Iron Dome, now protecting Tel Aviv, highly successful in intercepting rockets

With hundreds of rockets raining down from Gaza, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has saved an untold number of lives thanks to Israeli technological ingenuity and U.S. support.

According to the figures from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), since Operation Pillar of Defense began Nov. 14, the Iron Dome system has intercepted some 300 rockets, with an 85-percent interception success rate.

“The system works incredibly well, even beyond our expectations,” said David Schechter, a top official at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israeli defense company that designed and manufactures the system.

One of the keys to success for the Iron Dome system is that it isn’t designed to shoot down every rocket, but only those that threaten civilian areas.

“They didn’t design a system that would shoot down everything,” Jeff White, a military analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Bloomberg News. “They designed a system that would shoot down threat rockets and it works pretty good.”

The Iron Dome provides city-sized coverage against rockets with ranges between 5-70 km using its highly advanced radar system. The first Iron Dome battery was deployed outside of Beersheba in March 2011. Currently there are five batteries deployed, with the latest one coming two months ahead of schedule on Nov. 17 to protect Tel Aviv. Five more batteries will be deployed in the upcoming years.

The Iron Dome system does not come without steep financial costs, especially in comparison to Hamas’s crude rockets. Each battery costs $100 million and each interceptor missile costs $50,000. By contrast, the cost to the Israeli economy of each civilian fatality is estimated to be $1,200,000.

While initially funded by Israel, the U.S. has provided most of the funding for additional batteries. Since 2010, the Obama administration and Congress have provided $205 million with an additional $70 million on its way.

According to a White House press release, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Barack Obama Nov. 16 and expressed “deep appreciation” for U.S. investment in the system. 

The Iron Dome is part of a larger Israeli missile defense system. Israel’s other systems include the upcoming David’s Sling, designed for medium range rockets and missiles, and the Arrow, designed to intercept longer-range missiles such as from Iran.

A number of IDF officials were involved in the decision to deploy the fifth Iron Dome battery to the Tel Aviv area ahead of schedule, though the main force pushing the move was Israel Air Defense commander Brig. Gen. Shahar Shohat.

For the installation and command of the fifth battery Nov. 17, Maj. Itamar Abo was called away from his university studies, having finished commanding one of the other batteries just a month and a half ago. The new unit involves more advanced technology, so Abo and his team were given updated training.

Soon after the installation of that new battery, it intercepted its first rocket. Abo said, “The feeling during the interception is incredible, especially in the Dan region [around Tel Aviv] with so many citizens.”

“It demands a high level of professional concentration,” Abo continued. “There is a sense [of concentration] among all the people involved, from the low-ranking technicians to the warriors that actually shoot, and it is rare to actually see the missile hit the target. There is nothing that makes us happier, however. The battery has been very successful up to now and we hope it will continue to be successful in the future.”

Due to its more advanced technology than the other four units, the fifth Iron Dome is better able to deal with Fajr and eight-inch rockets launched from Gaza. The sixth Iron Dome is slated to be ready by the middle of 2013.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the Iron Dome battery on Sunday in the central Dan region. He called it “an exceptional achievement by both the Air Defense Command and manufacturers.”

“No other army in any country in the world has a system like it; no other civilian population has this protection,” Barak said. “It is true that the threat against us is unique, but such abilities and defensive achievements are out of the ordinary.”

“With the Iron Dome and the developments that are planned for it, we have a basic ability to protect the state of Israel against most threats of both short and long-range missiles,” the defense minister added. “It will take a few years and a few million shekels, but we will get there.”

Jews and guns

It is a given among liberal and progressive Jews that gun ownership among the general population is a bad thing. The ideal is near-universal disarmament with only a handful of individual exceptions and, of course, the police.

The majority of Americans have the opposite view. They believe that gun ownership is a fundamental American right, and that the more law-abiding Americans who own guns, the safer the society. This view is so widely held — even among many Democrats — that few Democratic politicians take anti-gun positions.

Like the great majority of American Jews I grew up in a home with no guns, no hunting, no target shooting or any other use of guns. Moreover, no one I knew had a gun or even knew how to use one. Diaspora Jewish culture is almost pacifist. And the general Jewish view is that non-Jews play with guns, not us Jews. A home with guns is as foreign to a Jewish liberal as gefilte fish is to a Mississippi Baptist.

Over the course of my lifetime I have come to side with the majority of Americans. I would hope that Jews are open to rethinking what has become, like most liberal beliefs, an essentially religious position.

I support gun ownership for two reasons — one American and the other Jewish.

First, I have come to admire the American value of the armed citizen. It is part of the great American value of independence and self-reliance. If I am armed, I can better protect myself, my loved ones and my neighbors.

America is great in large measure because Americans relied much less on the state than any other nation.

Jewish and other progressives see the state as a much more wonderful thing than do Americans who believe in traditional American values such as a small state and gun ownership (it would take a rewrite of American history to deny that gun ownership has been a traditional American value). Of course, the state can and must do good things. You cannot protect a country with armed militias; you protect it with a national army, navy and air force.

Progressives, taking their values from Europe, came to regard the state as the vehicle to a nearly utopian society. Gradually it displaces individual responsibility, parental authority and communal institutions.

But the traditional American view was that the state should do as little as possible, while the individual and the community should do as much as possible — including having the ability to protect ourselves against those who would do us harm. Of course police are indispensable. But the police almost always show up after an innocent has been murdered.

My Jewish reason largely emanates from the Holocaust.

Just as it amazes me that Jews can believe that people are basically good — after the Holocaust and all the other unspeakable evils inflicted on us Jews (and so many others) — it also amazes me that Jews can believe that it is a good thing that the state prohibits any of us from owning arms.

Both beliefs show how dogma trumps reality.

How many Jews the Nazis would have murdered if most European Jews had guns is impossible to know. But common sense suggests that the number would have been much lower. The Warsaw Ghetto revolt was begun with 10 old pistols and very little ammunition. Later a few hundred pistols and rifles and a few machine guns were smuggled into the ghetto. Himmler told Hitler he would quell the revolt in three days. It took four weeks. Many hundreds of German troops — perhaps a thousand — were killed or wounded.

If the Nazis knew that Jews refused to go to roundup areas and that many Jews were armed, awaiting Nazis to enter every apartment, it is difficult to imagine that the Nazi genocidal machinery would have been nearly as effective. And, vitally important, even had the number of Jews murdered been near 6 million (which I doubt), not all ways of dying are equal. There is a world of difference between being gassed or shot to death while standing naked beside the mass grave you were forced to dig and getting killed while shooting a Nazi.

The first thing every totalitarian regime does is confiscate weapons. As long as evil people have guns, good people will need to have them. This is true for nations (which is why it is so important for America and for the world that America have the strongest military) and it is true for individuals.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (

Go ahead, make my High Holy Day


It’s high noon for the high holidays.

Fearing jihadists will attack synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a group of badass rabbis has developed a program to turn your average shul-goer into a lean, mean fighting machine.

The group, which calls itself the International Security Coalition of Clergy, was founded by Rabbi Gary Moscowitz, who boasts a black belt in karate, teaches martial arts and was an NYPD cop for nine years.

Read the full story at

Briefs: Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction; Chabad expands on

Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction

A survey of historic landmark buildings in Boyle Heights will start shortly, spurred in part by the mysterious demolition of a former Jewish Community Center last year.

To prevent such thoughtless destruction in the future, City Councilman Jose Huizar announced funding of a survey to identify “sites of cultural and historic significance, enabling the city and community to proactively protect these cultural treasures.”

Huizar emphasized that “after the Boyle Heights community lost the Jewish Community Center at Soto and Michigan — and The Jewish Journal reported the tragic loss — I redoubled my efforts to catalogue and preserve our cultural landmarks.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, Boyle Heights was the oldest and largest Jewish enclave in Los Angeles, with approximately 35,000 to 40,000 Jews living in 10,000 homes. It was dotted with small Jewish stores and such impressive houses of worship as the Breed Street Shul, currently being renovated and converted into a joint Latino-Jewish center.

The early Jewish, African American and Asian residents have now been largely replaced by Latinos, but, said Huizar, “Boyle Heights is filled with Victorian homes, stately synagogues and other precious remnants of our shared history, and we must protect them.”

The survey will focus on the Adelante Eastside Project Area in Boyle heights, containing some of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles.Encompassing 2,200 acres with 2,800 separate parcels of land, the project area is roughly bounded by Indiana Street on the west, the Los Angeles River on the east, Valley Boulevard on the north and Washington Boulevard on the south.

The survey will be largely funded and conducted by a partnership of three municipal entities: Huizar’s office, the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Office of Historic Preservation.

The razed Jewish Community Center was an outstanding example of the architectural style known as California Modernism and was designed in the late 1930s by Raphael Soriano, a Sephardic native of Rhodes.

One year ago, The Journal first reported that the building had been hastily demolished without a permit and without notification to the appropriate city department or neighborhood organizations. An investigation by The Journal found that the culprit was the federal government, which acquired the property to erect a Social Security regional office.

After protests by the Los Angeles Conservancy and Jewish Historical Society, a U.S. government spokesman apologized and promised to take steps to avoid the razing of historical buildings in the future.Huizar said that the survey is expected to begin this spring and should be completed within 12 months.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Chabad expanding West Coast operation

Chabad-Lubavitch, the Chasidic organization known in the Jewish world for its success in outreach, is redoubling its efforts on the West Coast. At its 42nd annual West Coast convention last month, the organization announced that the coming year will see an additional 36 new shluchim, or emissaries. This is in addition to the 220 emissaries already on the West Coast, operating some 150 centers, as well as summer camps, university locales and operational centers.

The Feb. 17-19 convention in Glendale, attended by 212 shluchim from California and Nevada as well as supporters, hosted workshops and presentations designed to better help the rabbis perform outreach in their communities.

Sessions focused on the financial (“Managing Your Finances,” “Making the Dream a Reality: How to build a Chabad Center”), youth (two parts on both “Engaging Your Students” and “Harnessing the Power of Student Participation”) and negotiating in the non-Chabad world (“Resolving Conflicts and Managing Differences,” “Walking on Eggshells: How to Discuss Sensitive Issues”).

“This is one of the most inspiring events of the year for Chabad,” said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the head of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch. “It’s a gathering of people who dedicate themselves every day to helping those in need — whether it’s at hospitals, shelters, preschools, senior centers or on college campuses.”

Unveiled at the conference were the prototypes of the new “Chabad-mobile,” a fleet of mobile mitzvah units that will drive through the streets, attend Jewish events — both Chabad and non-Chabad — to offer passersby the opportunity to do mitzvahs, study and get involved with Chabad. There will be 20 new Chabad mobiles to start, although, as with everything Chabad, they hope to increase the number soon. The new colorful design, by artist Marc Lumer, features a businesswoman holding a cup of coffee, a surfer, a “Fiddler on the Roof” character, a Chabad rabbi and more.

“They needed a facelift,” Rabbi Chaim Cunin, communications director of Chabad said of the fleet. “We wanted to make it represent what Chabad is really about: A place where everyone feels completely at home — both in the centers and in the mobiles.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Rabbis and doctors gather at Brandeis for Jewish healing conclave

In January, the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health held its fourth biennial Partner Gathering at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. The event drew more than 100 rabbis, physicians, social workers and others from the United States, Israel and Brazil whose work or interest involves Judaism’s role in healing.

Tom Cole, director of the Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas, delivered the keynote address on “Aging and the Changing Nature of the Human.” He spoke about modern medicine’s potential to dramatically increase the human life span, and the implications of such longevity. “Judaism lacks a vision of the good life for our elder years,” said Cole. “We need to create authentically Jewish visions of later life.”

The gathering allowed participants to “learn, network and recharge,” said Associate Director Michele Prince. “Themes of memory and aging were explored during this retreat, and will influence the ways the Kalsman Partners work with one another, their patients, congregants and students.”

“A special element of the Kalsman Gatherings,” she added, “is that we, as a department of the Reform movement seminary, are able to bring together leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish life — from secular Israeli to modern Orthodox. This transdenominational effort is more than symbolic, and it gave us great pleasure as we davened, learned, networked and recharged together.”

At an evening reception, Rabbi Richard Address, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns, was honored with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Sherut L’Am Award for “revolutionary work in Jewish congregational life.”

Address has been instrumental in creating congregational programs dealing with such issues as the changing nature of the Jewish family, bioethics, aging and illness.

— Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

Awareness Center and other blogs draw praise and scorn

There is no unabridged database of rabbinic sexual abusers. But there is the Awareness Center.

It’s not a physical place, but a Baltimore post office box, cellphone number and Web site — ‘ target=’_blank’>, the ‘ target=’_blank’> and Chile’s Jews part of the larger community in Santiago

Gear Up for an Israel Vacation

With summer travel to Israel around the corner, now’s the time to plan your packing strategy. From new high-tech gadgets to easy-care clothing, from hybrid shoes to crushable sun hats, there’s plenty to choose from as gifts for loved ones and must-haves for your own comfort. We’ve identified select products to help with common travel dilemmas. Peruse our list for solutions to help you pack light, avoid sunburns, save on batteries and more. An added bonus: nearly everything — except for new prescription contact lenses — is available online or by phone.

Women visiting Meah Shearim and other religious sites need cool clothes for modest cover-ups. The hip, Pack-N-Go Cotton Crinkle Skirt ($59) stores in its own pouch and welcomes wrinkles; ” target=”_blank”>, (800) 547-1160.

A convenient handbag is a woman’s travel must. The Space Saver Bag ($29.50) offers plenty of pockets to tuck it away with outdoor style; Sahalie. A microfiber Convertible Bag ($50) doubles as a compact backpack; Travelsmith.

For him, a Pre-Wrinkled Shirt ($45) works for daily and Shabbat wear; Sahalie. Cotton Kenya Convertible Pants ($69.50) double as shorts by zipping off the lower portion; Travelsmith. And the Intrepid Travel Hat ($52), a lightweight fedora, breathes, bends and repels water. Wrap it into itself for travel and then pop it back into shape upon arrival; Travelsmith.

For him and her, breathable CoolMax blended with cotton wicks away moisture while providing sun protection. A variety of styles, polos, tees, long sleeve shirts and undies, are available. Travelsmith ($40 and up). Avoid insect bites and sunburns with Buzz Off Convertible Pants with UV30+ protection for him or her ($79); Sahalie.

Multipurpose sandals for hiking, touring and synagogue are the ticket. Chacos offer great support (even for those who usually wear orthotics) and come in a variety of designs. New thin-strap styles better conform to your foot. Lug soles offer great traction; ” target=”_blank”> ($60 and up).

Cool Mesh Low Quarter Socks ($9) keep tootsies cooler, drier and blister-free; Sahalie. And for shower wear and beach duty, Adidas ClimaCool Slides ($30) offer air mesh screening underfoot. Ventilated running shoes, warm weather sports tops and other products in the ClimaCool line are also available; ” target=”_blank”>, (800) 962-4943. And prevent carry-on security problems by packing the TSA-approved Personal Travel Kit ($70); Sharper Image.

For in-flight comfort, consider collapsible MP3-Enhanced Headphones ($35) and the ultra-cozy Nap Travel U-Pillow with Eye Mask ($25); Brookstone. Breathe in cleaner, fresher air with a personal Ionic Breeze Air Purifier ($30); Sharper Image. To relieve motion sickness, the watch-like ReliefBand ($89) sends gentle electrical pulses to interfere with nausea messages from the brain. Flight Spray ($15) helps relieve nasal dryness. And for bad backs and skinny tushies, select specially designed pillows and pads; Magellan’s.

In Israel, cool off Aussie-style with a Cobber Neck Cooler ($15), which features lightweight nontoxic crystals that stay cool for up to three days; Travelsmith. A Mini Misting Fan ($13) simulates playing in sprinklers — even in the back of the bus. The even larger Personal Cooling System ($30) fans the neck; Sharper Image.

Forget the need for constant batteries with electronic devices that you can crank up by hand. You “churn on” the Freeplay EyeMax Radio/Flashlight ($50) or juice up its solar cells in the sun; Sharper Image.Volunteering on kibbutz or studying abroad? Tune in with the AM/FM Grundig Emergency Hand Crank Radio ($50), complete with built-in flashlight and cell phone charger. ” target=”_blank”>, (831) 423-2048. Bird-watch with Micro-Zoom Binoculars ($99); Magellan’s. And take home memories with the Canon Powershot SD600 ($349), an economical solution for super high resolution in one tiny package.

World Briefs

Kerry to Get Holocaust Records

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will be given records about relatives who were killed during the Holocaust. The presumptive Democratic nominee recently learned that his paternal grandmother’s brother and sister, both Jewish, were killed by the Nazis. During a visit to New York on Sunday, the chairman of Prague’s Jewish community, Tomas Jelinek, presented the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research with copies of the original transport lists for Otto and Jenny Loewe. Jelinek said he had decided to track down the records in Prague after learning from U.S. media reports about Kerry’s Jewish roots. “I presented copies of the records to YIVO as a gift and asked them to pass them on to Sen. Kerry,” Jelinek told JTA. “We know how touching this kind of information is for Jewish communities in Europe and thought it would be of interest to Sen. Kerry’s family.”

Powell, Fayyad Meet

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell encouraged Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad to increase accountability.

“What they talked about was improving the transparency and accountability of Palestinian finance, with a recognized goal of making sure the money didn’t go to the terror — none of the money ended up in the hands of the terrorist groups,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said after Powell met Fayyad. The United States reprimanded Israel for a recent raid on Palestinian banks believed to be holding terrorist money. U.S. officials said such actions undermine moderate reformers like Fayyad.

Purim Attack Foiled

A major terrorist attack planned against Purim revelers in Jerusalem was foiled. According to the Shin Bet, a raid on a Palestinian terror cell in Ramallah prevented a suicide bombing in Israel’s capital on Saturday. Further details were not immediately available, but the reported arrests allowed Israel to lower a high alert in Jerusalem that had caused massive traffic jams as police searched incoming cars.

French Mosques to Be Protected

French mosques will receive the same police protection as synagogues, the country’s interior minister said. Nicolas Sarkozy made his remarks Monday after two mosques were destroyed by arson last Friday. Muslim leaders accused the government of a late response and suggested that Jews were given better protection by the state than Muslims. Jewish groups were among the first to condemn the attacks. The chief rabbi of Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag, expressed his shock in a letter to the head of the region’s Muslim Council.

Bombing at Moscow School

A small homemade bomb shattered windows at a Jewish educational center in Moscow. The attack at the Mekor Haim Institute occurred last Friday night. The bomb was planted inside a vacant building next to the Jewish facility that belongs to Mekor Haim Institut. The building was given to the Jewish community in 2002 and was eventually to be torn down and replaced by a larger Jewish educational and community complex. Police opened an investigation. A police spokesman told JTA that investigators had no evidence so far that anti-Semitism motivated the explosion.

Denver Synagogue Vandalized

More than 100 people cleaned swastikas off a Denver synagogue. Sunday morning’s cleaning at the BMH-BJ Congregation came after the swastikas were painted on the synagogue last Friday night. The synagogue’s rabbi, Daniel Cohen, said the vandalism might have been sparked by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which critics say blames Jews for the death of Jesus.

Poll: Southerners Like Jews

Few people in Alabama blame Jews for the death of Jesus, a new poll says. A Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll of state residents found 7 percent blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, while 10 percent held the Romans accountable and 64 percent pinned the blame on all of humanity. The poll also showed that just 11 percent held a “somewhat” or “very unfavorable” opinion of Judaism; 61 percent said they would not be uneasy “at all” if a close relative converted to Judaism. There are 9,000 Jews in the state.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Providing Save Haven

Nikki Tesfai greets me in her office at the African Community Resource Center (ACRC), the only refugee center in Los Angeles that aids people from African as well as European and Asian countries. It is also the only refugee center in the United States with a shelter for refugee women who are escaping abusive husbands.

A beautiful 47-year-old Eritrean (Ethiopian) woman who speaks five languages and has earned a doctorate in humanities, Tesfai has deep, sparkling eyes that hint at her inner strength. She laments that the Sept. 11 tragedy shook her faith in America. This, after all, is the country that welcomed her after she was abused, raped and tortured in Africa. She says now she fears her people will be harmed by repercussions. I ask her why — is she a Muslim?

“No,” she replies. “I’m Jewish.”

Suddenly, instead of being journalist and subject, we are two Jews sharing our fears about anti-Semitism and the fate of the world. Tesfai has seen the worst of human behavior and has been the victim of evil. When we talk about the nightmarish year she spent in an Eritrean prison, she stops and takes several slow, deep breaths, like the Lamaze breathing technique I learned years ago to take my mind off pain. As she tells me her story, I discover that it is one in which Jewish ethics play an important role.

She grew up in Addis Ababa, the oldest of six children in a middle-class family that attended the Coptic Christian church but secretly celebrated Yom Kippur. “My father told us never to tell our friends we were Jewish,” Tesfai explains. “Ethiopians believe that Jews drink blood. He feared what they would do to us.”

Tesfai’s father stressed the importance of education. He saved his money for years in order to send her to school in Switzerland. When Tesfai did so well that she won a scholarship, he was able to pay for her younger brothers to go to college in the United States. Tesfai eventually joined them, and wound up at Union College, a Baptist school in Memphis, Tenn.

“I didn’t know anything about racial prejudice when I came to America,” she says. “In Ethiopia — and in Switzerland, too — foreigners were differentiated by the country they came from, not by their color.” Tesfai recalls the night the Ku Klux Klan gathered outside the college library, where she was studying. “I had no idea what they were — even if they were human. The boy next to me told me to run, that they had come to kill me.” She escaped the Klan that night, but spent the rest of her year in college in fear. “All I wanted to do was graduate and go home to Africa.”

Tesfai returned to Ethiopia in the midst of a civil war, and she joined the Eritrean liberation forces. They imprisoned her because she criticized them for their inhumane treatment of women, among other injustices. When she finally got out, she escaped on foot across the desert to Khartoum, Sudan, where she spent a year in a refugee camp that was nearly as horrific as the prison. Her father implored her to go to America — and to use the education that she had been blessed with to help others.

Her path to fulfilling her father’s dream for her was a long one, and involved her marriage to a man who was instrumental in the relocation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. They settled in Houston, where she bore two children and continued her education. But Tesfai and her husband became estranged, so she packed her kids into the car and started driving. She eventually ended up in Los Angeles, where she sought help from The Jewish Federation.

She soon discovered that the refugee centers in Los Angeles County welcome Hispanics, Vietnamese and Europeans, but not Africans. “Eritrean Jews and other Africans who don’t speak English had nowhere to go. They were turned away because the centers claimed they lacked staff who spoke African languages,” Tesfai says.

In 1984, Tesfai opened a center that would cater to these refugees. Eventually, with the support of Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, ACRC moved into larger quarters on Vermont Avenue. Here, they offer resettlement assistance, family support and counseling, employment placement, education and English language training, not only to refugees from African countries, but also from Bosnia, Iran, Central America, Armenia, Vietnam and Russia.

In the course of interviewing refugees, Tesfai and her staff discovered that over 75 percent of refugee women are the victims of domestic violence. One reason, Tesfai believes, is because women adapt to a new life in the United States more readily than their husbands. The men then take out their frustrations on their wives.

Last year, ACRC opened Refugee Safe Haven for refugee women who flee from abusive husbands. The location is kept secret, and Tesfai enlists lawyers to obtain restraining orders to protect the women. Because it has a separate kosher kitchen, the 22-bed safe house can accommodate Jewish and Muslim residents.

Deputy District Attorney Scott Gordon, the former chairman of the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council and a member of the Board of ACRC, lauds Tesfai for her work. “The victims served by Refugee Safe Haven are truly strangers in a strange land,” Gordon says. “They have come to the United States after losing their countries, their friends, and in many cases, their families. The losses caused by domestic violence are then added to their pain.”

At Refugee Safe Haven, counselors help build the women’s self- esteem and teach them the skills necessary to lead independent lives. “Three of the residents have already ‘graduated,'” Tesfai says proudly. “They have jobs and their own apartments, but they come back to help the other women.” She visits the safe house every Friday. “I always bring the residents a challah.”

Tesfai is developing a curriculum for the safe house that she intends to take to Israel next year. “I want to train the Ethiopian Jews in Israel to establish a shelter for their own people.”

ACRC receives federal, state, and local government funds, but it relies on private donations as well. Tesfai hopes to receive support from the Jewish community. She admits that many of her Jewish friends have asked why she doesn’t limit ACRC and the shelter just to Eritrean Jews. “They say, that way, I’d be sure to get donations from Jews,” she says. “I answer them: ‘I’m Jewish. Part of being Jewish is helping as many people as I can.”

For more information on the African Community Resource
Center, call (213) 637-1450 or e-mail .

Pushing the Limits

In less than a week, whatever was left of the mutual trust between Israelis and Palestinians appeared to come tumbling down.

Except for the loss of life, this loss of trust is among the greatest casualties of the past week of bloody rioting.

And when a Palestinian police officer opened fire on his Israeli colleagues in a joint border patrol last week, one of the most important symbols of that trust was also shattered.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that last Friday morning, a few hours before the deadly riots began, a Palestinian Authority police officer shot and killed Israeli border guard Yossi Tabjeh, 27.

As a result, the joint Palestinian-Israeli patrols, long seen as a symbol of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, no longer function.

And when senior Israeli and Palestinian commanders met in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to try to work out a cease-fire agreement, they had reached a certain understanding but continued to regard each other with suspicion.

Only a few hours after the two sides shook hands, the Palestinians accused the Israelis of not keeping their word and retracted their promises to end the trouble.

In Israel proper, Arab policemen serving in northern Israeli police units surprised their Jewish partners, saying they could not confront Arab demonstrators and preferred to stay at their bases while the violence was going on.

“We had contingency plans for a situation in which local residents would close off major traffic arteries in the Galilee,” said one senior police officer. “But we did not take into account that Arab policemen would not dare face violent Arab demonstrations.”

“Fifty years of trust went down the drain in two days of violence,” said Erez Kreisler, the mayor of the council of the Misgav region, which borders a number of Arab villages in northern Israel.

Although hundreds of Arab youths took to the streets in the worst violence since 1948, hundreds of thousands remained at home, waiting for the trouble to end.

Most Israeli Arabs, although supportive of the Palestinian cause, had no interest in severing ties to the Jewish state, which they have made their home.

As for the Palestinian Authority and its police forces, this was not the first time the trust was shattered.It began with disturbances at an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem in 1996, when Palestinian police officers opened fire on Israeli officers, and it has deteriorated ever since.

But the incident with the joint patrols is sure to do serious damage, raising serious questions whether Israelis and Palestinians can share security arrangements in the future.

“They don’t like the joint patrols,” Lt. Roi Nahmias said of the Palestinians.

That was evident in this week’s riots.

They were instigated, to a large extent, by the Tanzim, a local body of Fatah, which is the military wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Tanzim represent the younger guard of the Fatah. Its members aspire to operate independently but in practice would not dare to act contrary to the specific instructions of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Thus, the Israelis found themselves in a situation more complex than in the past: They were facing Arafat, whom they did not trust, and they were facing the Tanzim, whom Arafat could not trust completely.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak complained Tuesday that on one hand Arafat was sending the Tanzim to confront the Israelis in the streets, but on the other hand he was sending the head of his West Bank security service to try and work out a deal with Israel.

It was hoped that following the meeting, spirits might cool down. But there is little doubt that the breach of trust will take a long time to repair.

On Guard in the West Bank

Is this me? Eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening, I’m strolling down the ordinary street of my town, carrying an M-16 rifle. Tonight, it’s my turn again to do shmirah, guard duty, a chore required about once a month of every male resident here at Beit Yattir, the West Bank village where I live part time.

The slender M-16 is a meter long and weighs about 7 pounds. I like it. I appreciate the smooth simplicity of its design, and its oiled, metallic weight feels good in my hand. And beyond the physical satisfactions of a gun, I understand that I am in the presence of the Angel of Death. Fear and reverence abide with me as well.

I shove the curved ammunition clip up into its shaft, where it locks in with a satisfying thump and click. As a safety drill, I pull the bolt back twice to check visually that no bullet is in the chamber; then I move the selector switch from safety to semiautomatic and, aiming the rifle away from the houses, pull the trigger. Click. No bullet. The gun is at rest, all its power latent.

Part of what I like about shmirah is that it so clearly distinguishes my Israeli present from my American past. In my past, there are no firearms. My grandfather, who escaped from the Czar’s army, circa 1900, was the last male in the family to do military service. We’re urban American Jews, lovers of peace and the life of the mind; less nobly, we shrink from the notion of responsibility for our own protection.

I slip behind the wheel of the security Jeep, tucking the M-16 into the space between the front seats. With another man — and another rifle — for company, I’ll spend the next five hours slowly driving the roads of our village, concentrating on the dark, unpaved perimeter roads (most of them no wider than the vehicle), shining a searchlight over the black, rocky landscape as if expecting to pinpoint intruders coming to disturb our nighttime quiet.

In actuality, an intruder would have to be a half-wit to get caught by the Jeep’s searchlight. Anyone out there would see our lights coming from far away, lie still behind a rock, and wait for us to pass.

Shmirah is partially symbolic: We are letting our Arab neighbors know that we are on guard and that, as driveway signs sometimes put it in the United States, any intrusion will be met with an armed response.

My training for this duty was minimal. First, a fellow resident named Itamar, a skinny, cheerful guy about 30, taught me to handle the unloaded rifle — how to hold it, how to stand balanced for the best shooting, how to fire. We were in his living room, with two of his children, 3 and 5 years old, looking on with interest — mostly at me, since I was a stranger, whereas the weapon was a familiar object. It felt peculiar to stand aiming a rifle at the bookshelves in this pleasant fellow’s parlor.

A week later, some 15 of us went for practice to the outdoor shooting range in the nearby village of Maon. About half in the group were women who, though free of the obligation of shmirah, wanted gun training in case they ever needed to use one. We were coached through firing 15 rounds with an M-16 (five standing, five kneeling, five lying down) and then an equal number with an Uzi — the rifle stock kicking back into the shoulder, the explosive blasts sharp in the ear. Afterward, we strolled down across the no man’s land between us and the targets to see how well we had done. There the holes were, some of them pretty good shots, chest or stomach high, definitely sufficient to stop the human animal. I was ready.

My shmirah partner and I chat as we drive, getting to know each other, then gradually fall silent, thinking our own thoughts. A wild rabbit, panicked by our spotlight, leaps away over rocks. In the early part of the evening, residents out for a walk or returning by car from work wave a greeting to us. At 9:30, we open the main gate for the local bus to Beersheba. The evening drags on. Around 10:30, the boys playing on the basketball court finally switch off the lights and disperse to their homes. Two dogs bark continuously in the Arab village below us. For a while, we park up on the hillside to enjoy the elevated view: the roofs and yards of our village, the highway traveling through hillsides to Jerusalem, the lights of Jewish and Arab towns stretching to the horizon. Then we go on our rounds again.

Shortly before 1 a.m., we wake two of the young soldiers sleeping in a trailer at the north edge of the village. Three soldiers are assigned to Beit Yattir on two-week rotations, and one of their jobs is to take over late-night guard duty on foot, walking the perimeter fences and checking the gates until sunup.

They are slow to wake. We wait outside until they stumble from the trailer with their M-16s slung over their shoulders, zipping up their khaki army jackets against the cold. We hand over the two-way radio that will connect them to the regional security base near Hebron, then park the Jeep. At last, my shmirah partner and I are finished.

Back in my house, I extract the ammunition clip from the M-16, check the chamber again, lean the rifle against the bedroom wall, to be returned in the morning. Something about even these small formalities excites me, as if I am a little boy playing soldier, pretending danger and courage.

It is a foolish pretense, I remind myself. Although there has never been a terrorist intrusion at Beit Yattir, the neighboring village has not been so lucky; it is not completely out of the question that I will one day be forced to face my fellow man with my weapon and his between us.

But not tonight. Tonight, I can enjoy the ordinary peaceful quiet of our rural village. Nonetheless, before I go to sleep, I double-lock the door. This, I note, was always my final gesture of the day in America, too. There, no less than here, a brutish danger lurks outside somewhere, unpredictable. Double-locking the door behind me, I recognize myself again.

David Margolis writes from Israel. He can be reached at

Israel: A Time of Change

On Aug. 9, the “Tel Aviv Serial Rapist,” who has the city’s women looking over their shoulders in fear, evidently tried to commit his 10th rape in the last six months, but police say he let his pleading victim go, and ran off. On the same day, Police Minister Avigdor Kahalani advised Israelis to do two patrol shifts a month with the volunteer Civil Guard in their towns and cities.

“Every Israeli citizen has to understand that if he doesn’t help protect himself, the police will be ineffective,” Kahalani said.

Referring to the tens of thousands of annual car thefts committed by Palestinians in Israeli cities, especially Jerusalem, Kfar Saba and other cities near the Green Line, the minister said, “Until a border is built between us and the Palestinians, we’re going to have to guard our houses ourselves, like we did when we created the State of Israel and the period when we were living in tents.”

Last month, Kahalani thought that he had solved the country’s worst murder problem, by inducing one of two warring Israeli Arab clans in the Ramle neighborhood of Juarish to move out. But three weeks ago, a member of a third clan in the neighborhood, the Abu Labans, was murdered. And two weeks ago, a 16-year-old girl belonging to yet a fourth clan in the neighborhood, the Mugrabis, was shot to death while sleeping in her room.

Police discounted that the girl’s murder came in revenge for the Abu Laban killing, and surmised that it was one more “honor killing” of an Israeli Arab female. This is still another ingredient in Israel’s crime cocktail: Israeli Arab women being murdered by a male relative, usually a brother, seeking to expunge the “stain” she left on the family’s honor by violating the strict Arab code of female sexual morality.

Legend has it that once upon a time, up until about the late 1960s, Israel was so safe from crime that people didn’t even lock their doors when they went out. But that was when the country was still in thrall to the values of nation-building and one-for-all, all-for-one. It was also a time when there wasn’t much in the country worth stealing.

Then, after the Six-Day War, came the debut of property. And television. And competition and status-seeking. The 1980s saw the entry into Israel, mainly via Lebanon, of hard drugs. By the 1990s, the Zionist Puritan ethic had waned, and the new philosophy was every man for himself. Combine this with the steadily rising unemployment of the last two years and the steadily growing income gap between the rich and poor, and it’s no surprise that crime in Israel is now entrenched and rapidly growing.

Last week, Israel police released the crime figures for the first half of 1998 and compared them to the first half of 1997. Overall crime, the statistics showed, went up 12.5 percent.Within that figure, break-ins went up 14.5 percent; robberies up 13.5 percent; drug busts up 10 percent; juvenile arrests up 15 percent; rapes up 8.9 percent.

The only relatively encouraging statistic in the table was for murders, which had only gone up 1.1 percent. The body count for the first six months of 1998 stood at 91.

Israel remains a much safer place than America. There is no such thing as an Israeli neighborhood, at least a Jewish neighborhood, where people are afraid to walk at night. (Tel Aviv is currently the exception to that rule, and will remain so until the serial rapist is captured or desists.) With 6 million people, a murder rate of less than 200 a year is beyond the dreams of even Rudolph Giuliani.

Without much of a clue on how to change the social causes of crime, Israeli officials turned to law-and-order solutions: mainly beefing up the police department. Knesset Member Micha Goldman (Labor) came up with the idea of taking 5,000 unemployed people and putting them on the police force. Police Chief Yehuda Wilk responded that while the police force needed new officers, not just any Yossi, Motti or Gabi would do.

He also noted that the Israeli police force, which numbers about 14,000, had added 1,000 new officers over the last year. But former Police Chief Ya’acov Terner said that the force was so understaffed that it needed to about double the size in order to be effective.

Adi Eldar, mayor of the Galilee city of Karmiel and head of the association of Israeli municipalities, said that the police couldn’t fight crime properly, because they were constantly being called on to supplement the army in defending the populace against terror attacks, especially in Jerusalem.

Power, Politics And People

J.J. Goldberg writes regularly for The Jewish Journal.


The Cities Aren’t Safe

During his bizarre, self-incriminating appearance on the witness stand at the close of his terrorism trial in Brooklyn federal court last month, 24-year-old Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer freely admitted nearly every accusation thrown at him by prosecutors. But not the knife.

Yes, the Hebron-born Abu Mezer said, he came here to “punish” America for supporting Israel. Yes, he built five pipe bombs from supplies he bought in a North Carolina hardware store. Yes, he wanted to kill Jews — “as many as I could take.” And, yes, he had talked with a friend about blowing up a subway line because it was frequented by Jews, though he insisted that he dropped that plan.

But when asked if a knife found in his shabby apartment was meant to “get people away from you when you blew up your bomb,” he gave a flat “No.” The knife, he said, was “just in case, for safety. New York is not a safe city, so you have to keep something with you.”

He should know. When he was arrested with a roommate in a pre-dawn raid on July 31, 1997, Abu Mezer was allegedly just hours away from setting off a cache of deadly bombs that could have killed and maimed scores of New Yorkers. Only a last-minute tip to police by a third roommate prevented catastrophe. Unsafe, indeed.

Convicted on July 23, Abu Mezer probably faces life in prison. (His co-defendant, fellow Hebronite Lafi Khalil, 23, was acquitted of the bomb charges, but convicted of immigration violations that could bring five to 20 years.)

Once sentenced, Abu Mezer will become the 20th person imprisoned in this country for plotting or carrying out deadly acts of Middle East-related terror and mayhem here, mostly in New York City. Several more suspects are awaiting trial or deportation. And one of the perpetrators killed himself on the spot.

Some of those implicated are Palestinian, others Egyptian, Sudanese, Pakistani. One is American-born. All are Moslems. Some belonged to Islamic extremist groups. Others appeared to be lone operators.

At least seven such attacks have been planned or executed since 1990, in which the primary motive appeared to be either killing Jews or “punishing” the United States for supporting Israel. The incidents include:

* The 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Toll: one dead.

* The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Toll: six dead, 1,000 injured.

* The planned 1993 bombing of four major sites in New York City, including the United Nations, FBI headquarters and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Toll: aborted by arrests.

* The 1993 shooting spree by a Pakistani national outside Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia. Toll: two dead.

* The 1994 shooting of a vanload of Chassidic students on the Brooklyn Bridge. Toll: one dead, one maimed.

* The 1997 shooting spree on the observation deck atop the Empire State Building. Toll: one dead, seven wounded, plus the shooter, dead by his own hand.

* The planned 1997 bombing of a Brooklyn subway. Toll: aborted by arrests.

Not on our list are at least 16 Arab Americans in six states — Florida, Texas, California, Illinois, Virginia and New York — under investigation or facing deportation on suspicion of gathering aid in America for overseas terrorist groups such as Hamas. Also not included are at least five Middle Easterners imprisoned here for terrorist acts against Americans abroad.

No, today’s lesson involves just one thing: the deadly war being waged by Islamic militants on American soil against Jews and their American allies.

Most of the incidents have certain common threads. Two of them, the World Trade Center bombing and the 1993 bomb plot, were the work of a single group, the followers of the blind Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. He is now serving a 240-year sentence for his role in the second plot.

Two other incidents are linked more loosely to Sheikh Rahman and his group. Kahane’s assassin, El-Sayyed Nosair, had close ties to the group. Abu Mezer apparently had Sheikh Rahman in mind when he prepared his subway bombing; a note demanding the sheikh’s release was found with the bombs in his apartment.

Standing apart are the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and CIA shootings. All were committed by apparent loners. Two of them, the New York shootings, were treated by police as homicides rather than terrorism. In both, there was clear evidence that the shooters wanted to show support for the Palestinian cause by shooting Jews. Both succeeded.

At the Brooklyn Bridge, a Lebanese cabbie opened fire on a vanload of Lubavitch students a day after the 1994 Hebron massacre. One student was killed, and another suffered permanent brain damage. The shooter reportedly had visited a mosque just before and after the shooting.

At the Empire State Building, retired Gaza schoolteacher Ali Hassan Abu Kamal opened fire on a crowd of tourists, killing a Danish rock musician and maiming his American Jewish bandmate. Abu Kamal left a letter in which he railed against Jews, Israel and Western imperialism.

The incidents have something else in common: They’ve failed to sink in. Except for the World Trade Center bombing, the cases received spotty press coverage in New York — still less nationwide — and have largely faded from memory. The result: each new incident appears as an isolated case rather than part of what is actually a growing series.

To a handful of Jewish activists who track the terror, the low-key reactions reflect reluctance by American leaders to face facts. Steven Emerson, an investigative journalist specializing in Islamic extremism, believes the problem is a “politically correct” unwillingness to single out Moslems. Devorah Halberstam, whose son was killed at the Brooklyn Bridge, believes Washington has purposely muted reactions, to prevent panic and to preserve public support for the Oslo peace process.

The truth may be more banal. News organizations are trained to lead with pictures of blood and gore. Bombs that don’t explode get buried inside. Outside New York, mayhem in the Big Apple tends to run together in a blur. Even the 1996 arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, went largely unnoticed. For most readers, it was old news.

As for those watchdogs devoted to tracking Middle East terror — from the Anti-Defamation League to Emerson himself — their eyes have been trained on the Middle East for too long to refocus readily. The landmark anti-terrorism legislation passed by Congress in 1996, after furious lobbying by Jewish organizations, ignored terrorism on these shores entirely.

Equally important, the watchdogs have good reason to downplay anti-Israel terror at home. They don’t want voters thinking too hard about the price we might be paying for America’s alliance with Israel. Better to talk of “deranged gunmen” and “anti-Western” plots.

The fact is, as long as there’s an Israeli-Arab conflict, there will be anti-Israel terrorism. It was only a matter of time before it reached these shores. Now that it’s here, there’s precious little that can be done to stop it. And it won’t stay in New York. We’ll all have to learn to live in cities that are, as Abu Mezer said, not safe.