was attending a board meeting for Koor, an Israeli industrial holding company I have chaired for several years. I quietly asked whether I should ask for a moment of silence to pray for those who had been killed. I was advised that Israelis don’t do that any more. I surmised that’s because it’s so important for everyone who can, to get on with things and do their mourning by themselves.

How intensely lonely that must be if, say, in a single flash of horror, you have lost your husband, your mother and one of your children … and yet, all around you, life goes on: the annual book fair is held throughout the country; a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv is attended by some 40,000; the Moment cafe in Jerusalem, victimized by a suicide attack last fall, reopens, is filled with patrons and the very same bartender is serving drinks; a friend, perhaps an artist, continues to produce beautiful works.

There was a poll taken by one of the major newspapers about how people are feeling these days. The results: half the nation is feeling good and the other half is depressed. My assistant at our foundation put it this way: "In the crudest statistical calculation, 3 million people have smiles on their faces, and 3 million others don’t understand why."

The fact that half the population remains optimistic, even under the constant siege of terror, speaks volumes about the Israeli spirit. The mutually inflicted, negative physical, economic and psychological pressures on both Israelis and Palestinians are intense, yet the wills of both peoples are stronger. Something, clearly, has to give. But so long as Israel feels threatened by homicidal bombers, that something will not be the Israel Defense Forces. Israel’s recent takeover of Palestinian cities has been named Operation Path of Determination. Isn’t it clearly possible that this path is another bend in the Road to Nowhere?

From afar, world leaders can demand that both sides make reforms. But does President Bush or anyone else seriously believe that the Palestinians will transform their society into a democratic, financially transparent state — the marks of other democracies that we in the West know? That corruption will be a thing of the past? And if there is new Palestinian leadership, then what’s in store for Israel and the region?

The strangest part of the tragedy through which Israelis and Palestinians are now agonizing is that, insofar as the "situation" is concerned, the last chapter has already been written — partially at Camp David and partially at Taba — give or take a little bit of sovereignty here and a few acres of land there. The question is: What chapter are we on now — and how many more have to be written until we reach the last one? And what book are we really reading, Job or Genesis?

One thing is evident. The mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians is too deep for them to finish this book themselves. So, be it the so-called "Quartet" — or some combination of the United States, selected European countries, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — a strong editor, on a temporary basis, is desperately needed. Soon. Given the cooling-off period, perhaps both sides will be able to return to that last chapter. If not, it well could be that the book will be consumed in the fire of hate.

Losing the War for the Temple Mount


While the military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continues, there is one war the Jewish state appears to have lost — without even a struggle.

That is its claim to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Jewish people’s connection to the First and Second Temples as the holiest site in Judaism.

Though it is hard to imagine, the fact is that the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority that controls the Temple Mount (thanks to Israel’s post-Six-Day War beneficence), has been quietly and steadily undermining Jewish connections to the area without any serious protest by the Sharon government. Over a period of time, and more aggressively in the last two years, the Waqf has literally bulldozed away historical proof of Temple artifacts in the area, carrying out extensive excavations in violation of Israel’s antiquity laws. Clearly, the political goal of the Waqf is to remove evidence of any Jewish connection to the holy site and introduce Muslim ties as part of the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem as its capital.

Ian Stern, an American-born tour guide in Jerusalem, recently gave a series of lectures in the New York area, complete with photo slides, to call attention to the travesty of science, religion and history taking place in the Old City. He offered photos and other proof of the Waqf blatantly and illegally carting away thousands of tons of "debris" from the Temple area, some of which has been found to contain large columns and other relics dating back to the Temple period. He showed how the Waqf has paved over ancient stones indicating Israel’s ties to the spot and brought in water from Mecca to sanctify the site to Muslims. It is only a matter of time, he said, until the southern wall of the Temple Mount will collapse due to a water problem unless repairs are made.

As many in the audience expressed outrage and wonder, Stern patiently explained that, alas, this information is not new, and that the successive governments of Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon have allowed these violations to continue without raising any serious objection, even though Israelis from left to right and secular to ultra-Orthodox are united in their outrage.

Why, Stern was asked repeatedly, does Israel allow this to go on, particularly in light of the symbolic and political ramifications of undoing the Jewish presence at the Temple Mount? For this he had no satisfying answer, nor do historians and politicians, other than the most obvious: that Israel is fearful of the international Muslim reaction if the Jewish authorities were to stop the Waqf’s illegal actions.

How else do you explain why protests are ignored from the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, made up of prominent Israelis from all walks of life, including former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, leading archaeologists and academics, as well as legal experts and writers like A.B. Yehoshua. Also fruitless have been Knesset votes and a 1993 Supreme Court ruling citing numerous Waqf violations as illegal and historically harmful. Still no Israeli government has acted.

Surely one would think that international outrage could be focused on the Waqf’s activities: much as the world condemned the Taliban in Afghanistan several years ago for destroying ancient Buddhist columns of great historical value.

Perhaps one could argue that in the scheme of things in Israel today, with women and children being targeted and suicide bombers on the loose, raising a ruckus about the displacement or even destruction of old stones is not a priority. But on the contrary, the Waqf’s archaeological crimes speak to the heart of the conflict, of the Arab unwillingness to recognize Israeli sovereignty of the Old City and even to acknowledge Jewish historical ties to the land. How can there be parity and mutual respect between two ancient peoples sharing a land when the Arabs insist the Jews are modern-day usurpers who appeared a little more than 50 years ago on the scene and evicted them from their homes? The brazen refusal to admit that the Jewish people have historic ties to the land underscores the Arab emphasis on ideology over reality and hatred over compromise.

It is understandable why so many Jewish leaders, religious and otherwise, have second-guessed Moshe Dayan’s decision 35 years ago to cede control of the Temple Mount area to the Waqf as a Muslim holy site.

"Handing over the keys of the Temple Mount to the Waqf was a major historic mistake over which generations will weep," noted Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s chief rabbi.

The only thing we can do is raise our voices about this matter, letting the Sharon government know that its uncharacteristic quiescence on this matter is unacceptable and harmful to Israel and Jewish history. We should be joined by historians, archaeologists, legal experts and others with a sense of fairness and a concern about the truth, putting pressure on the Waqf to cease their unholy quest to make the Temple Mount area historically Judenrein.

For centuries, Jews have prayed daily for the rebuilding of Jerusalem; the least we can do today is insist that our holiest site not be undermined.

Criticism Remains


Shortly after the bomb went off at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, killing seven and wounding more than 80, David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, sent off a strongly worded statement of sympathy.

"The leaders of American higher education join me in condemning — in the strongest possible terms — yesterday’s terrorist bombing and the terrible loss of life at the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The heart-wrenching deaths of seven people — five of them Americans — is only made more appalling by the fact that this terrorist incident targeted an institution of higher learning, long considered places of peaceful dialogue."

The heart of the statement, unequivocal condemnation coming from an academic institution, surprised me. I wondered if the attack had prompted faculty and students, particularly those on the left who have been most critical of Israel, to alter their stance. Had violence coming so close to home dislodged some of their support for the Palestinians? I decided in a random way to call professors at different universities.

The first call went to a friend at a Texas university. He is Jewish, in his 40s and self-described as an active member of the academic left. He doesn’t keep kosher, but his children attend Jewish day schools. He has been a staunch critic of Israel, often likening its policies to that of South Africa under the Afrikaners.

"For me, that act was the last straw," he said. "Maybe mine is a visceral reaction or maybe just a class response, but universities seem to me the last bastion, the brightest hope for future leaders and for a present-day dialogue."

But he also was most concerned that he not be identified, either because he might change his mind between now and the beginning of the new term later this month, or simply to protect himself from repudiation by his liberal colleagues for shifting his support toward Israel.

His voice, however, was the only one among many that reflected a new consideration. At Harvard, I talked to Patrick Thaddeus, an eminent professor of astrophysics. Thaddeus, who is also a friend, and not ideologue of the left or the right, had just returned from a conference and a stay in Britain and so felt more comfortable describing the reaction there — though he did not seem to believe the responses at Harvard of people on the left would be much different. Speaking generally, he explained, there is still widespread sympathy for the Palestinians among British and European intellectuals on the left.

These men and women are not anti-Semites, he emphasized. They are critical of America, of globalism and of Israel and see the three as linked. But they are especially suspicious of Ariel Sharon and believe he is out to get the Palestinians. In their view, Palestinians are the victims; Israelis the colonial power. Even the peace proposal that Ehud Barak offered, they believe, for all its generosity, would have created a colonial situation for the Palestinians, with blocked roads and Israeli settlements in their midst.

The bombing at Hebrew University had changed nothing, altered few if any beliefs.

When I asked why the killing last month of Hamas military leader Salah Shehada and the accidental death of nine Palestinian children was called by the left an Israeli war crime, while the Palestinian attack on Hebrew University with its seven deaths was described as folly and a misjudgment, Patrick explained to me that for those on the left, one action was carried out by a state (and so was a war crime) while the other was the act of an ill-defined group.

Not everyone on the left shared this view. Victor Navasky, the publisher of The Nation magazine and a professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, thought both were war crimes. His primary commitments, I believe, are to civil rights, the First Amendment and the struggle for social justice here and abroad. It is in this context he feels the Israelis are at fault.

Many of Navasky’s friends (and readers of The Nation, as well) are Jewish, as is he, and a typical sentiment expressed at Nation magazine parties is that he and The Nation are wonderful on everything except Israel.

The difficulty in the Mideast, he believes, is that each side moves in the wrong direction following a murderous act. After each terrorist incident — Hebrew University is as important as any — Israel and the Palestinians should redouble their efforts to achieve some kind of peace. Instead, each side seeks retribution.

As for the effect of the bombing on Columbia’s left, it would be difficult to predict, he said. After all, he pointed out (as did others), this is summer and the campus is relatively quiet.

This was also the first reaction of Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of religious life at USC. The campus was quiet; most people were away tending to families, research, private lives. And while horrified by what occurred on the Hebrew University campus, she wonders if it wasn’t "naïve to think that anyplace, even a university, could serve as a sanctuary."

In the end, she says quietly, "Human life is human life," wherever the attacks and the deaths occur. "The most important thing is to still be talking — to still keep working for peace."