Israel’s Medical Association warns against proposed prisoner force-feeding bill


Israel's cabinet approved on Sunday a proposed law that would enable authorities to force-feed Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike, a practice opposed by the country's medical association.

Israel has long been concerned that hunger strikes by Palestinians in its jails could end in death and trigger waves of protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But Israel's Medical Association, which considers force- feeding a form of torture and medically risky, has urged Israeli doctors not to abide by the law if it is passed.

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who sponsored the bill, said the cabinet's support for the legislation would allow him to re-submit it to parliament for two final votes in the near future. It already passed a preliminary vote in the legislature before Israel's parliamentary election in March.

“Hunger strikes by imprisoned terrorists have become a weapon with which they are trying to threaten the State of Israel,” Erdan wrote on Facebook. “The cabinet's decision today sends a clear message: we will not blink in the face of any threat.”

Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club that advocates on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli jails, called the legislation racist and a violation of international law. Under existing Israeli law, patients cannot be treated against their will, although an ethics committee can be asked to intervene.

Demanding an end to his detention without trial, a Palestinian prisoner, Khader Adnan of the Islamic Jihad militant group, has been on a hunger strike in jail for the past 41 days, refusing solid food and drinking only water.

Adnan went on hunger strike for 66 days during a previous detention period in 2012, the longest such Palestinian protest. It ended when Israeli authorities promised to release him.

He was jailed again in July 2014 under so-called “administrative detention”.

Israel's use of a decades-old policy of detaining some Palestinians without formal charge has drawn international criticism. Israel says the procedure is necessary to avoid exposing confidential information in trials.

Released Palestinian prisoners get P.A. payout, monthly stipend


Palestinian terrorists who were released from Israeli prisons in a goodwill gesture by Israel to restart the peace process were granted large payouts and monthly stipends from the Palestinian Authority.

Upon their release from Israeli prison, each of the prisoners received a $50,000 payment and granted a monthly salary, Israel Radio reported Monday. The prisoners were convicted of killing Israelis.

Some 52 Palestinians convicted of participating in terrorist attacks against Israelis before the 1993 Oslo Accords have been released in recent months. Another 52 are scheduled to be released over the nine months of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

A Palestinian official told Israel Radio that the money is to help the former prisoners restart their lives.

Release of Palestinian prisoners no threat, says former Shin Bet head


Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, says he’s not concerned, from a security perspective, about Israel’s scheduled Oct. 30 release of 26 Palestinian prisoners who had been involved in terror attacks.

In an Oct. 27 interview with the Journal in Beverly Hills, Ayalon did not endorse the release but said, “It does not present any danger.”

“Most of them are sitting in our jails more than 30 years,” he said. “They are not part of the present terror infrastructure.”

Israel agreed to the release as a pre-condition to participating in American-brokered negotiations with the Palestinians. More than 100 terrorists will be released in four groups over the planned nine-month duration of the talks.

Ayalon, who was also a commander in Israel’s navy and is a former Knesset member for the Labor Party, was in Los Angeles to raise awareness for the University of Haifa as part of the American Society of the University of Haifa’s inaugural gala at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills on Oct. 27. He serves as chairman of the executive committee at the university.

He and Amos Shapira — former CEO of El Al and Cellcom and president of the university — sat down with the Journal on Sunday afternoon to discuss current events in Israel and their efforts at Haifa University.

Regarding possible upcoming negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the trim, fit Ayalon said he’s neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

 “I’m realistic,” Ayalon said, sternly and directly. “I don’t believe — and I hope I’m wrong — that negotiations will bring us any result.”

[Related: 

Palestinian prisoner release on track after High Court ruling


Israel was set to free 26 Palestinian prisoners within hours to help underpin renewed peace talks, after its High Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal against their release by relatives of some of the Israelis they killed.

Authorities planned to transport the group from jail in the dead of night in the early hours of Wednesday. The men, arrested between 1985 and 2001, were to return to homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli official said they would be taken in vehicles with sealed windows to prevent a repetition of scenes in which released Palestinian prisoners have stretched out their hands in V-for-Victory signs.

Disdain for the prisoners is strong in Israel, whose media have featured detailed accounts of their attacks on Israelis since a release roster was published two days ago. Palestinians regard the men as heroes in a struggle for statehood.

The three-justice High Court panel ruled the government had been within its purview to free them, although Chief Justice Asher Grunis wrote in the decision that “our hearts are with the families, who are victims of terror”.

Yet Ada Kuenstler, whose 84-year-old father, Avraham Kuenstler, was killed in 1992 by a prisoner due to be released, said she understood Israel's political considerations in freeing Abdallah Salah from his 99-year sentence.

“I want peace and do not ask for revenge, and I am not objecting to this move because I want to hope that this will bring peace a little closer,” she told Reuters.

Hours after the release, U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians, which opened in Washington on July 30, were due to resume in Jerusalem, with further negotiations expected later in the West Bank.

The talks broke down three years ago in a dispute over settlement building in territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Israel's announcement on Sunday of plans to expand settlements drew Palestinian anger but no formal threat to withdraw from negotiations, whose resumption was driven by intensive shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The United States is seeking to broker a “two-state solution” in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The United States, European Union and United Nations on Monday condemned Israel's announcement of construction plans for about 2,000 new settler homes.

Most world powers regard all the settlements as illegal. During a visit to Colombia, Kerry called on the Palestinians “not to react adversely” to Israel's latest plans.

HAMAS REACTION

Israel dismissed such criticism, saying the settlement plans were intended for West Bank areas it wanted to keep under any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The 26 prisoners due to be released were among a total of 104 that Israel has agreed to free in four stages.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has vowed to seek freedom for all Palestinian prisoners, is set to gain by the prisoner releases, a highly charged issue in a society where thousands are held in Israeli custody.

“I think this is an important accomplishment, one that gives hope to the Palestinian people,” Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqe told Reuters.

Abbas's Islamist rival, Hamas, had limited praise for the prisoner release, although it also reiterated its objections to negotiating with Israel, whose existence it rejects.

Some 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid 2.5 million Palestinians. Israelwithdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, now governed by Hamas Islamists.

Few expect the latest negotiations to resolve issues that have defied solution for decades, such as borders, settlements, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The United States has said it seeks a peace deal within nine months.

Netanyahu appears to have decided he can ill afford to alienate the United States at the moment given the turmoil in the region, and led his pro-settlement government into talks.

Neighboring Egypt and Syria are in upheaval and Israel remains deeply concerned Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, something Tehran denies. Israel is widely believed to be the only power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Warren Strobel in Bogota; editing by Mike Collett-White

Palestinians escalate hunger-strike in Israel jails


Hundreds of Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli jails said on Friday they would shun vitamin supplements and prison clinics in an escalation of their mass protest against detention conditions.

“We swear we will not retreat. We are potential martyrs. Either we live in dignity or die,” prisoner organizers said in a letter announcing the move and which was read out by Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Islamist Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, during a demonstration.

An estimated 1,600 inmates out of 4,800 launched the hunger strike on April 17 to demand improved conditions in Israeli custody, such as an end to solitary confinement and more family visits. They have also challenged Israel’s policy of indefinite detention without charge of suspected Palestinian militants.

The fate of the hunger strikers has touched a raw nerve among Palestinians, with daily support rallies in the West Bank and Gaza, and political leaders warning that Israel could face new violence should any prisoner die.

Dozens of Palestinians, including militants and politicians who had served terms in Israeli jails in the past, have gone on hunger strikes in tents put up in solidarity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which witnessed daily heavy attendance by residents and visitors from Arab and foreign countries.

The prisoners include Islamists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which reject peace with the Jewish state, as well as members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular and Western-backed Fatah movement.

Israel says all prisoners receive adequate medical attention, including in civilian hospitals if required.

A Prisons Service spokeswoman said there was no immediate sign of the hunger strike being stepped up.

“As of now, I know that those who should be receiving extra care are receiving it,” the spokeswoman, Sivan Weizman, said.

Defending its so-called “administrative detention” policy, Israel says some cases cannot immediately be brought to open court for fear of exposing Palestinian intelligence sources that have cooperated with Israeli security organs against militants.

Two inmates who helped launch the hunger strike, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla of Islamic Jihad, were in the 74th day of their fast on Friday.

Anat Litvin of Physicians for Human Rights in Israel quoted Halahleh’s doctor as saying his death could be imminent.

“What is very worrisome is the fact that he said that he doesn’t want to be saved if something happens to him and he loses consciousness,” Litvin said, adding that the Prisons Service’s medical facilities might prove inadequate.

“They don’t have the equipment, they don’t have the expertise; constant follow-up that is very much needed is not available,” she told Reuters Television in Tel Aviv.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Are Palestinians ‘partying’ in Israeli prisons?


In the wake of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s release after being held captive in Gaza by Hamas for five years, Israelis are grappling with the question of what to do if another Israeli soldier or civilian is kidnapped. Currently, one of the most popular ideas being bandied about is to exert counter-pressure by making life harder for Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli prisons now.

More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners will have been exchanged for Shalit once the deal is completed later this month, while another 4,500 Palestinians will remain in Israel’s prison system. By comparison to the isolation, apparent limited diet and other harsh conditions suffered by Shalit, some right-wing Knesset members have likened conditions for Israel’s Palestinian prisoners to a “five-star hotel” or a “day camp.” Prisoners are fed three meals daily, are allowed to exercise and get visitors, according to Ynet.

Indeed, some efforts to cut back privileges already have begun: Responding last June to public anger over Shalit’s unknown whereabouts and isolation, the Israeli government stopped letting Palestinian security prisoners study for college degrees, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “The party is over.”

Removing other privileges for such prisoners, such as access to television, books, newspapers, canteen purchases and even family visits, is expected to be among the policy recommendations of a panel headed by former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, whose report is due out soon. 

How Israel treats its Palestinian prisoners has long been a thorny issue for Israelis, particularly since the First Intifada in the late 1980s. Allegations of mistreatment have led to continual, sometimes scathing, human rights reports, as well as a series of Supreme Court decisions, culminating in a 1999 court ruling outlawing the use of torture. (That ruling, however, contained the loophole that Israeli officials accused in court of torture may be exonerated on the “ticking bomb” defense.) Now a new awareness that Israel still holds thousands of Palestinian prisoners has made the question of how Israel treats its prisoners even more pressing.

Queried on whether they are, indeed, being over-indulged, the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) stated that Palestinian prisoners are “treated in accordance with the law and IPS policy.” An official Israeli source, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, however, said the prisoners “spend all day locked in their cells except for an hour-and-a-half in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, when they’re allowed out to walk around in the yard. I wouldn’t call that a ‘day camp.’ ”

Continuing reports of torture in Israeli prisons have been issued by the group Physicians for Human Rights in Israel (PHRI), whose membership includes some 700 Israeli physicians who make visits to examine inmates who have complained of maltreatment. On Oct. 24, the group’s most recent report on Palestinian security prisoners stated: “Testimonies taken by human rights organizations in past years indicate clear patterns of torture and/or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinian detainees.”

PHRI and other Israeli human rights organizations attribute the alleged mistreatment to Shin Bet investigators, who interrogate Palestinians inside Israeli jails. Asked how the prisoners are treated by the regular prison guards, PHRI chair Zvi Bentwich, a professor emeritus of immunology at Ben-Gurion University, said: “I don’t think we have a serious problem with the guards’ treatment of Palestinian prisoners.”

Queried about the PHRI report, an IPS spokesman said only, “We do not make policy for the Shin Bet’s investigation of prisoners.”

Dr. Zeev Wiener, a psychiatrist at a community mental health clinic, has, by his count, examined “at least 120” Palestinian security prisoners during his 20 years of volunteering for PHRI. “Most of the prisoners I saw didn’t suffer from ‘extreme’ torture, such as beatings, hangings by the wrists or waterboarding during their interrogations,” he said. “It was mainly sleep deprivation and threats of what would happen to them and their families if they didn’t talk.

“But,” he added, “I did see a few prisoners who were victims of physical torture par excellence — beatings and hanging from the wrists for a long time. But whether we’re talking about real physical torture or intense psychological pressure, the effect is harsh and sometimes chronic, as with post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Asked whether over his two decades of experience he has seen changes in treatment of Palestinian security prisoners by Shin Bet investigators, Wiener replied: “It’s become more sophisticated. Over the years, the Supreme Court has put increasing restrictions on what the Shin Bet can do, so interrogators have become cautious. My impression is that psychological torture has become more common than physical torture, which, after all, sometimes leaves visible signs.”

The Oct. 24 PHRI report said that, in the wake of the court’s 1999 decision, “Torture and/or ill-treatment [of Palestinian security prisoners] has subsequently become systematic and institutionalized through the misuse of the ‘ticking bomb’ and necessity defense scenario, which is treated in practice as though it were a prior authorization rather than a defense in retrospect, in contradiction of the Supreme Court’s decision itself.”

Wiener, like PHRI’s other physicians who examine Palestinian detainees, does not take his findings directly to prison officials or, certainly, the Shin Bet; by protocol, he gives them to the PHRI, which includes them in its reports. The effect of these reports has been negligible, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, whose data, cited in the Oct. 24 PHRI report, documents that of the more than 600 complaints of Shin Bet torture filed with Israeli legal authorities from 2001 to 2009, not one has led to a criminal investigation.

The complaints are ultimately forwarded to the Shin Bet, which decides on their disposition, the report noted.

Of the 1,027 Palestinians who have been or are due to be freed in exchange for Shalit, more than 300 were involved in murders of Israelis, according to The Israel Project, a pro-Israeli advocacy organization. Of the 4,500 remaining in Israeli prisons, “a few hundred” were murderers or accomplices to murder, an official source said. Thirty-five of them are ages 12 to 15, and were arrested for such offenses as stone throwing, according to PHRI.

Most Palestinian security inmates — which does not include those imprisoned for such criminal offenses as car theft — are housed in nine Israeli prisons: Ketziot, Ofer, Ramon, Nafha, Shita, Gilboa, Megiddo, Hadarim and Eshel.

At the end of September, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike, demanding an end to solitary confinement, which currently is being imposed on a few dozen of the security detainees, as well as family visits for all — such visits are barred to the roughly 800 detainees from Gaza, viewed by Israel as an enemy country. They also demanded an end to the shackling of prisoners during family visits, as well as to strip searches of visiting family members and the right to take college correspondence courses, access to Arabic-language TV, greater access to books and newspapers, and better food.

The strike, whose demands were supported by PHRI, ended on Oct. 19, the day after Shalit and the first 477 Palestinian prisoners were released in the exchange. Palestinian media reported that the prisoners were declaring victory.

The official Israeli source, however, said, “the hunger strike didn’t change our policy toward Palestinian security prisoners in any way.”

Elyakim Ha’etzni, an attorney, columnist for Yediot Aharonot and long-time settler activist in Kiryat Arba, dismissed the PHRI report as old news: “There’s nothing new in these claims; the guidelines for investigations are all laid down by the Supreme Court with special consideration for ‘ticking bomb’ cases,” he said.

Calling the security prisons “autonomous academies for terrorism,” Ha’etzni said Israel’s prisoners have access to “food, newspapers, radio, TV; they receive donations that they can spend at the canteen. They get medical treatment they never dreamed of receiving before going to prison — thousands of dollars in dental treatment.

“Hamas can advertise in Nablus: ‘Kill an Israeli and get your teeth fixed!’ ” Ha’etzni said. “They get visits from lawyers, from family members. What did Gilad Shalit get?”

Netanyahu: Israel to toughen conditions of Palestinian prisoners


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that he plans on toughening the conditions of Palestinian security prisoners in Israel’s prisons.

“I have decided to change Israel’s treatment of terrorists sitting in prison,” Netanyahu said during the closing statements at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem. “We will give them all that they deserve according to international law but nothing beyond that.”

Netanyahu said that he is required to respect Israeli law, international law, and international trust but nothing beyond that, so Israel is taking a series of steps to change prisoners’ conditions.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

The plot to kill Hitler becomes a Tom Cruise thriller


“Valkyrie” is a historical thriller of considerable merit that mines the seemingly inexhaustible supply of movie plots rooted in Hitler’s reign and World War II.

Directed by Bryan Singer and loaded with Tom Cruise’s star power, as well as exploding ammunition, the film reconstructs the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on the Fuhrer’s life, which, had it succeeded, would have spared the lives of untold thousands of soldiers and death-camp inmates.

The carefully planned assassination and coup involved some 200 high-ranking German army officers and civilians and was energized by a dashing young aristocrat, Col. Claus von Stauffenberg.

He and a number of generals, descended mostly from the conservative landed gentry, concluded that only Hitler’s elimination could save the honor of the German army and prevent the complete destruction of their country. They were also appalled by Nazi crimes against Jews and the people of the occupied countries, and blueprints for a post-Hitler Germany called for the closing of all concentration camps.

Despite the conspirators’ meticulous planning, the assassination attempt miscarried because of a fluke. Von Stauffenberg carried a briefcase containing high-powered explosives into a staff meeting with Hitler at his East Prussian Wolf’s Lair and exited shortly before the carefully timed explosion. At the last moment, however, an orderly casually pushed the briefcase away from where Hitler was standing and the Fuhrer survived the explosion — shaken but alive and functioning.


The trailer

So much is widely known, but what happened afterward gives the film its historical freshness, ratchets up the tension and allows the mixed American-British cast to display its emotional range.

The key player is Cruise as von Stauffenberg, and his fellow plotters among the German generals are portrayed by Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson and Jamie Parker. There is little room for women — and none for sex — but Dutch actress Carice van Houten is allowed some chaste marital scenes as von Stauffenberg’s loyal wife.

After barely exiting the war room, von Stauffenberg watches the powerful explosion rip the building apart and is convinced that Hitler has been killed. He puts into effect Operation Valkyrie, originally conceived by Hitler to keep his government and Nazi Party functioning in case he is incapacitated.

Turning the plan to their own ends, the conspirators are ready to install a civilian government, sideline the SS and start peace negotiations with the Allies.

However, valuable time is lost in hesitation and miscommunication, and when Hitler goes on the radio to announce that destiny had foiled his enemies, the plot falls apart and its planners are hunted down. All are killed, the lucky ones by firing squads, others by being hung from meat hooks by piano wires.

Singer, 43, has polished his bold visual style and preoccupation with man’s capacity for evil in persecuting the outsider in such films as “Apt Pupil,” “The Usual Suspects,” “X-Men” and “Superman Returns.”

Growing up as an only child in a Jewish family in Princeton Junction, N.J., Singer became fascinated with stories of the Holocaust and World War II from his high school studies and ranging even to watching television’s “Hogan’s Heroes.”

“I grew up in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood but didn’t really experience any anti-Semitism,” he said in a phone interview. “That made me wonder even more why Hitler hated the Jews so much.”

A longtime history buff, Singer spent eight months in Berlin prior to shooting the film there, meeting with the families of von Stauffenberg and the other conspirators, as well as with Hitler’s last bodyguard and secretaries who worked at the Berlin communications center during the attempted 1944 coup.

“It was an odd feeling being Jewish and walking along the streets where the Nazis had marched,” Singer recalled. “But I think it’s very important for us and for history to know that not all Germans were Nazis and that some paid with their lives for opposing Hitler.

“Valkyrie,” similar to “Schindler’s List,” has led some critics to ask why some films on the Nazi era extol “good Germans,” rather than “good Jews.”

“Good question,” Singer said. “When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

Except in a very tangential way, “Valkyrie” is not a Holocaust film, but there is a growing tendency to wedge all movies set in the Nazi era into the Holocaust genre. This, in turn, has given fodder to critics, who are becoming more numerous and acidic in their complaints about the alleged surfeit of Holocaust-themed movies and in their demands for a moratorium on making such pictures.

Singer weighed in on this controversy.

“There are never enough books or movies to help us understand, even remotely, man’s inhumanity to man,” he said. “Furthermore, studying this era brings you to other atrocities, from Stalin to Rwanda and Darfur.”

“Valkyrie” opens at theaters Dec. 25. For additional background, visit www.foxinternational.com/valkyrie.

First Person: Rivky and Gabi were truly special people


Many of you first heard of the Holtzberg family four days ago when news of the Mumbai hostage situation emerged. I feel compelled to write this because I want the world to know who Rivky and Gabi Holtzberg were in life and to tell you what I witnessed of their accomplishments in their brief 28 years on earth.

While I am devastated by their death, I am thankful that my life and so many others were touched by their purity, friendship and spirit.

Before I entered the Chabad house in Mumbai, I thought, “What kind of people would leave a comfortable and secure life in a religious community to live in the middle of Mumbai; a dirty, difficult, crowded city?” As I got to know Rivky and Gabi over the course of this past summer, I understood that G-d creates some truly special people willing to devote their lives to bettering the world.

I was first welcomed by Rivky, who had a big smile on her face and her baby Moishie in her arms. She ushered me and my fellow travelers into the Chabad house and immediately offered us something to eat and a sofa to rest on. We quickly became good friends. We bonded with the Holtzberg family and the staff at Chabad, including Sandra, the heroine who saved baby Moishie’s life.

Like his parents, Moishe is a sweet, loving, happy baby. He was so attached to Rivky and Gabi. He got so excited to sing Shabbat Z’mirot (songs) every Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackFriday night with his father, and I could tell by the light on Gabi’s face when they were singing together, that he looked forward to it too. It breaks my heart that I can still hear Moishie’s voice calling, “Ima, Ima, Ima”, and she will no longer be able to hold him or rock him in her arms.

On my second Shabbat at Chabad, Rivky told me there were two Israeli men staying at the house who were just released from an Indian prison. When I saw these men sitting at the dinner table, I was startled. One man had only a front tooth and a raggedy pony tail, and the other looked like an Israeli version of Rambo. I observed the way that Gabi interacted with them and how they were welcomed at the Shabbat table the same way everyone else was, and my fears melted away. Over the course of the night, I learned that these men were not the only prisoners or ex-convicts the Holtzberg’s helped. Gabi frequently brought Kosher meals to Israelis in prison, spent time with them, listened to their life stories, and took them in after their release.

I realized that Gabi and Rivky’s job was not only to run a Chabad house and provide warm meals and beds for weary Jewish travelers, it was much greater. The Holtzberg’s were running a remarkable operation. They took their jobs as shlichim (emissaries) very seriously. Their lives never stopped. There was no such thing as “personal space” or “downtime”. The phones rang constantly, people came in and out like a subway station, and all the while Rivky and Gabi were calm, smiling, warm, and welcomed everyone like family.

Rivky spent each day cooking dinner with the chefs for 20-40 people, while Gabi made sure to provide meat for everyone by going to the local markets and schechting (koshering) chickens himself. They also provided travelers with computers for internet access, so that they wouldn’t have to pay for internet cafes. They even took care of our laundry. Having spent much time abroad, it was clear to me that Rivky and Gabi were unusual tzadikim (righteous people).

On my last Shabbat in India, I slept in Rivky and Gabi’s home, the 5th floor of the Chabad house. I noticed that their apartment was dilapidated and bare. They had only a sofa, a bookshelf, a bedroom for Moishie, and a bedroom to sleep in. The paint peeled from the walls, and there were hardly any decorations. Yet, the guest quarters on the two floors below were decorated exquisitely, with American-style beds, expansive bathrooms, air conditioning (a luxury in India) and marble floors. We called these rooms our “healing rooms” because life was so difficult in Mumbai during the week. We knew that when we came to Chabad, Rivky and Gabi would take care of us just like our parents, and their openness and kindness would rejuvenate us for the week to come.

The juxtaposition of their home to the guest rooms was just another example of what selfless, humble people Rivky and Gabi were. They were more concerned about the comfort of their guests than their own.

The Holtzberg’s Shabbat table was a new experience each week. Backpackers, businessmen, diplomats and diamond dealers gathered together to connect with their heritage in an otherwise unfamiliar city. We always knew we were in for a surprise where an amazing story would be told, either by Gabi or a guest at the table. For each meal, Gabi prepared about seven different divrei torah (words of torah) to share. Though most of them were delivered in Hebrew (and I caught about 25%), his wisdom, knowledge and ability to inspire amazed me. Rivky and Gabi were accepting of everyone who walked through their doors, and they had no hidden agendas. Rivky once told me that there was one holiday where they had no guests. It was just herself, Gabi and Moishie. I expected her to say how relieved she was not to have guests, but she told me it was, in fact, the only lonely holiday they ever spent in India.

I remember asking Gabi if he was afraid of potential terror threats. Although his demeanor was so sweet and gentle, Gabi was also very strong-minded and determined. He told me simply and sharply that if the terrorists were to come, “be my guest, because I’m not leaving this place.” Both he and Rivky believed that their mission in Mumbai was far greater than any potential terror threats.

Everything Rivky and Gabi did came from their dedication, love and commitment to the Jewish people and to G-d. I cannot portray in words how remarkable this couple was. If there is anything practical that I can suggest in order to elevate their souls, please try to light candles this Friday night for Shabbat, improve relationships with family members and friends, try to connect to others the way that Rivky and Gabi did- with love, acceptance and open arms. There is so much to learn from them. May their names and influence live on, and inspire us in acts of kindness and love.

Hillary A. Lewin is aPh.D. Candidate in Clinical Psychology at theFerkauf Graduate School of Psychology ofYeshiva University

ALTTEXT

The author (right) with Moshe and Rivka

Iran gets away with murder


Radovan Karadzic’s arrest last month in a Belgrade hideout was more than just a finishing point to 12 years of a fugitive’s life. Renowned as the face of “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans, Karadzic was especially sought for having ordered the execution of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica.

His arrest can only increase international awareness of what is known as crimes against humanity. The feeling that criminals cannot go around unpunished is a sacred feeling anywhere in the world. Even when those criminals at large are no longer a threat to public security, they should be sought and brought to justice. They might no longer be a public threat, but they certainly remain a threat and a challenge to human dignity.

Nazi criminals who were justly pursued and brought to justice years after the horrible crimes they committed against the Jewish people more than deserved that. So long as such criminals are at large, the human conscience is oppressed, ignored, humiliated. There should be no impunity for such gross human rights violations, regardless of when and where they were committed. Unfortunately Karadzic’s record is not an isolated one.

Last week, Amnesty International issued a public statement on the 20th anniversary of the 1988 “prison massacre” in Iran. Twenty years after the Iranian regime began a wave of largely secret, summary and mass executions in September 1988, Amnesty International renewed its call for those responsible for the “prison massacre” to be held accountable. The call was launched a long time ago by the Iranian opposition and various circles of the Iranian diaspora.

In the summer of 1988, Iran put thousands of political prisoners to death after a desperate cease-fire agreement was reached to end the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. During those killing months, a three-judge panel retried thousands of inmates already serving sentences. The hearings lasted a few minutes for each prisoner. Those inmates who stood by their opposition to the regime were ordered immediately hanged. Amnesty International puts the number of the executed between 4,500 and 5,000, including women. In a letter to Imam Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then the latter’s heir apparent, quoted the number to be either 2,800 or 3,800. Opposition counts go as high as 30,000, of which a list of 3,208 names has so far been produced. Montazeri stressed that the victims, members of the Moudjahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) organization, were not “individuals,” but “represented a sort of thought.” In other words, those massacred were all prisoners of conscience.

But that is not the worst part. The worst is that those responsible for the carnage were never blamed, and not the least sign of regret was ever expressed by anyone in the regime. On the contrary, many of the perpetrators of that massacre are still very much in circulation.

Jaafar Nayyeri, chairman of the three-judge panel, is currently deputy chief justice of the Iranian Supreme Court. A second influential judge, Ebrahim Raissi, is the head of the State Inspectorate Office. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the executive at the time, is currently the supreme ruler.

The fact that Serbian criminals were out of business at the moment of arrest, and that those of Iran are still in power, does not give the latter any legitimacy to continue. On the contrary, because they think they are safe from punishment, the case is more urgent. Political power, often kept with utmost repression, should no longer be criteria for safe haven.

Last July 25, in a single day, 29 prisoners were executed in Iran. The act provoked much international condemnations. However, the ruling clerics paid no heed and in the following days executed 10 more people. Last year, around 400 people were “officially” executed in Iran, often in public. It might still not be a massacre, but certainly the mentality of the perpetrators remains the same.

The international community has rightly brought Karadzic to justice, and the International Criminal Court has done well to indict Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur. The same should be done in regard to Iran.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.

Zell it, Sam; Cool it, Orit; 40 million Frenchmen





Sell It, Sam

Nice editorial on the demise of the L.A. Times as we have known it and loved to hate it all these years (“Sell It, Sam,” Aug. 1).

Didn’t anyone realize when Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co. that real estate value was at the top of his list?

And as to the problems of loss of ad sale revenue and loss of subscribers, all print publications are suffering. One only need to look at the bottom of the Letters page in your paper to realize that every newspaper has competition from themselves in the form of their own Web site.

Many love to read the news on the Web. I don’t understand that peering at a screen can replace relaxing with the Times or Wall Street Journal or Daily News and The Jewish Journal in my lap.

Milt Cohen
Chatsworth
Not sent via e-mail

Oh, if only I was rich instead of … I would give you the money to buy the L.A. Times to manage. But then I might lose you, our weekly treasure, in The Jewish Journal. Oh, sometimes doing something for the greater good is painful.

Rita Lowenthal
Santa Monica

Gogle

Orit Arfa writes that she Googles all her prospective dates (“Go ahead, gogle me” Aug. 1).

She may end up as a single woman all her life unless she learns that love isn’t a treasure found on Google. It is found in a certain electricity between two people who meet in person and in time find that they can’t live without one another.

The only electricity she’ll find in googling her prospective dates is the electricity that turns on her computer, not the electricity that turns her on. I’m single and live in Los Angeles, so Orit may want to Google me, but I don’t think it would be worth her while to fly from Israel to Los Angeles to date me.

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Prisoner Swap

Rabbi David Ellenson bases his view that the Olmert government made the right choice in releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped (dead) Israeli soldiers on the argument that Israeli soldiers who know that they will be redeemed are more likely to fight fearlessly and less likely to retreat to avoid capture (“Prisoner Swap: Morale Issue Spurs Hard Choice,” Aug. 1).

However, even if this were true, releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis is a terrible mistake for at least two reasons.

First, releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis provides a rock-solid incentive for more such kidnappings. Indeed, the practice of making such releases since the late 1980s has increased kidnappings. Worse, Israel’s willingness to release terrorists in exchange for bodies acts as a virtual death warrant for any future Israelis kidnapped.

Second, and even more important, freed terrorists return to terrorism and claim more Israeli lives. A 2006 detailed report issued by the Almagor Terror Victims Association (ATVA) shows that between the years 1993-1999, Israel released 6,912 terrorists within the context of “confidence-building measures” and prisoner deals. Of that number, 854 (12 percent) were arrested subsequently for lethal terrorist acts that claimed the lives of 123 Israelis.

Also, Col. Meir Indor, director of ATVA, disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years were killed by Palestinians who had been previously released from Israeli jails (Jerusalem Post, April 10, 2008).

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

I was extremely disappointed that Israel would swap its dead soldiers for live Arab prisoners. I understand the thinking that the Israel Defense Forces need to uphold soldiers’ morale, but where is the incentive for the Arabs to keep Israeli prisoners alive?

I feel that they should have agreed to swap dead soldiers for dead prisoners. Otherwise, there is no advantage or incentive for the Arabs to keep Israeli captives alive.

Arlene Cohen
Los Angeles

Rabbi Meier

Thanks for David Suissa’s obituary on Rabbi Levi Meier (z’l), chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (“Rabbi Levi Meier, Whose Pulpit Was Hospital Rooms, Dies at 62,” July 18).

He is very precious to so many in the community. I hope that at some point you can do a special feature on him.

Koby Levy
Los Angeles

Broken (Political) Heart

In Fairfax High School, I had a brilliant and wise instructor of advanced placement European History who used to say: “Do not put all your faith in one man. For surely he will disappoint you.”

And he also said: “40 million Frenchmen can be wrong” (“On Having Your (Political) Heart Broken,” Aug. 1).

Elizabeth Kruger
Los Angeles

Correction
In "Southland Olympians Hope to Join Roster of Winners," (Aug. 1), Sasha Cohen came in second at Torino in 2006, not Salt Lake City in 2002. We regret the error.

Lebanon prisoner swap deal — morale issue forces a hard choice


The existential reality of an Israeli context, where governmental decisions often have a life and death valence, has been brought home to millions of people these past fewweeks, as the Israeli Cabinet made the agonizing decision to authorize the release of the murderer Samir Kuntar, four other live Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of dozens of Arab infiltrators and terrorists to Hezbollah in exchange for the bodies of abducted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

The weight of responsibility placed upon the government and Cabinet in this instance — as in so many others — was surely awesome. While many have conceded that the decision of the Israeli government to allow this exchange was immeasurably painful, albeit necessary, others have been extremely critical of the governmental judgment to go ahead with this terribly imbalanced swap.

This decision involved no easy choice. However, as so many of us struggle with our thoughts and feelings as we reflect upon the action that Israel took in this episode, it is instructive to remember that this is not the first time Israel has unfortunately confronted this issue.

In 1985, the Jewish state faced the same heartbreaking and excruciating question. Israel had to decide whether to return 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the release of three Israeli soldiers. While the exchange never took place and the fate of the three Israeli POWs is still unknown, two prominent Israeli rabbis — Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Haim David Halevi — addressed the issue directly at that time. Their words then have resonance and meaning today, as they provide important perspectives for reflecting upon the policy position the Israeli government adopted on this painful matter involving life and death.

Goren served as chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel and was formerly chief rabbi of the IDF, while Halevi was the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Goren, in an article written on May 31, 1985, was straightforward in his response to this question. He stated that Jewish law absolutely forbade the Israeli government from redeeming “our captive soldiers in exchange for 1,150 terrorists” and based his ruling on a talmudic passage in Gittin 45a that stated, “Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value.” Goren emphasized his great distress at the personal plight of these captives — they were surely in “mortal danger.”

However, he still insisted that the state should not redeem them as such redemption in exchange for the release of known terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population would surely imperil all Israeli citizenry and only fuel Arab attempts to capture more Jews in the future. The price exacted from Israel through the release of these terrorists was simply too steep for the state to afford.

Halevi responded to Goren soon after the article appeared. He was sympathetic to the position his Ashkenazic colleague had advanced in his piece. However, Halevi disagreed about the relevance of applying the Gittin passage to the contemporary situation.

In his view, the conditions that existed in a modern Jewish state were completely different from those that confronted the Jewish community in premodern times. The Jewish people were now sovereign in their land, and the “political-national” aims that motivated the terrorists “to wreak havoc among the Jewish people” would continue, regardless of whether their prisoners were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers. Indeed, these terrorists would persist in their cruel efforts until a solution to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict was achieved.

The “impossible choice” before the government was whether to “strengthen the power of the terrorists through the release of their comrades or to strengthen the morale of IDF soldiers should there be future wars.” Faced with these two options, Halevi felt that priority had to be assigned the latter one — the Israeli government should do all in its power to uphold the morale of the IDF soldiers.

If a soldier knew that the government would spare no effort or expense to liberate a captured soldier, then the soldier might well fight more fearlessly in battle. On the other hand, if the soldier knew that his release from captivity did not possess the highest governmental priority and that the government would not act upon that priority, then the soldier might well retreat at a crucial wartime moment so as to avoid risking capture as a prisoner of war. In a moral universe where alternatives were limited, Halevi felt this choice was the wisest one the government could make.

In responding in this way to the existential reality of life and death choices faced by the State of Israel then, Halevi enunciated a position that provides the rationale for the decision the government of the State of Israel has made on the issue of prisoner exchange.

It is surely a policy fraught with danger. At the same time, it appears to be one that continues to legitimately guide Israel as the Jewish state continues to support its citizen-soldiers as they all too often confront an enemy bent on its destruction.

Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.<BR>

No simple answer on return of Israeli POWs


In the summer of 2006, two Israeli soldiers — Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser — were abducted by Hezbollah. Israel reacted by launching a war against this Lebanon-based
terrorist organization. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared then that one of the main war aims was to return the two soldiers back home.

The war ended, and almost two years have passed, and the two soldiers are still in enemy hands. A third soldier, Gilad Shalit, was abducted by Hamas in Gaza about the same time. He is alive; his family has just received a brief letter from him.

Hamas is demanding that Israel free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his release. As for Regev and Goldwasser, we are not sure. The jeep they had been driving was hit so badly, almost burned down in the attack, and the scenes of the charred remains of the vehicle left little hope that the two soldiers had survived. Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, in the most cynical and vicious way, refused to give any hint about their fate.

On Sunday, the Israeli government decided to release Arab prisoners for the two soldiers, but the heated controversy is still going on.

Isn’t this a heavy price? Shouldn’t we condition that Arab prisoners be exchanged only for living POWs? And isn’t all this but an incentive for future blackmailing?

Let’s borrow a page from the history book.

Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, was one of the greatest military commanders of the pre-Napoleonic era. In 1757, during the Seven Years War, he wrote a secret memorandum to his minister of interior on the eve of a decisive battle: “In the contingency that I become a prisoner of war, I forbid to make even the slightest concession to the enemy, and order to ignore anything I should write from captivity. If such unhappy event occurs, I want to sacrifice myself for my country. My brother will take the reins of power, and he and all his ministers will pay with their heads if they pay any ransom for me.”

Recently, several Israel Defense Forces officers in the reserves did the same. Upon being called to active duty, they sent a letter to the minister of defense and the chief of staff of the Israeli army stating that if they fall in enemy hands, they don’t want the government to pay any price for their release. Furthermore, they demanded that in case they become POWs, the government shouldn’t listen to their pleas, because obviously, they would be the result of their captors’ pressure.

All this is about living POWs. But what about dead ones? How far should a government go in order to bring a dead soldier to burial?

When it comes to Israel, the answer is never simple. According to Jewish religious law and tradition, burying the dead is a very sacred commandment. Furthermore, until a dead POW is buried, he is considered missing in action, leaving families in endless, agonizing doubt. If he was married, according to Jewish law, his wife is considered aguna (‘ ‘anchored”in marriage) and can’t remarry.

This is why in the case of Capt. Ron Arad, a jet fighter navigator who became POW in 1986 in Lebanon and has since disappeared, Israel went to great lengths to gain any shred of information about him. At one point, it was suspected that he was killed and buried anonymously in the Jewish cemetery in Damascus.

Ideas were floated to send an elite unit there with a helicopter to find out. Yet when Batya Arad, the mother of the missing navigator, heard about it, she adamantly refused: “I don’t want any soldier to risk his life for a dead body.”

So the debate rages on, touching sore nerves, with no clear-cut answers. It was Geula Cohen, who was a fighter in the prestate, anti-British underground Lehi (Stern Gang), who summed up the dilemma.

“If my son, Tzahi [Knesset member Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Foreign Relations and Security Committee] were taken POW,”she said in one of the controversies over prisoner exchanges, “I would have fought like a lioness that the government should pay any price for his release.”

Then, with the same breath, she added: “And at the same time, I would have expected the government to firmly reject my demands.”

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.

Lawsuit re POW swap involves L.A. family; Student writes guide for U.K.


Lawsuit Filed to Block Israeli Prisoner Swap Involves L.A. Family’s Missing Son

A day after the Israeli government agreed to trade five Lebanese prisoners for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the 2006 war with Hezbollah, a lawsuit was filed in Jerusalem by the families of 12 Iranian Jews who have been missing since they attempted to emigrate from Iran in the early 1990s.

Six of the families now live in Israel. But one, the Tehranis, moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and still await their eldest son’s arrival. The lawsuit argues that any deal with Hezbollah, which would reportedly include information from Israel about the fate of four Iranian diplomats who went missing in Lebanon in the early ’80s, must advance the effort to locate and free the missing Iranian Jews, ages 15 to 60 when they disappeared.

“For the families of the missing Persian Jews, the decision to release information on the whereabouts of the disappeared Iranian officials means that they simply will have no other leverage from any quarter to influence the Islamic regime to provide information about their loved ones,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “Several of the wives are agunot [‘ chained’ women who cannot remarry], and many of the families are on the verge of economic collapse after 14 years.”

“The High Court promised the families two years ago that it would compel the [Israeli] government to undertake every possible step to secure information concerning the missing Jews from the Islamic regime, and now the Cabinet has recklessly voted to simply turn over the information without making any effort at a quid pro quo,” Darshan-Leitner continued. “Being the guardian of the world Jewish community is not merely something our officials should only pontificate about at Israeli bond dinners, its something they are obligated to fulfill at every juncture.”


Israel National TV talked to one of the missing Iranians’ family in Israel

Babak Tehrani was 16 and evading military service when his parents paid smugglers to transport him into Pakistan. Babak’s parents and two younger brothers planned to meet him in Vienna and then continue on to Los Angeles. They haven’t heard from him since they said goodbye in 1994, their only hope a 12-year-old report from a friend who said he saw Babak in a notorious Iranian prison.

The Iranian government has denied any knowledge of the missing men. During a 2006 visit to the United States, Mohammad Khatami, a relative moderate who was Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, was sued by the families for ignoring their pleas, despite allegedly being aware of the missing Jews’ whereabouts. A decision is pending in Virginia District Court.

“There is not even a moment when we don’t think about the situation,” Siamak Tehrani, Babak’s younger brother, said after the 2006 lawsuit was filed. “We open our eyes in the morning, and we think about this until we go to bed at night.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

L.A. Rabbinical Student Writes Guide to Aid Reform Movement in Great Britain

In a country where a high percentage of Jews are Orthodox — or, as the joke goes, the synagogue they don’t attend is Orthodox — other movements often struggle to attract more people.

That’s where the American Jewish Reform community — particularly Los Angeles’ — comes in.

Danny Burkeman, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, wrote “Leading a Community in Prayer,” an educational resource to accompany the new prayer book for Great Britain’s Reform movement. The siddur, “Forms of Prayer,” is the first egalitarian prayer book in England to use gender-neutral language, and it also includes traditional songs and prayers that had been left out of the 1977 Reform prayer book.

Burkeman, on the phone from London, where he is visiting for the summer, said he has learned much about spirituality from living in Los Angeles. “It’s such a wonderful and warm community,” he said. “The American Reform movement is such a confident movement; there’s such a variety of programs and projects that the Reform movement in England hasn’t been able to do.”

The new prayer book will bring the British Reform movement more in line with the U.S. Reform movement, Burkeman said. His guide discusses how to lead prayers and what it means to be a prayer leader, and provides prayer planning sheets. It can be useful to Reform Jews everywhere.

Once Burkeman, 29, is ordained as a rabbi, he plans to return to England for some years to share what he’s learned here in Los Angeles, such as the music and the synagogue atmosphere. (“There’s more Jews in Los Angeles than there is in the whole of England.”)

But the good news, he said, is that the new prayer book will help move Britain’s Reform Jews into the new millennium.

“It’s a dynamic Judaism that continues to grow,” he said. “A new siddur is necessary to speak to the next generation.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Local Soccer Coaches Make Cut for 18th Israeli Maccabiah Games

The 18th Israeli Maccabiah Games are still more than a year away, but the team selection process has already begun. Two local soccer coaches, Wendi Whitman and Michael Erush, have made the cut.

Whitman, head assistant coach at Cal State Long Beach, will be assisting Barry Kaplan in coaching the junior girls team. Whitman, a former Maccabi USA soccer player and goalkeeper for Stanford University, coached the junior girls team during the 17th Maccabiah Games in 2005 and last year’s Pan American Maccabi Games.

Erush, assistant coach at Loyola Marymount University, will serve as assistant coach on the Maccabiah men’s soccer team. He played defensive midfielder for Loyola from 2000 to 2003 and took silver during the 2005 Maccabiah Games.

— Molly Binenfeld, Contributing Writer

Sinai Temple, Sinai Akiba Celebrate Major Renovation Completion

Sinai Temple and Sinai Akiba Academy joined together to commission a major redesign of Sinai Akiba Middle School by architect Zoltan Pali. The $9.5 million improvement project included raised ceilings, wider hallways and new classrooms, along with updated equipment and technology, computer lab, renovated gym and an expanded library that is also open to the congregation.

Israel cabinet to vote on Hezbollah swap, Canada downplays reports of Hezbollah sleepers


Cabinet to Vote on Hezbollah Swap

Ehud Olmert will ask his Cabinet on Sunday to approve a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Karnit Goldwasser, whose husband, Ehud, and fellow Israeli soldier Eldad Regev were abducted by the Lebanese militia in a July 2006 border raid, said Tuesday following a meeting with the prime minister that a deal for their return was in place.

She said Olmert told her that his Cabinet would vote on the deal at its weekly session Sunday. Goldwasser, who offered no details on the deal, said she hopes it will be approved.

Security sources said Israel would release five jailed Lebanese terrorists and repatriate the bodies of some 10 slain infiltrators in exchange for the soldiers, whose condition is not known.

Israel Names Its First Female U.N. Envoy

A former associate law professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem was named Israel’s first female U.N. ambassador.

Gabriella Shalev will replace Dan Gillerman, who is expected to wrap up his tenure in the coming weeks, Ynet reported.

Shalev, the rector at Ono Academic College, is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on contract law.

The appointment comes after a reported battle between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who favored former New York Consul-General Alon Pinkas.

Canada Downplays Reports of Hezbollah Sleepers

Canadian Jewish officials are downplaying news reports that Hezbollah operatives are training near Toronto and plan to attack.

The American ABC News leaked details last week of an ongoing international intelligence investigation with allegations that up to 20 “sleeper cell” suspects from Hezbollah were activated, including a “weapons expert” spotted at a firing range south of Toronto.

Officials told ABC that suspected Hezbollah operatives have conducted surveillance recently on the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa and on several synagogues in Toronto.

Bernie Farber, the CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said there has been “chatter” since the assassination of a Hezbollah leader in February, but that authorities said there is nothing to lead them to believe the reports are true.

“Our belief is that our federal authorities have things in hand,” Farber told the Toronto Star. “They’ve known about this alleged threat for a while, they’ve investigated it, and they’ve told me categorically that while the chatter is out there, and it has been for a while, there is nothing to lead them to believe that there’s anything imminent or that in fact the chatter is real.”

Farber added, though, that it is always better to be on the safe side, “so we will ensure that our community institutions are alerted.”

Atomic Energy Team Begins Syria Inspections

The United Nations nuclear watchdog began an investigation into an alleged Syrian reactor bombed by Israel.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew out to Damascus on Sunday for 72 hours of talks and inspections.

The experts are to visit al-Kibar, a remote site in northern Syria, which Israeli warplanes destroyed last September and the United States has described as a North Korean-designed reactor.

Syria has denied having a secret nuclear facility but, in a move widely perceived as aimed at covering up evidence, bulldozed over al-Kibar soon after the Israeli attack.

Damascus admitted the IAEA inspectors after months of prevarication. There have been calls abroad for several other suspect sites in Syria to be inspected, but the IAEA is for now only being granted access to al-Kibar.

Second Plot to Kill Ahmadinejad Alleged

A plot to assassinate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month in Italy failed, an Iranian daily reported.

An adviser to the Iranian president told the Etemad-e Melli daily newspaper of a plot to assassinate Ahmadinejad during a three-day U.N. food crisis summit in Rome on June 3, according to Reuters.

The report published Tuesday comes just days after Ahmadinejad accused the United States of a plot to kill him during a March visit to Iraq. Iranian state radio said the president changed his schedule at the last minute to foil the plot.

Audit: Israel’s Holocaust Survivors Cheated

Holocaust survivors in Israel have received less than two-thirds of the German reparations allotted to them, an audit found.

A report issued Sunday by a commission of inquiry under retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner found that of the Holocaust reparations paid to Israel under a 1952 deal with Germany, only about 62 percent found their way to survivors living in the Jewish state.

On average, each survivor was underpaid by an aggregate $400,000 to $700,000, the Dorner Commission concluded. It urged the state to make compensation available to entitled recipients who are still alive.

The commission was established following revelations last year that many Holocaust survivors in Israel are destitute because of shortfalls in the welfare payouts they receive from the state.

Bronze Chanukiah Stolen in Rio

A bronze chanukiah sculpture was stolen from a major square in Rio de Janeiro.

The 6 1/2-foot-tall chanukiah, which weighs 440 pounds, adorned the beachfront square, Zozimo Barroso do Amaral, in the Brazilian city’s wealthiest neighborhood of Leblon.

Created by the artist Ruthnac, the Jewish symbol had been donated by the Beit Lubavitch Synagogue and a Jewish-owned construction company in 2002.

Police suspect the theft took place one night last week and are investigating.

Orthodox Imposter Gets Year in Jail

A man who impersonated an ultra-Orthodox Jew for years was given a prison sentence for using a stolen identity.

Ted Riley Floyd caused a stir earlier this year when it was discovered that he had lived as Nathaniel James Levi with his wife and children in the Orthodox enclave of Lakewood, N.J. While in Wichita, Kan., in March 2002, Floyd applied for a passport with the name and Social Security number of Levi, a deceased U.S. Navy veteran.

Floyd, 28, was sentenced Monday to a year and a day in prison followed by three years of probation, the Wichita Eagle reported. Floyd, a former resident of Kansas City, also is barred from using any name but his own or from legally changing his name without permission from his probation officer.

Friends of the family say Floyd’s wife will remain in Lakewood, where she has undergone an Orthodox conversion.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Book Review: Tools to fight terror: big dreams, good friends


“Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” by Jeff Goldberg (Knopf, $25).

The full title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s new book, “Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” immediately conjures up notions of a Pinteresque power struggle between two people. Yet “Prisoners” is far from the tale of sadomasochism and role reversal of Pinter plays like “The Night Porter” or screenplays like “The Servant.” Goldberg was a military policeman at Ketziot, an Israeli prison, where he and Rafiq, one of the inmates, developed a friendship that never truly revolved around power dynamics. Their relationship began because Goldberg recognized a “stillness” and a shared sense of irony in Rafiq.

Despite the tragedy of the Middle East and the moral dilemmas facing Goldberg as an Israeli soldier at a prison, Goldberg lightens the memoir with that irony and, at times, belly-chortling humor. For instance, in the wake of the massacre of two Israeli reservists, Goldberg describes being held captive by a terrorist cell in Gaza, where he defends his usage of the word “lynching” by saying to his captors, “Well, that was Ramallah…. What do you expect?”

He then writes, “Jokes at the expense of the West Bank usually go over well in Gaza. Not this one, however.”

Goldberg, who will appear in a public conversation with author and essayist Jack Miles on Oct. 18 at the Skirball Cultural Center, finds that, unlike American Jews, Israelis seem to lack a sense of humor.

That is not his only criticism of both Israelis and Palestinians.

After a bus explosion that killed three Jewish children, he says to a follower of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’ founder, that the Sheik’s “preternaturally calm” statement that Israel “was created in defiance of God’s will” is “pathetic.” He also admits to being disillusioned by the kibbutzniks at Mishmar Ha Emek (where I must disclose I met the author many years ago), when they tell him not to clean three feet of coagulated hatchling droppings and blood in the chicken coop. They are saving that job for Arabs.

Goldberg has spent the past 15 years writing primarily about terrorists, yet in an interview from his home in Washington, D.C., where he is a correspondent for The New Yorker, Goldberg dismissed the notion that his work is so dangerous:

“The murder of Danny Pearl is the tragic, horrible exception, not the rule. All terrorists believe they’re doing something good and useful. Most of these groups are happy to explain themselves to people.”

In spite of his obvious courage, Goldberg writes in the book, “I am not brave, in the fuller meaning of the word.”

He says that, as a military policeman, “I should have done more to try to change things I didn’t like,” instead of being a “get-along, go-along kind of guy.”

Yet, more than once, he defied his fellow soldiers, as well as his commanding officer, whom he remembers as one of the dumbest Jews he ever met, by allowing the prisoners to shower in the kitchen and by restraining a guard from beating a helpless inmate.

Goldberg recently won the Anti-Defamation League’s Daniel Pearl Award and goes so far as to suggest that being Jewish has benefited him in his dealings with terrorists.

“I’ve always found it to my advantage. I use my Jewishness as a tool.”

He adds, “There’s an attraction-repulsion quality to these encounters.

Anti-Semites spend most of their time thinking about Jews; they spend more time thinking about Jews than Jews do.”

Goldberg’s interest in Zionism may have been sparked as a boy in the Long Island town of Malverne, where he was subjected to games of “Jew Penny.” Catholic boys, primarily Irish ones, would throw pennies at him and force him to pick them up.

If he didn’t stoop to retrieve the coins, they would throw nickels and dimes at him. Either way, he would be beaten. Goldberg felt that fighting wasn’t in his wiring, and he never actually defended himself until an African American friend told him to hit one Irish boy back. Even though his tormentor left him alone afterward, the wounds remained.

In “Prisoners,” he characterizes his upbringing this way: “I didn’t like the dog’s life of the Diaspora. We were a whipped and boneless people.”

By the end of the book, though, Goldberg, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1980s, has returned to America, a country he praises.

“If America had not taken in my ancestors three generations ago, we wouldn’t exist,” he says, pointing out, “Nothing makes you more patriotic as an American than spending three weeks in Pakistan. America with all its flaws is still a wonderful idea.”

Likewise, he found that though Israel may not be a utopia, its prisons, which he says “were not nice places, especially in the first uprising,” are far more humane than those in the rest of the world. At a time when prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been tortured and denied habeas corpus, Goldberg argues that the prisons in the West Bank and Gaza “became worse for Palestinians when Palestinians were running them than when the Israelis were running them.”

He states without hesitation that the “baroque cruelty” and “sexually charged sadism” of Abu Ghraib did not and could not happen in Israeli prisons.

While Goldberg works on a book on Judah Maccabee for Schocken and Nextbook’s “Jewish Encounters” series, he remains hopeful about the Middle East. He bookends “Prisoners” with references to the story of Isaac and Ishmael, both sons of Abraham, who join hands in burying their father. As Goldberg writes, “This might be the single-most hopeful image in all the Bible, a palliative against the despair that has seeped into all of us.”

Jeffrey Goldberg will appear in a conversation with Jack Miles at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, on Wed., Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call (866) 468-3399.

Rabbi Carron brightens prisoners’ darkest days


Daniel, a blue-eyed 24-year-old who was a few credits shy of finishing his undergraduate degree at UCLA last spring, is now an inmate in unit 131 at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.

When Rabbi Yossi Carron arrives for his meeting with Daniel — not his real name — an unseen guard in a concrete and black glass bunker releases the latch on the sliding steel door that connects the youth’s dorm pod to the unit’s deserted common area.

On the far side of a thick glass wall, other inmates sleep in their bunks or drift aimlessly beneath the harsh white lights overhead.

Daniel looks awkward in his pale green prison outfit. He has gained 20 pounds since he was convicted three months ago on a charge of dealing methamphetamine, and he’s clearly uncomfortable in his skin.

Carron wraps Daniel in a quick but firm embrace.

“How’s it going?” Carron asks with one hand on Daniel’s slumped shoulder and another on his cheek.

The pair settle into plastic chairs at the corner of a table decorated with a stenciled checker board. From his pants pocket Daniel pulls a small ziplock bag that holds a pencil stub and two sheets of paper covered front and back with Daniel’s dense, neat handwriting. With guidance from Carron, Daniel is working through the recovery movement’s Fourth Step: making a “fearless and searching” inventory of his life.

As Carron scans the sheets of paper, Daniel hunches forward, his elbows on his knees.

“I’ve really had to look at my relationships — friendships and sexual relationships — in this step,” Daniel says. “It’s kind of shocking to see how much I’ve needed other people to feel complete.”

Carron lays the sheets of paper on the table and gives Daniel his full attention.

“It’s still hard, though,” Daniel says, turning his gaze up to meet Carron’s. “I mean, none of my friends have come to see me.”

Carron leans toward Daniel.

“You’re an extraordinary guy, all by yourself,” he says. “I don’t show up for any other reason than I want to.”

Daniel blushes but doesn’t look away.

“Chances are a lot of these people are connected to the parts of your life you want to change,” Carron says. “Am I right?”

Daniel looks down at his hands and nods slowly.

Sitting up, Carron drums a finger on the pages to draw Daniel’s attention to his inventory.

“This is going to be the greatest Rosh Hashanah of your life,” Carron says, “because you’re sober and you’re not lying to yourself or anyone else.”
Daniel sits up and looks squarely at Carron. He takes a deep breath and says, “You make me feel very special.”

With any luck, Daniel will be spending Rosh Hashanah on the outside. It’s likely he’ll soon be making the transition from jail to the recovery program at Beit T’Shuva, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.

For the members of Carron’s patchwork prison shul who are still behind bars come next week, however, there will be a holiday Shabbat at Men’s Central Jail, across the street from Twin Towers. Most of the Jewish inmates who participate will be bussed in from one of the five additional jails Carron serves in Los Angeles County. Some of the 70-odd men in Carron’s shul will have to stay away, however, in lock-down or solitary. Others are considered too high-risk to move.
“We’ll have between 20 and 40, including volunteers,” Carron says. “All things considered, that’s a pretty good turnout.”

Carron, a former bandleader at the Beverly Hilton, might seem an unlikely host for such a party.

A decade ago, Yossi Carron was called Jeff. He was a successful 40-something musician with a daughter in grade school, plenty of money in the bank and a nagging sense that something was missing in his life.

“It was all good, but I just wasn’t having fun anymore,” Carron says over braised tofu at a Chinatown restaurant the day before his meeting with Daniel.

The lightbulb over Carron’s head began to flicker when he was asked to serve as the first cantor at the then newly formed Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. The job was a good fit for Carron, who has an impressive voice to match his musicianship. Still, he’d never paid much attention to the flow of services before. But as he threw himself into his new role he began to realize he was feeling deeply fulfilled by the experience.

“I was sticking Post-Its in my siddur,” he says. “Pretty soon I needed to know more, so I started taking classes at Hebrew Union [College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR)].”

As he continued to follow the thread of his curiosity, Carron’s enthusiasm began to blossom into a calling.

One day Rabbi Denise Egger at Kol Ami told Carron, “You should be on the bimah.”
In May 2003, Yossi received his ordination from HUC-JIR.

“I thought I’d have a normal shul,” Carron says. “You know — with ladies organizing bake sales and that sort of thing.”

But not long after his ordination, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California offered Carron a part-time job as a chaplain in the Los Angeles County prison system. The task seemed thankless — the job’s responsibility covered three jails and two hospitals, but there was only enough money to pay for a chaplain’s services one day a week.

“It was frustrating for the person who had the job before me, and I could tell it was going to frustrate me,” Carron says. “But for some reason I wanted it, and I’m the kind of person who pushes to get what he wants. So finally the board came up with the funding for a second day, and then the job seemed do-able to me.”

Carron’s daughter was in high school by that time, and he didn’t want to have to uproot her to take a job somewhere else. So Carron said yes.

Israel Tames but Doesn’t Halt Torture


Last November, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while campaigning to ban the U.S. government from using torture, told the “Today” show: “The Israeli Supreme Court outlawed torture, outlawed cruel and inhumane treatment. And I have talked to Israeli officials, and they say they do very fine without it.”

It was a useful point of rhetoric, but the story of Israel and torture is more complex; Israel is less the example of humane progressiveness that McCain would have it.

Actually, the Shin Bet intelligence agency has reported that during the first three years after the 1999 Israeli ban on torture, it used “exceptional interrogation methods” on 90 Palestinian prisoners.

“I understand ‘exceptional interrogation methods’ to mean torture,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization that has monitored human rights abuses by the Israelis, including torture, for some 20 years. “We know of a few more cases in the years since the Shin Bet’s 2002 report.”

It’s possible that many, if not all, of these 90-plus cases of “exceptional interrogation methods” met the criteria for the classic “ticking bomb” defense in the use of torture: Information is needed urgently from a suspect to prevent innocent people from being killed. However, Montell noted that the attorney general failed to prosecute Shin Bet agents, so the judicial system never ruled on whether the ticking bomb defense applied.

However even for Montell, a human rights monitor, “it’s clear that we’re talking about a qualitative and quantitative improvement since the high court ruling.”

That’s for sure.

Most of these exceptional cases took place during the Al Aqsa intifada, which began in September 2000 and which, while having subsided, hasn’t ended yet. During its first three years, it marked one of the most savage terror campaigns any country has ever endured. Approximately 1,000 Israelis were killed and several thousand injured.

The Israeli army, backed by Shin Bet intelligence, arrested tens of thousands of Palestinians. Out of all of them, 90-plus prisoners may have been tortured and likely in urgent circumstances.

By comparison, during the first intifada from 1987 to 1993, Montell estimated that “tens of thousands” of Palestinian prisoners were tortured in ways that would be illegal in Israel today. Her estimate is based on B’Tselem’s finding that about 85 percent of Palestinian prisoners in that period were tortured. (In those days, Palestinians were arrested and jailed for long periods for offenses as minor as displaying PLO flags or passing out PLO literature.)

Besides the old standby of beatings, the methods of torture included violently shaking prisoners; shackling them in painful, contorted positions for long periods, wearing foul-smelling hoods that made it difficult to breathe; preventing them from sleeping for two or more days at a time; and threatening sexual assault or death on prisoners and their families.

Over the years, about 10 Palestinian prisoners died in custody as a result of torture, the exact number is uncertain, said Montell, whose organization is probably the best known investigator of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

While Israeli security officials and right-wingers have castigated B’Tselem as being unfair and anti-Israel, its case against Israeli torture has been backed up by testimony from many hundreds of victims and was ultimately supported by the Israeli Supreme Court.

The outlawing of indiscriminate torture marks probably the greatest human rights victory in Israeli history, won by the country’s legal community over the vaunted security establishment. That members of the security establishment say today that they “do very fine without” torture, as McCain noted, is agonizing.

It means tens of thousands of Palestinians, by B’Tselem’s estimate, were tortured for nothing, causing unfathomable damage to the victims and to the atmosphere surrounding Palestinian-Israeli relations. It also shines a harsh light on torture’s remaining proponents today.

However, even during three decades when the Shin Bet was routinely using torture to wring out confessions, true or false, from Palestinian prisoners, Israeli practices were still a long way from the big leagues of torture. Israel didn’t go in for anything remotely close to the inconceivable mass torture/murder still going on in large parts of Asia and Africa, both by governments and rebel forces.

Israeli agents didn’t turn blow torches on Palestinians’ faces or throw them out of airplanes as did Latin American military dictatorships to leftists by the thousands. Neither did it shoot to death prisoners after torturing them to their limits for information, using such methods as electrodes tied to genitals, as France did wholesale during the 1954-62 war in Algeria. Nor did the Shin Bet use the monstrous tactics of, for instance, the former Soviet KGB, the East German Stasi or the various “special” forces that burned, raped and generally savaged their way through the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Israel didn’t do that sort of thing, even to known terrorists who’d killed dozens of innocents. There were no mass graves in the West Bank or Gaza, like the Russians are still leaving in Chechnya.

However, the Shin Bet’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and the way agents lied about it in court, was bad enough. So when agents’ practice of torture came to light, which happened in 1984, it was probably inevitable that the Israeli judicial system would rule it out — or nearly out — of existence.

The breakthrough came in the “Bus 300” affair that year. Four Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus, commandeering it to Gaza, where they held the passengers hostage, demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli security forces raided the bus, killing two terrorists and taking the two others prisoner. That night, Israeli officials announced that all four suspects had been killed in the raid. However, the Hadashot daily newspaper bypassed the Israeli censor and published a photo the next morning of two plainclothes Israeli security officials walking one of the terrorists away from the bus.

For the next three years, official investigations and inquiries followed one after another; the head of the Shin Bet, Avraham Shalom, was forced to resign. Also, a young Palestinian accused of membership in a terrorist organization died in his interrogation cell — from a heart attack, according to the Shin Bet. But his family said his corpse showed signs that he had been brutalized.

In 1987, an inquiry commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau gave the Shin Bet a reprimand of an unprecedented frankness and severity. The commission found that agents had been torturing confessions out of Palestinians and lying about it in court — which had been routinely convicting prisoners on the basis of those confessions and Shin Bet testimony — since at least 1971. This institutionalized dishonesty and brutality “was passed from one generation [of Shin Bet agents] to the next.”

Noting that there were no legal guidelines for how far an Israeli interrogator could go with a suspect, the Landau commission codified a long list of allowable methods of what it called “moderate physical pressure.” These served as the Shin Bet’s guidelines for the next 12 years, even though many legal critics called these stipulations “legalized torture.”

“Things didn’t get better after Landau,” Montell said. “They just got a lot more regulated. Interrogators were now acting according to orders, instead of their own private initiative.

“The interrogations became highly standardized,” she continued. “They had about five or six different methods of physical force to cause prisoners suffering, such as shaking, shackling, hooding and sleep denial. We know because the interrogators had to fill out forms detailing the methods they used.”

But this record keeping was at least a more honest system than, say, the U.S. decision to house prisoners at Guantanamo, which is outside U.S. territory, so the government can claim that U.S. legal protections therefore don’t apply. Then there are the alleged secret U.S. prisons abroad reported on recently in the U.S. press — not to mention the U.S. practice of rendition: secretly handing over a suspect to a country that places no limits on torture and letting the foreign torturers do the Americans’ dirty work.

When Israel brought its torture practices above ground and started keeping track, these records set the stage for reform. They provided a database that helped the Israeli courts take the next step in significantly restricting torture.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1999, many Israeli troops still treat Palestinians brutally and in a humiliating fashion — not only Palestinians and human rights activists have attested to this, but so have Israeli soldiers. The West Bank is still wild. But the interrogation rooms of the Shin Bet, at least, are not nearly as dark as they used to be.

While torture is still likely used on occasion, these instances are not hidden by the Shin Bet, which indicates, we can hope, that these were instances when torture was used to prevent the imminent deaths of innocents — instances when torture, as horrifying as this may sound, was actually the lesser of two evils.

It took decades for Israel to clean up its interrogation methods to this degree — decades in which the absence of controls and the blanket justification for ruthless tactics in the war against terror led to a policy of indiscriminate torture of imprisoned suspects.

If not for Israeli human rights organizations and the Israeli Supreme Court, it would still be going on.

 

Cease-Fire Appears on Verge of Collapse


 

Just three months after it was ushered in at a peace summit in February, there are growing signs that the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians may be on the verge of collapse.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip, there are fears that tensions between Hamas and the Palestinians’ ruling Fatah movement could spill over into violence against Israel and an ongoing spate of mutual recriminations is straining relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

So far, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been showing restraint, even in the face of renewed Palestinian shelling of Israeli civilians. But if there is more shelling, and especially if it causes fatalities, Israel is likely to retaliate and the situation could spiral out of control.

The cease-fire began well enough. In the immediate aftermath of the summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, terrorist attacks tapered off in February and March. There also was renewed coordination between Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces, and some P.A. success in curbing terrorism, including the uncovering of about 20 weapons-smuggling tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border.

However in April, the trend was reversed. Coordination declined, and there was an exponential rise in the number of terrorist attacks. According to IDF figures, in the last week of April alone, there were 48 terrorist operations in Gaza, including the firing of Kassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot a day after a wanted Palestinian terrorist was killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces.

Because of the upsurge in terrorism and his conviction that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to stop it, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon froze moves in early May to release 400 Palestinian prisoners. Sharon said he would release the prisoners only if the Palestinian Authority clamps down on terrorism.

The Palestinians retorted that gestures by Israel, such as releasing the prisoners, would enhance their ability to curb terrorism, and charged that the Israeli government seemed to have no idea how important the prisoner issue is to the Palestinian people as a symbol of their national struggle.

Fatah warned Sharon of dire consequences. Hamas was more explicit, threatening a return to terrorism.

P.A. Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa sent an urgent message to the diplomatic quartet shepherding the “road map” peace plan — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — accusing Sharon of ignoring his Sharm el-Sheik commitment to release prisoners and hand over West Bank cities to P.A. control.

After turning two cities over to the Palestinians, Israel froze the handover of three more, because the Palestinians ignored the security commitments they undertook as a condition for the handover.

Recent tensions between Fatah and Hamas also threaten the cease-fire. Israeli analysts say a serious falling out could lead Hamas to attack Israel in defiance of the Fatah-inspired cease-fire. Hamas is threatening to renew violence against Israel on a variety of pretexts:

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• If Fatah tries to overturn recent election results in Palestinian municipalities, where Hamas made major gains.

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• If Fatah defers legislative elections scheduled for July 17.

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• If Israel targets Hamas operatives.

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• If Israel doesn’t release Palestinian prisoners.

There also are internal differences in Hamas that analysts say could prove destabilizing. Some leading Hamas figures, who would like to see the group do well in legislative elections and become a major political force, have an interest in maintaining the cease-fire, at least for the next few months.

Others, who want to torpedo Israel’s planned summer withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, are seeking to provoke an early end to the lull. Rogue militias, responsible for most of the latest terrorism in Gaza, reportedly are being run by this more militant Hamas wing.

Senior officers in the IDF’s Southern Command say these groups plan to step up terror attacks before the withdrawal and make sure it takes place under fire.

That’s a nightmare scenario the IDF wants to avoid at all costs, and to avoid it, the army has contingency plans for a huge operation in Gaza. Defense sources say it would be similar to Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when Israel recaptured all Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank in response to massive terrorism.

To shore up the brittle peace process, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for an urgent meeting with Sharon.

“There is a need for a meeting between Sharon and me to push the peace process forward,” he declared in early May. “We must discuss implementation of the agreements between us.”

Ahead of the proposed meeting, Labor ministers in the Israeli Cabinet urged Sharon to make major gestures to the Palestinians, hoping this would strengthen Abbas’ position and give him confidence to clamp down on terrorist groups. The Labor view has the backing of Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, IDF military intelligence chief, who, in an unusually outspoken radio interview in early May, declared that what happens on the Palestinian side is not unconnected to what Israel and the United States do.

The inference was clear: Military Intelligence would like to see the government free Palestinian prisoners and hand over more West Bank cities to the Palestinian Authority, moves it believes would help counter rising terrorism.

The Shin Bet security service takes the opposite view. It argues that the Palestinians first must show they are willing to keep prior commitments to fight terrorism, or handing over cities merely will create a breeding ground for more serious violence.

So far, Sharon is listening to the Shin Bet. He told the Cabinet on Sunday that he was being pressed to bolster Abbas, but that he couldn’t do that “at the cost of Israeli lives.”

Sharon believes that holding back the transfer of cities and the release of prisoners can serve as a lever to pressure the Palestinians to act against terrorism.

The clash between Sharon and the Shin Bet on one side and the Labor ministers and military Intelligence on the other highlights the Israeli dilemma: Can Israel induce the Palestinians to fight terrorism by playing tough or by making gestures?

So far, neither approach has worked in the dozen years since the Oslo process began. Toughness makes the Palestinians defiant, while concessions are pocketed but then derided as insufficient.

In the meantime, the situation on the ground seems to be creating a potentially explosive vicious circle: Israel makes concessions, but the Palestinians do not fight terrorism seriously. As a result, Israel cancels additional gestures. This is said to weaken Abbas’ position, leading to even less Palestinian action against terrorism, and eventually the peace process breaks down.

How to break the cycle will top the agenda if, as seems likely, Sharon and Abbas meet soon.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

 

Bombing Creates Quandary for All


The late February suicide bombing in Tel Aviv shattered a three-month lull in terror and brought key Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking issues into sharp relief.

The terror attack, which came just three weeks after Israeli and Palestinian leaders declared an end to more than four years of hostilities, forced both sides to define their new relationship more clearly.

It enabled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to clarify his policy toward the Palestinians, finger Syria and the Hezbollah as potential spoilers, and re-emphasize his view that there can be no real peacemaking until the Palestinians dismantle their armed terrorists.

It also highlighted Israel’s vulnerability to suicide terror attacks and rekindled the debate on the security fence.

Lastly, it underlined the core Palestinian dilemma: How to stop rogue terrorist cells from subverting the peace process without actually taking them on. Israeli military intelligence traced the orders for the attack to the Damascus headquarters of the radical Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which has dozens of agents on the West Bank, also was said to be implicated. According to military intelligence, the Jihad in Syria used Hezbollah channels in Lebanon to convey instructions to Hezbollah agents in the West Bank, who, in turn, operated a small Jihad cell in the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

In a pre-bombing video, the bomber identified himself as a Tulkarm-based Jihad operative. A few days later, Israeli forces found and dismantled a huge car bomb between Tulkarm and Jenin. Again Islamic Jihad in Damascus was said to be behind the planning, with the Tulkarm cell responsible for the actual operation on the ground.

The new terror, clearly designed to scuttle the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace process, left Israeli policy planners in a quandary.

If they retaliated with military might they could play into the terrorists’ hands and destroy the fragile process. And if they waited for the Palestinians to act, things could get badly out of hand. Instead, they appealed to the international community to limit the spoilers’ room for maneuver and put pressure on the Palestinians.

On Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned ambassadors of countries on the U.N. Security Council and in the European Union for a briefing. Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, head of research in military intelligence, explained the Syrian, Hezbollah and Jihad involvement.

The Foreign Ministry’s director-general, Ron Prosor, said the Hezbollah and Jihad were trying to undermine the cease-fire agreement Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had reached with the terrorists. And Syria was to blame for allowing the Jihad offices to operate on its territory, he said.

Late Monday, Feb. 28, the U.N. Security Council condemned the Feb. 25 attack “in the strongest possible terms.” Noting in its statement to the media that the Palestinian leadership also had condemned the attack, the council urged the Palestinian leadership to “take immediate, credible steps to find those responsible for this terrorist attack and bring them to justice and encourage further and sustained action to prevent other acts of terrorism.”

Clearly feeling the heat, Syria, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad all vigorously denied the charges.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, already under massive international pressure to pull his troops out of Lebanon, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, “It is a pointlessly offensive accusation. Syria had nothing to do with it.”

Hezbollah officials dismissed the Israeli charges as “beneath contempt.” And Islamic Jihad’s Gaza chief, Mohammed al-Hindi, claimed the bombing was the work of a rogue cell acting on its own.

“The Islamic Jihad’s policy has not changed. We are still committed to the period of calm we agreed with Abu Mazen,” he declared, using the popular name for Abbas.

Israel also sought to apply pressure directly on Abbas’s new Palestinian leadership.

Sharon himself took the lead, warning that the new diplomatic process would get absolutely nowhere unless the Palestinian Authority confronted the terrorists and disarmed them.

“While Israel is interested in advancing toward a settlement with the Palestinians, there will be no diplomatic progress, no progress until the Palestinians take strong action to eliminate the terrorist organizations and their infrastructure,” he told a meeting of Likud Party members.

“Israel,” he warned darkly, “will not compromise over the security of its citizens.”

Sharon has no wish to be caught in a situation where Palestinian rogue organizations carry out terror and Israel can’t respond because of its concern for the peace process. And the subtext of his message was that if terror continues, Israel will take military action, even if that means sacrificing the chance for peace.

Meanwhile, Israel is exploring other options.

By far the strongest lever it has is the release of Palestinian prisoners. Writing in the mass circulation daily Ma’ariv, columnist Ben Dror Yemini argued that Israel shouldn’t stop the political process or its disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank, “because that is just what the terrorists want.”

Instead, it should make the rate of prisoner release dependent on the degree of terror.

“Release the prisoners gradually — 20 at the end of every quiet month,” he wrote. “Every violation of the cease-fire will lead to a suspension of the releases for a period of time that Israel alone will decide. ”

The bombing also highlighted the fact that the government has completed the construction of only one-third of the security fence designed to keep the bombers out.

Even if there is progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians, politicians and pundits argued that Israel should rely on its own devices to keep the bombers out — devices like the fence. So far, only some 132 miles of the planned 372-mile route are in place.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas, in the short time he has been in power, has made some positive security moves. He has appointed a new interior minister, who is charged with enforcing the cease-fire, and warned a group of new military commanders that they would be sacked if violence isn’t stopped.

As for moves on the ground, Palestinian forces have closed down 12 arms-smuggling tunnels in Gaza and arrested six Jihad terrorists.

But the bottom line is that so far there is no sign of any willingness to actually dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. That could be fatal for the peace process.

If the terror continues and Abbas does nothing about the terrorists, the process will die. It could die, too, even if there is quiet, and Sharon continues to demand dismantling of the terrorist groups as a condition for progress in peacemaking.

Which leads to what is perhaps the most important question of all: What will the American position be a few months down the road, if there is quiet — or relative quiet — but the terrorists remain intact?

Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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Terror in Tel Aviv


by Dan Baron, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Last Friday night’s attack on the Stage killed five people and wounded more than 50, turning the usually raucous Tel Aviv beachfront promenade into a nightmare of blood and debris.

The bomber was a 21-year-old Palestinian from the city of Tulkarm, acting in the name of Islamic Jihad. The terrorist group’s own leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip denied any involvement in the bombing, which violated their truce talks with Mahmoud Abbas. Then came a claim from Islamic Jihad’s Beirut branch, a proxy of its Damascus headquarters.

Among the dead were three members of a close-knit Israel Defense Forces reserve combat unit and the fiancée of another member of the unit. All died immediately. Yael Orbach, a 28-year-old acting student, was to have been married in three weeks — she had planned to hand out wedding invitations that evening. Her fiancé, Ofir Gonen, was seriously wounded.

“I call on these people and the army, in tears and with full consciousness, to avenge Yael Orbach,” her father, Yisrael, told Army Radio on Sunday. “If they do not avenge this righteous person, I will.”

The fifth victim, Odelia Hobera, 26, died Monday. She was going to a birthday party she’d organized at Stage.

Three of Gonen’s comrades — Yitzhak Buzaglo, Arik Nagar and Ronen Reuvenon — were killed. Buzaglo’s wife, Linda, remains in critical condition.

Israel Swaps With Hezbollah


Free at last, but at what price? That was the question on some Israelis’ minds over the weekend after a German mediator helped seal the deal on a long-awaited prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia group.

Barring last-minute delays, an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in October 2000 were scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv on Thursday. In return, Israel was slated to release 435 Arab security prisoners and a German sent as a Hezbollah spy, as well return the remains of 59 dead Lebanese and Palestinian fighters to their next of kin.

As part of a second phase of the deal, Israel hopes to receive information about Ron Arad, the Israel air force navigator who went missing after bailing out from his failing Phantom jet over Lebanon in 1986.

Despite the asymmetry of the exchange and its inconsistency with Israel’s general principle of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was upbeat.

"In my opinion, we made the proper, ethical and responsible decision," he told his Cabinet on Sunday.

But set against Israel’s ongoing conflict with Hezbollah, the deal drew warnings from security experts that it would increase the risk that Israelis would be kidnapped for ransom — a fear borne out by the militia’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

Asked at a Beirut news conference Sunday if Hezbollah would kidnap more Israelis to achieve its ends, Nasrallah smiled and said, "Yes, yes."

"After Thursday and Friday, there will be no Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails," he added. "But the door is still open, and the second stage will be very important, especially for the release of more prisoners."

That was music to the ears of the relatives of some 7,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. At a pro-Hezbollah rally in the Gaza Strip, several families chanted, "Kidnap a soldier and free a hundred [Palestinians]." "Twist the Zionists’ arm."

Hezbollah ambushed Israeli soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad as they patrolled along the Lebanese border in October 2000. Israel later declared them dead. Last week, Hezbollah — which the United States and Israel classify as a terrorist group — killed a bulldozer driver with the Israeli army who was clearing mines along the border.

"It can be assumed that the liberation bash Hezbollah is planning will send the signal to terrorists of all stripes that this is a tactic that pays," terrorism analyst Boaz Ganor wrote in Israel’s daily Ma’ariv.

There is added controversy around the fact that the only living Israeli to be repatriated as a result of the deal, Elhanan Tannenbaum, was nabbed by Hezbollah during an alleged illicit business trip to the Persian Gulf.

While a military honor guard will await the arrival of the three dead soldiers at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday, Tannenbaum can expect a far more modest reception. He may even be prosecuted for violating Israeli law by traveling illegally to hostile Arab states.

Notably absent from the release roster is Arad.

As part of the deal, Israel agreed to free both Hezbollah leader Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid and Shi’ite leader Mustafa Dirani, both Lebanese nationals it hoped to trade for Arad.

But Jerusalem claimed its own victory in refusing to release Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese jailed for life for killing three Israelis in a 1979 terrorist attack. Nasrallah last year had threatened to make his demand for Kuntar’s release a deal-breaker.

According to Israeli security sources, Hezbollah has been given a grace period to provide information on Arad, perhaps from Iran. In exchange, Israel would retry Kuntar with a view to commuting his sentence to time already served.

Army Radio on Monday quoted a senior government source saying that once any information on Arad is authenticated, Israel could release more Palestinians — including some previously blacklisted for having "blood on their hands."

Thursday’s deal has its precedents. In the early 1980s, Israel released more than 5,700 security prisoners in exchange for eight Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon.

In 1998, it released 60 Lebanese security prisoners in exchange for the remains of an Israeli commando killed in action.

"We may deal asymmetrically, but no one can deny the premium Israel puts on human life," a senior political source in Jerusalem said.

Key Points in Geneva Peace Proposal


The following are some of the main points of the Geneva accord, the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal launched Monday:

A state of Palestine would be created roughly along Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The two countries would recognize each other, and Palestine would end Palestinian violence and incitement against Israel.

Israel would retain control over some Jewish settlements in the West Bank in exchange for transferring to Palestine an equivalent amount of Israeli territory. A corridor linking the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be under Israeli sovereignty but Palestinian administration.

Jerusalem would be split into two capitals. Israel would keep Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, while Arab and other non-Jewish neighborhoods of the city would come under Palestinian rule.

Palestine would have sovereignty over the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. Jews could visit the Temple Mount but not pray there. Israel would have sovereignty over the Western Wall.

The two states would guarantee access to religious sites, such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem.

The accord is ambiguous about the Palestinian demand for a right of return for refugees who fled their homes during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and their millions of descendants. Israeli negotiators said the agreement renounces the right of return, but the text cites U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 and a Saudi Arabian peace proposal, which Palestinians contend include the right of return.

The accord says Israel should accept a quantity of Palestinian refugees to be determined by an international commission but will have a veto over the process.

Palestine would be nonmilitarized, but a security force would exist to maintain border control and perform law-and-order functions.

Most Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would be released.

Haven of Refuge


For centuries, most people have viewed Siberia as a dreaded prison of frozen tundra, the closest cold spot on earth to the gloom of purgatory.

But for the Jews of Asia and Europe, Siberia has represented something far more attractive: a great escape. The targets of deadly anti-Semitism and mass expulsions elsewhere on the continent, Jews historically have looked to Siberia as something of a refuge from hostile local governments that killed, exploited or expelled their Jews.

“The good thing about Siberia is that once you were exiled here, there was nowhere else to go,” an elderly Siberian Jew said.

Jews have been migrating to Siberia from all over the continent for several centuries, lured by Siberia’s relative isolation and, sometimes, the promise of wealth. Today, that same isolation is a hindrance to a revival of Jewish life in Siberia, where it has been slower to arrive than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

During the Soviet era, not everything was slow to arrive in Siberia. On the night of June 14, 1941, Moishe Kiselevskiy was sound asleep in his Baltic home when Soviet troops barged into his living room and gave him 20 minutes to get up and cram into a railroad freight car bound for Siberia.

His family was one of several Jewish families with successful private businesses that the Soviet state had deemed “dangerous social elements.” Fortuitously, the terrifying evacuation saved Kiselevskiy and his family from the Nazis: Hitler’s forces arrived two weeks later and, with the help of local collaborators, slaughtered more than 90 percent of the Jews of Latvia and Lithuania.

Jews first arrived in Siberia in the late 17th century, seeking gold and fur. In the 19th century, the Russian government offered free land plots and relocation allowances to pioneers willing to move to the untouched region. A small portion of those who went to Siberia were Jews looking to escape anti-Semitism in the Pale of Settlement, the swath of land in western Russia, where Jews generally were forced to live after 1835.

Early in the 20th century, when tens of thousands of Jews were fleeing to the United States to escape the hunger, university quotas and anti-Semitism in the Pale, Jacob Schniderman, 72, was among the few who opted for Siberia. Today he owns a bakery in Birobidzhan.

Schniderman is atypical; most Jews did not really choose to go to Siberia. In the 18th and 19th centuries, czarist exiles, including many political prisoners and criminals, were sent there. Among them were Jews, whose descendants managed to thrive as merchants. In 1898, there were 44,000 registered Jews in 26 Siberian communities.

Others Jews went to Siberia because there was no other place they could go to escape anti-Semitism at home. The family of Elena Uvarovskaya, head of the Jewish community center in the Siberian city of Ulan Ude, fled there to escape the 1915 pogroms in Lithuania.

The Jewish population of Siberia swelled during World War I, when Czar Nicholas II sent to the region Jewish soldiers, whom he feared were German spies.

Synagogues and Jewish schools began to be built in Siberia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Local officials were split between implementing czarist anti-Semitic policies and creating a comfortable environment for an ethnic group that was helping fuel the local economy.

As Jews got comfortable in their adopted home, religious observances fell by the wayside. Many worked on the Sabbath and attended synagogue only on the High Holidays. During the Soviet era, intermarriage was the norm, largely because relatively few Jewish women could be found in Russia’s Far East.

The Soviet state culled highly educated and skilled workers from western Russia to fill posts in military-related and scientific fields. Consequently, most of the Jewish workers who headed east were male — as many as 90 percent, according to some.

“There were no Jewish girls over here,” said Zelick Shniederman, a Jew from Krasnoyarsk, explaining the region’s high intermarriage rate.

“Siberia was the worst place to be Jewish during Soviet times,” said Zev Vagner, a Moscow-based rabbi and author of the Russian Jewish Encyclopedia. “The KGB was much more strict than in Moscow, which made a show for tourists and visitors. In Siberia, you couldn’t make a move.”

Others disagreed, arguing that Siberia’s distance from Moscow allowed for limited religious freedoms in Russia’s Far East.

Today, Siberia’s Jews are free to practice their religion as they see fit, but few are interested in the Jewish tradition, local Jewish officials said.

Sound of Silence


"So, maybe we should get to know each other."

My husband Glenn’s voice cracked like an adolescent as he broke the hour-long quiet inside the car. Glenn looked expectantly toward Jacek, a partner at a Warsaw-based software company and Glenn’s business contact.

When I had decided to tag along with my husband on his business trip to Poland, I had been surprised when his colleague volunteered to drive us during the three-day vacation portion of our trip.

Now Glenn’s suggestion lingered in the air, as did most of our attempts at chatting with our new acquaintance over the last few hours. I felt bad for my loquacious husband, who rarely struggled for conversation. Funny, I always thought I’d enjoyed silence. As an only child until my teen years, I often relished quiet moments to myself. This week, it felt like I had a few too many. As our time with Jacek progressed, I noticed a parallel between our host’s behavior and the history of his country.

A few days earlier, I had gone sightseeing in Warsaw. Unable to secure a tour from a local Jewish organization, I joined a regular bus and walking tour. I was baffled when the guide took us to the grounds of a historic palace and rattled on about government buildings for over an hour, but simply skimmed over the Jewish parts of the city. I was in total disbelief when we merely stopped by the Warsaw Ghetto. The other passengers agreed that since it was drizzling, we would view the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes through the cloudy bus windows rather than getting out to see it up close. Luckily, Jacek had taken us to the ghetto and the Nozyk Synagogue, Warsaw’s only shul that survived World War II, the night before. During the visit, I’d assumed that his silence was a sign of respect.

After six of the quietest hours of my life, we arrived at Auschwitz. Before we got out of the car, Jacek reminded us that we still had a few hours of driving to get to our final destination, a mountain resort called Zakopane. I felt pressured as we entered the concentration camp I’d heard about since my Hebrew school days. Every time Glenn and I exited one of the exhibits, Jacek was waiting for us, having finished moments before. While I did my best to take everything in — most memorably, a display containing a huge pile of human hair, a bin filled with confiscated children’s clothing, suitcases marked with handwritten family names and rows of mug shot-like pictures of the prisoners — I could swear that I felt Jacek’s mounting impatience. My unease continued as we headed for Birkenau, the larger camp.

The gravel crunched under our feet as we made our way up the railroad tracks leading to the entrance. The sheer size of the facility was startling. Even though birds chirped and the grass sparkled green, I had the same sick feeling I get when I visit a cemetery. I became conscious of my furrowed brow. Glenn was contemplating whether it was wrong to take pictures. I assumed Jacek was thinking that we needed to hit the road. But this time, I was wrong.

"My father was Jewish," Jacek revealed quietly as we walked along the same tracks where more than a million Jews were sent to die. "Some of his family was killed here."

This time I couldn’t speak. Why hadn’t Jacek mentioned his half-Jewishness earlier? We mentioned our religion at least of dozen times in (attempted) conversation. Was he ashamed of it? Disconnected from it? Or did he, like me, feel hollow visiting the site where family members were killed?

It suddenly occurred to me that the Holocaust was an attempted silencing of the Jews. While World War II was decades ago — and the camps were liberated — the quiet lingers. We’re so far away from it all in the United States. In Poland, the wounds are still raw and it isn’t something that the locals are comfortable talking about.

I wondered if we reminded Jacek of his Jewish roots and brought up issues he didn’t want to think about. Maybe he wanted to put history behind him. Or maybe we’re simply very annoying guests.

Whatever the reason, Jacek’s silence gave me the time to reflect and feel connected to my long-gone relatives in Poland. I hope our presence helped him feel more comfortable with his Jewish identity.

Hopes Dashed for Release of ‘Iran 8’


Another Jewish New Year has come and gone, and eight Iranian Jewish prisoners remain locked up in Iran on charges they spied for Israel.

Some observers had tracked rumors last week that the Islamic regime, with its membership in President Bush’s “axis of evil,” might be rethinking some of its polcies — including a possible pardon for a group of pious Jews believed to have been wrongly jailed in the first place.

For the third straight year, the lone Jewish member of the Iranian Parliament, Maurice Motamed, took to the floor of the legislative body in advance of Rosh Hashana and appealed for freedom for the “Iran 10” — now down to eight, as two were released after serving their sentences. Their release failed to materialize, though the authorities reportedly permitted their families to visit them in prison last Friday night to celebrate a Rosh Hashana service together.

“We’d started seeing some changes with respect to attitudes toward religious minorities in general, and we were hoping this would translate into some actual movement on the ground,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, a community that boasts some 40,000 Iranian Jews. “As far as we’re concerned, we always felt these people did not belong in prison, that the charges against them were wrong. We would welcome the pardoning of these prisoners as an excellent first step forward in a more equitable treatment of religious minority groups,” he said.

That the holiday passed without the prisoners’ release did not surprise more pessimistic Iran-watchers, who have long maintained that the mullahs in charge are tone deaf to international concerns and never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity at a goodwill gesture.

“I don’t think they’re smart enough to make these kinds of overtures,” said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the L.A.-based Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations. “If they understood good PR work, they wouldn’t have put these men in jail to begin with — and they wouldn’t have landed in the ‘axis of evil.'”

Thirteen Iranian Jewish men were first arrested in January and March 1999 and eventually charged with spying for the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. Their real offense, said American Jewish observers, was that their increasingly fervent brand of Orthodox Judaism became a source of irritation to the authorities. Most of the men were religious leaders and came from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, said to be a bastion of religious conservatism in general. The arrests were believed intended to send a signal to the rest of the community.

But the issue was soon sucked into the vortex of the political dynamic at the time — a power struggle between conservative forces, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the reformist faction, led by President Mohammad Khatami, observers said.

The Islamists seized upon the issue to whip up anti-Israel fervor, which is often seen as a galvanizing factor among all Iranians.

After a year-plus in solitary confinement, in May 2000 the Jews were brought before Iran’s Revolutionary Court and delivered “confessions” that they had indeed spied for Mossad.

However, media and foreign observers were barred from the courtroom, the prosecutor served as judge and Israel denied it had any contact with the men. Most foreign diplomats and human-rights activists assailed the process as a sham.

There was initial fear the men might be executed. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, 17 Jews had been condemned to death, primarily for being accused spies. But three of the 13 were acquitted, with the 10 others convicted on July 1, 2000, on various national-security charges. They were sentenced to terms ranging from four to 13 years. The men appealed, and under international criticism, Tehran reduced the jail time in 2000 to two to nine years.

In March 2001, merchant Ramin Nemati Zadeh, who had taught religious school, was released after serving out his term. And this past January, a second Jew, Hebrew teacher Faramarz Kashi, completed his term. For the remaining eight, their lone hope seems to be a pardon from Khamenei.

Much of the Iranian Jewish community — both here and there — has become resigned to the fate of the prisoners.

“Iran now has too much to face besides this issue,” Dayanim said. “Unless Iran feels that releasing the prisoners will win them some kind of international brownie points, they will remain in prison and serve out their sentences.”

Indeed Iran’s greatest problem may come from within.

With unemployment said to be 14 percent — particularly hard-hit are the young and educated — and stifling social restrictions, the significant strata of university students are reportedly ever more restive and disappointed with Khatami’s promises of reform.

But it’s not only U.S. Jews who are keeping up the pressure. Foreign dignitaries visiting Tehran continue a steady drumbeat of criticism of Iran’s treatment of its minorities, including the Jews behind bars.

In late July, for example, Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy and security chief, listed the concerns that impede improved relations between Iran and Europe: disregard for human rights, a muzzled media, acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and meddling in the Middle East.

For its part, Washington has become increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for Palestinian terror groups. Iran has long been seen as aiding Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. And in January, ties between Iran and the Palestinian Authority surfaced with the Israeli interception of the Karine-A, a ship carrying more than 50 tons of weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

Bush’s now-famous “axis of evil” speech followed on Jan. 29.

Some in Washington suggest that Iran poses a much greater threat than Iraq.

If nothing else, Iran’s inclusion in the axis may be playing a part in Tehran’s recent rally to the defense of arch-nemesis Iraq as Iran seeks to form a united front against Israel and the United States. As relations began to thaw, however, some thorny issues of the past have resurfaced.

Iraq, for example, is home to an Iranian dissident group, while Iran shelters an anti-Iraq dissident group of its own. When regimes both asked for the other to boot out the opposition groups, it re-opened old wounds. The insults exchanged focused on which nation is truly in bed with the “Zionists.”

“You will not find a single episode in history when the Persians have cooperation with the Arabs against the Zionists,” said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

To which Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi replied, in the words of the Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency: “Baghdad had become the supporter of the Zionist regime by waging a destructive war on Iran, sowing the seeds of discord among Muslim nations.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s intense focus on Israel’s actions against the Palestinians — coupled with the widely publicized arrest of the Shirazi Jews on spying charges — has fomented a hostile climate for the Jews remaining in Iran, Dayanim said.

An estimated 22,000 to 25,000 Jews remain in Iran, down from a peak of 100,000 or so before the 1979 revolution.

Dayanim said he has heard of Jewish children being beaten and harassed at school, with their fathers accused of being “Zionists.” “We’re actively engaged in efforts to increase emigration,” Dayanim said. Those efforts, though, are hindered by the fact Jews face obstacles in trying to liquidate their assets, he said.

Those seeking to immigrate to the United States also face greater scrutiny from American immigration and FBI officials once they get to the immigrant way station in Vienna, given new post-Sept. 11 restrictions.

Kermanian, meanwhile, remains somewhat optimistic about the future of Iran’s Jews. “Jews have lived in Iran for 2,500 years, always lived there as loyal citizens, and they loved their country,” he said. “Even though there were ups and downs, Iranians and Jews found a way to live together in peace and cooperation. I have no doubt that with some good will, those days will return.”

Death Camp Uprising


In the history of the Holocaust, the Sobibor death camp in Eastern Poland has remained something of a footnote, a place where 260,000 Jews were murdered, as opposed to at least 1.1 million in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Having operated for just 18 months and closed long before the Allied victory in May 1945, Sobibor, like its victims, disappeared almost without a trace.

But Sobibor was also where Jews organized the only successful uprising in any Nazi death camp, a revolt that enabled some 365 prisoners to escape. It is this heroism that has inspired the French director Claude Lanzmann to make "Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.," a 95-minute documentary built around a firsthand account of the uprising by Yehuda Lerner, one of the prisoners who killed Gestapo guards.

"We knew if we didn’t act, we’d be taken, like all the Jews before us, and killed," Lerner, who was born in Warsaw and now lives in Israel, noted quietly. "So it was simple reality that forced us to act like this. For me, it was a great honor to be chosen as one of the men who would kill the Germans."

"Sobibor," opening Sept. 21 at Laemmle Theatres, is, in a sense, a footnote to "Shoah," Lanzmann’s masterful 1985 documentary consisting of interviews with Holocaust survivors. The Lerner interview was even shot in 1979 during the filming of "Shoah," but the director decided not to use it in the first film, which was nine and a half hours long.

"Rebellion was not the theme of ‘Shoah,’" Lanzmann, 75, who himself joined the French Resistance as a teenager, explained in an interview at his home in Montparnasse. "I also saw that Yehuda Lerner was a story unto himself and could not be reduced to a passing moment. I regretted leaving him out. I had no choice."

In 2000, Lanzmann finally worked out how to use the Lerner material. To film additional scenes, he also traveled to what is now Belarus, where Lerner was first deported, and again to Sobibor, which he had visited while making "Shoah."

With Lerner speaking in Hebrew and an interpreter translating into French (the film will have English subtitles in the United States), "Sobibor" starts with Lerner recounting how in July 1942, when he was just 16, he was rounded up in the Warsaw ghetto and deported to a labor camp beside an airport in Belarus.

After escaping eight times from a variety of Nazi work camps over six months, Lerner wound up in the Jewish ghetto of Minsk, the Belarus capital.

In early September 1943, 1,200 prisoners, as well as many more from the ghetto, were placed on a train heading west to Sobibor.

Lerner’s good fortune was that many fellow members of his work force were experienced Red Army soldiers who, led by one Alexander Petchersky, soon decided to organize a rebellion.

The operation was to begin on Oct. 14, 1943, at 4 p.m., with Germans scheduled to enter the huts at five-minute intervals. "We knew the Germans were punctual," Lerner said. "We only succeeded because Germans are punctual. If they hadn’t been punctual that day, everything would have failed."

Lerner and another prisoner were assigned to the tailors’ hut. When the first German entered, they cracked his skull with an ax smuggled in from the carpenter’s hut, then hid his body. Five minutes later, a second German officer arrived and he, too, was killed. Twelve Germans were slain. After seizing weapons, the rebellion escalated.

Lerner described escaping through the camp’s fence and hearing shots fired by Ukrainian guards and mines exploding in the surrounding fields.

"It starts to rain," he recalled. "Not heavy rain, just drops. It was winter in Poland. In October at 5 p.m., it is already dark. I ran into the forest and at that point, I think, maybe the emotion of everything that had happened, the exhaustion, the night, my legs could no longer carry me, and I collapsed. I fell, and I fell asleep."

At that point, Lanzmann ended the interview. “The rest is an adventure of freedom,” he commented.

Iranian Jewish Prisoners ‘On Hold’


Iranian authorities, preoccupied with large-scale internal unrest, have put the case of 13 Jews arrested as “Zionist spies” on hold.

Whether that bodes ill or well for the prisoners is an open question, interpreted in different ways by activists in the large Iranian-Jewish community in Los Angeles and by relatives of the prisoners.

Massive student protests against the hard-line faction of Islamic fundamentalists in the Iranian government, followed by a police crackdown, have pushed the fate of the imprisoned Jews off Tehran’s priority list, said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles.

“In a way, it’s better that this case is out of the news,” said Kermanian. He has been closely following the fate of the prisoners, who were arrested in March, held in the southern city of Shiraz and face possible death sentences.

The lowered media profile may give negotiators for the 13 Jews some added flexibility in dealing with the authorities, Kermanian believes. He credits quiet diplomacy during the last few weeks, met with “good faith” by Iranian authorities, with easing conditions for the prisoners.

Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the rival Council of Iranian Jewish Organizations in Los Angeles, agreed that Iran’s internal unrest has “put the prisoner issue on the back burner,” but he puts forward a different analysis.

“I’m worried that the people in power in Tehran may decide that the internal situation is so bad that international opinion no longer matters,” said Dayanim. “In that case, there might be a widespread crackdown, which could bode badly for the 13 Jews.”

Relatives of two of the prisoners also struck pessimistic notes.

“Everything is getting more complicated and more tense, and I doubt whether this turmoil is good for the Jews,” said Joseph Farzam of Los Angeles, whose 35-year-old cousin, Ramin Farzam, is one of the prisoners.

Although there has been confirmation that many of the prisoners have been allowed family visits and delivery of kosher food, Joseph Farzam said that Ramin’s parents have not been permitted to see their son.

“The family is under tremendous pressure,” he said.

The tenseness was also reflected by Nasrin Javaherian of San Jose, whose 49-year-old brother, Nasser Levihaim, is the oldest of the prisoners.

Javaherian had been one of the first Iranian Jewish immigrants to go public when she earlier petitioned the Rev. Jesse Jackson to intervene on behalf of the prisoners.

But reached by phone, she described the situation in Iran as “not good” and declined further conversation for fear of “making the situation worse.”

She did confirm that Levihaim’s family in Iran had been able to visit him in prison during the last few days.

In general, the Jewish community in Iran is caught between two battling factions, and the fate of the 13 prisoners may well depend on which one prevails in the end.

The hard-line, or conservative, side is led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who controls the judiciary, security forces, intelligence, and national television and radio.

On the other side is President Mohammad Khatami, who has been trying to introduce some liberalizing reforms and who is largely backed by the student demonstrators.

Officially, at least, Iranian Jews are trying to stay out of the line of fire between the opponents.

“This is an Iranian, not specifically Jewish, matter,” said Kermanian. “Obviously, individual Jews, like individual Iranians, have strong feelings, but they do not take a position as a community.”