Box-office politics




Trailer for ‘Suicide Killers.’ Click on the big arrow to play.

The first person I met at the Liberty Film Festival preview was a riled up Asian American man with a pompadour, who quickly explained to me what was wrong withHollywood: It is a vast liberal conspiracy.

“But the founders of the studios were conservative,” I said, thinking of the Goldwyns, the Warners and the Mayers.

“Yes,” he said. “But their children are communists.”

The Liberty Film Festival, now in its third year, aims to present and promote the work of conservative filmmakers who, according to the organizers, are ignored, persecuted and otherwise absent from “Hollywood.”

I put Hollywood in quotes because its meaning, as the evening at the Luxe Bel Air Hotel wore on, was elusive.

The Festival, said Mike Finch, executive director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center that sponsored the event, “is a voice for sanity. [Hollywood’s] not just for the far left. All these viewpoints deserve to be heard in Hollywood.”

For him, Hollywood seemed to mean Westsiders who work in the entertainment industry and read the Huffington Post.

“It’s really important that we have films going out with the conservative viewpoint,” said actress Govindini Murty, who organized the festival with her husband Jason Apuzzo. “Because Hollywood is making a major effort on the left to undermine the war on terror.”

For her, Hollywood seemed to mean documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. But Moore himself railed against “Hollywood” when Disney refused to release his controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”A bit later, Murty referred to “Hollywood’s” love of documentaries “that undermine the military. They are all extremely radical, very anti-Israeli.”

Here she had me stumped. This clearly wasn’t the Hollywood of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Marine,” which opened this week. And I couldn’t think of any anti-Israel Hollywood films. Which made me think that for Murty, “Hollywood” means anyone who won’t make movies she likes, or, perhaps, that she’s in.

This is the festival’s third year, and it has grown substantially since its founding, last year attracting some 3,500 viewers. This year’s event will be held Nov. 10-12 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

About 100 people gathered at last week’s preview to meet the organizers and get a taste of the 28 films on offer.

If the trailers are telling, I suspect there will be a lot of documentaries and some uneven features with a kind of look-ma-I-have-an-Apple quality. There will be some violence — I saw terrorist body parts splattered in something resembling POM — but no sex or nudity. At Liberty, “conservative” means Christian, and Christian means Family Research Council.

The most promising documentary appears to be “Suicide Killers,” by the Algerian-born Israeli filmmaker Pierre Rehov. The Arabic-speaking Rehov infiltrated a terrorist cell to provide a firsthand look at the people who perpetrate such inhuman crimes.

But the night’s preview was less about these movies and more about why “Hollywood” would never want to make them.

It took me a beat — as they say in Hollywood — but eventually I realized where I’d heard that same complaint: from liberals in Hollywood, from Asians in Hollywood and Latinos in Hollywood. From screenwriters and actors and union members and women and newcomers and old-timers in Hollywood.Heck, I’d even heard it from Jews in Hollywood.

Because here’s the truth: Hollywood doesn’t make anybody’s film.

Zillions of people dream of making a movie. But the studios only release a couple of dozen each year.

Chances are excellent your film — whether it’s about a Chinese lesbian dockworker who stands up to a right-wing corporate conspiracy, or about a blogger from Duluth who brings down a left-wing Washington conspiracy — isn’t going to be one of them.

The five top-grossing films of 2005 were “Star Wars-Episode III,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “The War of the Worlds” and “King Kong.” There’s not a political plotline in the bunch — unless you count Narnia’s Christian polemic.

Hollywood’s primary, overriding focus is on making movies that do big box office. That explains how this week, Paramount Studios tapped Oliver Stone, the bane of the Michael Medved School of Wholesome Cinema, and Cyrus Nawasteh, whom Clintonites despise for writing “The Path to 9/11” to make a movie version of “Jawbreaker,” about the CIA in Afghanistan. Ideology, shmideology — go make us a hit.

But none of this realmovietik puts conservative tushies in the Liberty Festival seats, so Murty and the other speakers resort to victimhood and conspiracy. Several speakers referred to left-wing Jewish billionaire investor George Soros’ reported interest in buying the 59-film library of Dreamworks. “Soros has taken over the Democratic Party,” said Finch, “and is now making a major play to take over Hollywood. But [Murty and Apuzzo] are gonna beat George Soros.”

Since when is buying the DVD rights to “Gladiator” “taking over Hollywood”?

All these ill-defined, overheated intimations of evil Hollywood are where the Liberty folks lose me. They begin to join thematic forces with the Internet cuckoos, for whom “Hollywood” means only one thing: the Jews. For centuries Jews were kept outside society’s gates. But in the industry they created and in which they are still heavily represented, Jews are often the gatekeepers. And though the Liberty folks stand with Israel and against anti-Semitism, their antagonism toward an amorphous, conspiratorial “Hollywood” has a discomfiting resonance.

The conservatives at Liberty should ease up on the rhetoric. The twin gods of Hollywood are talent and a track record. If you have those, you’re in, no matter how repellent your ideology, or your actions. Just ask Mel Gibson.

Summer Tours to Israel Rerouted, But Not By Much


Most summers, the trip to the Naot Sandal factory on a kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border is a highlight of the teen tours run by United Synagogue Youth (USY). But this summer, with the north under constant threat of rocket attacks, the 400 USYers stayed in the central and southern part of the country, and Naot came to them, with a special sale near USY’s base in Jerusalem.

That was one of the easier adjustments to a constantly changing itinerary for USY kids and the other estimated 6,000 American teens on tours in Israel this summer.

“All of us that have kids in Israel are trying to make the best of the situation,” said Jules Gutin, international director for USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, which has about 50 California teens in Israel this summer. “We want the experience to be worthwhile and positive, as well as safe.”

So while kids may be missing out on trips to the Golan Heights, to the kabbalistic city of Tsfat, the Banias natural pools or Maimonides’ grave in Tiveria, tours are making up for it with extra time in Jerusalem and challenging hikes through the Negev.

Few Kids Have Returned Home

Most tours departed the United States before the violence escalated in Israel, and most of the teens have stayed. USY reports that as of early this week, three kids went home, and Young Judaea has a similar count, with six kids out of 470 being summoned home. Three of the 390 students on NCSY’s Europe and Israel trip did not continue on from Europe to Israel.

The Orthodox Union canceled a trip scheduled to leave this week with its Yad b’Yad program, where 15 developmentally and physically disabled adults were to be accompanied by 35 teenage counselors on a four-week tour of Israel.

Administrators worried about heightening participants’ anxiety, and about difficulties rerouting the group, or moving it quickly in case of emergency. The day before the trip, it was recast as a West Coast tour.

Israel Experience, the educational tourism arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, coordinates programming and security for most of the trips that leave from North America.

“Trips are being rerouted based on the current situation, and it’s an hour-by-hour reevaluation,” said Rachel Russo, director of marketing for Israel Experience.

IDF, Police, Jewish Agency Monitor Tourist Itineraries

Israel Experience adjusts the groups’ schedules according to recommendations it gets from a situation room staffed by representatives from the Israeli army, the Israeli police, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish Agency. Each teen tour group that signs up with Israel Experience — and most do — is tracked by GPS.

“They are really fluid in moving the groups when they need to move,” said Russo, whose daughter is in Israel with Ramah Seminar this summer.

Program operators have also been working overtime to keep in constant communication with parents. Young Judaea is sending out three email updates daily, in addition to photos and journals on its Web site. USY increased updates from the usual weekly to daily, and someone is available to answer parents concerns at all times.

Most teens also have cell phones with them, so parents are kept in the loop. So far, while parents have expressed concern, few are panicking. And by all reports, the kids themselves seem to be having a great time.

Bonnie Sharfman, whose 16-year-old, Zach, is on a trip with Nesiya, says she hopes the visit will have a lasting impact.

“We are choosing to look at this situation as an amazing learning experience for Zach and hope that he will return home in a month with much to say regarding the social, political and economic realities of Israel and the region,” she said.

— JGF

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.

 

Letters


Kobe Jewish?

The story regarding Kobe Bryant saying that he “wouldn’t mind” being Jewish was pointless and inane. An off-the-cuff remark all of a sudden becomes a possibility in the minds some people. In addition, the story was filled with inaccuracies as to the number of Jewish athletes in the major sports.

On opening day there were 10 Jews on Major League rosters this season (13 played last year), the NFl had seven Jews on the gridiron last seaso and the NHL started with four Jews on the ice this season.

Ephraim A. Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review

The “Real Plague”

While the contemporizing of the Ten Plagues (in Hebrew) was a neat idea, the inclusion of Jack Abramoff in the company of Osama bin Laden, Hamas and the Iranian Ahmadinejad, the new Hitler, was not only offensive and stupid, but betrayed the real 10th plague: Moral Equivalency, the same philosophy that has de-legitimated Israel, by equating Palestinian homicide bombers with Israeli citizens and defense forces; the same philosophy that refers to terrorists as “militants,” “insurgents” and “activists.” (Modern Causes Add Meaning to Seder,” April 7) Perhaps the genocide in Sudan or the oncoming avian flu might have been better candidates.

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

Immigration

Kudos to Joe Hicks for emphasizing that there is nothing illiberal about distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration (“Border Protests Not Fight for Civil Rights,” April 7).

Paul Kujawsky
President
Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles

Jews for Jesus

Unfortunately, David Klinghoffer did not take the time to learn about the Reform movement’s position before writing that “the Reform movement agrees with Jews for Jesus in affirming patrilineal descent” (“A Tenuous Claim as a Jew for Jesus,” March 31). In fact, the Reform movement’s policy states that a person with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother may be considered Jewish only when confirmed “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.” (CCAR, 1983) No learned Jew — Conservative, Orthodox or Reform — would consider David Brickner (who publicly proclaims his faith in Jesus) a Jew.

Klinghoffer also fails to understand the nature of patrilineal vs. matrilineal descent in Jewish tradition. First, he is simply wrong about the history. Contrary to Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s assertion, both the Torah and the sages of the Talmud were very clear that lineage is traced through the father (see Numbers 1:2 and Bava Batra 109b). Just as importantly, the Reform movement has decided that it was offensive to exclude the children from half of mixed-marriages simply due to the gender of their Jewish parent.

Jews for Jesus is a dangerous, deceptive organization that preys upon our least knowledgeable Jews. They are outside the pale of anything Jewish. Patrilineal descent, on the other hand, is both an important link to our tradition and a vital step towards inclusion and the long-term health of our Jewish community.

Mark Miller
Los Angeles

Derisive Impression

Alice Ollstein’s comments (“Propaganda for the Insipid,” March 31) about the annual AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference were insensitive and profoundly na?ve. The fact that the Jewish community has nurtured and grown AIPAC into the vibrant and effective organization it is today is nothing short of a miracle. To be able to garner the respect, attention and participation from the nations’ highest ranking governmental leaders regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship is something the Jewish community can never take for granted.

During this year’s conference, as always, AIPAC meticulously showcased both Democratic and Republican voices in each segment of the program, contrary to Ollstein’s statement. Also, if she cannot draw a parallel between the vitriolic words of Hitler and Iranian President Ahmadinejad, let the rest of us not be in denial.

It is clear that America could have saved countless lives during World War II, but American Jews did not have the political influence at that time. Imagine the world with a vital AIPAC prior to the Holocaust — how many lives could have been spared. So let’s remain hopeful that other high school students will join the ranks of AIPAC, defending the U.S.-Israel relationship and protecting the safety of future generations.

Donna Bender
Encino

Al Franken

Once again Al Franken resorts to lies and distortions when he quipped, “The last time I saw that many angry Mexicans, the United States had invaded Mexico and was fighting Santa Ana, looking for weapons of mass destruction.” (“Sectarian Violence,” March 31).

It was Santa Ana who killed every Texan soldier in the Battle of the Alamo when Texans (including many Mexicans living in Texas) sought freedom and cessation from Mexico. And it was Texans who sought American statehood. Franken and his ilk profess to love America, but their deeds of besmirching our history and our leaders prove otherwise. Far from being proud Americans, they are the enemy from within. Kudos to Ann Coulter for taking him on.

Shari Goodman
Calabasas

 

South African Judge Inspires Redemption


When he turned 6 in 1941, Albie Sachs received a birthday card from his father, Solly, a union leader in South Africa. The card read: “Many happy returns, and may you grow up to be a soldier in the fight for liberation.”

It would be less a wish than a prophecy. The younger Sachs would grow up to become a leading civil rights lawyer and activist as South Africa successfully struggled to free itself of the taint of legally sanctioned racial segregation and the violence it took to deprive the nation’s black population of its basic human rights.

Today, Sachs is a justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, appointed to the bench in 1994 by President Nelson Mandela and playing a leading role in writing the nation’s new constitution after the fall of apartheid. But like many soldiers, Sachs was injured in the fight. He was jailed without trial twice and spent months in solitary confinement. He lived in exile in Mozambique for decades. In 1988, he was almost killed when agents of South Africa’s security forces planted a bomb in his car. The attack left him without sight in one eye, tore off his arm and required a grueling rehabilitation, during which time Sachs had to learn to walk and write again.

This month, Sachs is in the U.S. sharing his experiences — and his message of how societies can rebuild in the aftermath of violence and injustice — during a series of community conversations sponsored by the educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves, supported by a grant from the Allstate Foundation. On Jan. 23, Sachs will arrive in Los Angeles for a talk at the SGI World Culture Center.

Sachs says his Jewish heritage has played a part in informing his activism. His parents — like most of South Africa’s Jews of that time — fled pogroms in Lithuania as small children with their families. The family’s experience of escaping violence and discrimination fostered Sachs’ parents’ political activism, which in turn ignited his own commitment to justice.

“They had a freedom-loving spirit that came through to me,” Sachs says of his parents.

He recalls that the only book he was allowed to have in solitary was the Bible.

“I was struck by the Old Testament,” he says. “Some parts are very punitive — smiting every man, woman and child, every cat and dog,” he says.

But then there is also the opposite: the words of hope in the Song of Songs, the Psalms and the prophets, Sachs says. Faced with the contrast between redemption and anger, Sachs chooses redemption.

Sachs recounts the time he met with the man who organized the car bombing that almost cost him his life. The man was about to go before South Africa’s famed Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I didn’t feel I was ‘forgiving’ him,” Sachs says. “I was trying to establish a human relationship. He won’t be my friend, but if he sat next to me on the bus, I’d say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?”

Of his assailants, Sachs says: “We’re sharing one country. That’s much more powerful than vengeance.”

Justice Albie Sachs will speak at the SGI World Culture Center, 525 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, on Monday, Jan. 23, 7-9 p.m. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call (626) 744-1177 ext. 22.

Laureen Lazarovici is a writer and social activist who lives in Los Angeles.

Barghouti Release Would Reward Terror


 

In May 2004, Marwan Barghouti, one of the leaders of Fatah in the West Bank and head of the Tanzim organization, was sentenced to five consecutive life terms, plus another 40 years, by an Israeli civil court that found him guilty of five cases of murder of innocent citizens, attempted murder and membership in a terror organization.

With the demise of Yasser Arafat and little support in the Palestinian street for Mahmoud Abbas, calls have been heard to consider releasing Barghouti as a means of stabilizing the new Palestinian Authority regime. My contention is that releasing Barghouti would essentially mean rewarding and thus further encouraging terrorism.

Barghouti rose to public attention as a leader of the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993) and an alternative leadership to Arafat’s Tunis-based elite. In the 1990s, Barghouti was considered to be a pragmatist, and some even considered him a supporter of the peace process with Israel.

But after the terror campaign began in 2000, he became acting commander of Hallelei El-Aksa, Fatah’s military arm, and an outspoken supporter of terror as a means of attaining the Palestinians’ strategic objectives. Barghouti played an active role, including organizing and financing terrorist acts. Brutal attacks against men, women and children were carried out at his direct or indirect behest.

In his trial, Barghouti was accused of dozens of other charges of murder and planning terrorist acts, but due to intelligence security considerations, these charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Nevertheless, the court unequivocally ruled that all of these acts had been carried out with his support, making use of funds and armaments he had made available, and therefore he bore moral responsibility for them.

In light of the upcoming elections for head of the Palestinian Authority and the concern that Abbas lacks sufficient support from the street necessary to ensure stability, Barghouti is often discussed as an alternative. Some analysts claim that only Barghouti can prevent Hamas from strengthening its position and provide Abbas with the legitimization and popular support he needs to reignite the peace process.

Barghouti’s release may indeed produce positive short-term consequences from Israel’s viewpoint by propping up a regime headed by Abbas, who is considered a moderate. But is this boon worth the likely long-term damage to the interests of both Israel and the United States in their resolute war against terror and terrorists who have no compunctions about killing men, women and children?

Barghouti’s proposed release is analogous to Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, expressing remorse for his actions and in exchange for his release from prison, promising to become a public spokesman against political extremism and against political assassination. It is inconceivable that anyone in Israel would even contemplate such an absurd proposal seriously.

Barghouti’s release could also serve as an eye-opening lesson for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden: If a man whose guilt has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is released, terrorism must pay off.

Thus, there is no room for leniency motivated by short-term political considerations when engaging in today’s brutal battle against world terrorism.

Finally, despite Arafat’s exit from the stage, the road to agreement and reconciliation is long and arduous. What is to prevent Barghouti — who chose the path of terror when the results from the political route were not satisfactory to him and still considers violence to be the most effective means of ending the occupation — from making the same choice again if future negotiations hit snags?

Amira Schiff is a doctoral candidate in the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University. She is currently writing her dissertation on the prenegotiation process in the Israeli-Palestinian and the Cypriot conflicts. This op-ed and the one above are part of a debate series initiated by The Center for Israel Studies at The University of Judaism.

 

Settlers Threaten to Resist Withdrawal


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces a new obstacle to his plan to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank: right-wing rabbis who have ruled that dismantling settlements contravenes Jewish law. The rabbis are calling on soldiers to disobey orders and on settlers to forcibly resist evacuation.

Given the potential for confrontation, the army and police are training special forces to carry out the evacuation, and there is even talk of building detention camps for settlers in case of mass resistance.

The Israeli right wing is split on the issue, and left-wing politicians are warning the rabbis against creating conditions like those preceding the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, when some settler rabbis made religious rulings that seemed to condone violence against the prime minister.

No evacuation is scheduled to take place until next year, but the mood on both sides already is tense. In its worst-case scenarios, the defense establishment is not ruling out that some settlers will use guns against Israeli troops, and some legislators have warned settler leaders against following a path that could lead to "civil war."

The latest rabbinical ruling came from a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Avraham Shapira, now head of the Rabbis’ Union for the Complete Land of Israel and one of the National Religious Party’s most influential spiritual leaders.

In answer to a question from a follower, Shapira came out unequivocally against any evacuation of Jewish settlers in Gaza. "It is clear and obvious that, according to the Torah, handing over parts of our holy land to non-Jews, including parts of Gush Katif, is a sin and a crime," Shapira wrote, referring to one bloc of Gaza settlements.

"Therefore, any thought or idea or decision or any semblance of action of any kind to evacuate residents from Gush Katif and hand the land over to non-Jews is opposed to halacha," or Jewish religious law, he wrote. "Therefore, nothing must be done to assist the eviction from their homes and land, and everything done to prevent it."

Shapira’s call followed a similar ruling by the Yesha rabbinical council, which declared that "no man, citizen, police officer or soldier is authorized to help in uprooting settlements."

Not only the rabbis are taking a militant stand. In a mid-June interview with a national religious publication, Uri Elitzur, editor of the settler journal, Nekuda, declared that "the uprooting of a settlement is illegal and shocking and therefore justifies refusal to obey orders and violence, excluding the use of firearms."

Elitzur added that he would grant his "complete understanding to people who harm those who come to evacuate them."

Coming from a man who served as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief and who ran the National Religious Party’s last election campaign, sympathy for violent opposition sent shockwaves through the political system.

Peace Now and legislator Avshalom Vilan of the Yahad-Meretz Party urged Israel’s attorney general to prosecute Elitzur for incitement to violence.

Ilan Leibovich of the Shinui Party told Israel Radio that "Uri Elitzur has lost his mind and must be stopped immediately before he starts a civil war."

Even Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev, leader of the National Religious Party’s more moderate wing, dissociated himself from Elitzur, insisting that Elitzur doesn’t reflect the position of the national religious movement.

On the contrary, Orlev said, "we distance ourselves from any threat of civil war and bloodshed, as from fire."

What happens on the ground could depend to some extent on the National Religious Party’s leadership. But the party’s two senior figures, Orlev and party leader Effi Eitam, are sending out mixed signals.

Eitam resigned from the government over Sharon’s plan to evacuate settlements, while Orlev stayed on. Moreover, Eitam is championing legislation to bar the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from participating in the evacuation of settlements, while Orlev says the government has the right to use the army as it pleases.

In marked contrast to Eitam, who says soldiers from Orthodox or settler families would face an impossible dilemma if ordered to evacuate other settlers or even their own families, Orlev insists that "the IDF must carry out government orders without reference to the political beliefs of its soldiers. If it starts choosing assignments according to political beliefs, that would constitute an existential threat to the State of Israel."

The question is to what extent will settlers take their cue from National Religious Party leaders, and whether they will heed the moderates in their own leadership.

Bentzion Lieberman, chairman of the Yesha settlers’ council, echoed Orlev when he said that "uprooting settlements and expelling Jews is a historical and moral crime, but refusing to obey an order is an existential threat to the State of Israel."

But will settlers listen to Lieberman or to the radical rabbis? And what about settler extremists who, even if a minority, are bound to oppose evacuation with violence and create considerable mayhem?

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz estimates that thousands of settlers will resist evacuation forcibly, and the IDF is taking into account the possibility that settlers will use firearms.

The army and police both are training special forces to deal with expected settler resistance. The plan at present is for the soldiers to cut off the areas being evacuated and for the police to do the actual evacuating. A team planning the evacuation, led by Sharon’s national security adviser, Giora Eiland, even is considering building detention centers for settler resisters who break the law.

A decision on the first evacuations is scheduled for March. As the date approaches, signs are that the clash between government and settlers will go beyond anything seen in Israel until now.

To avert this, voices of reason and conciliation will have to come to the fore. But for the time being, it’s the radicals who are getting louder by the day.

Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Despair?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reckless


This week, while fires raged, strikes festered and three or four wars smoldered, most of the urgent phone calls I received were about Chaim Seidler-Feller. There were calls from his friends, calls from his enemies and calls — of course — from lawyers.

Seidler-Feller is the Hillel rabbi at UCLA who allegedly kicked and grabbed the wrist of political activist Rachel Neuwirth following a verbal confrontation with her (see story p. 13).

The incident took place Oct. 21 just outside Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, after a presentation inside the hall by attorney and author Alan Dershowitz. Neuwirth claims Seidler-Feller kicked and grabbed at her in the course of an argument related to Israel and the Palestinians. Seidler-Feller claims that Neuwirth first provoked him by calling him a “kapo.” Kapos were Jews who collaborated with Nazis in exterminating their fellow Jews.

Many of those who called asked me if I thought this was a big story. If it weren’t, I answered, you probably wouldn’t have called me.

Some callers suggested The Journal downplay the story as a simple and unfortunate matter of a hot-tempered little set-to. Others insisted we go after the rabbi, who has been openly critical of the kind of campus outreach many pro-Israel activists conduct.

So is this a big story? It’s not a war, fire or strike, but it is not a sidewalk skirmish, either. There are people who see the rabbi’s alleged actions as a reason for Seidler-Feller to resign, or be forced to resign, his position, one he has held for three decades. Seidler-Feller, said a wealthy and influential activist, has turned three generations of Jewish UCLA students off to Israel.

There are others, Seidler-Feller’s supporters, who see this incident as one more example of the reckless and provocative rhetoric of a hard-core band of pro-Israel activists. They believe such rhetoric goes unpunished by communal institutions and donors whose checks support the otherwise responsible lectures and seminars these groups offer.

What do I think?

Next week, on Nov. 5, we will mark the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a fellow Jew. It would be ludicrous to bring up the assassination in the context of a tussle between a couple of middle-aged Jews in Westwood, except that the timing is too tempting to ignore.

The week of the murder, Dennis Prager wrote in The Jewish Journal, “There is almost no group or country for whom the greatest threats do not come from within.” Arabs certainly fall into this category, as do Jews, both biblically and to a great extent politically. Prager’s other lesson: “Rhetoric kills. Rhetoric has consequences.”

Thirty days after the murder, Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote an essay in The Journal asking what possible response we can have to that tragedy as caring, responsible Jews.

“An intelligent laity must not allow the language of violence to be used by rabbis or lay people, recognizing that the rhetoric of violence … results in the shedding of innocent blood,” he wrote

These are lessons we simply refuse to learn. The last time I wrote on this subject was in May 2002, just after another Jewish activist sent out an e-mail newsletter that contained an angry, ad hominem attack against — yes — Chaim Seidler-Feller.

Then, dozens of people signed a letter in support of the rabbi, including many who disagreed with him politically. The activist apologized to Seidler-Feller, as did the organization, StandWithUs, which carried the letter on its Web site.

Now, to be honest, the shoe is on the other foot. As lunatic as it is for someone to call Seidler-Feller a kapo, it was wrong for him to, as is alleged, strike out.

Seidler-Feller has apologized to several people for the incident, and both sides are weighing the possible resolutions: more apologies, settlement, civil proceedings, reprimand, dismissal, anger management.

Considering Seidler-Feller’s role in this community, a combination of any of these possible scenarios instantly raises this story out of the “small” category.

Seidler Feller is a man of passion and intellect, and his critics should take a deep breath before compounding the foolishness of an instant.

There are many ironies at play here: A peacenik facing accusations of assault. A pro-Israel activist using the same Nazi rhetoric against a fellow Jew that the Arab extremists use against Israelis. Attorney Donald Etra, one of George W. Bush’s best friends, defending a rabbi often associated with the left. And the fact that Dershowitz’s lecture only came about as a result of cooperation between Seidler-Feller and his sometime political opponents at StandWithUs. But the one irony even Seidler-Feller’s most eager opponents dare not lose sight of is that even though ending Seidler-Feller’s career at UCLA Hillel might be, in their minds, a win for Israel, it will be a net loss for the Jews of Los Angeles. As a teacher, thinker, leader and innovator he has few peers in this city. As much as he has tried to wrest the darker threads of messianism from the Zionist ideal, he has also sought, in the tradition of Rabbis David Hartman and Shlomo Riskin, to infuse secular Zionism with a deeper understanding of Judaism itself.

It’s true Seidler-Feller has something to learn from what happened on Oct. 21, but it is also true that he has much more left to teach.

Bombings Damage Peace Plan Further


Israel had feared an outbreak of terror attacks this week after its failed airstrike against the founder of Hamas and the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

The fears soon came true.

Two suicide bombings struck the Jewish State Tuesday, killing at least 15 victims and wounding dozens. The two attacks left the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan in tatters and marked a new surge of deadly violence in the nearly 3-year-old intifada.

Also this week, Ahmed Karia accepted a nomination to replace Abbas.

A suicide bomb attack at a crowded Jerusalem cafe on Tuesday night claimed at least eight lives, including the bomber, and wounded dozens. Tuesday night’s bombing, which wounded dozens, occurred at the Cafe Hillel in a trendy neighborhood of Jerusalem.

A security guard at Cafe Hillel, a popular hangout for young people in Jerusalem’s German Colony, tried to stop the bomber from going inside, police said, but the bomber managed to push his way in. That attack came just hours after another suicide bomber killed at least seven Israelis and wounding 15 others at a bus stop near the Tzrifin military base near Rishon LeZion.

Hamas praised both attacks.

Israel reacted to the attacks with a retaliatory strike of its own Wednesday, killing three people. A Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar, who was the target of the strike in the Gaza Strip, escaped with light injuries. But his son, another family member and a bodyguard were killed, and his wife and daughter injured.

Also Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cut short his visit to India and returned to Israel to discuss other possible responses to the bombings.

The attack at the base drew pronounced U.S. condemnation.

"We certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific act of terrorism today," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "This underscores the urgency with which the Palestinian Authority needs to take immediate and effective steps to dismantle and disarm the terrorist capabilities of organizations that take innocent lives in order to prevent the peace process from going forward."

Israel’s airstrike Saturday in Gaza lightly wounded Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the blind, paraplegic cleric who founded Hamas, along with 15 others. Yassin was meeting with other Hamas leaders in an apartment building.

"It’s us or them," Sharon told Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot over the weekend, referring to the leaders of Hamas. "They are dead men. We won’t give them any rest since they have just one goal, our destruction."

Karia condemned the suicide attacks.

"Such an act stresses once again [the need for] ways to end this killing," Karia said, speaking before the attack in Jerusalem. Karia said he regretted that innocent lives are lost "as a result of violence and counterviolence."

Karia, considered a pragmatist, is a veteran of the PLO and one of the architects of the Oslo accords. During the past decade, he has served in several positions in the Palestinian Authority. Most recently, he was speaker of the Palestinian legislative council.

On Tuesday, Karia told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that in order for him to be successful as prime minister, Israel must halt its assassinations of Palestinian terrorists, freeze settlements in the West Bank and end its isolation of Arafat.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would not cooperate with a prime minister who followed Arafat’s orders and refused to crack down on the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.

Tuesday’s terrorist attacks highlighted what that infrastructure can achieve.

"To see all these cars ground to a halt, and the helicopters in the air, the dozens of police cars and ambulances is to remember that we have a crying need for an unrelenting effort to stop this war," said Stephen P. Cohen of the Israel Policy Forum, who was in the Rishon LeZion area when the bombing occurred. "There could be no better use of the president’s time and efforts."

If Karia is to succeed, he will have to navigate the political waters better than Abbas. In his short-lived tenure as prime minister, Abbas repeatedly clashed with Arafat over Palestinian Authority policy, particularly regarding control of the Palestinian security services. But in his resignation speech before Palestinian lawmakers, Abbas placed the blame on Israel and the United States for undermining his government.

"The fundamental problem was Israel’s unwillingness to implement its commitments in the road map," he said. He also indirectly criticized Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, emphasizing "harsh and dangerous domestic incitement against his government."

After Abbas’ resignation, members of Sharon’s Cabinet repeated their calls for harsh measures against Arafat for undermining peace efforts. Some ministers called for exiling Arafat.

Israel and the United States accuse Arafat of supporting terrorist attacks and of blocking Abbas’ efforts to implement the road map. Israeli officials have even suggested that Arafat be killed. Palestinians warn that any successor to Arafat in the West Bank and Gaza would be marked from the outset as an Israeli patsy and that exile would amplify Arafat’s power.

Jerusalem Bombing Shatters Cease-Fire


Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was checking the bodies lying on the pavement next to the bus destroyed in yet another suicide bombing, when he heard a baby crying.

Meshi-Zahav, the head of ZAKA — the ultra-Orthodox organization that collects victims’ body parts after terrorist attacks — found the 1-month-old boy and made sure that he was taken to a hospital for treatment. The baby turned out to be OK, and his parents — both of them lying wounded in the hospital — were found.

But the fact that so many children were killed or wounded in Tuesday’s bombing in Jerusalem — which killed at least 20 and wounded more than 100 — has made the tragedy even more painful for a nation already reeling from dozens of suicide bombings in the 3-year-old Palestinian intifada.

Apparently dressed as an Orthodox Jew, the terrorist shoved his way among the many passengers — mostly ultra-Orthodox families returning from the Western Wall — to the center of the elongated bus, where he detonated the bomb he was carrying.

Five of the dead were American citizens, according to The Associated Press.

The bombing came days after Israel had decided to relax its demand for a Palestinian Authority crackdown on terrorist groups, announcing that it would turn over four more West Bank cities to P.A. control.

The bombing seemed likely to intensify criticism of the government from the Israeli right, which had been critical of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to pull the army back from West Bank cities even without serious Palestinian action against terror groups.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Israel froze security talks and its planned withdrawal. However, Israeli officials said Wednesday that in the long run they still believed the withdrawal — and other parts of the "road map" peace plan — should proceed.

Israel briefly considered expelling P.A. President Yasser Arafat, who they consider an instigator of violence, but decided against it.

Israel also reimposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rolling back steps that had eased movement for Palestinian civilians as a way to discourage support for terrorism.

Amid Israeli and American demands for serious moves against terror, P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas suspended contacts with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of which claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Abbas, who vehemently condemned the bombing, reportedly ordered P.A. security services to arrest those responsible.

Officials told the Jerusalem Post that Israel expected to see some P.A. anti-terror moves already on Wednesday.

Israel is expected to intensify its hunt for terrorists if P.A. forces do not take action, but a major military operation like last year’s two major West Bank offensives is not being considered, Israeli officials said.

The explosion took place shortly after 9 p.m. on an extended "accordion" bus traveling along Shmuel Hanavi Street. The bus was on its way from the Western Wall to the Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood when it exploded.

Jerusalem Police Commander Mickey Levy said the bomb was particularly powerful and caused exceptional damage.

The bomber acted as Abbas was meeting in Gaza with heads of Islamic organizations trying to salvage the cease-fire that Palestinian terrorist groups declared in late June.

Moments later, Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the attack, saying the bomber was from Hebron. The group had threatened to avenge Israel’s killing last week of its local leader in Hebron.

Later, however, Hamas also sought to claim responsibility for the blast, saying it was revenge for the killing of a Hamas activist several months ago.

"Every time Israel has made a gesture of peace to the Palestinians over the past 10 years the response has been the murder of our men, women and children. This has to stop," said Daniel Seaman, head of Israel’s Government Press Office. "It must be realized that this is not an Arab-Israeli issue but rather an international campaign of terror which is ongoing from New York and Baghdad to Moscow and Jerusalem."

The United States condemned the bombing and called on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist groups.

A senior U.S. official, however, said he did not think the attack would jeopardize the road map, according to The Associated Press.

The P.A.’s information minister, Nabil Amer, urged Israel to show restraint.

In the wake of the attack, political sources said Israel was at a delicate stage as it tried to decide how to proceed.

Israeli officials said Tuesday that all understandings reached with the Palestinians on the transfer of security control in West Bank cities were void. Israeli officials canceled talks scheduled for Tuesday night and Wednesday with Palestinian officials.

Tuesday night’s explosion brought to an end almost two months of relative quiet in Jerusalem. Tourists gradually had returned to the city, filling hotels, restaurants and pubs.

The Western Wall plaza was filled with visitors on Tuesday evening, and the bus that was attacked was filled with families returning from the wall.

Eighteen of the 20 dead had been identified by Wednesday. Names released included Mordechai Reinitz, 49, and his son Issachar, 9, of Jerusalem; Goldie Taubenfeld, 43, and her son Shmuel, 3, from New Square, N.Y.; Ya’akov Binder, 50, from Jerusalem; Rabbi Eliezer Weisfish, 42, from Jerusalem; Menachem Liebel, 24, from Jerusalem; Shmuel Zargari, 3 months, from Jerusalem; Lilach Kardi, 22, who was nine months pregnant, from Jerusalem; and Tehilla Nathanson, 3, from Monsey, N.Y.

Other names were withheld at the families’ request, Israeli media reported.

Justice Minister Yosef "Tommy" Lapid suggested that the attack would prove to be a turning point in the conflict. Unless the Palestinian Authority took immediate action against terrorist groups, he said, the entire political process would collapse.

Israeli Housing Minister Effi Eitam said there was no point in expecting the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror.

"They were given the chance and they did nothing about it," he said.

Israel’s only choice, he said, was to wage an all-out anti-terror campaign of its own.

After the Cease-Fire What Comes Next?


As Israel and the Palestinians begin a long-awaited truce, both sides are holding their breath — and wondering what the United States will do next to advance the “road map” peace plan.

The late June cease-fire by the three main Palestinian terror groups, declared as the intifada approached the 1,000-day mark, underlined the vital importance of the U.S. role. Without U.S. pressure on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror groups and on European and Arab nations to cut off their funding, the cease-fire never would have been achieved, Israeli analysts say.

More importantly, the analysts agree that unless Washington keeps up the pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians, the new deal could quickly unravel. Then, instead of moving ahead on the internationally accepted peace plan toward a longer-term settlement, the sides could find themselves locked in an even-worse cycle of violence.

Much will depend on how the Bush administration handles a number of key issues:

  • Will it force Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to go beyond a cease-fire and dismantle terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as he has agreed to do under the road map?

  • Will it restrict Israel’s freedom of action if the Palestinians violate the cease-fire?

  • Will it pressure Israel to release Palestinian terrorist prisoners as a goodwill gesture?

  • Will it lean on Israel to dismantle illegal settlement outposts and established settlements?

  • Will it insist that Israel stop building a security fence that it says is essential to keep terrorists from infiltrating from the West Bank, but which the Palestinians say is taking their land?

The cease-fire declaration coincided with a visit by Condoleezza Rice, the White House’s national security adviser. Her main purpose was to make clear to both sides what the United States expects of them and to signal the U.S. determination to push the road map.

In her talks with Abbas in Ramallah, Rice was firm on dismantling terrorist groups. She used Abbas’ own slogan –“one authority, one command and one armed force” — and echoed Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush in insisting that the United States would accept nothing less than the disarming of the groups and the collection of their weapons.

Beyond the rhetoric, the United States reportedly is considering granting the Palestinian Authority as much as $1 billion, partly to help it disarm the militants. Some of the funds would be used to help build an alternative welfare system to Hamas’.

Through this money and other investment, the United States hopes to dramatically improve socioeconomic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, showing that peace pays and encouraging further steps in that direction. Much of the money would be held back, pending convincing evidence that the Palestinians really are decommissioning illegal weapons.

The Americans also are exerting heavy — and apparently successful — pressure on European and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to clamp down on funding for Hamas as part of the struggle to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and weaken the fundamentalists.

But what if the Palestinian Authority is unable to impose its authority on all factions and the shooting continues? On Monday, the day after the cease-fire was declared, gunmen from Abbas’ own Fatah movement fatally shot a Bulgarian worker in the West Bank, whom they mistook for an Israeli.

To Israel, Rice made very clear that the United States expects it to act with restraint and give the Palestinian Authority time to organize its forces. In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Cabinet, Rice acknowledged Israel’s right to defend its citizens and act against “ticking time bombs,” such as suicide bombers on their way to attack — if the Palestinians, after being given the relevant information, fail to stop them.

However, she said, Israel should “think twice” before retaliating against terrorist acts or plans, taking into account the effects its actions could have on the wider peace process. Israel, Rice said, should be careful not to do anything that weakens Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Major Israeli strikes in Palestinian areas will undermine the P.A.’s credibility on the Palestinian street, the United States believes.

Rice also urged Sharon to release as many Palestinian prisoners as possible to boost Abbas’ standing and show the Palestinian populace what can be gained by sticking to the road map. Israel is holding approximately 3,000 Palestinian detainees, and Sharon is ready to free several hundred — but not those who have killed Israelis or directly ordered others to do so.

Sharon has asked the Shin Bet security service to prepare a list of prisoners whose release “would not harm Israel’s security.”

If the Palestinians adhere to the cease-fire, the United States also can be expected to pressure Israel to continue dismantling illegal outposts, but not bona fide Jewish settlements. The first phase of the road map refers only to outposts set up since March 2001. Calls for the evacuation of settlements proper will come only in the second phase, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders, with “maximum territorial continuity.”

One area of emerging disagreement between Israel and the United States is the security fence. Abbas told Rice that the Palestinians would have no problems with a fence along the pre-1967 border, but that the route Israel currently plans allegedly would leave only 45 percent of the West Bank in Palestinians hands, divided into three “cantons” — hardly the viable state envisaged by Bush.

Rice asked Sharon to reconsider the route. Sharon, however, argued that the fence would constitute a security line rather than a political border and could be moved later.

Rice was skeptical. To many people, she said, the route looks like an attempt to create a political border unilaterally, and this is seen as problematic.

Israel’s nightmare scenario is that the cease-fire will break down after the Palestinian Authority fails to disarm Hamas and the other terror groups. The question then will be whether the United States, after playing the honest broker, tolerates Israel moving back into the West Bank and Gaza Strip in self-defense.

Much will depend on whom the United States blames for the breakdown of a process in which, by then, it will have invested so much.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Your Letters


Women Suffer Blow

I write to express my hurt and outrage at your recent article, “Women Suffer Blow on Praying at the Wall,” (April 11). To which women, exactly, are you referring? Surely not the thousands of women, secular as well as religious, who come year round to pour their hearts out to the Almighty at all hours of the day and night.

I have never been to the Kotel without being overcome by emotion — partly because I am praying in a spot so drenched in sanctity, but also, invariably, because of the sight of my fellow daveners. No matter what time of day or what season of the year at the Kotel, any Jewish woman can experience a sublime connection to our foremothers — we watch all around us the devotion of living embodiments of our Mother Rachel, weeping for her children. These are the real Women of the Wall, and they come to worship and beseech God’s mercy every day, not once a month with fanfare and advance press releases.

Nowhere in your article do I sense any concern for the sensitivities of these women who are hurt and offended by the strident, politically based activities of Women of the Wall, which disturb their prayers and marginalize their devotion to the peace and holiness of the site. Please, the next time you choose to address this issue, take into consideration the feelings of the real Women of the Wall.

Shana Kramer, Director Creative Learning Pavilion of Torah Umesorah Los Angeles

Rome and Baghdad

Reuven Firestone’s article on Islam modernization through defeat oversimplifies the issue. Islam did lose many wars, and its confidence was shaken (“Rome and Baghdad,” April 11). The losses to the Turks and Mongols were the greatest of such disasters. These did not just fade the caliphate away, but brutally overwhelmed it in worse ways than the American victory over Baghdad. That which Firestone claims did not happen happened.

The reason why a “softer Islam” did not emerge after such debacles is because the invading hordes took up the religion and even infused it with new fervor. Islam did soften somewhat during various periods in history, and often when its confidence had been high for centuries.

It was the defeats, upheavals and ease of interpreting the Koran in belligerent ways that seems to have always led to a new wave of fundamentalist Islam. Professor Firestone generously praises the value of humble pie to Islam, but his historical analysis of cause and effect in this case entitle him to a slice.

Andrei L. Doran, El Segundo

A Letter of Thanks

This is a note of a sincere, warm “Thank you.”

We are residents in a retirement facility, which has a number of Jewish residents. Receiving The Jewish Journal each week keeps us in touch with what’s happening locally and internationally within the Jewish communities. While physical conditions don’t permit being active anymore, as we once were, just reading and seeing photos as to what is going on helps keep our interest “upbeat.”

To enjoy all of this and not say, “Thank you,” would be remiss on my part. My wife and I wish you and your entire, so capable staff a very happy Passover holiday.

Jack and Cecily Flamer, Chatsworth

The War at Home

Just wanted to let Rob Eshman know that he wrote a great article on “The War at Home” (April 18). Three-hundred and fifty people killed in one year in Los Angeles alone? It is amazing how many problems go unreported by the major news media.

Thanks for reporting on the extremely high murder rate here in Los Angeles, which has been invisible by the major news media. Your article helps create the first step — awareness. Hopefully, enough people read it.

What’s the next step? Your suggestion for individuals — community leaders and anyone who is willing to make contact with L.A. leaders — was that speaking out is key. I hope your message is heard.

Mike Cohen , Sherman Oaks

Between 1997 and 2001, a total of 5,960 Los Angeles County residents were killed by guns. Where is the outrage? “The War at Home” echoes a message we at Women Against Gun Violence try hard to share.

Those who protest the war in Iraq need also to turn their energies to protesting this war at home. Support Sheriff Baca and Chief Bratton’s request for resources.

Ask them, and all law enforcement, to focus their attention on where the guns are coming from. How do they so easily get into the hands of young people and those with criminal records? Are there enough resources in programs which trace confiscated guns to help identify gun dealers who sell out the back door? Do legal gun owners lock up their guns so that they cannot be stolen?

By all means send support to the sheriff, and for moreinformation and ways to get involved, contact us at info@wagv.org, or phone (310) 204-2348 and checkout our memorial Web site, with pictures and tributes to victims of gunviolence, at www.wagv.org . Those stories should be enough to help you feel the outrage.

Ann Reiss Lane, Women Against Gun Violence

The Challenge of Pluralism

In Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s piece, “The Challenge of Pluralism in Israel” (April 11), Ehud Bandel is quoted as saying, “The sad reality about religious life in Israel is this unholy alliance between the Orthodox and the secular that says that Judaism is a matter of everything or nothing at all.”

While I agree entirely that Jews are best searching for spirituality “at home,” I find it difficult to understand how Bandel sees Orthodoxy as monolithic or “everything or nothing.” It is clear that no Jew, no matter how righteous or pious, is “all”; no one has reached perfection. Even Moses was denied entry to the Holy Land for his lack of perfection.

Judaism teaches that each and every adherent should strive to the best of his or her ability and to make the greatest possible use of the unique gifts that God has bestowed upon him or her. An Israeli Jew can go to a Sephardi, Azhkenazi, Charedi or Mizrachi community to find like-minded strivers and together create a better Israel, and a better Jewish people.

Manny Saltiel, Los Angeles

Birthright Continues BirthrightIsrael

I was excited to read the features on Birthright Israel in your April 4 issue (“Birthright Continues Despite Setbacks”). As an alumna of the winter 2000-2001 trip, the articles brought back wonderful memories. Birthright Israel provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Israel (free of charge) with people my age, all experiencing the same wonder and excitement together.

I went on my trip with peers from all over the United States, but when I returned, I was anxious to meet people locally that had shared in my experience. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is helping to make this possible. The Federation is currently planning ways for Birthright Israel alums to stay involved and connected through social gatherings, and give back to the community through tzedakah and tikkun olam.

When you hear about the generous financial support The Federation provides for these trips and others like them, you think “Dayenu.” But it’s when you really begin to take advantage of these programs that give you an opportunity to be part of a community, you realize The Federation is doing much, much more.

I hope people will call The Federation’s Israel connections/experiences department at (323) 761-8342 to learn more and get involved.

Kimberly Gordon , Birthright Israel alumna

Helluva Ball Club

I had no idea that baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was also an outstanding executive in his chosen sport until I read Richard A. Macales’ informative and entertaining article, “Helluva Ball Club.” (April 4). Greenberg’s work in the front office was sadly omitted from the acclaimed documentary film on his life The Journal reviewed some time back.

After I read Macales’s article, I checked the record of Greenberg’s Cleveland and Chicago teams. In 10 years as general manager and/or part owner, his clubs finished first three times and second five times. They never had a losing season and won a then-league record 111 games in 1954.

His son, Steve Greenberg, was deputy commissioner of baseball. It is too bad, as Macales correctly writes, that Greenberg didn’t get the Angels franchise. The Dodgers should have never moved out of Brooklyn. Shame on you for what you did to Brooklyn’s loyal fans and to the Angels team, Walter O’Malley!

Dr. Melvin Myers, Chatsworth

Defining Moment

Your cover story referring to “The American Empire” (“War Marks Defining Moment for Jews,” April 4) was highly inappropriate. An empire as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.”

Has The Jewish Journal now joined the Arab propaganda machine (along with some naive members of the political left wing) in suggesting that the United States plans permanent sovereign rule over the Iraqi people?

I could not have imagined a more inflammatory cover page feeding into the misplaced rage of those who really wish to hurt us all. What’s next? Perhaps a cover story with an expose detailing the Zionist conspiracy behind the empire?

Edith Ellenhorn , Beverly Hills

Your choice of headlines, “Will the American Empire Be Good for the Jews,” on the April 4 issue disturbs me. Without question, I want what is best for the Jews throughout the world, but to put it on the front cover in reference to this war and show concern only for the Jews is wrong. What about Christians and Muslims, will it be good for them? I am fearful that this type of headline will only bring out more anti-Semitism.

Phoebe Reff , Tarzana

Correction

In the Friday listing for the April 4, “7 Days in the Arts,” the “Strange Fruit” songwriter adopted the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Making Marriage Work


Like marijuana?

Believe in men’s rights?

Want a secular state?

If you happen to have an offbeat or nonmainstream platform
for Israel, now is the time to run in the Jan. 28 parliamentary elections. One
lesson to be learned from the list of the 30 parties vying for Knesset is that
Israelis are disenfranchised, and looking for alternatives to the major
National Security issue. 

And while Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf) — the party promoting
marijuana legalization — always seems to hit the headlines a week or two before
elections (despite publicity before the last elections in 1999, the party
mustered 34,029 votes, representing slightly more than 1 percent of the
electorate — 15,000 votes short of the 1.5 percent threshold for Knesset
membership), other parties with less headline-grabbing platforms are really set
to win big.

Take Tommy Lapid’s Shinui (change) Party. Their two-page
campaign booklet doesn’t get to their political leanings until the second page.
The self-described “democratic, secular, liberal, Zionist, peace-seeking party”
platform includes creating “a secular state, a free-market economy,
[obligatory] military service.”

Does 2 percent of the country really believe legalizing pot
is the most important issue? Are 12 percent really going to vote for Lapid, a
former in-your-face talk-show host whose primary goal is to secularize the
country? (Incidentally, Shinui is attempting to do for the secular what the
religious parties — and in particular, Shas — have done for years: exchange its
vote on security for social benefits such as money for schools.)

“I’ve covered a lot of Israeli elections, but I have never
seen one like this. I’ve never seen the Israeli public less interested in the
two major parties — indeed, in the whole event,” Thomas Friedman wrote in The
New York Times on Jan. 19.

What this means for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an even
bigger headache on Jan. 29 than he had on Nov. 5, 2002, when he called for new
elections (can anyone actually remember why?). But it also means that the major
parties had better start looking at secondary campaign positions if they want
to be relevant to the Israeli people.

Israelis, in answer to the question, “How is everything?”
might reply: “Hakol B’seder, chutz mimah she’lo b’seder” (Everything is all
right, except for what isn’t all right). The situation with the Palestinians is
so not all right, and the Israelis feel so powerless, that everything else just
seems so much more important.

 

Meanwhile, in Orange County and Los Angeles, the tide seems
to be turning the other way vis-à-vis involvement. Last month, the Israel Merchant
Faire at Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine attracted some 4,000 people and took in
$10,000 — enough to make a sizeable donation to the Israel Emergency Fund,
according to Charlene Zuckerman of Laguna Niguel, who chaired the event; one
vendor reportedly made $40,000 on the day.

And on Feb. 9, MERIT and the JCC will present a public
lecture, “An Update from the Front” with Mark Paredes, press attache of the
Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and Dr. Yaron Brook, executive
director of the Ayn Rand Institute.

In Los Angeles, this month saw the University of Judaism’s
lecture series featuring Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger, attended by almost 6,000 people. Peres also gave an
informal talk to some 100 of Hollywood’s glitterati (including Barbra
Streisand, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Annette Benning and Warren Beatty),
hosted by fellow countryman and producer Arnon Milchen (“L.A. Confidential”).

A similar group of impressive Hollywood stars turned up at
the home of DeVito and Perlman to hear out another set of visitors, Mohammed
Darawshe and Daniel Lubetsky, of One Voice: Silent No Longer, a grassroots
petition effort seeking more than 1 million Arab and Israeli signatures urging
an end to the violence and a commitment to peace.

And finally, on Sunday, Jan. 19, some 400 people from
throughout Southern California attended a full-day workshop at Temple Beth Am
in Los Angeles, “Learning How to Defend Israel: On Campus, In the Media, To the
White House, At your Office.” The StandWithUs Advocacy Conference actually had
to turn away more than 100 people from the intense and practical seminar.

Among those who turned out were students from UC Irvine and
other local universities. These students, said StandWithUs organizers, often
face virulent anti-Israel speakers and protests on their campuses.

What does all the activity on this side of the Atlantic mean? While the Israelis are deciding between indifference and apathy, the
American Jews are finally beginning to wake up from their 30-year slumber. When I lived in Israel I remember screaming at my friends in America how
important some issue was, and how can they not know about it, and why do they
want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie?

Now, I find it’s the reverse: from Los Angeles, I’m calling
them for their opinions on the upcoming elections, the latest diplomatic effort
and no, I don’t want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie.

It might take two to make a marriage work — but usually it’s
one party’s commitment that balances a lack of it on the disinterested one’s
part. American Jews’ increasing involvement in a process that Israelis are
ready to throw the towel at — well, that’s just what the marriage counselor
ordered. That, maybe, instead of a toke of the green stuff.

World Briefs


U.N. Approves Six Anti-Israel
Resolutions

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved six resolutions criticizing Israeli policies. Though such resolutions are passed annually, most noteworthy was the U.S. vote against a resolution condemning the Israeli law that declares Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. For the past two years, the United States has abstained on the resolution, but this year, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution prejudges key issues that must be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, called the U.S. rejection of the Jerusalem resolution “a slap in the face” to all Arabs, Muslims and Christians.

Jewish Republican Gets Key Post

The only Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives has been chosen for a key leadership position in the next Congress. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was selected Monday to serve as the chief deputy to incoming Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), making Cantor the highest appointed leader in the House Republican caucus. Both men have been strong supporters of Israel. Cantor will be the only Jewish Republican in the House once the retirement of Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) becomes official in January.

U.S. Finds Palestinians
Noncompliant

President Bush determined that the Palestinians are not living up to agreements signed with the United States and Israel. Just the same, the White House on Monday waived sanctions against the Palestinians in the interest of national security. Despite the waiver, this marks the first time a U.S. president has found the Palestinian Authority and PLO noncompliant since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993.

In another development, the State Department issued a report saying the Palestinians have not complied with several elements of its agreements, including recognizing the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. In the report, obtained by JTA on Tuesday, U.S. officials also said the Palestinian Authority had not fulfilled commitments to solve all disputes through negotiation and peaceful means and renounce the use of violence.

Barghouti: New Palestinian Leaders
Needed

Jailed Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti called for a change in the Palestinian leadership. In a written response to questions from The Associated Press, Barghouti said, “It is time for many of the Palestinian leaders and officials to leave their positions after failing in their roles and responsibilities in this decisive battle [against Israel].” Barghouti did not mention Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat by name, nor did he condemn the violence of the intifada, as some Palestinian officials recently have. Barghouti, who was arrested by Israeli troops in April, is standing trial in Israel on charges of involvement in killing dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks.

School Settles Anti-Semitism
Charges

A Minnesota-based university agreed to pay nearly $1 million over the next five years to settle allegations of anti-Semitism. Three faculty members who sued St. Cloud State University a year ago will receive a total of nearly $315,000, while other faculty members who filed discrimination complaints will share $50,000, according to The Associated Press. The lawsuit alleged department administrators attempted to get students to avoid classes taught by Jewish professors and that Jewish faculty members were paid less, denied promotions and not given full credit for their teaching experience. Under the proposed settlement, which still requires approval from a federal judge, the university also agreed to create a Jewish studies center, according to the report.

Film Screening Benefits Hebrew
University

Actor Billy Crystal held a benefit screening of his new movie for Hebrew University, motivated by the July 31 bombing at the school. “I hated what I saw on television,” Crystal said of the deadly attack at the Jerusalem-based school. He spoke moments before the Dec. 3 screening in New York of “Analyze That,” which stars Crystal and Robert DeNiro. Crystal also supports a theater program sponsored by the university called “Peace Through the Performing Arts,” which promotes cooperation among Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli Arab students.

Canada’s Terror List Criticized

Canada added Hamas, Islamic Jihad and four other radical groups to its list of banned terrorist organizations. The list, created under legislation passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, now has 13 groups that are banned from the country. Anyone belonging to them or helping them faces a possible 10-year prison sentences. Following the government’s latest move, B’nai Brith Canada filed an appeal in federal court to have the government list all of Hezbollah, including its political wing, as a terrorist organization whose assets must be frozen.

El Al Facility Evacuated

The El Al cargo facility at the Los Angeles airport was evacuated for nearly two hours Monday. Bomb experts were called in after a suitcase containing airline parts was found. The package turned out to be harmless. Passengers and flights were not affected.

Lawsuit Filed Against Arafat in
Belgium

A lawsuit reportedly was filed in Brussels against Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, charging him with involvement in terror attacks against Israelis. The lawsuit filed Monday includes reports, documents and testimony intended to prove Arafat’s role in financing and orchestrating acts of terror, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. The lawsuit was brought under a 1993 law on “universal jurisdiction,” which enables Belgian courts to judge atrocities committed elsewhere, regardless of whether or not they involved Belgians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was sued in Belgium by Palestinians and Lebanese who accused him of responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon, which was carried out by Lebanese Christian militias allied with Israel. The courts in Belgium dismissed the case against Sharon earlier this year. The lawsuit against Arafat was submitted on behalf of Knesset member Avraham Hirschson, the victims of Palestinian terror attacks and their families.

Hillel Head Up for Y.U. Presidency

Yeshiva University officials are expected to approve hiring Hillel President Richard Joel as the school’s next president. The Y.U. Board of Trustees, its executive committee and the board of Yeshiva’s seminary are scheduled to vote late Thursday, according to university spokeswoman Hedy Shulman. Joel, 52, who invigorated Hillel and made it into a high-profile organization on college campuses, is the sole candidate to replace outgoing president Norman Lamm, Shulman said.

World Jewry Declining

The world’s Jewish population is declining, according to a survey carried out by an institute affiliated with the Jewish Agency for Israel. According to the institute, which convened a session in Jerusalem this week to address what it called the “demographic crisis,” the number of American Jews dropped by 300,000 in the last decade, while other major Jewish communities around the world also declined. Only Israel’s Jewish community is growing, the institute said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Intifada Gains Palestinians Nothing


Israeli society has been bruised and brutalized by two years of Palestinian terror and violence, but as the intifada enters its third year, it has brought the Palestinians no political gain whatsoever.

On the contrary, there is far less on the table for the Palestinians than when they launched their campaign of terror in late September 2000. Now, with the Palestinians’ cities in ruin, their leader isolated and Palestinian public figures increasingly admitting that the intifada has been disastrous for their cause, Israeli politicians are beginning to believe that the end of the onslaught is in sight.

Some of that optimism, however, was quashed Wednesday, when a Palestinian suicide bomber carried out the first such attack in six weeks.

An Israeli policeman was killed and at least two people injured in Wednesday’s attack near a bus stop in northern Israel. The blast went off during afternoon rush hour on a highway outside the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, which is several miles from Afula. It was the first suicide attack since Aug. 4, when a bomber blew himself up on a bus traveling from Haifa to Safed, killing himself and nine Israelis.

In another terror attack earlier Wednesday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded when Palestinian gunmen ambushed their car in the West Bank. The gunmen opened fire near the settlement of Mevo Dotan, causing the car to overturn.

In yet another incident Wednesday, the scorched body of an Israeli apparently slain by terrorists was found in eastern Jerusalem.

The body of David Buhbut, a 67-year-old resident of Ma’aleh Adumim, was found near the village of Azariya. Family members identified the charred victim by his clothing and other personal belongings. According to the victim’s family, Buhbut had been missing since Tuesday. He was believed to have gone to the village to purchase building materials.

Given the history of the past two years, however, it is unlikely that such attacks will shake the Israeli resolve to overcome the Palestinian onslaught. When the intifada began during Rosh Hashanah two years ago, Israel had just made an unprecedentedly generous offer at the Camp David summit. It offered to withdraw from virtually all the territories conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War, share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state and seek creative solutions for control of the Temple Mount.

Though the Camp David offer granted the Palestinians almost all their ostensible demands, Palestinian leaders believed that violence would quickly pry from Israel a few last crumbs, without the Palestinians being forced to make any concessions of their own or declare an end to their conflict with Israel.

According to Israeli military officials, the Palestinians’ model was Lebanon. The ragged Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 led many Arabs to conclude that sustained violence, and even moderate casualties, would lead Israel to beat a similarly chaotic retreat from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah had compared Israeli society to a spider web, brittle and easily destroyed. True, he argued, Israel had a strong army and a sophisticated industrial base, but Israelis over the years had become weak and pampered.

In Lebanon, the killing of some two dozen Israeli soldiers each year, far from the home front, had provoked a popular movement that forced Israel to withdraw unilaterally from its security zone. That experience, according to Nasrallah’s theory, proved that Israeli society could no longer stomach civilian or battlefield losses, and that Israelis had lost their will to fight.

Palestinian leaders, from Yasser Arafat down to militia commanders in the field, eagerly adopted the spider-web theory and tried to apply it to the intifada — except that events on the ground disproved it. What they hadn’t counted on is that Israelis would react differently when the battle was not on some distant border, but in the heart of their capital or in the cities of their densely populated coastal plain.

Israelis grieved over their losses and changed their lifestyles, but even after two years of unremitting violence, they show no signs of folding. On the contrary, Israel has proven it can not just take a hit, but can hit back hard.

As for their will to fight, more Israeli reservists turned up for this spring’s Operation Protective Wall — the Israel Defense Force’s first major counteroffensive into Palestinian territory after 18 months of fighting — than had been summoned.

The army’s new chief of staff, Lt. Gen Moshe Ya’alon, said the staying power of Israeli society will determine the outcome of the conflict. Unlike the Palestinians, who Ya’alon believes wish to annihilate Israel, Israel does not seek to destroy the Palestinians.

Victory for Israel, therefore, means forcing the Palestinians to realize that terror will get them nowhere, Ya’alon said in a recent interview with the Ha’aretz newspaper. Israeli society must show no signs of cracking, and Israeli politicians must offer no concessions under threat of violence, he said, or there will be no end to Palestinian terror designed to force Israeli concessions.

As the intifada enters its third year, 612 Israelis have been killed, including 427 civilians. Of those, 250 were killed in suicide bombings, including 227 civilians. More than 4,500 have been wounded, over 3,200 of them civilians.

While the Palestinians have suffered more casualties, the percentage of civilian victims on the Israeli side is far higher, a reflection of the fact that Israel has striven to avoid harming Palestinian civilians, while the Palestinians have made civilians their primary targets.

But despite the Israeli resolve, the intifada has had a devastating impact on the Israeli psyche and on Israeli public opinion. It even has affected core notions of the meaning and purpose of the Jewish State.

One central strand of Zionism, associated mainly with the right-of-center Likud Party, stresses the prevalence of anti-Semitism and the resulting need for a place of Jewish refuge and self-defense. Another, associated mainly with the left-of-center Labor Party, focuses on Zionism’s role in normalizing the Jewish people and integrating them into the Middle East.

The ruthlessness of the intifada has strengthened the more pessimistic Likud view. If elections were held today, opinion polls show Likud would crush Labor by a ratio of almost 2-1.

The indiscriminate murder of innocents also has led to a hardening of Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians, and a readiness to accept countermeasures that may impinge on Palestinian civil rights. The measures include destroying the houses of terrorists’ relatives or deporting relatives who aid terrorists from their homes to other Palestinian-ruled areas.

The impact of the violence on Israeli opinion has been enormous. According to a recent poll in the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, 79 percent of Israelis say the Oslo peace agreements are no longer valid, and that Israel should adopt a different path to accommodation with the Palestinians.

Most Israelis see Arafat as the evil force behind the intifada, and 81 percent are convinced that he does not want peace with Israel under any circumstances. Yet 45 percent of Israelis still believe that the Palestinian people as a whole, under different leadership, would be ready for a peace agreement with Israel. That is a far cry from the heady days of Oslo, when more than 80 percent of Israelis believed in peace with the Palestinians.

In addition, the terror has changed the way Israelis go about their daily lives. During waves of violence, people don’t travel unless they have to, so places of entertainment, restaurants and shopping malls suffer, even though more than 100,000 Israelis work as security guards in public places. Such lifestyle changes, and the fact that the violence has driven away tourists and investors, have hurt the Israeli economy, creating unprecedentedly high unemployment and wreaking havoc among small businesses.

Yet with Israeli military and administrative responses to the terror — closing borders to Palestinian workers, imposing curfews on Palestinian areas and mounting counterterrorism operations in all the West Bank cities — it is the Palestinians who are suffering most from their offensive. Their economy, their cities, their government and their daily lives all lie in ruins. Since Operation Protective Wall this spring, the IDF has devastated the terrorist organizations.

Voices on the Palestinian side increasingly are calling the intifada a disaster and urging their leaders to turn to nonviolent means of opposing Israel.

Though they have succeeded in dominating such international forums as last year’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism, the Palestinians have failed to mobilize the international community to intercede and force Israeli concessions.

As for Arafat, while still the toast of anti-globalization activists and a few other idealists, he finds himself shunned as a terrorist by the world’s lone superpower, can’t convince his own legislative body to approve his Cabinet and scarcely ventures forth from his ruined compound.

Both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer say a new Palestinian leadership would be willing to strike a deal quickly. If and when Arafat goes, they seem to think, the intifada will go with him. Yet the intifada, Ya’alon noted, is like judo: you think you are about to throw your opponent, and suddenly find it is you who are being thrown.

Even if it does succeed in decisively beating back the Palestinian onslaught, Israel may find the world demanding that it quickly give the Palestinians at the bargaining table what they failed to win on the battlefield.

The Palestinians’ Yom Kippur


It’s as if the Palestinians are having their own Yom Kippur this year. Looking back over the 24 months of the current intifada and the nine years since the Oslo accords, Nabil Amr, a former minister and Yasser Arafat loyalist, beat his breast last week and declared: "We have committed a serious mistake against our people, authority and the dream of establishing our state."

At the same time, Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, recently appointed to streamline the myriad Palestinian security services, called for an end to violence and suicide bombings. "Violence only breeds violence and reactions which bring grave losses," he said. "The militarizing of the intifada and the armed operations were a historic mistake that has cost the Palestinian people lots of blood and innocent lives."

Arafat echoed the point in his address to a meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council in his Ramallah headquarters on Monday. Israeli critics noted that they were repudiating violence not because it was immoral, but because it didn’t work. But to many Israelis in the line of fire, that will do for a start, so long as the Palestinian leadership acts and doesn’t just talk.

The Palestinians won the first intifada, a revolt of stones and Molotov cocktails, in the late ’80s by convincing Israelis that they could no longer live with the status quo.

However, the Palestinians have lost the second intifada, a revolt of guns and bombs, because Israel did not buckle.

More and more Palestinians now recognize that the resort to arms and the failure to build a civil society brought them nothing but grief. Amr, who resigned four months ago as Arafat’s parliamentary affairs minister, articulated it more bluntly and more publicly than others. It is significant that Amr did so in the columns of an official Palestinian Authority newspaper, Al Hayat al-Jadida, and that Arafat’s thugs have not forced him to retract.

Along with Arafat and other exiled Palestinian leaders, Amr returned to the homeland after Oslo. Now in his early 50s, he has served as the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to Moscow. He is also a former editor of Al Hayat al-Jadida. His outspoken "Open letter to President Yasser Arafat" spares neither the Palestinian Authority nor its leader.

"We abandoned one of our most important weapons," he wrote, "that of building establishments worthy of receiving support from the world and capable of winning the trust of the Palestinians and pulling the rug from under the feet of the Israelis…. I speak in the plural ‘we’ because I believe the responsibility for failure is a collective one, although you shoulder the greater part of the responsibility in view of your post, jurisdiction and power."

Amr complained that the leadership was more concerned with "sharing the booty" than creating a credible administration or judiciary. "Not a single committee was formed to study the qualifications of those who were assigned big and small posts," he wrote. Later in the letter, he noted that the "army of employees" had reached 130,000 persons, "three-quarters of whom do not know what their work is."

But the ex-minister’s most sardonic attack was leveled at Arafat’s rejection of the compromise peace formula President Bill Clinton floated, with the acquiescence of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, at Camp David in July 2000. Amr said it was a decision that condemned the Palestinians to a situation of constant retreat.

"Didn’t we jump for joy over the failure of Camp David?" Amr mocked. "Didn’t we throw mud at the picture of Clinton, who dared to submit a proposal for a state with some modifications? Didn’t we do this? Were we sincere with ourselves? No, we were not. After two years of bloodshed, we accept what we rejected, perhaps because we know it is impossible to achieve."

Sari Nusseibeh, the PLO’s point man in Jerusalem, is another eminent Palestinian brave enough to say Arafat blew it at Camp David. "My sense," Nusseibeh told me, "is that Barak wanted to close a deal.

"This is what the Palestinians should have made use of," he said. "I think it was possible to make Barak come the extra mile or two, if we on the Palestinian side had made the one or two steps forward in terms of what we were prepared to do on refugees."

Like Nusseibeh, Amr believes it is never too late to repair the errors. "What works," he wrote, "is frankness and admission that a grave failure has occurred…. We have not done yet what we must do…. We have committed a serious mistake against our people, authority and the dream of establishing our state.

"However, we can be forgiven if we admit our mistake and get to work immediately," he continued. "What this people deserves is for us to work a lot with them and for them — not to place their destiny at the mercy of new international winds or mortgage them until doomsday without opening a window of hope for them."

That’s as ringing a declaration of penitence as you will hear in any synagogue this Yom Kippur. But Arafat and company still have to earn their second chance.

Diplomacy and Skepticism


Middle East diplomacy shifted to New York this week amid widespread skepticism that there is any formula that can convince Israel and the Palestinians to make even slight progress toward peace.

Helping fuel the skepticism were two Palestinian terror attacks that coincided with the diplomatic meetings and claimed the lives of at least 11 Israelis. On Wednesday, two suicide bombers staged an attack in the heart of Tel Aviv, outside a move theater, killing at least three. A day earlier, in an attack similar to one carried out last December, Palestinian terrorists set off a bomb as a bus neared the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Immanuel and then opened fire as people fled the bus.Eight Israelis were killed, including two infants.

Tuesday’s attack came hours before officials from the so-called Quartet the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations — met in New York in an effort to devise a strategy that would help Israel and the Palestinians overcome their seemingly intractable differences.

The parties emerged with a general agreement to follow President Bush’s June 24 call for the evolution of a Palestinian state within three years. But major differences still exist between the United States and the other international mediators on how to get there. Bush had said a provisional state could emerge only after the Palestinians implement serious economic and political reforms. The others seem to disagree.

Another major area of disagreement involves the future status of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The United States has made it clear that they it wants Arafat out of power — or at least away from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the Palestinian Authority. The Europeans, Russians and U.N. leaders say Arafat is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people and therefore should be involved in the reform process.

Indeed, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters after the first round of meetings on Tuesday: "As for Arafat, we all have our respective positions. The U.N. still recognizes Chairman Arafat and we will continue to deal with him until the Palestinians decide otherwise."

Another point of contention is whether initial reform should begin on the security front alone, as the United States argues, or in conjunction with economic and infrastructure reform, as the other international players suggest.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would like ideally for security, political and economic reform to work in parallel, but the top priority was to get a "better handle" on the security situation. Powell said the CIA is working on a new plan to protect Israel from terrorist attacks. The United States is discussing the security plan with Palestinian officials, Powell added. The other leaders countered that humanitarian and infrastructure reform was necessary to implement security.

Robert Satloff, director of policy and strategic planning for the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, says the Quartet’s communique contradicts much of what Bush outlined in his June speech.

"Although no one should have expected the Quartet to parrot the president’s speech, the fact that its statement contradicts that speech in critical areas is a worrisome sign that disagreements on Middle East policy persist not only among America’s allies, but within the administration itself," Satloff wrote this week in an analysis.

Among the disagreements he notes, is the fact that the Quartet seeks statehood not as the end of negotiations but as the end of implementation of reforms to the Palestinian government, and makes no mention of provisional statehood, as Bush suggested. It also calls for Israel to immediately release tax revenue funds, instead of seeking "honest and accountable hands," as the president suggested.

The State Department entered Tuesday’s meetings seeking a dialogue with its diplomatic partners to determine clear criteria for Palestinian reform. The United States has not drafted such criteria, a State Department official said, but the goal is to announce them by late August. State Department officials said they were also seeking "centralized, transparent accountable Palestinian institutions" and "reciprocal steps by Israel" as the Palestinians move forward with reform.

Much of what emerges from this week’s meetings in New York with the Quartet and with Arab leaders from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will be utilized by a newly created international task force. The task force, involving the Quartet plus Japan, Norway, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, will seek to implement financial reforms within the Palestinian government.

And while some consensus has been reached by the Quartet on how to move forward, questions remain as to whether Israeli or Palestinian officials will be willing to accept their proposals. To that end, positive signs have emerged. Arab leaders, meeting with Powell on Wednesday, expressed support for the approach the United States has outlined for changes within the Palestinian government.

"Maybe we do not agree on all the details, but we are determined to work together for peace and I think we will succeed to bring peace to this area under the banner of legitimacy, democracy and prosperity for all," said Ahmed Maher, Egypt’s foreign minister.

The Arab leaders, who reportedly were seeking a statehood declaration after the January elections, also seem to have acquiesced to the three-year timetable the United States has proposed. In addition, a senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Arafat was considering appointing a prime minister to share day-to-day leadership responsibilities, once a Palestinian state is declared. While Israel was not a participant in this week’s meetings, Israeli officials were watching closely.

"If this is perceived as being Israeli-led, it’s not going to succeed, and we want it to succeed," an Israeli official in Washington said.

In anticipation of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a telegram to Powell outlining the Israeli position. According to reports, Sharon stressed that security is still Israel’s utmost priority.

Sharon’s telegram came on the heels of one sent to Powell by Arafat in which the Palestinian leader spelled out his vision for reforms in the Palestinian Authority. For his part, Sharon has long maintained that there would be no negotiations with the Palestinians as long as violence continues. Sharon has also said that Arafat must be replaced before there can be any meaningful negotiations.

A State Department official said plans are being discussed for another working meeting of the international task force and the Quartet in August, around the time the United States would like to announce its benchmark proposals.

Israel Is Not Alone


This past Sunday thousands of individuals, representing the full spectrum of the Jewish community’s diversity of thought and opinion, gathered on Wilshire Boulevard to express solidarity with the people of Israel. Those who came to the rally helped to send a loud and clear message to Israelis who have increasingly felt a sense of physical and emotional isolation from the rest of the world. To each of you who stood with us on the streets of Los Angeles, let me say that we appreciate what you did, and we value it.

As much as the demonstration sent an important message to Israel, it also served a significant function to our community. It is undeniable that deep rifts exist between various segments of the Jewish community (as they do in Israel). In that respect, there is no doubt in my mind that solidarity with the people of Israel can serve a unique role as a unifying force. Sunday’s rally demonstrated exactly that point, providing an all-too-rare opportunity to bring all such diverse groups together with a common purpose and shared resolve.

Perhaps Sunday’s rally will cause all of us to pause and consider that despite our differences in religious observance and political affiliation, there are many initiatives in which all of us can cooperate for the common good of the Jewish people. Such an occasion compels us to remember that we are one people, with only one Israel — the only place where Jews can defend themselves, by themselves.

Lastly, the solidarity rally sends a critical reminder to local, state and federal elected officials that America’s friendship and alliance with Israel is tremendously important to their constituents. When the political leaders and broader community of American citizens see thousands of people demonstrating in the streets of Los Angeles on behalf of the Israeli people, it makes an indelible statement in their hearts and minds.

Still, I cannot help imagining that if we could accomplish so much with the thousands who were present, what could we have done with 20,000, or 50,000, in attendance? That would actually represent only a small portion of the Jewish population in this area. To all of you who did not participate, I challenge you to reconsider your decision.

During the past 10 months of violence, the diplomats at the Consulate have met with thousands of individuals in this community who express frustration as to why more is not being done. This past Sunday, something important was done, and far too many did not rise to the challenge. If you want to have a place at the table — if you want to be among those standing with Israel in the good times — you can’t remain disengaged in the times of sorrow. It is an issue of credibility.

For those who did not participate in the rally due to some disagreement with a certain Israeli policy, I believe you erred in judgment. We never ask that our friends and supporters agree with all of Israel’s policies, for diverse viewpoints can only strengthen our people. Your disagreements should not have prevented you from attending. I believe that we are all in agreement about the right of the Jewish people to live securely in Israel. We are certainly united in the conviction that young people can go to a disco without being blown up in a suicide bombing. At the rally, we were joined by two teenagers from the Shevach Moffet High School in Tel Aviv. They were among the youngsters who saw their friends and classmates murdered at the Dolphinarium. How can someone express reservations about offering sympathy to them?

Heeding a Tenuous Cease-Fire


The suicide bombing last Friday night that killed 20 young Israelis outside a beach-front disco in Tel Aviv trans-formed Israel’s international image from bully boy to victim. The Palestinians reverted overnight to their old role as the bad guys.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer heard the explosion from his room 200 yards away in the Dan hotel. The first thing that went through his mind, he said later, was his own children, aged 17 and 22, just the kind of young people who go out dancing on a Friday night. He was so appalled by the carnage that he not only joined the mourners but went to Ramallah the next day and insisted that Yasser Arafat rein in the gunmen and the bombers.

Mere condemnation, he berated the Palestinian leader, was no longer enough. To make sure there was no ambiguity, Fischer worked with Arafat on the text of his cease-fire call. It was delivered by Arafat, on camera, in Arabic at the end of their talks. When his translator rendered it as “immediate cease-fire,” Arafat corrected him: “immediate and unconditional cease-fire.”

Two weeks before the disco bombing, Ariel Sharon’s national unity government reacted to a suicide attack that killed five in Netanya by sending F-16 warplanes and helicopter gunships to bomb the West Bank and Gaza. This time, although the provocation was even more horrendous, ministers responded with calculated restraint. “It is hard to remember an occasion in recent Israeli history,” marveled the nation’s top political columnist, Yoel Marcus, “when the government has made such a surprising, correct and wise decision.”

Sharon had no illusions. For him, Arafat remains an unreconstructed terrorist. Israelis are not investing too many hopes in the cease-fire. “I wish I were wrong,” confided Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, “but in my opinion Arafat’s steps are tactical, not strategic. We will judge him by results, but at the same time we are preparing for any eventuality.”

Nevertheless, Shimon Peres, the 77-year-old foreign minister who never gives up, seized the opening to woo Sharon away from knee-jerk retaliation and grant diplomacy one more chance. The sympathy bonus was not to be squandered this time.

The world community responded. Fischer extended his stay and shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The Russians, the Palestinians’ historic patrons, sent a special envoy, Andrei Vdovin. George Bush’s new Middle East troubleshooter, William Burns, was expected to follow.

“What was achieved over the last few days,” Peres rejoiced, “is a demonstration of what a political act, supported by the international community, can do in the most effective manner — without shooting, without pain, without accusations. It was a show of strength for diplomacy.”

Peres was speaking on Tuesday after a first session with the Russian envoy. Post-Communist Russia is no longer the Middle East spoiler. Vdovin repeatedly stressed its standing as a co-sponsor of the half-forgotten Madrid peace conference a decade ago. Russia was working not against but in concert with Uncle Sam, the Europeans and the United Nations, not to mention the Egyptians and the Jordanians.

To the astonishment of those who portrayed Ariel Sharon as a reckless warmonger in the Israeli election campaign at the beginning of this year, the Likud leader is not just giving Peres his head but shielding him from the wrath of the right.

Sharon may be 73, set in his perceptions, but having attained the premiership against all odds, he is learning new lessons. “It is true that when I was in opposition I attacked,” he conceded to a Likud critic. “That’s your role in opposition. But the person in charge has to take all the issues into consideration, including the criticism. The overall responsibility is on my shoulders.”

In the same way, a few days earlier, Sharon resisted the demands of bereaved West Bank settlers for instant revenge. He enjoys being “the person in charge,” and he’s not going to let the settlers and their friends dictate how or where he should lead the nation. Above all, he sweated blood to get the Bush administration on his side, and he’s determined not to lose it now.

The danger, as the waspish commentator Nahum Barnea predicted in Yediot Aharonot, is that he is falling into a honey trap. Where does he go from here? If Arafat reneges on his cease-fire, Sharon can say: “I tried. Now you know who is the real enemy of peace. Don’t accuse us of disproportionate use of force.”

But what if Peres’s perennial optimism proves right and the diplomatic momentum gathers speed? All of the international players agree that the only available road map is the Mitchell Committee’s report, delivered last month by ex-Senator George Mitchell and his team of fact-finders. The report calls for an immediate cease-fire, followed by a freeze on all settlement building.

Peres and Ben-Eliezer, Labor ministers both, are happy with that. But would Sharon, the “father of the settlements,” be equally willing? If and when the cease-fire jells, he will not be able to evade the choice. Neither the Palestinians nor the Americans will buy the cop-out of “building for natural growth,” first, because it was used in the past as a cover for rapid expansion of the Jewish West Bank communities, and secondly because there are thousands of apartments now standing empty there.

As a minister in Menachem Begin’s first Likud government in the late ’70s, Sharon paved the way for and presided over the evacuation of settlements from Sinai under the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. But the attachment to Judea and Samaria, the heart of the ancient Jewish homeland, raises a massive ideological and emotional hurdle. A total freeze will require exceptional political courage. Sharon is no coward, but that would test even his heroic reputation.

The Battle for Peace


The acid test for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came last week when he made his fateful visit to the White House to discuss Bill Clinton’s framework agreement — a roadmap designed to set the parameters for negotiating the tough issues that separate Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat failed the test.

Clinton’s proposals, which were accepted by Israel, would have handed Arafat control over some 95 percent of the West Bank, 100 percent of Gaza, predominantly Arab areas of Jerusalem (including the Temple Mount and most of the Old City) and the Muslim holy sites, and it offered the limited return to Israel of at least some of the Palestinian refugees.

That’s not all: The Palestinians would have been compensated for the missing 5 percent of West Bank territory with an equivalent area inside pre-1967 Israel, presumably in the Negev Desert, contiguous with the Gaza Strip.

In addition, the United States and the 15-member European Union had been privately putting together an enormous international aid package, estimated at more than $30 billion, to help rehabilitate those refugees who would not have qualified to return under the proposed humanitarian and family reunification criteria. Not least, the Clinton proposals would have offered the Palestinians what no previous rulers of the area — Roman, Arab, Turkish or British — ever had permitted: An independent, sovereign Palestinian state.
It was an offer that many in the West believed Arafat could not refuse. To the surprise and chagrin of Western leaders, Arafat did just that. His angry “no” was accompanied by threats of still more violence. Moreover, he was emboldened in his rejection by Arab leaders throughout the Middle East.

The writing on the wall came with the sudden switch in Palestinian public rhetoric from the issue of Jerusalem to that of refugees, which both the Americans and Europeans thought had been settled, give or take a few billion dollars.

After Arafat had been handed what he had demanded in Jerusalem, he declared that no agreement was possible without an explicit declaration by Israel that all the refugees would have “the right of return” to their former homes inside Israel, fixing on the one issue guaranteed to sticking in the craw of all Israelis and explode the negotiations.

For Israelis of all political complexions, there is a fundamental consensus on the issue of the refugees: their “right of return” is simply not on the agenda.

Clinton himself explicitly recognized this reality when he addressed the Israel Policy Forum in New York on Sunday and urged the Palestinians not to hold out “for the impossible more.”

“You cannot expect Israel,” he said, “to acknowledge an unlimited right of return to present-day Israel.”
Arafat could and did. Moreover, he stuck to his demand knowing that if there were a “right of return” for the estimated 4 million Palestinian refugees — mostly the children and grandchildren of the original 650,000 refugees — the Jewish population would very quickly cease to constitute a majority and Israel would, quite simply, cease to exist as a Jewish state. The Israelis have declined the invitation to commit national suicide.

According to some Israeli analysts, Arafat is incapable, psychologically or politically, of bringing himself to declare an end to the conflict with Israel.

The analysts say he cannot make the transition from war to peace, from terrorist to politician; he is unable to establish the industrial infrastructure and the appropriate instruments of government which are essential to the project of nation-building — and which he knows will dilute his personal power, rendering him vulnerable to change.

According to others, he has no intention of allowing himself to be limited by the responsibility that sovereignty and statehood imply. He does not plan, they say, to settle for a rump state, but has ambitions that extend far beyond the West Bank and Gaza and include not only the shaky Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, which already contains a Palestinian majority, but also Israel itself.

As long as he is able to use violence to galvanize international support — for the Jerusalem mosques, for the refugees’ return, for more territory — what incentive is there to risk the wrath of his large rejectionist constituency and consign himself to oblivion by limiting his vision? Judging by his performance during the past seven years, he appears to have little appetite for the unglamorous business of creating the sort of secular, democratic ideal to which he had once earnestly aspired.

Surprisingly, some of the most scathing critiques of Arafat come not from Israelis but from the Arab intelligentsia-in-exile, who make no attempt to hide their contempt for a man whom they consider to be inveterately duplicitous.

As Arafat traveled to Washington to discuss the abortive Clinton proposals, some members of the Arab elite in London were astonished at the continuing optimism of Israelis who apparently saw what they want to see and heard what they wanted to hear.

A Palestinian academic at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities noted that Arafat appeared to be “most at ease operating in circumstances of chaos.”

“When he was in Jordan, he provoked a civil war. And when he was in Lebanon, he provoked a civil war,” said the academic. “In both cases he not only survived but emerged strengthened. Don’t be surprised if that is his strategy now.”

Did the academic believe that Arafat really expects Israel and Jordan to drop into his lap? “Of course, he expects that Jordan will become part of Palestine,” he said matter-of factly. “He probably calculates Israel will take a little longer.”

A senior Syrian journalist took a more simplistic, brutal view of what he ironically mocked as “Israel’s peace partner.”

“How come you Israelis ever believed you could make a deal with Arafat?” he asked with genuine surprise.

“The man is a gangster, plain and simple, and he uses his organization like a mafia. How can you clever Israelis seriously believe that such man would agree to make compromises?”

But the specter of an Israeli-Palestinian deal is more complex when viewed from the perspective of the Arab world, a specter that contains both risks and opportunities.

The opportunities, according to a senior Israeli political source, apply mainly to the smaller, weaker Arab states which believe that contacts with Israel will bring them tangible technological and economic benefits.
The risks, however, are felt mostly by the powerful Arab states, particularly Egypt and Syria, which fear that the absence of the Palestinian issue, which has provided the glue for holding the Arab world together, will deprive them of their power and influence within the region.

“An end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would carry a heavy price tag for them,” said the Israeli source. “The conflict represents the beating heart of pan-Arabism, and an end to the conflict would be the final nail in the coffin of this powerful and emotive ideology.”

While the disappearance of the Palestinian issue would dramatically reduce the influence of Egypt, which would no longer be perceived as the unchallenged regional leader, Syria would likely be deprived of aid from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, which has lubricated the creaky economy in Damascus as a reward for its “steadfastness” in support of the pan-Arab cause.

Such are the realities which are now compelling a large segment of Israeli society to conclude that peace is not, as they had so fervently believed, at hand. Nor, it seems with hindsight, was it ever more than a mirage in the vast Arabian desert.

Mounting Controversy


Sovereignty over the Temple Mount is apparently so explosive to the Arab world that the question may have torpedoed the Camp David summit in July and helped spark the Palestinian violence of the past three months.

Now it’s becoming clear just how explosive it is for Jews as well.

Amid new indications that the Israeli government is ready to cede sovereignty over the holy site in exchange for Palestinian renunciation of the “right of return” for refugees, American Jews are going on the offensive.

Israel knows best when it comes to borders and security arrangements, say some American Jewish activists, but Jerusalem — and the Temple Mount — is a different story.

“Israel Must Not Surrender Judaism’s Holiest Site” reads a new advertisement initiated by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and signed by some 30 prominent American Jews.

The ad portends a potential confrontation between the Israeli government and important segments of American Jewry at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak may need international as well as internal Israeli backing for any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The signatories to the ad include hard-liners and moderates, including six past chairpeople of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The ad is aimed at influencing both American Jewish and Israeli audiences and will run in U.S. Jewish and Israeli media this week, said Morton Klein, president of the ZOA.

“The Muslims wouldn’t dream of giving away part of Mecca or Medina; the Christians wouldn’t dream of giving away part of the Vatican,” Klein said.

“And no Israeli leader has the right to give away the essence of the Jewish people that is embedded in the Temple Mount.”

New U.S. proposals presented to Israel and the Palestinians over the weekend call for Israel to give up sovereignty over the Temple Mount and for the Palestinians to give up the right of refugees displaced during Israel’s creation to return to the state.

The Clinton administration is seeking a quick response from both sides to determine if a peace deal can be sealed before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

The Temple Mount’s upper level houses the third holiest shrine in Islam while sitting atop the remains of the First and Second Temples, the holiest site in Judaism.

Some rabbis in Israel forbid Jews from treading on the Mount, for fear of defiling its sacred ground.
Israeli officials, including Barak, have in recent statements indicated willingness to recognize the Palestinians’ de facto control over the upper level of the Temple Mount while steering clear of the term “sovereignty.”

At the same time, Israeli officials stress an agreement would ensure Jewish links to the site and access to the subterranean levels where the remains of the Temple are believed to be located.

“We will do nothing to impair the affinity of the Jewish people to the site,” said Barak, who has also come under intense pressure from Israeli political and religious leaders against yielding control of the site.

U.S. Jews opposed to concessions on the Temple Mount are citing those leaders in making their case.

The National Council of Young Israel this week cited Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was quoted in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz saying that to abandon the Temple Mount “means abandoning the tradition of thousands of years.”

“The situation, de facto, is unfortunately that the Palestinians and the Muslims control the Mount, but to grant this reality a de jure authorization would violate the public’s trust,” Lau was quoted saying.

U.S. Jews also cite Israeli hard-liners Natan Sharansky and Ariel Sharon, who is challenging Barak in the upcoming Israeli elections.

The pair contend that Diaspora Jews must have a say over the fate of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. In the Arab world, too, leaders warned Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat that Jerusalem is a matter for the entire Muslim world.

On the other side of the spectrum, meanwhile, American Jews in the peace camp are reiterating that they trust the Israeli leadership and electorate to decide for themselves what is in Israel’s best interests.
When the Conference of Presidents recently issued a clarion call to American Jews to visit Israel to boost its sagging tourism industry, it rankled several in the peace camp by including the mantra of Jerusalem as “the eternal and undivided capital.”

Avram Lyon, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee, sent a letter to Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, to complain.

“It’s clear that Jerusalem or parts of Jerusalem are in fact in play and being discussed,” Lyon said.
“It would be rash and careless to imply that the Jewish community of the United States stands in opposition to the government of Israel.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference, denied there was any political intent to the statement, and said “it does not preclude Israel from doing anything” during the negotiations.
As for the ZOA-initated ad, it was launched in response to comments Israeli Absorption Minister Yuli Tamir reportedly made last week in New York.

Tamir was quoted as saying that Israel “must make painful concessions, renouncing one way or another our sovereignty over the Temple Mount if necessary.”

But, she added, “on the ground, things wouldn’t really change.”

A few days later, Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami reportedly made similar comments in a conference call with American Jewish leaders.

Signatories of the ad said they hoped to send a strong message to Barak.

“I don’t think Israel has to have sole sovereignty of the Temple Mount, but I think it’s a strategic error to say it’s not important, not vital to the Jews,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

“I understand that I’m not a factor in this decision. I don’t live in Israel and I don’t have a vote. The prime minister can ignore me, but I can still use my voice and whatever influence my voice has.”

The ad also quotes Hoenlein and a controversial statement he made three months ago.

At that time, Hoenlein said, “In future years, all of us will have to answer our children and grandchildren when they ask us why we did not do more to protect their heritage and safeguard Har HaBayit” — the Temple Mount.

Hoenlein, who made his remarks before a Jewish group, was accused by some as attempting to derail Barak’s effort to negotiate control of the Mount.

Hoenlein said in an interview last week that his comments “are just as valid today as they were then.”

“Israel has a right to make decisions that affect its security. All Jews have a right to discuss it, but it’s up to the government of Israel,” he said.

The “Temple Mount is a different issue. It belongs to all Jews, it is the inheritance of all Jews, and all Jews have a vested interest in it.”

Morton Klein of the ZOA threatened that if Barak dealt away sovereignty over the Mount, he and others would launch a campaign to undermine its implementation.

“I can tell you that almost every major Jewish leader I’ve spoken with will do virtually everything in their power to ensure that any attempt to give away the spiritual soul of the Jewish people does not succeed,” he said.

But some think that in the end, American Jewry will defer to the Israeli people — and its government.
“There has been a bedrock principle that the American Jewish community gives great deference to the Israeli government’s decisions on matters of war and peace,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I expect that will continue, including on issues affecting the Temple Mount.”

Epstein and others concede that if Israelis approve by referendum a deal on the Mount, they, too, would ultimately accept it.

“If the prime minister comes back with something the Israelis are willing to buy, then I would also buy it. I would — reluctantly, unhappily,” Epstein said.

Facing Truths


Having just learned that a cousin serving in the Israel Defense Forces was wounded in action, I find it painful, but necessary to speak out. The latest convulsions of violence have pushed Israelis and Palestinians closer to the brink of mutual destruction. Meanwhile, in the United States supporters of each side feel compelled to present their respective positions as just and moral. The bitter truth in this conflict is that there are no singular or exclusive moral truths.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate claims to national self-expression. Sadly, neither side is prepared to acknowledge this today, although both seemed tantalizingly close a few weeks ago. Indeed, the violent acts of the past weeks have stripped away the veneer of diplomatic politesse to reveal a frightening rage characteristic of tribal warfare. We saw this in the desecration of the Tomb of Joseph and, far more poignantly, in the beastly murder of the Israeli soldiers, acts that remind us of how wayward the political and moral compass of Palestinian society has become. On the other hand, both the Israeli military response and random acts of mob violence in Israel proper have led to a phenomenally disproportionate loss of Palestinian life.

As an American Jew with deep and abiding ties to Israel, I feel an obligation to offer what is surely an unpopular perspective. Much of the Jewish population of the country, including the left, has concluded that Prime Minister Barak went as far as he could in negotiations, and that there simply was no partner on the other side. The “timeout” from the peace process that Barak has called and the very prospect that Ariel Sharon, architect of the disastrous Lebanon entanglement, might join the government affirm that sense of frustration.

To be sure, Yasser Arafat appears to be as unreliable a partner in peace as they come. But there is something self-satisfying in the response of many Israelis, as well as of a good number of American Jews. Few choose to recognize that for all its promise, the Oslo process generated minimal gains on the ground for the Palestinians – as yet, neither the robust economy nor the political sovereignty they were promised. Similarly, few choose to recognize that today the Palestinian question, for better or worse, has become more complicated than the disposition of the West Bank and Gaza. It also embraces the 1 million Arab citizens of Israel who have faced systematic discrimination and, as a result, identify ever more forcefully with the Palestinian national cause.

Perhaps most dismaying, though, is the unwillingness of many Israeli and American Jews – and most conspicuously, our spiritual leaders – to recognize that a human life is a human life. The loss of a single Israeli soldier is a tragedy that weighs heavily on my heart. Who can not share in the revulsion at the sight of the cheering mob in Ramallah? But such criminal acts can never inure us or our Israeli brothers and sisters to the loss of more than 100 Arab lives in Israel and the territories.

These thoughts are not offered lightly. Israel, as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, is not only the locus of a Jew’s deepest spiritual aspirations; it is the site of a language, culture and familial intensity that I deeply cherish. And yet, we Jews have just concluded an intense period of repentance, symbolized by the sacred day of Yom Kippur on which God is said to determine our fate on the basis of our deeds. Can we assume a smug posture of moral superiority vis-a-vis the Palestinians? Can we blithely maintain, as the loss of life grows daily, that our side is just and the other completely unjust?

This seems to be the prevailing assumption for many Israeli and American Jews. Advertisements and rallies organized by Jewish groups here call for solidarity with Israel and unequivocal condemnation of Arafat. To my mind, Arafat merits loud condemnation for his brutal and unsavory use of violence to advance political ends. But Jews can not spare themselves from a probing “heshbon hanefesh,” a moral reckoning of Israeli (and by extension, American Jewish) actions. And such a reckoning must lead to the recognition that recourse to violence, as an act of vengeance, dehumanizes both sides and perpetuates the cycle of brutality. Conversely, it must lead to the recognition that, in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, self-interest and altruism truly serve the same master: peace.

Prof. David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA

“Where Do We Go From Here?”


“We are able to deal with this situation,” says Yisrael Medad, a veteran, American-born settlement activist, “because we remember what happened in 1947 to ’48. We are returning to our history.”

“Everywhere there is fighting,” says Janet Aviad, a veteran, American-born Peace Now activist, “it’s the settlements that are in the middle. The bypass roads, built for them, have become bloody roads. The logical conclusion is that the sooner settlement activity is stopped and the most problematic settlements are removed, the better.”

The violence of Bloody October has united most Israelis behind a shared sense of being under attack and misreported – except the militant right and the militant left.

The settlers are hunkering down behind their barricades. I witnessed one of their historic leaders, Daniella Weiss, haranguing an army colonel, who tried to close the most direct route to her home in Kaddumim because it wasn’t safe. “I was here before you came,” she yelled, “and I’ll be here after you’ve gone.” Then she forced her way through the barrier.

When I asked an old Hebron ideologue, Elyakim Ha’etzni, how it would all end, he replied unequivocally: “It will be war. What I have always predicted is happening.”

For all their defiance, though, the settlers are feeling the pressure. The Palestinian violence may seem like a vindication, but living under siege is no fun. “It’s very hard,” confided Shner Katz, a 40-something teacher, who has lived with his wife and four children in Shilo, between Ramallah and Nablus, for 10 years. “We’re being stoned,” he said. “We’re being shot at all the time. I don’t know how much longer we can stand such a situation.”

We were talking after the funeral of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, who was murdered near Nablus on the eve of Yom Kippur. Did that mean he was thinking of pulling out, I asked Katz. “We’ll never leave,” he retorted. “Only our dead bodies will leave from this place. This is our country, this is our home.”

Across the ideological divide, Intifada No. 2 (with guns this time) has been a sobering experience. The doves have not become hawks, but they are lowering their expectations. Shimon Peres’s vision of a New Middle East has faded with every rock and petrol bomb, with every AK-47 volley of automatic fire. The lynching of two reserve soldiers in Ramallah was the last straw, but the camel’s back was already sagging.
“I understand the Palestinian perspective,” said Peace Now’s Aviad, “but I accept it only in part. “These last three weeks have brought us to a grave crisis. Even some of the people who have participated in the grass-roots peace work have doubts about the trustworthiness of their Palestinian friends. Everyone has been shocked by the expressions of hatred for each other on both sides.”

So where does peace go from here? Aviad remains convinced that, sooner or later, Israel will have to go back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. “We have to continue,” Aviad answered. “We have to return to people-to-people activities. We have to urge our political leaders to return to the table in a pragmatic, sanguine approach. The aim must be to separate these two people as much as possible, to place each in an equal position to the other.”