Israeli boy, soldiers injured during Land Day protests

An Israeli boy and several Israeli soldiers were injured during Israeli-Arab and Palestinian protests marking Land Day.

The protests Saturday mark the deaths of six Galilee Arabs during 1976 riots over government land confiscations in northern Israel, dubbed Land Day.

Thousands gathered in the Israeli-Arab village of Sakhnin in northern Israel, where the deaths occurred 37 years ago, for the main Land Day demonstration. Protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Two Israeli soldiers were injured from rocks thrown by Palestinians gathered near Kalkilya.

An Israeli boy, 4, was wounded by stones thrown at the car in which he was riding near Efrat. Four Israeli soldiers were injured when their jeep overturned while searching for the rock throwers.

Gaza Palestinians protesting near Rafah claimed that they were injured by tear gas and live gunfire by Israeli soldiers on their side of the border.

Israeli Strategy Under Fire

Beyond the immediate escalation, the recent Palestinian attack on an Israeli army outpost near the Gaza border raises serious questions about Israel’s security and foreign policies.

Right-wing politicians argue that the incident, coupled with months of incessant rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians, shows that the army has lost its deterrent capacity and that it will take a massive, sustained operation in Gaza to restore it.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank also is under fire, with some pundits maintaining that the latest turn of events will further erode public confidence in his pullback strategy.

The attack, which left two Israeli soldiers dead and seven wounded, as well as one soldier kidnapped by the terrorists and brought back to Gaza, also highlighted sharp differences on the Palestinian side. It came just days before Palestinian factions were set to reach agreement on a document meant to pave the way for negotiations with Israel and was widely seen as an attempt to torpedo the deal. It also raised questions about the limits of power of both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

With many splinter terrorist factions acting independently or taking orders from Hamas’ more radical leadership abroad, the incident raised another fundamental question: Does any Palestinian leader have enough domestic clout to deliver on a deal with Israel?

Israel’s response was an attempt to address some of these key issues. By sending ground forces into Gaza and making sweeping arrests of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators in the West Bank, Israel significantly raised the stakes in its Sisyphean struggle against fundamentalist Palestinian terror. As the military response to the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit unfolded, it became clear that Israel’s war aims went far beyond the return of the abducted soldier. Dubbed “Summer Rains,” the first major military operation since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year was intended to obtain Shalit’s release, stop Qassam rocket fire on Israeli civilians, restore Israel’s deterrent capacity, cripple Hamas politically and create conditions for an effective cease-fire.

Israel’s government was under strong domestic pressure to take tough action. The soldier’s abduction came after months of incessant rocket fire on the border town of Sderot, where residents went on a hunger strike to protest the government’s failure to protect them.

However, that was not the only reason for the government’s new hard line. Olmert also wanted to restore dwindling public confidence in his plan for a large-scale unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. By launching a major military operation, he was testing the government’s thesis that withdrawal from territory gives Israel considerable freedom of action if terror continues from the areas handed back. If that equation is seen to work in Gaza, the prime minister believes the public will be more amenable to a similar pullback from the West Bank.

Though there had been prior intelligence warnings before the Palestinian attack that sparked the crisis, the Palestinian gunmen surprised the Israelis early by attacking from the Israeli side and not the Gaza side of the outpost. Eight Palestinian militiamen infiltrated through a recently dug 300-yard-long tunnel, coming out well inside Israeli territory.

They then turned back toward the border, firing at the Israelis who were facing Gaza. Two attackers were killed, while the others made it back to Gaza, taking Shalit with them.

Israel demanded Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release, but the abductors insisted on the release of all Palestinian prisoners under age 18 and all Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli jails — in return merely for information on Shalit.

The Palestinian leadership was divided. Abbas, who leads the Fatah movement, ordered a search for the soldier to hand him back to Israel. Haniyeh of Hamas also favored a speedy resolution of the crisis. Both realized that they had been presented with a chance to win diplomatic points and alleviate international sanctions against the Hamas led-government.

When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer, it evolved a new military doctrine based on deterrence, rather than occupation. The thinking was that with the occupation of Gaza finished, Israel would have international backing to respond with overwhelming force to any attack on sovereign Israeli territory. However, this failed to create a deterrent balance.

For months Palestinians have been firing Qassam rockets at the town of Sderot. When Israeli retaliatory shelling kills Palestinian civilians, the international outcry has been resounding.

Right-wing politicians pressed the government to launch a large-scale attack on Gaza to restore the army’s deterrence. However, it is by no means clear that Israel’s use of force will have the desired effect.

Israeli left-wingers argue that it could simply spawn more violence and terror. For example, they ask, what will happen in Gaza when Israel leaves: Will Palestinian forces loyal to the moderate Abbas impose order and cross-border quiet or will chaos reign, with more terror against Israel? Already Palestinian radicals are threatening megaterror attacks in Israel or on Israeli targets abroad.

Much could depend on the outcome of a complex power struggle on the Palestinian side. For months, Abbas has been stymied by the more radical Hamas-led government under Prime Minister Haniyeh, some of whose more militant members owe allegiance to Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader abroad, who also controls most of the Hamas militias. Israeli leaders believe the escalation in violence is part of an effort by Meshal to embarrass Abbas and Haniyeh and to show who really rules Gaza.

By arresting Hamas government ministers and legislators, Israel was trying to stack the internal Palestinian deck in Abbas’ favor. It was also sending a clear message to Meshal: That Israel will not tolerate a bogus distinction between political and military echelons, and that if Meshal and his allies continue to promote terror, Hamas could lose its hold on power.

Meshal faces a difficult choice: seeking a compromise with Israel and very probably losing face or escalating the violence and risking even harsher Israeli measures against Hamas and becoming a target for assassination.

In describing the Israeli military operation, Defense Minister Amir Peretz called it “one of the most significant moments in setting the rules of the game between Israel and Palestinian terror.” One of the main objectives of Summer Rains was to signal the Palestinians that the rules have changed and that Israel will not hesitate to use overwhelming force if terror from Gaza continues.

Now it remains to be seen whether the Palestinians accept the Israeli rules as a basis for more peaceful co-existence or whether they try to find new ways to create a power balance in their favor.


Nation & World Briefs

High Flier Takes Over

Dan Halutz, a former air force commander, replaced Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon as chief of the Israel Defense Forces’ General Staff at a blue-ribbon ceremony Wednesday. Considered a confidant of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Halutz’s immediate challenge is implementing the Israeli withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.

“The decision of the government and the Knesset on the matter of ‘disengagement’ will be carried out with the proper sensitivity and the required determination,” Halutz said in his inaugural speech. Halutz, 56, is Israel’s 18th chief of staff but the first to come from the air force. Another strategic concern facing him is the Iranian nuclear program, which analysts describe as the greatest threat to Israel’s existence.

Dollars for Withdrawal

Israel will pay evacuated settlers an average of $450,000 per family in compensation. The government figure was presented Wednesday at an interministerial meeting in Jerusalem. Some 8,500 settlers are to be relocated when Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank beginning in mid-August. Their compensation packages will be set according to criteria including family size and how long they lived in their former homes. Some settlers have petitioned against the withdrawal plan at Israel’s High Court of Justice, calling the relocation terms inadequate.

Ya’alon: Another Intifada Seen

Israel can expect Palestinian terrorism to flare up after it withdraws from the Gaza Strip, the retiring chief of staff said. In an interview with Ha’aretz published in part on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon said that unless Israel continued ceding land to the Palestinians after the withdrawal planned for this summer, they would inevitably return to terrorism.

“If there is an Israeli commitment to another move, we will gain another period of quiet,” he said. “If not, there will be an eruption,” adding, “There is a high probability of a second war of terror.”

Terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza largely have honored the cease-fire declared by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last February, but Ya’alon said this was no indication of lasting peace prospects. Citing Abbas’ calls for a “right of return” for millions of Arab refugees to land now inside the Jewish state, and Abbas’ refusal to crack down on terrorist groups, Ya’alon said that a future Palestinian state would try to undermine Israel and ultimately would lead to war.

Holocaust Heroes Honored

Yad Vashem posthumously honored a Dutch couple and a Pole for rescuing Jews during World War II. On Wednesday, Albertus and Margaretha Haverkort of Holland and Zofia Wroblewska-WieWiorowska of Poland, who hid nine Jews from the Nazis, were named Righteous Gentiles.

Irish Group Protests Israel

An anti-Israel group in Ireland will stage a protest before an Israel-Ireland soccer game. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign has organized a demonstration against Israeli “occupation” to coincide with the arrival of the Israeli soccer team and its hundreds of traveling supporters in Dublin on Saturday for a World Cup qualifying match. The protesters will be marching from the center of Dublin to the Israeli Embassy two blocks from the soccer stadium. The group is encouraging people attending the match to wave Palestinian flags. An attempt to get Irish fans to boycott the last match between the teams in Tel Aviv in March was met with complete indifference. Neither the Israeli Embassy in Dublin nor the Israel Football Association would comment on the planned protest.

Denying the Deniers

Internet providers should block French users from accessing a Holocaust denial site, Paris’ district attorney said. The comments, made Monday, came during a trial on the issue of whether Web users should be allowed to access Aaargh, which in French stands for the Association of Amateur War and Holocaust Historians. The case, which went to trial March 8, was brought by eight anti-racist associations fighting to put into effect Internet filters to forbid access to Aaargh in France. A law passed in June 2004 would allow a French judge to order the site’s host to shut down the site or prohibit access to it. Two of the site’s hosts — OLM and Globat — have agreed to prohibit access, but a third — the American company — has refused to cooperate.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Israel Protests Hit Southland

Local activists protesting Israeli policies have expanded this month at various events that have attracted a range of pro-Palestinian activists, scholars and clergy from across Southern California.

The growing pace of such gatherings reflects a trend among peace activists to portray Israel as a unique human rights violator, while Palestinian terrorism often is downplayed or not discussed.

"We’ve got more events and a greater frequency of events," said Roz Rothstein, executive director of the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs. "They are profoundly anti-Israel."

These events are problematic for Jews because, Rothstein said, when Middle East history is explained to them by protestors, "their history is this new history that leaves out Jews as indigenous to the region. It is ‘Zionist propaganda’ to say that Jews have been there for thousands of years."

A man dressed like a Palestinian suicide bomber, with mock red dynamite sticks on his chest, held up a sign reading, "Hamas Says No Wall," at a Nov. 9 demonstration in Santa Monica against Israel’s planned security fence, which drew about 300 people.

Several hundred people braved the rain for UCLA’s Nov. 15 evening memorial honoring Palestinian American scholar Edward Said, who died in September. The memorial brochure’s listed event supporters included the Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, the far-left group that hosts anti-war rallies featuring harsh anti-Israel speakers.

Standing near Said portraits on stage at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall, a graduate student recited in Arabic the poem, "Speech of the Red Indian," by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Pamphlets at the memorial’s vendor tables included one flyer for a Nov. 22 "Divesting From Israel" seminar at Compton Community College and another for ANSWER’s Nov. 19 Beverly Hills Hotel protest at a World Affairs Council dinner speech by Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Said’s nephew, UCLA English professor Saree Makdisi, said his uncle witnessed not only "Zionist malevolence" but corrupt Palestinian leadership. Makdisi’s keynote speech about Said’s emphasis on literary and historic narrative found Makdisi saying that Israel engaged in "the most brutal and longest lasting military occupation of the 20th century," that Israel attempts to deny Palestinians their history and that Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Gaza are "tens of thousands of hostile foreigners."

As for peace negotiations, Makdisi said, "The Israelis are a great deal more clever with words [than Palestinian leadership]."

StandWithUs ran a Nov. 16 University of Judaism student activism workshop and sent monitors to UCLA’s Said memorial and a separate, Nov. 14 UC Irvine conference on Said’s academic work.

"Edward Said was a man who did not believe in the existence of the State of Israel," Rothstein said. "He was an articulate professor; now he’s dead and now they’re memorializing him and reiterating his positions."

Santa Monica’s Nov. 9 anti-Israel protest was endorsed by some of the same Quaker and Arab American groups that backed "Peacemaking in the Middle East: The Role of U.S. Christians," a Nov. 8 peace conference for about 200 mainline Protestants at Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary.

"I think there is a difference between Jews going to Palestine as immigrants and Jews going to Palestine as conquerors," said San Gabriel Valley’s Emma Rosenthal, one of the few Jews at the event.

While activists often call the Israeli security fence an "apartheid wall," mainstream organizers want to jettison such crass analogies that may resonate at rallies but turn off politicians and Middle-American voters.

"Avoid analogies," said Corrine Whitlatch, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), one of the Pasadena event’s sponsors. "Using terms related to South Africa, using terms related to the Nazis, using terms related to ethnic cleansing only add another layer of complication."

CMEP media director Jim Wetekam shared results on his organization’s recent focus group with a Middle American group of 22 registered voters in Kansas City, Mo. — all but two of them Caucasian and none of them Jewish or Arab.

"There was slightly more sympathy [toward] Israelis, but not marked disapproval of the Palestinian people," said Wetekam, who added that activists calling Israel’s West Bank security fence an "apartheid wall" was not a phrase that registered with the focus group.

He also said the Christian Zionist view of Israel as sacred also did not register strongly with the focus group — from their perspective, "It wasn’t, ‘the land where Jesus walked.’"

Like at UCLA’s Said memorial, Palestinian support blanketed the Fuller seminary conference, with some attendees sporting small Palestinian flag buttons. One woman’s stop-U.S.-funding-of-Israel shirt had the words: "We are all Palestinians."

In a Fuller hallway, one attendee said to another, "We’re here for Israel. No, we’re just kidding."

When an Egyptian American at a discussion on Arab Christians said, "And the Jews don’t want justice, that’s it," his remark went unchallenged by the workshop’s presenter and 17 participants.