Israel boosts defences along Syria, Lebanon borders

Israel has deployed a third Iron Dome missile defence system near its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon, security sources said on Tuesday.

The Iron Dome systems have been deployed alongside a U.S.-supplied Patriot battery, which has been stationed in the north for years, as Israel is on the alert for weapons leaking out of the Syrian civil war that could be turned on the Jewish state.

Two Iron Dome batteries, which use radar-guided interceptor missiles to shoot down short-ranged rockets, had already been deployed there.

Israel has said it could use military action to prevent chemical weapons and advanced arms from Syria slipping into the hands of militant groups as a result of the civil war there.

It declined to comment on whether it was responsible for bombing a Syrian arms complex last week.

Israel has maintained official silence over the raid, but its defence minister said the incident showed that Israel was serious about preventing the flow of heavy weapons into Lebanon.

Syria's ally Iran said Israel would regret the air strike, but did not say whether either country planned a military response.

A military spokesman declined to give details on the Iron Dome deployment, but described it as routine.

Reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Israeli, U.S. troops test launch Patriot missiles

Israeli and U.S. troops launched four Patriot missiles at decoy enemy missiles over the Mediterranean Sea.

Monday's launches were the last stages of Austere Challenge 12, a training exercise designed to increase military cooperation between the United States and Israel. The three-week exercise, which began last month and involves more than 2,500 American service personnel and 1,000 Israeli soldiers, is considered the largest joint exercise ever between the two countries.

The missiles were launched from Palmachim Air Force base in central Israel, located south of Tel Aviv.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted at the base that Israel is using its Iron Dome system to protect against a barrage of short-range missiles coming from the Gaza Strip in the last several days.

“We hope that it [this escalation] will be over quickly without a need to broaden it or intensify it,” he said.

Germany’s Jewish patriots find a home in the military

In an office amid a labyrinth of hallways in Germany’s Ministry of Defense, a short jaunt from where Claus von Stauffenberg was executed in 1944 for trying to kill Adolf Hitler, sits Bernhard Fischer, lieutenant colonel and Jew.

What’s a nice Jewish guy doing in a place like this?

“The history of this place is clear to me. But life is normal today,” said the 59-year-old protocol officer, surrounded by souvenirs from Israel and elsewhere. “Germany is a democratic country and one can live here—and live here well.”

Of course, Fischer would be the first to admit it’s much more complicated than that for Jews in the Bundeswehr, modern Germany’s military. No one knows the exact number, but insiders guess there are some 200 Jews in a military of about 200,000.

Many of them, such as Fischer, have complex family histories. His mother’s family moved from Germany to South Africa prior to World War II. She returned to Germany in 1945 and married a Catholic German. “But our Jewish identity was always there,” he said.

In 1971, while visiting relatives in Israel, Fischer met his future wife, whose family had made aliyah from Tunisia. They moved to West Germany in 1975 and have three children.

Until the postwar obligatory conscription was dropped last year, Germans whose parents or grandparents were victims of Nazi persecution were exempted from military service.

Nevertheless, some chose to serve. Michael Fuerst signed up in 1966 and is likely the first Jew to do so in West Germany. The Jewish community called him “the shmuck from Hanover who joined the army,” he recalls with a laugh.

To Jews from the outside, such patriotism may seem odd. But like all social and legal institutions in West Germany (which carries over to today’s unified Germany), the military was remade in a democratic image.

One major difference is that soldiers are empowered to disobey a command if they believe it would lead to a criminal act. And unlike in Hitler’s day, soldiers do not swear allegiance to the Fuehrer “but to uphold the constitution and defend the freedom of the German people,” Fischer said.

The earliest records of Jews in Germany go back to the fourth century. Lt. Col. Gideon Romer-Hillebrecht, the co-editor with 1st Lt. Michael Berger of a new tome on “Jewish Soldiers-Jewish Resistance in Germany and France,” says Jews may have fought in Germanic troops as early as the 13th century. But it wasn’t until Napoleon’s conquest of the western regions that Jews were granted equal rights—including the right to be drafted, Romer-Hillebrecht told JTA.

In World War I, more than 100,000 Jews served—that was about a fifth of the total Jewish population at the time—and about 12,000 died on the front. Hitler later blamed Germany’s defeat on Jewish soldiers.

Fuerst, an attorney who has chaired the Jewish Association of the State of Lower Saxony since 1980, said his grandfathers and uncles served in World War I, “but nobody was protected by that.” Some of his relatives fled Nazi Germany to the United States, but his paternal grandfather died in the Riga ghetto. His mother survived Theresienstadt.

“I am a German patriot, but you know, I know exactly what happened here,” Fuerst said. “That is the difference between the normal patriot and the Jewish patriot.”

Fuerst was born in 1947 in Hanover, his father’s hometown. In 1966 he signed up to become a paratrooper—the only one of his Jewish friends to join the Bundeswehr.

“I always heard from my other friends that I am German, so there were no discussions in my family about whether I would go to the army or not,” he said.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, he considered fighting for Israel. “For me it was not so easy. I thought, ‘How can I get to Israel?’ But after five days I did not have to think about it anymore,” Fuerst said.

“I have no dual loyalty,” he adds. “I have loyalty only for Germany and for my Jewishness.”

Still, his fellow soldiers sometimes admired him simply because they looked up to Israeli paratroopers, Fuerst says with a laugh.

Fuerst says he rarely experienced anti-Semitism, either before or during his service. But he balked during an early military apprenticeship when a captain told the trainees, “Don’t be so loud: You’re not in the Jew school.”

Fuerst asked to be transferred to another course. The captain responded, “It is good that you request this because I have to tell you, I am an anti-Semite … All the problems we have in Germany were brought to us by the Jews.”

The captain was dismissed from his post the next day.

Romer-Hillebrecht, 46, whose mother was Jewish, joined in part “to heal my own family history.” His Jewish ancestors “lost their whole identity, their belief in the German state.”

While serving recently in Afghanistan, he either received kosher rations from the American forces or ordered frozen meals from a glatt kosher caterer back in Frankfurt.

“Sometimes the others were jealous,” joked Romer-Hillebrecht, deputy chair of the Association of Jewish Soldiers, a 6-year-old group with about 25 members and functions like a “virtual memorial” to the history of Jewish soldiers.

One member, Rainer (Reuven) Hoffmann, 64, has contributed articles in two books the group has published.

Probably the main reason his Jewish mother survived the war, Hoffmann says, is because she married a non-Jew—Hoffmann’s father—in 1933. The rest of her family was scattered throughout Europe. A brother died in Auschwitz; two other siblings survived.

“But my mother did not speak about this time,” he said.

During the height of the Cold War, Hoffmann’s sense of patriotism surged. “We had the Soviet army at the border,” he said. “I felt we needed to defend our country and our political system.”

Like Fuerst, he considered fighting for Israel in June 1967. “I thought perhaps I am serving in the wrong army. But it was over too fast.”

After 15 years in the military, Hoffmann returned to school and became a consultant to various industries. He also took part in political and Jewish life in his hometown of Duisburg, particularly after far-right arsonists attacked a synagogue in Luebeck in 1994.

At the time, his father advised him “to leave Germany because the Nazis will come back. I told him, ‘No, they won’t come back. We will stay here.’ ”

Spiffy in his uniform at the recent book presentation, Hoffmann took the chance to chat with Jewish soldiers whom he rarely sees.

“Even Jews don’t know that there are other Jews in the army,” Hoffmann joked with Batya Goetz, a 35-year-old medical officer specializing in anesthesiology.

Goetz, who converted to Judaism in 2003 after completing a medical internship in Israel, joined the military medical corps at the end of 2010. She is stationed at the military hospital in Berlin.

“Yes, I love my country,” the young doctor said. “I would not want to live anywhere else. But at the same time, I am a European [citizen]. And the Bundeswehr recognizes that. It’s a very international army.”

It’s also a multicultural army, says Goetz, who tries to take off for Jewish holidays. “But I have worked every Christmas since I started,” she says with a smile.

In today’s Bundeswehr, soldiers of all stripes face the same risks. But for many “Jewish patriots,” the past is always present.

“I have had the chance to do all those things that my Jewish ancestors could not,” Hoffmann said. “I feel satisfied. But probably this work of remembering will never be done.”

Mourning Abed

Earlier this month, three California Jews — all of us strong supporters of Israel — established a scholarship fund to honor a Palestinian patriot. He was murdered in the terrorist attack in Amman, Jordan, in November, since which time we’ve been joined by many other prominent members of the local Jewish community. A lot of people have asked me why I was one of the founders. Here’s why.

Last April, our van filled with Americans and Jews, Israelis and Arabs, rumbled through traffic to a celebratory dinner hosted by one of Los Angeles’ great Jewish philanthropists. We’d finished three days of sparring and collaboration at the Milken Institute Global Conference, imagining how to “privatize the peace process.”

Our goal was to propose practical measures for an economic road map to build the infrastructure of a Palestinian economy. We envisioned a Palestinian state that could stand on its own to provide jobs and enough capital to fuel economic stability, a necessity for the two-state solution to conflict that has been the official policy of the U. S., Israel and the rest of the civilized world for more than a decade.

Everyone in that crowded van was animated with the conversational cadences and clamor of the Middle East — that shared passion of intense human engagement and debate that comes from a common love for the region and a sense that what we spoke and argued about really mattered. Over the previous days, we’d come to know each other.

Like Hagar, the Muslims were raising their eyes from despair to hope, and like Sarah, we Jews were beginning to laugh again and embrace the future. A heady and optimistic sense was returning in the dialogue, fueled by too much coffee and not enough sleep as we anticipated a shared, final meal before planes started departing.

Abed Alloun switched back and forth from English to Hebrew. Over the days, we’d developed a cautious but growing friendship. He’d learned Hebrew during his teen years in Israeli prisons, having cut his political teeth as an activist during the first intifada in the late ’80s.

But since Oslo, he’d taken seriously the peace process as the best path to Palestinian statehood. He’d risen swiftly to become a colonel in the Palestinian security services and a deputy interior minister in the Palestinian Authority.

Only recently, he’d left politics for business, in part to support his growing family but also because of a perhaps na?ve but practical sensibility that we’d come to share — the belief that commerce could best align regional interests to create a constituency for peace, not terrorism and war.

Abed at 36 was a beacon of hope for an emerging, local and young post-Arafat Palestinian leadership — many of whom died with him in Amman — seeking peace and trying to bring the two nations in conflict closer together. This new guard was far different from the corrupt “Tunisians” who’d returned with Arafat and the backward-looking Hamas terrorists, both of whom would never stop fighting their version of 1948 war long enough to allow Palestinians to join the community of independent nations in the 21st century. Abed wanted to move on.

Since the Nov. 9 tragedy in Amman, when three men blew themselves up at three hotels, killing 57 innocent Arabs and wounding many more, more than one Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli I’ve since spoken with have expressed a suspicion that the victims of terror at the Days Inn Hotel in Amman were not just in the wrong place and the wrong time, but rather had been targeted by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, who were working with Al Qaeda.

At the dinner that beautiful evening in April, there was some confusion about dietary diplomacy, and the hostess had asked me to straighten it out. It took a while to get everyone’s attention and get hands raised at the long table to answer “who was kosher and who was hallal?” Most were neither, but it was Abed who helped me record the count, and we both laughed, recognizing the irony and appreciation that our respective religious observances could bring us together and not tear us asunder.

It was a rare moment, demonstrating Ben-Gurion’s hard but profound simplicity that “you make peace with your enemies.” You could see, feel and believe how things could change for our respective homelands.

As the evening wore on and the wine flowed, toasts and personal tales were swapped around the table. Abed rose to thank the hosts and tell a story:

During the closing days of Israel’s Defensive Shield offensive into the West Bank in the spring of 2002, Abed represented the Palestinian Authority in negotiations for the disengagement of forces in Jenin. He had witnessed much fighting, bloodshed and shared human misery as he shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian troops to help implement the cease-fire. It had been a long and difficult week, and he candidly recalled his ambivalence about his assignment.

He’d come home to Beit Hanina from that battlefield to find his young daughter glued to inciting Palestinian National Television programming that was amplifying the now long-since disproved charges of Israeli massacres in Jenin. He turned the TV off. His distraught daughter asked him why he was not out fighting the Israelis and that they needed to go kill Jews.

“OK,” he said, “but first, I must spend some time with your mom this weekend, and I want you to go for a sleepover with some of our friends. Then, if you still feel we must, we’ll go get some guns and kill Jews if that’s what you insist.”

He called the Israeli who was his military liaison and counterpart in implementing the cease-fire. They’d become friends, and the Israeli and his wife were happy to take Abed’s daughter to share Shabbat with their children, who were the same age.

After the weekend was over, he picked his daughter up. The weekend had passed too quickly for her, and she did not want to leave her new “Uncle” Haim and “Aunt” Sara and her new friends, Motti and Mor.

She played happily in the back of the car as they drove back to Jerusalem. Then Abed reminded her, “Oh yes, didn’t we need to stop somewhere and get a gun to go kill some Jews as you’d said before?”

“Well,” was her uncommitted response, “I guess.”

“Good,” Abed said, “we’ll stop here at the next exit, buy a gun and then go back and start with killing Haim and Sara and their kids — you know they are Jews, don’t you — they are Israelis.”

“No, Babba no! They are my friends. What are you talking about,” she cried.

“Good, my dearest,” Abed said, “now you understand something very important.”

With that story, I learned how profoundly Abed believed that the path to progress in the Middle East was through nonviolence and the rejection of hatred. His children lost a very good father and his people an important patriot and leader. The Palestinians couldn’t afford to lose Abed — nor could we.

Tax-deductible contributions to the Funds for Abed Alloun Peace Through Education Scholarship Fund at the American International School in Gaza can be made c/o the Democracy Council, 11040 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 320, Los Angeles, CA 90025 or donations can be made online with a credit card at

Beware This Bill

As one who supported the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) is certainly no radical. But last week, Feingold, chair of the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cast the lone Senate vote against final approval of the so-called “USA PATRIOT” (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act.

Even the bill’s title, Feingold observed, was part of what he termed the “relentless” pressure to take swift action — sweeping aside all dissent and at least inferentially branding as un-American those who would dare to question its provisions. “This is one of the ridiculous things they do in Washington,” Feingold told The Washington Post. “They want to intimidate people.”

The legislation, which President George W. Bush signed Friday, Oct. 26, was presented in classic take-it-or-leave-it fashion, with little opportunity for input or review.

Bypassing the regular rules of procedure, a small group of senators forced Congress to vote on a mammoth 164-page measure that our senators and representatives had not yet even had the chance to read. This unseemly haste could perhaps be excused if the final antiterrorism bill was either well-crafted or innocuous. Unfortunately for us all, it is neither. A principal infirmity of the USA PATRIOT Act is the broader authority it gives in all federal criminal investigations — not just those involving suspected terrorists — to secretly search homes and offices. As Feingold observed, “The whole tenor of the debate was: ‘Let’s grab as much as we can,’ given the fear of terrorism.”

The new law allows law enforcement agencies to enter a house, apartment or office with a search warrant when the occupant is away, search through property, videotape or photograph the residence’s contents, and in some cases seize physical property and electronic communications, but not tell the occupant until later.

Without such notice, a person cannot point out mistakes in a warrant or ensure that the search is properly limited. Though exceptions currently exist for extraordinary cases, the new law greatly expands the scope of this “sneak and peek” authority to every kind of criminal case (not just those involving terrorism) and to every kind of search (physical or electronic). Most ominously, and unlike a few of the Act’s other provisions, this expanded power will not expire in 2005.

Here are just a few of USA PATRIOT’s other dangerous features:

It creates a broad new definition of “domestic terrorism” that could sweep in people who merely engage in acts of political protest and subject them to wiretapping and enhanced penalties.

It grants the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental health and educational records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime and without a court order.

It permits the attorney general to indefinitely incarcerate or detain noncitizens, based on mere suspicion, and to deny re-admission to the United States of noncitizens (including lawful permanent residents), for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment.

It allows for the detention and deportation of individuals who provide lawful assistance to groups that have engaged in vaguely defined “terrorist activity” at some point in the past; groups potentially fitting this definition could range from Greenpeace to Operation Rescue to the African National Congress.

t broadly expands government power under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by breaking down the critical distinction between “foreign intelligence” and “criminal” investigations, allowing surveillance to proceed without meeting the Fourth Amendment’s rigorous probable cause standard.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) certainly recognizes that some increased investigative and preventive powers are warranted in the wake of the events of Sept. 11. But much within this omnibus legislation simply goes too far.

PJA has committed itself to serving as a national clearinghouse for the Jewish community to monitor abuses of this new law. While only a small number of USA PATRIOT’s provisions (those expanding surveillance powers for tapping telephones and computers) will “sunset” in four years, Congress commonly renews these laws unless presented with overwhelming evidence of improprieties. Thus, vigilance on all fronts will be essential. PJA will be watching the watchers.

Douglas Mirell is an attorney and president of the Progressive Jewish
Alliance. His e-mail address is