Arab-Israeli lawmaker calls Israeli soldiers ‘murderers,’ spurring impeachment inquiry


An Arab-Israeli lawmaker called Israeli soldiers “murderers” on the floor of the Knesset, spurring talk of impeachment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The lawmaker, Hanin Zoabi, also demanded in her remarks Wednesday afternoon that the Knesset apologize for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for the incident.

Zoabi, who made the “murderers” remark as visiting soldiers were observing the parliament from the visitors’ gallery, also demanded Knesset lawmakers apologize to her. She has been censured by the Knesset, including when she participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and recently after she met with Palestinian terrorists’ families and stood for a moment of silence in their memories.

“I demand an apology for all the political activists on the Marmara and an apology to MK Hanin Zoabi for inciting against her for six years and hounding her. You all need to apologize, all of the members of Knesset here,” Zoabi said. “Those who murdered need to apologize, you need to apologize.”

After she was shouted down by fellow Knesset members, some of whom rushed the podium in order to remove her by force, Zoabi asked to return to the microphone to apologize. But instead, she said: “As long as there is a blockade [on Gaza], I will object to the blockade, and there’s a need to organize more flotillas.”

Knesset members responded by calling Zoabi “liar” and “filth,” and saying “You belong in Gaza.”

Zoabi’s statements came a day after Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal restoring ties that had been severed following the Mavi Marmara episode.

Lawmakers Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union party and Amir Ohana of Likud filed complaints against Zoabi with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, which is expected to meet and discuss the incident.

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said he contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblot to discuss starting the process of impeaching Zoabi from the Knesset.

“She has crossed the line in her deeds and her lies, and has no place in the Knesset,” he said in a statement that was posted on Facebook.

Netanyahu apologized for the deaths in a 2013 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The apology was a Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Israeli soldiers punished for WhatsApp leaks of dead comrades’ names


The Israeli military said it had detained several soldiers and a civilian on suspicion of leaking Gaza casualty figures over social media before families of the dead or wounded could be formally informed.

A week into ground fighting with Hamas that has killed at least 32 soldiers, some Israelis complain of first learning their relatives were dead through WhatsApp, or of being misled by erroneous messages into believing they were among the toll.

The phenomenon has led to front-page calls by Israeli commentators to stop the relaying of unauthorized casualty updates. Hoping to control the information, the army has confiscated the cellphones of troops sent into combat.

“Notifying a family of a soldier or officer who was killed in action is one of the most sensitive and well-planned procedures that exists in the military, as befits such a serious moment,” the military said in a statement announcing the arrests following an investigation that it described has having employed “both open-source and undercover means”.

“The unauthorized WhatsApp messages were irresponsible and spread quickly across social networks,” the statement said, referring to Facebook’s WhatsApps mobile messaging app.

The army has revised its own official information regarding a soldier it initially reported as killed in Gaza on Sunday, but later designated as missing in action. Hamas said it had seized the soldier but did not issue photographs of him in captivity.

Discovering that Israeli troops aren’t made of Teflon


My children have been following the Gaza operation since it began 15 days ago.

They really have no choice, our television is turned to news reports of the operation during all of my waking hours, which are longer than theirs. My son staring at his iPod this evening complained that he wishes that there was more on his WhatsApp feed and Facebook page than the operation in Gaza. What else would you like to see, I asked him. Anything else, he replied.

The real wake-up moment for my sons, ages 12 and 15, however, came yesterday morning when the Israel Defense Forces announced 13 soldiers killed in Gaza overnight and then in the evening when another seven soldier deaths were confirmed.

Because all of the coverage we are watching is designed for an Israeli audience, we see rockets fired from Gaza getting shot out of the sky by Iron Dome missile batteries, and Israeli streets clearing in 30 seconds when the rise and fall of the warning siren begins. When we do see the aftermath of a rocket crashing through a house or a school building in Israel we are told that no one was home or the building was not occupied at the time of the rocket strike.

Why would my kids believe that our soldiers going into Gaza would suffer a worse fate?

From their incredulous expressions when they learned of the soldiers’ deaths, I could see that they thought our soldiers are covered in personal Teflon, kind of like Bruce Willis in any number of his action movies, when hundreds of bullets are shot at him yet none actually hit him.

My children have been carried away with the wave of vocal Israelis, many of them our friends and neighbors, who had been calling for our troops to enter Gaza ever since the start of Operation Protective Edge. But they didn’t realize that it meant that our soldiers would die.

Israeli troops, Palestinians clash in Hebron


Participants in a Hamas-organized demonstration in Hebron hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers.

Israel’s Army Radio reported that approximately 2,000 Palestinians participated in the demonstration, which turned into a march on a square that is located on the border of the West Bank city’s Jewish neighborhood. The Israeli news site NRG put the number of demonstrators at 8,000.

Disturbances also occurred in the West Bank villages of Bli’in, Na’alin, Nabi Saleh and Qadum after Friday prayers in mosques. The Israeli news site Ynet reported that Molotov cocktails were also hurled at Israeli soldiers and border guards, but no one was hurt.

Palestinian security personnel were seen participating in the Hamas-organized rally in Hebron, Army Radio reported. Israeli troops have dispersed several riots in Hebron since the shooting death on Wednesday of a Palestinian boy who had pointed what turned out to be a fake gun at an Israeli border guard.

On Thursday night, unidentified individuals shot an assault rifle in the direction of a Jewish woman while she was waiting at a bus stop near Neveh Tzuf, a settlement in the West Bank. She was not hurt, according to Army Radio.

The shooting happened shortly after another Israeli sustained minor injuries from stones that Palestinians threw at his car as he was approaching the settlement of Ma’aleh.

Hope for injured IDF veterans


An officer in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Paratrooper Brigade, Arale Wattenstein was injured during a 2005 operation in the West Bank. The vehicle he was traveling in was going about 50 mph when it was struck by a Molotov cocktail. Wattenstein jumped out when the vehicle caught fire, breaking his spine in three places.

Wattenstein, 29, told his story to a crowd gathered at a Brentwood home on Nov. 14. When he got to the part about his injury, the crowd gasped.

“No, it’s OK,” he said. “I’m great now.”

Wattenstein said he owes much of his recovery to Hope for Heroism (HFH), an Israel-based nonprofit that provides care for Israeli soldiers wounded in combat. Wattenstein spoke as part of an HFH-sponsored visit.

Wounded Israeli soldiers, like wounded soldiers everywhere, have difficulty re-entering society, and HFH encourages soldiers to help other soldiers. By participating in HFH programs, injured soldiers become inspirational leaders, who in turn help other soldiers with recent injuries.

Since its inception in 2008, the organization has served more than 300 soldiers.

HFH’s goals include providing financial aid to wounded soldiers, mentoring, a vocational program to help soldiers start businesses and outreach to the Diaspora.

Ten Israeli soldiers visited Los Angeles Nov. 11-19. Trips like this one allow the soldiers to bond with one another, to form relationships with their Jewish-American host families and to sightsee. Since 2007, delegations have visited New York, New Jersey, Seattle, London, Cape Town and Paris.

“The main purpose is for the soldiers to get a chance to get away from their daily routine of rehabilitation and bond with each other and these families,” said Rabbi Chaim Levine, executive director and co-founder of HFH. 

HFH members visit newly injured soldiers while they’re still recuperating in the hospital; they also visit with them in cities when they are trying to reintegrate. 

In addition, HFH provides a sports program, a music project, English tutoring, and a support group for soldiers’ spouses and fiancés.

Playing together in sports and collaborating on soldier-initiated arts projects often helps soldiers open up to each other, which aids in the healing process. The soldiers have been through traumatic experiences and often feel that they can only relate to other wounded soldiers.

“No one around me understood me. Not even my closest friends, my family,” said Barak Miron, a former combat medic who was injured during a rescue mission in Lebanon in 1999 and joined HFH only nine months ago.

HFH initially held events in living rooms, at the beach and in rented facilities, but opened its own center, Beit Achim (Hebrew for “House of Brothers”), in Hod HaSharon in 2010. Run by HFH members, the house is a cooperative that features group and individual therapy, tutoring and soldier-initiated projects.

Roy Grylak, another of the soldiers in the L.A. delegation, was shot fives times during the second Lebanon War — in his right leg, right arm, jaw and back. Grilak continues to suffer from nerve damage in his leg. He drops by the HFH center for meals, to rest, to watch TV, swim and even to get massages.

“When I have free time from my studies, I come,” Grylak, 27, said.

HFH was inspired by a trip Levine took to Israel in 2006, during the second Lebanon War. Formerly a director of Jewish organizations in Boston, Toronto and Seattle, Levine traveled to Israel to see how he could help. There, he met Gil Ganonyan, a former team commander in the IDF, who had been wounded in 2004 during operational activity in Bethlehem. As a member of an elite unit, Ganonyan was shot in the neck when he was sent to catch a senior Hamas terrorist. 

Visiting Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, Levine watched as Ganonyan, who had been injured only two years earlier, went from hospital bed to hospital bed, reaching out to newly injured soldiers.

A bond developed between Levine and Ganonyan. In 2007, a delegation of soldiers wounded during the second Lebanon War traveled to Seattle, where Levine was living. When the soldiers returned to Israel, Ganonyan and an additional injured IDF officer, Yaniv Leidner, continued reaching out to injured soldiers. This became the two-fold model of the organization: delegations of injured soldiers sent abroad for brief rehabilitative vacations and soldier-to-soldier mentoring back in Israel. The organization registered as a nonprofit in 2008.

Whether their injuries are physical or emotional, any wounded soldier is eligible to join HFH. Currently, the organization is growing at a rate of approximately five soldiers per month, said Levine, who help runs the organization from Seattle. He also officiates many HFH members’ weddings.

Shlomo Lev, one of the participants in the L.A. delegation, didn’t want to discuss how he was injured. Tall, lanky and wearing glasses, Lev said he prefers not to think about it.

But Lev, 31, is happy to talk about how HFH has changed his life. After his injury, he thought life was over and that he wouldn’t make it to the age of 30. HFH gave him the tools to believe in himself. Today, he is studying for a law degree at an Israeli university.

On Nov. 13, the Los Angeles delegation of wounded soldiers gathered at the Malibu Pier. Standing on boulders that overlooked the beach, they took photographs while they chanted the melody of “Seven Nation Army,” a popular song by American band the White Stripes.

Afterward, they headed to the ocean for a surfing lesson under the instruction of Operation Surf, a surfing clinic for wounded and activity-duty military personnel. Members of Shalhevet High School’s surfing club also showed up with snacks and water and cheered the soldiers on.

Between a Lakers game, Universal Studios, Hollywood nightclubs, Venice Beach and Herzog Winery, the group’s week in Los Angeles was jam-packed with some of the best the city has to offer.

But the highlight was the car rides with the other soldiers, Lev said. The time spent traveling with the soldiers and getting to know everyone was his favorite part. Everything else was “a bonus,” he said.

One of five L.A. families to host the delegation — each family hosted two soldiers — the Glaser family was interested in seeing how their adopted soldiers would interact with their own children, particularly their 14-year-old son, whose exposure to war is limited to the “Call of Duty” video game, said Jon Glaser, his father.

“I wanted my kids to get an understanding of what the realities of war are about and also have an understanding, a better understanding, of Israel and the sacrifices that are required by service by all Israelis to the military,” said Glaser, a Brentwood resident who works at an investment management firm.

The host families’ children and the soldiers appeared to hit it off. At the Glasers’ home on the night of Nov. 14, where a reception took place that was attended by all of the soldiers, the host families and friends of the host families, the soldiers were horsing around with several of the American-Jewish children as if they were their own younger brothers.

After dinner at the Glasers’ home, the group of Israeli soldiers came together for a photograph. They called the sons of the host families to come over and join the picture. As had been their habit throughout the trip, the soldiers started chanting the White Stripes song. One of the host family’s sons took out his iPhone and began playing the song.

And as “Seven Nation Army” played, the soldiers and sons sang together.

Israel requests reservists after rockets target cities


Israeli ministers were on Friday asked to endorse the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists after Palestinian militants nearly hit Jerusalem with a rocket for the first time in decades and fired at Tel Aviv for a second day.

The rocket attacks were a challenge to Israel's Gaza offensive and came just hours after Egypt's prime minister, denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited the enclave and said Cairo was prepared to mediate.

Israel's armed forces announced that a highway leading to the Gaza Strip and two roads bordering the enclave would be off-limits to civilian traffic until further notice.

Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area on Friday, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior cabinet ministers in Tel Aviv after the rockets struck to decide on widening the Gaza campaign.

Political sources said ministers were asked to approve the mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists, in what could be preparation for a possible ground operation.

No decision was immediately announced and some commentators speculated in the Israeli media the move could be psychological warfare against Gaza's Hamas rulers. A quota of 30,000 reservists had been set earlier.

Israel had endured months of incoming rocket fire from Gaza wehn the violence escaleted on Wednesday with the killing of Hamas's military chief, and targeting longer-range rocket caches in Gaza.   Hamas stepped up rocket attacks in response.

Israeli police said a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the Jerusalem area, outside the city, on Friday.

It was the first Palestinian rocket since 1970 to reach the vicinity of the holy city, which Israel claims as its capital, and was likely to spur an escalation in its three-day old air war against militants in Gaza.

Rockets nearly hit Tel Aviv on Thursday for the first time since Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired them during the 1991 Gulf War. An air raid siren rang out on Friday when the commercial centre was targeted again. Motorists crouched next to cars, many with their hands protecting their heads, while pedestrians scurried for cover in building stairwells.

The Jerusalem and Tel Aviv strikes have so far caused no casualties or damage, but could be political poison for Netanyahu, a conservative favoured to win re-election in January on the strength of his ability to guarantee security.

“The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,” Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.

Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The Israelis should be aware of the grave results of such a raid and they should bring their body bags.”

Officials in Gaza said 28 Palestinians had been killed in the enclave since Israel began the air offensive with the declared aim of stemming surges of rocket strikes that have disrupted life in southern Israeli towns.

The Palestinian dead include 12 militants and 16 civilians, among them eight children and a pregnant woman. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday. A Hamas source said the Israeli air force launched an attack on the house of Hamas's commander for southern Gaza which resulted in the death of two civilians, one a child.

SOLIDARITY VISIT

A solidarity visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, whose Islamist government is allied with Hamas but also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, had appeared to open a tiny window to emergency peace diplomacy.

Kandil said: “Egypt will spare no effort … to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce.”

But a three-hour truce that Israel declared for the duration of Kandil's visit never took hold. Israel said 66 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip hit its territory on Friday and a further 99 were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel denied Palestinian assertions that its aircraft struck while Kandil was in the enclave.

Israel Radio's military affairs correspondent said the army's Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.

It is the biggest test yet for Egypt's new President Mohamed Mursi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year's protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas, yet Mursi has also pledged to respect Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.

Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime minister's visit was intended to further.

A Palestinian official close to Egypt's mediators told Reuters Kandil's visit “was the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

Tunisia's foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday “to provide all political support for Gaza” the spokesman for the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.

The United States asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.

Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognise Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Abbas's supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to have Palestine declared an “observer state” rather than a mere “entity” at the United Nations later this month.

Mishap leaves Israeli brigade with seder meal of matzah and salami


Israeli soldiers in the Kfir Brigade ate salami and matzah for their seder meal after a base chef heated up the real seder food inappropriately, rendering it unkosher.

The infantry brigade returned to base from a mission at the start of Passover expecting a festive holiday meal, but the base chef had begun to heat up the food after the start of the holiday, which also fell on the Jewish Sabbath, and is prohibited by Jewish law and army rules, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. The station cited Israel Radio’s military affairs reporter Carmela Menashe, who was contacted by the parents of some of the soldiers.

The chef, a warrant officer, has been court-martialed for violating a standing military order, according to Channel 2.

The food that was heated up incorrectly was thrown away on the order of the kitchen’s kashrut supervisor, according to reports.

Six charged in beatings of soldiers in Haifa


Six Arab residents of Haifa were indicted in an attack on two off-duty Israeli soldiers in the city.

The Haifa District Court judge who presided over Thursday’s hearing said the attack on Shnir Dahan and Roie Sharaff did not appear to be motivated by nationalism, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Indictments were served against Marwan Attaleh, 25; Hafez Kais, 54; and four minors for allegedly beating the soldiers with iron bars, sticks and stones in the early morning of Feb. 26.

A rock-throwing incident targeting the house of one of the minors, where there was a party in progress, preceded the attack, according to the indictment. The alleged attackers and others assembled and went out to find those responsible for the stone throwing, came across the two soldiers and attacked them after cursing at them in Arabic. Two of the attackers allegedly used a sharp tool to try to carve a word into Sharaff’s scalp.

Dahan and Sharaff were hospitalized for several days.

“Allegedly, and without prejudice to the severity of the violence described in the testimonies, the incident was not nationalist but was a violent event [perpetrated] for other reasons,” Judge Ron Shapira said.

The judge noted that one of the defendants testified that the alleged attackers were not sure whether they were looking for Jews or Christians.

Regarding evidence that the defendants had discussed finding “the Jews,” Shapira said it appeared to be “a way of identifying those people whom they were looking to harm rather than as a nationalist feature.”

Israel’s Yishai apologizes for saying soldiers do not have faith


Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai apologized for saying that Israel fell short in the Second Lebanon War because its soldiers did not have faith.

Yishai, amid calls for his removal from office, said Wednesday in a statement that his words were taken out of context and that only a small portion of his 15-minute speech, which was recorded, was played the previous day on Israel’s Channel 10 News.

“The quotes attributed to me were taken with intentional bias and are not correct,” said Yishai, who heads the Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party. “When people believe, it is clear to us that the victories in Israel’s wars depend on faith in the creator of the world.

“I apologize to all of the bereaved families whose sons gave their lives for the people and the land. The bereaved families and the fallen soldiers are holy to the people of Israel.”

Yishai had said earlier in the week in the remarks quoted by Channel 10 that the army was successful in the Six-Day War because every soldier and every Jew “raised their eyes to the creator” and prayed, and during the Second Lebanon War the soldiers only relied on their abilities.

“This is a great lesson,” Yishai had said. “When all Arab states are against the Jewish people, what will save the Jewish people is Torah study.”

Parents of soldiers who fell in the Second Lebanon War are sending a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding that Yishai be removed from the Cabinet, The Jerusalem Post reported.

IDF chief: Formal ceremonies mandatory for religous soldiers


Orthodox Israeli soldiers must attend formal military gatherings at which women sing, but can be excused from informal social gatherings, the head of the military said.

Israel Defense Forces Benny Gantz said Tuesday that female soldiers have equality in the military and that there is no ban on women’s singing in the IDF. He made the statements during an interview on Army Radio.

Religious cadets walked out of an official ceremony earlier this year at which female soldiers were singing. The cadets were removed from the officer training program.

“The IDF has room for the service of women wherever they can contribute,” Gantz said in the interview. Women can “contribute operationally, they can deal with situations, they can sing, the Hebrew singer is part of our culture,” he said.

Israeli soldiers held in ‘price tag’ incidents


Three Israeli soldiers are under arrest in connection with the vandalism of military and Palestinian property in what is being called a price-tag attack.

The suspects, described by the media as conscripts including an infantryman and a resident of an illegal West Bank settler outpost, were taken into custody Tuesday.

The military said they were accused of involvement in so-called “price tag” incidents, referring to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

There was no immediate word on whether the soldiers would be indicted or how they might plead.

Gunmen fire on Israeli troops at Gaza border


Palestinian gunmen fired on Israeli soldiers working on the border fence between Israel and Gaza.

The soldiers were conducting what the Israeli military called routine work on the fence near Kibbutz Zikim and northern Gaza on Thursday. An Israel Defense Forces vehicle was damaged in the attack, which included mortar shells.

Israeli troops returned fire in the direction of the attack, assisted by an air strike by the Israel Air Force. Palestinian hospital sources told Israeli media that two of the Palestinian attackers were killed in the reprisal attack.

Palestinian sources told Israeli media that the soldiers were shot upon after they illegally entered Gaza.

There have been no rockets shot at Israel from Gaza since Tuesday evening, after a barrage of more than 40 rockets struck Israeli over three days.

Turkey IDs Israeli soldiers, commanders in ship’s raid


A list of 174 Israeli soldiers and commanders involved in the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship as it attempted to break the Gaza blockade, was given to Turkish prosecutors.

The list includes the soldiers in the Shayetet 13 commando unit, as well as their commanders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The list was published Monday in the Turkish daily newspaper, Sabah.

It is unclear who drew up the list, which the newspaper said was culled from numerous sources, including Facebook, Sabah reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization drew up the list at the request of the state prosecutors office. But the Turkish news service Zaman reported that the state prosecutor denied asking for the list from national intelligence, saying that it received the names from the Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as the IHH, which sponsored the ship and has been identified by Israel as a terrorist organization.

Sabah reported that the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office had requested from Israeli authorities the full names and addresses of the military and government officials involved in the raid on the flotilla, but received no answer.

Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed on May 31, 2010 during an Israeli naval commando raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victi

104 new soldiers arrive on aliyah flight


A charter aliyah flight brought 360 new immigrants to Israel, including 104 young men and women who have enlisted in the military.

The flight for North American immigrants, carrying 132 singles and 120 children, arrived Tuesday at Ben Gurion International Airport from New York. The flight was organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh and The Jewish Agency in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and was sponsored by Friends of the IDF. It is one of two charter and seven group aliyah flights scheduled to arrive in Israel this summer.

The new soldiers will receive additional assistance, including financial grants, social support, quarterly care packages and post-army integrative services, including educational guidance, career counseling and job placement.

Many of them are part of the Tzofim Garin Tzabar program, which is affiliated with Israel’s Scouts program in which a group of soldiers can serve their army service together as a social unit and are placed on a kibbutz for their army leaves.

More than 2,500 North American and British olim are expected to arrive in Israel this summer.

Homosexual Israeli soldiers claim harassment


Gay and lesbian soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces said they have been sexually harassed during their military service.

Forty percent of the homosexual soldiers said they were verbally abused and 4 percent said they were physically abused, according to a new survey by the Israel Gay Youth organization.

Some 45 percent of respondents in the study said they heard homophobic remarks frequently or very frequently in their units, while 59 percent of soldiers in combat units said they heard homophobic remarks frequently.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had come out to their family, but only 32 percent had told fellow soldiers or their commander about their homosexuality.

Some 364 gay and lesbian soldiers currently serving in the Israeli military or discharged within the last year were surveyed for the report.

The IDF would not comment on the data but told Haaretz that all abuse claims are handled in an appropriate manner.

Israeli soldiers go on trial


Two Israeli soldiers are on trial for allegedly using a Palestinian boy as a human shield during the Gaza war.

The staff sergeants went on trial Wednesday in a military court. Both have professed their innocence.

One of the accused said in an interview with Army Radio that the two soldiers were being offered as scapegoats to the international community, which has been critical of Operation Cast Lead.

The soldiers are accused of ordering a 9-year-old boy to open bags that they suspected of being booby-trapped in a Gaza City neighborhood.

Three IDF soldiers attacked in Hebron


Three unarmed Israeli soldiers who accidentally entered the Arab-controlled area of Hebron were attacked and wounded.

The soldiers, stationed near Hebron, lost their way Thursday during a physical training exercise.

When they realized they were lost, the soldiers asked a local Palestinian for directions to the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba. They were directed into the heart of Arab Hebron, where they were attacked, Haaretz reported.

All of the soldiers required medical attention; one remained hospitalized Thursday night.

IDF support ensures bright future for Jews worldwide


The future of world Jewry and that of the State of Israel are inextricably bound. Today, this notion no longer enjoys the luxury of residing in the intellectual domains of the ideological or the philosophical. It reflects a sobering realism to which Jews worldwide ought to awaken hastily and with conviction, and it merits a call to action on behalf of Israel’s security, both for Israel’s sake and for our own, for reasons that are both obvious and otherwise.

Whether to strengthen Israel’s defense, to help maintain its ability to protect or rescue Jews at risk beyond Israel, to support the vitality and success of Israel’s next generations or to promote Jewish identity among our own youth and young adults, it is imperative that our efforts to ensure Israel’s future and our own include an essential commitment on our part, as Jews who live outside of Israel, to the welfare of the young men and women who serve as soldiers in the IDF — Israel’s Defense Forces.

Why so? Consider some of the major challenges and vulnerabilities that Jews living in Israel and elsewhere must face together today and for the foreseeable future.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionIn our era, Israel’s Jewish population has become the world’s largest, and it is the only one in the world with a positive birthrate. As North America’s Jewish population grows older on average and decreases in number, Israel’s continues to grow younger and increases in number.

Jews throughout the world will experience Israel evermore in the generations to come as the center place of the Jewish experience, due to this population shift alone. Therefore, our investment in Israel’s next generation becomes, more so than ever, one of our most important investments in the Jewish future. Moreover, if our own youth and young adults connect to Israel, they will be more likely to connect to the more vibrant expressions of Judaism in the decades to come.

I do not at all mean to suggest that anyone should give up on Jews and Judaism outside of Israel. But we would be wise to ensure that the IDF remains capable not only of defending Israel, but of fostering and encouraging healthy generations to come of the largest Jewish population in the world.

After all, by sheer necessity, due to the large number of young adults and reservists required for Israel’s protection at any given moment, the IDF is one of Israel’s largest social service agencies, it is one of Israel’s most important educational agencies for the purposes of teaching Jewish history and the history of the State of Israel to Israeli youth, and it is often the training ground for technical or professional careers for Israeli men and women who contribute after their IDF service to one of the world’s most advanced workforces and economies or go on to study in some of the world’s finest universities.

In supporting the humanitarian welfare of the IDF, we can help to ensure that Israel’s future is a bright one and that our own children and grandchildren will have meaningful partners in Israel with whom they can collaborate for decades to come in the development of every facet of Jewish life and otherwise.

However, as vulnerable as we are in North America to the population challenge, Israel has its vulnerabilities, as well — some of them equally existential in nature. Iran’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons is a cause for serious alarm; its training and arming of Hezbollah and Hamas with rockets and missiles enables each alone to threaten the normalcy of daily life throughout all of Israel.

Add to these the challenges posed by a conventionally re-armed and nuclear-aspiring Syria and the lack of any reasonable signs of the emergence of a sincere partner for peace among even the “moderate” Palestinian Authority, and it is clear that Israel lives in a neighborhood at least as rough as it has always been.

Israel’s vulnerability to a nuclear-armed foe is compounded by the fact that two-thirds of Israel’s roughly 5.5 million Jews live within a 3,500-square-mile area on the Mediterranean coastline. Iran’s ruler, the Ayatollah Khameini, has therefore posited quite publicly that one nuclear weapon dropped on Tel Aviv would, for all practical purposes, destroy the State of Israel.

Israel’s need to ensure its military superiority is a foregone necessity, given all of the above. Israel cannot afford to spend one dime less than it must spend on its defense, for a mistake worth even a dime could cost the entire country.

Given what the IDF must spend on training, planning, arming and maintaining its personnel, it relies heavily upon the generosity of individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors — both in Israel and beyond — to fund the humanitarian welfare of its soldiers. A great many of Israel’s young men and women serve not only in defense of Israel but with an ever-present awareness that they are serving on behalf of every Jew everywhere in the world.

Their strength gives us strength. Their courage inspires our own courage. Not only are they a source of enormous Jewish pride for so many of us in their decency, humanity and dedication, but they deserve our own support for that which they extend to us every day.

I have met and spoken with literally thousands of Israeli soldiers, ages 18-21, over the years, and I have yet to encounter even one of them unready or unwilling to protect or rescue a Jew in distress anywhere in the world and at a moment’s notice. Our support for their humanitarian welfare is the least that we can do for those who embody and exhibit such extraordinary commitment to the Jewish people and to our homeland.

There are yet other existential threats, some of them growing and deepening, to which Jews in Israel and all of us elsewhere are increasingly susceptible. Advocates for Israel’s demise urge the world toward a normative view that Zionism is an imperialist, colonialist and racist ideology. The campaign to discredit Israel and challenge its very right to exist is organized and energized.

The vast majority of those involved in perpetrating this big lie cloak their anti-Semitism with the veil of anti-Zionism. They manipulate public opinion to affect the foreign policies of countries that have enjoyed cooperative relationships with Israel, including our own, suggesting the “Zionists” dominate the press or unduly influence legislators.

Similarly, they work to isolate Israel, to ban its scholars and products and to tie its hands when attacked by terrorists. Increasingly, Israelis and other Jewish academicians and diplomats are challenged to prove their lack of bias in favor of Israel by repudiating their Zionism and even renouncing their Israeli citizenship.

Of course, we were just reminded by the gruesome attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai by Islamic terrorists that the treachery of anti-Semitism does not differentiate between Israeli Jews and Jews of other nationalities. When it comes to anti-Semitism, all Jews sail in the same boat, and we are seaworthy only to the extent that we remain united.

When the world perceives Israel to be strong and willing to act as it needs to do so, either in its own defense or to deter aggression against itself or Jews anywhere else, and when it is clear that Jews worldwide stand likewise behind Israel’s soldiers both in spirit and otherwise, Jews throughout the world are the safer for it.

Our strong support for the humanitarian welfare of Israel’s young men and women serving in the IDF is an absolute necessity toward this end, as it allows the IDF to focus on its daunting but surmountable job in defense of Israel and the Jewish people, while it supports and boosts the morale of troops who give so much of themselves, knowing they may be called upon to give even more.

Israel’s security rests upon the shoulders of the men and women of the IDF. As do Jews from other countries today, our children will need Israel and Israelis as primary partners for their development and deepening of their Jewish identities. As well, existential threats shared by Jews in Israel and around the world will be addressed in partnership by both together.

However, let’s remember who the young men and women of the IDF are: They are our children, too. They are our sons and daughters, our boys and girls. They are family. They need us. And, they know, at least as much as we do, that we need them.

Both our present and our future are indeed inextricably bound by a sacred trust, and it is up to us to ensure that this trust is never broken.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. Among his various communal involvements, he serves currently as the chair of the National Rabbinic Cabinet of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), as the vice president of the L.A. chapter of FIDF and as a member of FIDF’s national board.

VIDEO: Girls of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)


Girls of the IDF—Israel Defense Forces.  Video photo montage plus music lovingly crafted by YouTube member , a Floridian named Pilman.

Former Israeli and Palestinian fighters push for peace — together


Two members of Combatants for Peace, a fledgling organization of some 250 former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, told a standing-room only audience at the Skirball Cultural Center Jan. 31 that there can be no military solution to the conflict between their two nations.

“We’re motivated to talk to each other,” former Palestinian Fatah fighter Sulaiman al-Hamri said, “because we don’t see any other solution.”

“Just saying no is not enough,” said former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counter-terrorism officer Shimon Katz, 29 said. “We needed to do more.”

The two men found their way to do more by helping form Combatants for Peace. The organization was conceived in a number of clandestine meetings in 2005, and went public in Jerusalem in April 2006. Since then, the organization has engaged in an outreach program to, in Katz’s words, “raise the consciousness in both the Israeli and Palestinian societies of the aspirations and fears of those on ‘the other side.'”

They have done this by means of lectures, nonviolent demonstrations and legislative advocacy.

The event at the Skirball was one of several in the Los Angeles area, and is part of a 22-city tour arranged under the auspices of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), together with more than a dozen local co-sponsors. Other venues included Temple Israel of Hollywood and UCLA Hillel.

A capacity-plus crowd of some 400 people, including mostly younger Jews and Muslims, filled the Skirball’s Magnin Auditorium and gave the two speakers a warm welcome. The straightforwardness of the event gave little evidence of the passions that preceded it.

Earlier in the week, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahranot revealed that the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, Ehud Danoch, had warned of the dangers such an event posed to Israel’s cause.

“The willingness of Jewish communities to host these organizations, and even sponsor them, is unfortunate,” said a report Danoch sent to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and all Israeli envoys in North America. “This is a phenomenon that must not be ignored.”

Many of the Israeli participants in Combatants for Peace, Katz included, have refused military service in the West Bank on moral grounds.

Danoch’s caution was echoed in Web postings on the event by the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, which drew an angry response from one of the event sponsors, Americans for Peace Now.

But at the event itself the talk was of reconciliation, not confrontation.
Katz, 29, a former officer in an elite IDF intelligence unit, served four years in both Lebanon and the West Bank; al-Hamri, 42, is a native of Bethlehem who was a “resistance fighter” since age 16. Al-Hamri spent four years in Israeli prisons and is currently a member of the Fatah High Committee.

Katz, the son of an American-born mother, lives near Jerusalem and had a privileged upbringing. He recalled that he was keenly patriotic while in high school and looked forward to his army service. It was while serving in Nablus that he began to question his country’s policies in the occupied territories, saying they are “counter-productive and fuel the cycle of violence.” After completing his active military service, he spent a year in India, describing it as “a time of transformation.” While there, he studied meditation and became interested in the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, which eventually led to his becoming a member of Combatants for Peace after returning to Israel.

Shimon Katz’s father also served as an officer in the IDF, including duty in the territories. Nonetheless, Shimon said that his father is “very supportive” of him.

“He asked me only not to do anything to damage Israel’s reputation,” Katz said. Commenting on Israel’s current policies, Katz said, “We believe we must talk first; we can’t wait for security first. There’s no time to wait.”

Al-Hamri, a married father of four children ranging in age from 3 to 13, said the two-state solution outlined in the Oslo Acccords is the best chance of peace.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Basically we are speaking of peace between two peoples. We believe each has a right to live in peace on its land, which should be separated between the two peoples. What we’re talking about is applying the Oslo agreement. The solution is simple. Getting there is very difficult.”

He dismissed the current conflict between Fatah and Hamas as nothing more serious than “normal tensions” and is convinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah will prevail.

Both men described the difficulty they had in meeting with the other side.
“Initially we were full of fear,” al-Hamri said, “but we learned that we’re all human and can talk together.”

Katz described walking to a meeting in a West Bank town without a weapon, and feeling isolated and vulnerable. After the meeting, he said, he felt much more at home.

Amy Wilentz, the award-winning journalist and author of “Martyrs’ Crossing” and many other books, moderated the evening’s program. In introducing the evening’s principal speakers, she said, “Only humans make war and only humans can unmake it. What is needed now is an opening up.”

Israelis, Palestinians deserve US/Euro push for peace


The other day, I read excerpts from a speech given in Israel by professor Robert Aumann, an Israeli who emigrated from the United States and who won last year’s Nobel Prize in Economics.

The thrust of Aumann’s speech was that he doubted that Israel would survive another half century, because it lacks the strength to withstand the worsening regional situation. He specifically criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for having said at last year’s Israel Policy Forum dinner that Israel is tired of wars and sacrifices. Aumann views Israelis as simply too weary to make it in the long term.

“Fatigue in the State of Israel’s situation will lead to death, as occurs with mountain climbing,” Aumann said. “If a mountain climber is caught on the side of a mountain and it starts to snow, if he falls asleep, he will die. He must remain alert.”

Moving to the specific, Aumann chastised Israelis for being so upset by their losses in the recent Lebanon War.

“We are too sensitive to our losses and also to the losses of the other side,” he said. “In the Yom Kippur War, 3,000 soldiers were killed. It sounds terrible, but that’s small change.”

Aumann, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who lost a son in the 1982 Lebanon War, believes Israelis need to toughen themselves so that they can sustain more losses, without losing faith in the Zionist mission.

Of course, the Zionist mission was to establish a state where Jewish young people would be safe, not one in which a certain percentage of 18-year-old kids would die in battle in each generation.

Aumann’s upside-down Zionist vision — a Jewish state perpetually at war — would neither have inspired Jews to build a state nor would it have sustained it.

Fortunately, few Israelis share Aumann’s views. The widespread reaction to his cavalier remarks about losing soldiers was that he should stick to economics.

To Israel’s credit, there has always been a deep resistance to sending young people off to war, unless it is considered absolutely necessary. That is why a clear majority of Israelis are more than ready to get out of the West Bank. They find it intolerable that their sons would die to defend the occupation and settlements, unless their sacrifice is directly tied to the defense of Israel itself.

Aumann’s views are deeply offensive, but it is just as well that we know that people like him exist. Anytime one wonders how the world became such a bloody place, we can remember Aumann who, with all his brilliance, believes that the ticket to survival is, of all things, killing and being killed.

But there is a certain logic, brutal as it may be, to Aumann’s position. He is a self-proclaimed hardliner on Israel. He fiercely opposed last year’s Gaza withdrawal and any land-for-peace deals. For him, every last inch belongs to Israel, and any suggestion that it does not is anti-Jewish.

But Aumann also understands that the only way his Greater Israel vision can be sustained is at a high cost in Israeli lives.
Give him credit for honesty.

Earlier this month in Ha’aretz, Danny Rubinstein, the West Bank-Gaza correspondent, wrote that the situation in Gaza is deteriorating rapidly, and that a third intifada is likely to break out soon. “The collision course is clear. It is not going to come as a surprise.”
And what are we all going to do in the meantime? Sit back and wait for the collision? Or for Aumann’s “Apocalypse Soon?”

The other night I had dinner with an Israeli who bemoaned the world’s lack of interest in helping to bring Israelis and Palestinians to an agreement.

He said that it angered him that virtually every international conflict is resolved with international involvement, but not the one that threatens his family. He cited the European Union’s role in Cyprus, U.S. mediation in Northern Ireland, U.S. and E.U. involvement in Yugoslavia and South Africa.

“In every other conflict, there seems to be an understanding that the parties can’t do it alone. The U.S. and the Europeans come in not to dictate a settlement but to make sure one happens. But, for whatever reason, we Israelis are left to fend for ourselves.”

I asked him what he wanted to see happen. He said that he wanted the Bush administration to bring Israelis and Palestinians together “and not quit until there is an agreement.”

He said that is what the United States did in the late 1970s to achieve the Egypt-Israeli treaty. “I wonder how many of my friends are alive today who would be dead if the United States had just allowed Begin and Sadat to leave Camp David without an agreement.”

I told him that unfortunately, the politics that surround the Arab-Israeli issue in the United States make it unlikely that our government will take the lead in the way he suggests.

“I know the politics,” he said. “But somebody needs to think about real people like me who want to have a life in Israel. Someone needs to tell your Congress that not encouraging President Bush to take action to end this conflict is not pro-Israel. As far as I am concerned, it’s anti-Israel. Because this conflict very likely will end up destroying everything we have built here. Those who claim to support Israel but oppose a strong U.S. role will have contributed to our destruction.”

Hopefully, we still have time to prevent that catastrophe. The Bush administration enters the last two years of its term in January but, in fact, it was during the last two years of their terms that former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton made their most significant contributions to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those two presidents essentially left behind a blueprint for an agreement that would end the conflict once and for all.

George W. Bush will probably not be able to solve the national health crisis in two years. Or end nuclear proliferation. Or put Social Security on a permanently sound financial footing.

But he can produce a peace agreement. After all, as my Israeli friend asks: Why do Israelis and Palestinians deserve less than the Irish, the Cypriots, the Serbs, the Bosnians or the South Africans?

Why indeed?

M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for the

Israel grows impatient with terror-filled Gaza


Israel’s patience with the growing menace from the Gaza Strip appears to be wearing thin.

Government and military officials spoke openly Sunday of the need to move fast to stop Palestinian terrorists from turning the coastal territory into a “second Lebanon” threatening southern Israel.

At the heart of the concerns is the so-called Philadelphi route, Gaza’s seven-mile-long southern border, which, since Israel’s withdrawal of soldiers and settlers last year, has seen unbridled arms smuggling from neighboring Egypt.

“When we left the Philadelphi route, I said that abandoning it was to open the gates of hell. We might have to find a way to retake it,” Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai said Sunday before the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The call was echoed by at least two other ministers. Already, Israeli forces are carrying out pinpoint missions at the border to uncover and destroy underground tunnels that provide the main conduit for Egyptian contraband.

In the southern Gaza town of Rafah, soldiers killed two gunmen Monday who tried to attack Israeli forces working to uncover arms-smuggling tunnels.

Israeli forces also killed at least seven Palestinians in the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanoun. Military sources said the fatalities were members of a Popular Resistance Committees rocket crew that was ambushed by commandos.
However, there is more at stake than the regular rocket barrages by Palestinian terrorists or the fate of an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, abducted to Gaza on June 25 in a cross-border raid.

Still recovering from the Lebanon war, Israel wants to stop Hamas and other Palestinian factions from adopting Hezbollah’s methods and turning Gaza into a second front against the Jewish state.

“We should prevent Hamas from replicating what happened with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would have to take place in the coming days or weeks,” said Yom-Tov Samia, a retired Israeli major general who was called up for emergency reserve duty as deputy chief of military forces around Gaza.

Also of concern is Hamas’ threat of further kidnappings. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas told protesters in Gaza over the weekend, “We will abduct more soldiers if Israel does not release Palestinian prisoners.”

Samia called for Israel to retake the Philadelphi route and massively expand its buffer zone to enable a large-scale tunnel hunt. This almost certainly would entail razing Palestinian homes en masse along the frontier.
“There is no other way to control Philadelphi,” Samia told Army Radio. “We must simply go in there and stay there until peace and quiet reign for 25 straight years.”

It’s unclear whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in a position to order such sweeping moves. Israelis remember Olmert as the most vocal champion of the Gaza withdrawal, which was masterminded by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.
Since the Lebanon war, however, Olmert has made no secret of having to revise his diplomatic vision. With right-wing parties such as Yisrael Beiteinu expected to join the coalition government, the prime minister may have an extra incentive to crack down in Gaza. An alliance with Yisrael Beiteinu was formalized Monday and the Cabinet will vote on it Wednesday. Lieberman would become minister of strategic affairs, a new portfolio dealing primarily with the Iranian nuclear threat.

Political sources said Olmert likely would convene his Security Cabinet Tuesday or Wednesday to decide about a major Philadelphi operation. But few expect Olmert to initiate such an operation before his trip next month to the United States, which will include consultations with President Bush and an appearance at the United Jewish Communities’ 75th General Assembly in Los Angeles.

Then again, the timing may be hijacked by the Palestinians.

“The decision to embark on an operation will be made in Israel an hour after a Kassam kills two small children in Sderot,” Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Achronot.

Sderot is an Israeli town just outside Gaza’s border that has been hit repeatedly by Palestinian rockets.

The IDF and Civilians: A Personal Account


To all those who feel that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers have no regard for civilians, and that they “do what they need to do” without regard for potential
civilian casualties, I offer no opinions on this matter.

Instead, I offer this personal experience for your consideration.

It was July 12, 1984, my first day on the Ketziot basic training base, my new “home” as an IDF soldier in the Givati Infantry Brigade. One by one, we were issued what was then the standard IDF infantry weapon, the Israeli-made Galil rifle. Here we were, 18-year-old kids who barely knew anything about life, suddenly holding in our hands a weapon that had the potential to save lives or to take lives.

Upon receiving these weapons, we were gathered into a large mess hall, where an officer was waiting to address us. We expected a lesson on the mechanics of the Galil rifle. Instead, the officer had come to speak to us about Tohar Ha-Neshek — the “Purity of the Weapon.”

He spoke at length about the moral use of the weapon vs. the immoral use of the weapon, and of the responsibility we had to uphold the value of Tohar Ha-Neshek no matter what the circumstances. He concluded his remarks by saying, “I am not a particularly religious person, but remember that to uphold the purity of your weapon is a Kiddush ha-Shem (sanctification of God’s name), and to violate it is a Chilul ha-Shem (desecration of God’s name).”

Six months later, my unit found itself in Southern Lebanon, fighting the same Hezbollah that the IDF fights today. The Galil that we were issued six months earlier had unfortunately gotten its fair share of real-life wear and tear, but it was not until Feb. 5, 1985, that we learned a real-life lesson in “Purity of the Weapon.”

Late in the afternoon that day, as our convoy was leaving our post in Borj el Jimali (two miles east of Tyre), a Hezbollah suicide bomber drove his car straight into our convoy, triggering a massive explosion in our faces. We responded like we were taught — jump out of the vehicle, take cover and return fire. In typical Hezbollah fashion, they carried out this attack in an area filled with civilians, which means that we were faced with the awful prospect of firing into the homes of civilian men, women and children caught in the crossfire.

After our initial barrage of fire, our officer instructed us to regroup into small teams that would enter buildings to search for any terrorists cooperating with the suicide bomber. His instructions still ring clearly in my ear, and took me back to the lecture I heard about “Purity of Weapons” just six months earlier: “This area is filled with civilians, and there is no need to injure or kill them. In our search for terrorists, please try to minimize any civilian casualties.”

These instructions came from an officer who, just a few minutes earlier, had 100 kilos of dynamite explode into his face and that of his troops, yet he was still able to keep a clear mind and remember that the IDF was in Lebanon to fight Hezbollah terrorists, not Lebanese civilians.

It was true then, and it is still true today.

Daniel Bouskila is rabbi at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

(Rob Eshman’s column will return next week.)

Worst Fears Come to Pass for Foes of Gaza Pullout


Librarian Stephanie Wells so opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza last summer that she moved to the disputed territory just three weeks before troops moved in. She stayed to the bitter end.

Among the most committed in the fight against the withdrawal, the Los Angeles resident said she flew halfway around the world and took a two-week leave of absence from her job to show her support for the settlers. She’d hoped that taking a stand, both literally and physically, would help derail the planned evacuation. She believed that pulling out of Gaza would embolden Palestinian terrorists and go down in history as one of Israel’s gravest mistakes.

Less than a year after Israel’s withdrawal, Wells and other Los Angeles-based disengagement opponents view what’s happening in Gaza as their worst fears coming to pass. Far from acting as a catalyst for peace, they say, Israel’s “abandonment” of Gaza has been greeted with Qassam rocket attacks, terrorism and the murder and abduction of Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians have elected a government headed by Hamas, a party committed to Israel’s destruction and classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Israel last week re-entered Gaza to quell violence emanating from a crowded and impoverished territory teeming with Islamic extremist and other terrorists.

“We had people who were willing to be the front line in Gush Katif, and now the front line has moved into Israel proper,” Wells said. “And what did Israel get for [the unilateral withdrawal]? Hamas is in charge, and Israel is being shelled daily.”

Disengagement proponents respond that terrorism has been an ongoing problem and did not suddenly appear after Israel’s evacuation. They also dispute the argument that Palestinians voted for Hamas as an endorsement of the group’s terror tactics. Instead, they say, Palestinians had tired of the then-ruling Palestinian Authority’s corruption and turned to Hamas to send a message of frustration and as a signal of the need for a government they believed would be more responsive and competent in serving their needs.

Leaving Gaza also made sense morally, said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it cannot occupy and control millions of Palestinians indefinitely,” he said.

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined to comment for this article.

The majority of Israeli and American Jews believed that the occupation of Gaza came at an unsustainable political, economic and moral price. And despite the “I told you so implications” of some who opposed the move, there is no widespread public support for going back into Gaza.

Nevertheless, many opponents of the withdrawal here in Los Angeles and elsewhere look upon the unfolding events in Israel as a tragic consequence of last year’s pullout.

Jon Hambourger, founder of L.A.-based SaveGushKatif.org, at one time the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, believes that nothing good has come from the withdrawal. He believes it has boosted the standing of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestinian society, which claim that suicide bombers and Qassam rockets forced the Jews to retreat in fear. With Israel out of Gaza, new terror groups have moved in to fill the vacuum, including Al Qaeda, Hambourger said.

“The unilateral withdrawal didn’t bring peace, it brought war,” he said.

Hambourger, like many of the mostly Orthodox Jewish members of his organization, believes God entrusted the Jews with stewardship over Gaza and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria. As such, Hambourger largely opposes the concept of trading land for peace, especially since he so distrusts the Palestinians.

Still, he thinks Israel made a terrible strategic mistake by giving away Gaza without demanding anything in return. At the very least, Hambourger said, the Jewish state should have insisted that the Palestinians cease publishing officially sanctioned newspapers and school textbooks brimming with anti-Semitic invective.

Wells, the L.A. resident and SaveGushKatif member who moved to Gaza, believes an Israeli school where she spent some time during her stay in Gush Katif has since become a terrorist training camp.

For settler advocates, the aftermath of the Gaza pullout has only intensified their opposition to ceding another inch of Israeli territory — disputed or otherwise — to the Palestinians, whom they consider an implacable foe bent on Israel’s destruction.

“The lesson is obvious: A pullout from Judea and Samaria will result in another terrorist state within Israel,” said Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member, who in 2003 raised $140,000 for Israeli terror victims.

“The Israeli government is basically in a state of war right now for having given away Gaza,” added Shifra Hastings, another SaveGushKatif partisan. “There is no justification for giving away any more.”

 

Protestors at Israeli Consulate Face Off Over Gaza Actions


“Anti-apartheid!” a young man wearing a kaffiyeh yelled into a megaphone, rallying a crowd of anti-Israel protesters marching in a circle in front of the Israeli consulate on June 29 to protest Israel’s action in Gaza. “Anti-oppression!” he shouted.

Last Thursday afternoon, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) gathered some 75 people bearing Palestinian flags and signs like, “Free Palestine!” and “End the Occupation Now” for the consulate protest.

On the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, about two dozen StandWithUs counterdemonstrators held Israeli and American flags and banners that read, “Hamas Stop This Abuse!” “Stop Using Gaza as a Base for Terror,” and “Free Gilad Shalit.”

The Israeli consulate has not been a site for demonstrations since the disengagement from Gaza last summer, and last Thursday’s demonstration and counterdemonstration was relatively small — perhaps attesting to general world support for the release of the kidnapped soldier.

“Israel is going to have to protect its soldiers and it’s going to have to respond to Qassam rockets,” Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, told The Journal. Regarding the constant barrage of rockets, so far, “Israel has been extremely restrained,” she said.

Amnon Mahler, former head of the Council of Israeli Communities said, “I am angry at the Arabs because of what they are making us do to them. We don’t want to do it, we don’t like to do it, they are forcing us to do it.”

The pro-Palestinian protesters, in their widely distributed e-mail call for the demonstration, wrote that the kidnapping was just a “pretext” for the “Israeli Occupation Forces” to launch “a brutal assault on the entire population of Gaza.”

“We see this as a form of collective punishment that must be opposed, and that’s why we’re demonstrating today,” said Muna Coobtee, one of the ANSWER organizers. She also said they want to end the economic damage that Israel, the United States and the European Union are doing by withholding funding from the Palestinian government.

On the ANSWER side, there were many UCLA students and women covering their hair, like Nahida Al Khairat, a Syrian woman who has lived in the United States for the last 10 years. She brought her four children — ages 3-8 — to the demonstration, and her 5-year-old son chanted into the megaphone: “Free Palestine!”

Do they have relatives there?

“We the Arab people are all related,” she said.

For security purposes, Ehud Danoch, consul general of Israel, remained upstairs in the consulate, watching the action below.

“What absolute nerve people have at a time when Israel is being held hostage to these terrorists and an Israeli citizen has been killed,” he said.

He has received numerous letters of support for Israel and prayers for the kidnapped soldier.

“These [pro-Palestinian] people have come to show support to the Palestinian murderers and kidnappers,” he said. “Everyone knows how hard it was for Israel to leave Gaza. They didn’t do it just so they could go back in…. The action can end immediately if they would just release Gilad Shalit.”

Downstairs, both groups grew as the work day ended, but the rallies were relatively peaceful. Both groups’ organizers expressed hope that the people, not the leadership, would bring justice to the Middle East.

“I think the outrage of the Israeli society at the kidnapping has to be directed toward their government,” Coobtee said. “Israelis feel so outraged by one kidnapping — they should take a look around and feel greater outrage.”

Rothstein said she was generally pleased by the world’s support for Israel and that now they see the true face of Hamas.

“There will come a time when the people will get so angry at this game of baiting Israel into responding,” she said. “The Palestinian people will get so fed up with terrorist groups like Hamas baiting Israel that they will overturn the terrorist leadership.”

 

What’s So Bad About Torture?


Suppose your child were kidnapped.

She is buried alive with a limited air supply. Police arrest one of the kidnappers. Indeed, he was on a store videotape luring the child and then abducting her. Witnesses saw him put the child in a car. His handwriting is on the ransom note. He admits he knows where she is but remains stubbornly unresponsive.

The police by-the-rules interrogation moves slowly, it seems, against the clock. The kidnapper’s record and demeanor indicate clearly that he would respond to graduated pain. The only way to save the girl is to intimidate and physically hurt this man.

If your child’s life were on the line, would you condone rough treatment?

In our society, the parent does not make this judgment. The civil authorities properly do. Because, for one thing, parents might want to kill this person with their bare hands, even after torture had done its job. And that would violate the due process that is fundamental to our system, which properly protects civil liberties, even when a life is at stake.

Our government, too, has an interest in saving this child’s life in this situation — and in doing almost anything necessary to save lives that are in imminent peril. And the minute you accept that, you understand the folly of blanket prohibitions against torture when confronting terrorism.

The situation here is analogous to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, when the Clinton administration naively used the criminal justice system to prosecute the perpetrators, as if their act were an isolated crime, rather than go after the terrorist organization that launched their mission.

How, then, does our Western system apply to the global war on terror?

To answer that, it helps to recognize the scope of terrorism, which is more varied and pervasive than many commonly realize. The terrorists will not always be Islamists. And, even now, not all Muslim terrorists are religious zealots lining up for virgins in heaven.

The anti-Soviet Muslim groups in Chechnya are more nationalistic than religious. Many secular Palestinian groups want to destroy Israel, not conquer the world for Islam.

Still, our primary concern in the years and, possibly decades, ahead is mainly with the Islamo-fascists who would indeed use violence to impose Islam — whether they are part of an organized Al Qaeda-like group or lone rangers.

The military supremacy of the United States with the fall of the Soviet Union ended the era of classic war, with military forces that engage on land, air and sea, culminating in a defined victory for one side. Instead, smaller nation-states or, more likely, renegade movements that may or may not find sanctuary in states will lack the “rationality” that constrained other bad guys of times past, like the former Soviet Union.

They won’t heed, as did the Soviets, the nuclear deterrent of mutually assured destruction. Nor would they ascribe to the economic rationality that inhibits an ambitious China and other ascendant powers that look beyond military hegemony.

In contrast, consider how a mullah in Iran responded recently when asked whether Iran ought to explode a nuclear bomb in Israel, given that so many Arabs live in Israel, in the West Bank and in adjacent countries. Thousands of Arabs would be killed, if not immediately, then through radiation disease and toxic cancers. The mullah was unmoved, because he said the key was simply killing the Jews in Israel and destroying that country.

This is not your father’s Cold War-style conflict. And this scary Iranian theocracy could look moderate compared to Islamist terrorist gangs that stalk us, who would lack even the arguable constraints that moderate Iran’s behavior. Even Iran must deal with Russia and Europe, and its anti-Semitic president still has a public to answer to at home.

President Bush, for all his proper focus on national security, has not sufficiently explained the peril of today’s asymmetric warfare. We’re not talking about an old-style IRA explosion that would kill several uniformed British soldiers or even about the targeting of civilians, including children. Regardless of what was found in Iraq, Americans do face an ongoing threat from weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, biological, radioactive and chemical — that could sicken, maim and kill vast numbers of noncombatants at a blow.

Torture truly could be a lesser evil when the stakes are this high.

Even so, torture could not be justified if it falls short by any of three measures that have been articulated recently by law professor Harvey Rishikof, who heads the national security strategy department of the National War College in Washington, D.C. Rishikof, who does not object to torture under all circumstances, lists these possible objections to torture: pragmatic, political and moral, which I will deal with one by one.

The Pragmatic Objection I, the Reciprocal Golden Rule: We shouldn’t torture, because we don’t want our soldiers and civilians treated that way when they are captured.

This precept certainly holds in normal warfare, For example, one side is deterred from using biological weapons for fear the other side would retaliate in kind. But no matter how nicely we interrogate terrorists, their side will never reciprocate. Their core value is that enemy soldiers have no rights either as combatants or even as fellow humans, and that civilians are no better than soldiers.

The Pragmatic Objection II: Torture does not work or is even counterproductive. Take the case of a civilian suspect who falsely confesses to a murder or a terrorism suspect who falsely implicates others in a nonexistent plot.

I accept that torture does not produce assured results, especially if it isn’t carried out both thoughtfully and rarely. But what about the case when it does work?

The argument over capital punishment offers a helpful analogy. Opponents of capital punishment, for example, argue that it is not actually a deterrent. But what if you could show them, say, just one person who was deterred from murder?

When I confronted actor Mike Farrell, a crusader against the death penalty, with this possibility, he quickly acknowledged that it didn’t matter, because he was morally opposed to capital punishment, regardless.

This was an honest and telling response. The lack-of-deterrence argument simply is a convenient rhetorical stratagem. I regard the pragmatic argument against torture the same way.

What if you show that torture is, in some circumstances, utilitarian? After all, how can you possibly know that in all cases torture will never work? My guess is that the pragmatic objection to torture morphs really into a more reasoned political or moral objection.

The Political Objection: There is an indisputable downside for the United States if we are perceived to condone torture. Yes, some U.S. soldiers deserved to be punished for what happened at Abu Ghraib. It was a stunning setback to our national image.

And it’s possible that some people have been wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo. Many more have not. And we have gained information from prisoners there that has helped us apprehend key terrorists and prevent significant loss of life.

Besides, the people who hate us, hate us. No matter what we do, large segments of the Islamic world believe the worst about us, even though Americans have fought and died in Asia and Europe to help Muslims — from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Iraq. And of the countries around the world that sit in judgment on Guantanamo, nearly all have engaged in torture. And in many cases, I’m talking about their police, who use torture to investigate street crimes, as well as making it an instrument of state oppression against unarmed and peaceful dissidents.

The Moral Objection: It’s wrong to torture. Morality is intrinsically good but is the moral course clear?

Here we come full circle to the original scenario, that of the child whose life is in imminent danger. Except multiply that child by 10, by 100, by 1,000, by 1 million. What about a biochemical attack that could be hours away? The possibility is not far-fetched. Consider, too, the long-term increases in cancer rates in the wake of a terrorist nuclear attack and the profound damage to the environment.

The goal is prevention, not responding after the fact… after thousands or even tens of thousands have died, and hundreds of thousands and their offspring are toxically doomed. To prevent such a calamity, would it be moral not to torture?

The Geneva Accords intended for such formal military conflict certainly might not fit well to the instance of interrogating terrorists operating outside of nation-states. Under Geneva, even temporary exposure to heat or cold or sleep deprivation would be off limits.

Are we to avoid degrading treatment? Are stress techniques forbidden? Critics of the United States have classified as torture even techniques that leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm. Writer Mark Bowden, author of “Black Hawk Down,” for one, does not the regard the manipulation of fear and anxiety as torture. Neither do I.

Consider the case of an Al Qaeda terrorist who did not respond for months to conventional interrogation. His interrogators eventually manufactured a fraudulent photograph of his wife and two children, with the Arabic caption, “They need their father’s love.” He broke, providing valuable information. Was this beyond the pale?

What if, in the future, a brain scan could yield lifesaving information? (We’re not talking Dr. Mengele here.) Would that “invasion of privacy” or “violation of due process” be going too far?

Critics constantly group into the word “torture” practices that stop well short of ripping people’s fingernails off or mutilation. Is it OK to be mentally intrusive or hassle a detainee psychologically?

According to Rishikof, interrogators, under certain evolved and tortured definitions of torture, can’t even scare or threaten someone.

Let me be clear: I am not in any way advocating that our government should torture a criminal who commits arson or bombs the store that fired him. Even though that looks like terrorism, these acts are fundamentally crimes. And torture should never be used as punishment, , although it might be used to apprehend terrorist perpetrators, as was reportedly done by the CIA following the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed CIA employees. My argument concerns what to do about a terrorist organization, and ultimately, doing what’s necessary to prevent a terrorist attack.

Opponents of torture talk about a worrisome, slippery slope, but the more worrisome and dangerous slide may be on the other side, when anything outside of “Adam 12” and the reading of Miranda rights becomes unacceptable.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst who serves on the Board of Visitors for the National Defense University. This article represents only his personal views.

The Officer’s Grin


Gaza 1995. Though my tank brigade is stationed in the Jordan Valley, I am deployed to Rafiah. Rafiah lies in the southern Gaza

Strip, on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Together with some of my colleagues, I am charged with the mission of delivering weapons to the Palestinian Authority. Some of my fellow soldiers refuse this job, but I volunteer for it. Recently immigrated to Israel from Switzerland, bedazzled by “Oslo” and soaked with hope, I try to comprehend the logic of acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, or at least not to question it. Weapons, lots of weapons are to be handed out to the Palestinians, so that they can provide quiet and order in the territories. OK then.

I try to ignore the fear that these weapons, handed out to the Palestinians in the course of the “peace process,” might be used against Israelis — as history would evidence later on.

So I travel to Rafiah in winter of 1995. Upon our arrival, I see Israeli officers and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. I am guided to a huge container that is opened. And I do not believe my eyes. Inside the container there are hundreds of guns, all Kalashnikovs, sent from Egypt.

“Foreign aid for the little, suffering brother,” flashes through my head. The brand new “Kalashim,” as they are affectionately named, are of Russian origin, most accurate in hitting their target. My duty is to count these guns, lubricate them and hand them over to the newly appointed Palestinian “officer” waiting next to me.

I start my work, and my hands turn black.

“What doesn’t one do for peace?” I say to myself.

After several hours of counting, cleaning, lubricating and, most of all, perspiring, I deliver the last gun to the Palestinian officer. And just then, something happens that I will never be able to erase from my memory. The man looks at the gun, then lifts his head and looks straight at my face. And then, all of a sudden, he starts to grin. It is a brutal grin, full of malice. My blood runs cold; thoughts flash through my head: How long will we Israelis play this naive game? In the reflection of his teeth I see the raped innocence of the Jewish people and those Arabs who really want peace. It almost feels to me as if sympathy for our naivety, for our foolishness resonated in his grin. In my head it echoes: “Israeli! You know very well that this very gun one day will be pointed against you and your people!”

Paralyzed, I watch the man as he — still grinning to himself — walks to his container, “my” last Kalashnikov in his hands.

On our journey home I cannot speak a word, the following day I cannot eat a bite. In the course of the following months and years there will be nights when I wake up drenched in sweat and see the grinning face of that Palestinian officer in front of me. Especially on those days when Jews are shot like ducks in the streets of Israel by murderous Palestinian terrorists, a thought keeps running through my head: “Perhaps this was your gun? One of your well-lubricated Kalashims?”

Gaza 2005. Over the last years, and especially after living through the second intifada, I, as well as many other Israelis, have become aware of the fact that weapons must not be given into the wrong hands. Specifically in view of the recurring mad cycle of giving weapons to the Palestinians, waiting till they are misused, and confiscating the same weapons some time later in the course of a military action unnecessarily costing many lives. And then, later, we return these weapons as new “endeavors for peace” to the Palestinians — with the next “date of confiscation” probably nothing but a matter of time. Is the handing over of a potentially explosive strip of land perhaps not too different from handing over a weapon?

There is a serious apprehension expressed by many leading military experts that now, after the total pullout, Gaza will become an unprecedented hotbed of terror, just a few kilometers from Israeli towns. Shouldn’t certain preconditions have been imposed on the beneficiaries of this territory prior to a risky handing over of land? Is it reasonable to deliver a gun to a man who publicly threatens to use it against him?

Thank goodness I was not mobilized as a reservist for the Gaza evacuation. I could not have gone there. Not that I am against any pullout from the Gaza Strip (though I considered the plan to evacuate it without any Palestinian reciprocity disastrous and a reward to terrorism), not that I do not appreciate Israeli democracy, not that I have personal feelings against Ariel Sharon. None of that. I simply could not stand to see that grin again.

Emanuel Cohn was born and reared in Basel, Switzerland, and moved to Israel 12 years ago. In his army service he served in the Israel Defense Forces tank corps. He now lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Naomi, and their two children.

We Must Work to Build Solidarity in U.S.


Do you know anyone serving in Iraq? I intend to ask this question this year at Yom Kippur services. Of the 1,500 people who will hear it, I expect no more than a handful to say they do. I, for one, do not. Do you?

As it is for most of America, the Iraq war is an abstraction to many American Jews. We don’t know by name anyone in uniform on the ground. And so, like most of America, it is hard for us to become motivated to take action. After all, what do we personally have at stake?

Contrast this scene with the historic events in Gaza two months ago: 53,000 soldiers and police were deployed — 1 percent of the population or the equivalent of 3 million Americans. Even if an Israeli did not have a son, daughter or husband immediately involved, they likely had a friend who did. And even if they didn’t have a friend connected to the events on the ground, just watching the pictures created a certain sense of inevitability: That could have been me in uniform.

Compulsory military or national service is the greatest factor in cementing solidarity between the citizens of Israel. Every child in Israel is raised with the assumption that they share the same future as their friends and neighbors: They will all go into the army. They are included in the same fate.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik termed this concept of shared fate brit ha-goral. In his work, “Kol Dodi Dofek,” the rav argued that in light of the Holocaust, every Jew shares the same fate as every other Jew, no matter his or her connection to the Jewish people: “The individual, against his will, is subjected and subjugated to the national, fate-laden reality. He cannot evade this reality and become assimilated into some other, different reality.” The implications of this reality include a shared sense of suffering with, responsibility for and action toward fellow Jews.

Times have changed in the nearly 50 years since Soloveitchik wrote “Kol Dodi Dofek.” Israel, though threatened, is vastly more secure. Here in America, we are two generations removed from the Holocaust, and the concept of brit ha-goral rings hollow with this generation. Today, we are all about choice, not fate. Unlike in Israel, where the typical child orients his or her entire life around wearing a uniform in service to the nation, the American child is brought up to orient his or her life around — in the words of the U.S. Army — being all he or she can be.

In Israel, the disengagement provoked a national therapy session, a shiva house spanning the entire country. The tone of Israeli society was unbelievable: shared suffering, responsibility, fate. Israelis witnessed their children crying with each other, praying with each other, tending one another’s wounds. And in those moments, all of Israeli society psychologically channeled itself into the homes in Gush Katif, and assumed collective responsibility for whatever fate had in store.

And here in America? Despite its mounting toll in lives and treasure, the Iraq War has still not overtaken American society as the No. 1 topic of conversation. The lives of celebrities, sports and entertainment are still further toward the center of our national consciousness. The suffering lies with the families of the soldiers; the responsibility lies with the administration; the fate simply lies.

American Jews have been looking for a meaningful way to respond to the disengagement. Some sent money to the evicted families. Others sent pizzas to the police.

Let me propose something much more immediate and demanding: That we, who have not chosen to move to Israel, engage our civic duty and develop in American society the exemplary kind of solidarity that our brothers and sisters in Israel displayed last summer.

In its most substantial form, this would mean advocating for reinstatement of compulsory military service, with a national service option for conscientious objectors. If we immediately shy away from this notion, we must at a minimum confront the moral question and explain why someone else’s child should be asked to risk his life, while our own children lie sleeping 10,000 miles away.

Independent of this debate lies the clear moral and religious obligation to identify with those who are putting their lives on the line, and to support and sympathize with their families. Our synagogues should host returning soldiers and invite them to share their stories. Our communities should provide forums for anxious and grieving families to share their pride and their pain. We must make the effort to share their fate.

The central ritual of Yom Kippur in Temple times was the offering of two goats: One was sacrificed to God; the other thrown off a cliff in the wilderness. The goats were identical. All that separated them was a goral, a lot, an act of fate.

We no longer perform this sacrifice, but we read the story as part of the Yom Kippur service. Let us resolve this year to embrace the brit ha-goral that binds us as Jews here and throughout the world, and to create a society of shared fate here in America as well.

Rabbi Joshua Feigelson is a graduate of YCT Rabbinical School and campus rabbi at the Fiedler Hillel Center of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. For more, visit

War Hero’s Medal Wait Finally Ends


Next Friday, as Tibor Rubin enters the White House, generals will stand at rigid attention. The president of the United States also will rise and then drape the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for gallantry in combat, around the neck of the 76-year-old Holocaust survivor and Korean War veteran.

Rubin and a legion of supporters have waited almost 55 years for this triumph of camaraderie and persistence over both bureaucratic lethargy and the prejudice endured by so many old-time Jewish GIs.

Rubin still does not know precisely which of his wartime feats met the standard of “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an enemy armed force.”

[READ: TIBOR RUBIN, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, DIES AT 86]

He guesses it might have been the time he secured a route of retreat for his company by single-handedly defending a hill for 24 hours against waves of North Korean soldiers.

All told, his commanding officers and fellow soldiers recommended him for the Medal of Honor for his deeds performed on no less than four occasions. He also was recommended two times for the Distinguished Service Cross and twice for the Silver Star.

Had he received all these awards, he would have become the most decorated American veteran of the Korean War. What he actually got were two Purple Hearts for combat wounds and a 100 percent disability rating.

Rubin, known as “Tibi” to his Hungarian childhood friends and “Ted” to his Army buddies, was born in Paszto, a Hungarian shtetl of 120 Jewish families, the son of a shoemaker and one of six children. At age 13, he was transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was liberated two years later by American troops. His parents and two sisters perished in the Holocaust.

He came to the United States in 1948, settled in New York and worked first as a shoemaker and then as a butcher.

“I was a handsome dog in those days, and the ladies who worked with me always brought me lunch,” he recalled.

In 1949, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, both as a possible shortcut to American citizenship and, he hoped, to attend the Army's butcher school in Chicago. Knowing hardly any English, he flunked the language test, but tried again in 1950 and passed, with some help from two fellow test takers.

In July of that year, Pfc. Rubin found himself fighting on the front lines of Korea with I Company of the 8th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. There he encountered the terror of I Company: 1st Sgt. Artice V. Watson, who, from numerous descriptions, could have been modeled on the sadistic 1st Sgt. Rickett in Irwin Shaw's “The Young Lions.”

Watson was reputedly a vicious anti-Semite, who consistently “volunteered” Rubin for the most dangerous patrols and missions, according to lengthy affidavits submitted by nearly a dozen men — mostly self-described “country boys” from the South and Midwest.

The bravery displayed by Rubin during such missions so impressed two commanding officers that they recommended him three times for the Medal of Honor. Both officers were soon afterward killed in action, but not before telling Watson to initiate the necessary paperwork to secure the medals for Rubin. Some of the men in Rubin's company were present when Watson was ordered to put in for the medals, and all are convinced that he deliberately ignored the orders.

“I believe in my heart that 1st Sgt. Watson would have jeopardized his own safety rather than assist in any way whatsoever in the awarding of the medal to a person of Jewish descent,” Cpl. Harold Speakman wrote in a notarized affidavit.

Toward the end of October 1950, massive Chinese troop concentrations crossed the border into North Korea and attacked the unprepared Americans. After most of his regiment had been wiped out, the severely wounded Rubin was captured and spent the next 30 months in a prisoner of war camp.

Faced with constant hunger, filth and disease, most of the GIs simply gave up.

“No one wanted to help anyone. Everybody was for himself,” wrote Sgt. Leo A. Cormier Jr., a fellow prisoner.

But not Rubin. Almost every evening, he would sneak out of the camp to steal food from the Chinese and North Korean supply depots, understanding that he would be shot if caught.

“He shared the food evenly among the GIs,” Cormier wrote. “He also took care of us, nursed us, carried us to the latrine…. He did many good deeds, which he told us were 'mitzvahs' in the Jewish tradition…. He was a very religious Jew, and helping his fellow men was the most important thing to him.”

Survivors of the camp credited Rubin with keeping 35 to 40 of their number alive and recommended him for the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star.

Cpl. Leonard Hamm of Indiana wrote the Army that Rubin had saved his life, both on the battlefield and in the camp. He went on to upbraid the Pentagon for its “degrading and insulting treatment” of “one of the greatest men I have ever known, and definitely one of the greatest heroes in this nation's history.”

Sgt. Carl McClendon, another soldier saved by Rubin, wrote, “He [Rubin] had more courage, guts and fellowship than I ever knew anyone had. He is the most outstanding man I ever met, with a heart of gold. Tibor Rubin committed every day bravery that boggles the mind. How he ever came home alive is a mystery to me.”

For some 30 years after his discharge, Rubin lived quietly in a small house in Garden Grove, with his wife, Yvonne, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. The couple reared two children, Frank, an Air Force veteran, and a daughter, Rosalyn.

In 1953, Rubin finally got his American citizenship. He tried to resume his old job as a butcher, but a combination of crippling afflictions, traceable to his war wounds, forced him to quit.

It wasn't until the 1980s that Rubin's old Army buddies started protesting the Army's inaction in recognizing the man who had saved so many of their lives.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) introduced a special bill on Rubin's behalf in 1988. Former GOP Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Orange County also pleaded for recognition of his constituent. In addition, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) kept badgering the Pentagon.

“From his childhood in a Nazi concentration camp to his valor in Korea, Tibor Rubin never wavered in his fight against tyranny and injustice,”Wexler said. “It is unconscionable that the Pentagon overlooked his acts of heroism for more than 50 years.”

The Jewish War Veterans organization has championed Rubin's cause for many years, and at one point, collected 42,000 signatures on a petition presented to President Ronald Reagan.

But nothing appeared to penetrate the bureaucratic indifference.

Then in the mid-90s, the U.S. military, now a model equal-opportunity employer, finally responded to persistent criticism that it had consistently squelched recommendations for high medal awards to minority soldiers who served during World War II and the Korean War.

In 1996, the Pentagon belatedly awarded Medals of Honor to 21 Japanese American and other Asian American veterans, and eight to former African American servicemen, who were institutionally segregated during World War II.

In 2001, Congress passed a bill providing for a review of selected Jewish veterans, known as the Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act. Kravitz, the uncle and namesake of rock musician Lenny Kravitz, was killed manning his lone machine gun against attacking Chinese troops during the Korean War, allowing the rest of his platoon to retreat in safety.

Years ago, Kravitz was recommended for a Medal of Honor, but the award was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest decoration.

Under the terms of the Kravitz Act, a list containing the names and wartime records of 138 Jewish veterans was sent to the Pentagon. All the men listed had received the Service Cross from one of the military branches. The exception was Rubin, though his file was the thickest of all.

There's still work to do in reviewing such records. Last week, following receipt of a request for information, U.S. Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins said that the Army had contracted with the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress for a three-year review of the records of the Jewish servicemen on the list, and for a similar review of Latino American veterans. Robbins said she expected a report on the results later this year.

Still, there was no doubt about Rubin or any need to make him wait any longer. He becomes the 15th Jewish recipient of the Medal of Honor since it was instituted during the Civil War by an act of Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, according to archivist Pamela Elbe of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

His first notice of the award came on July 27, when a White House aide called the house in Garden Grove early in the morning and asked for Rubin. His wife said that he was still asleep, but woke him at the caller's insistence.

“The man said that President Bush had just signed the order for my Medal of Honor,” Rubin recalled. “I was thinking, 'b——-' and went back to sleep.”

A little while later, the aide called again to ask what date would be convenient for Rubin to meet with the president. Gradually, Rubin started to believe.

“It would have been nice if they had given me the medal when I was a young, handsome man,” Rubin mused. “It would have opened a lot of doors.”

Nevertheless, ex-Cpl. Rubin is deeply impressed that high brass now must, according to military protocol, address him as “mister” or “sir,” and that he will have an escort of a major and a master sergeant on his way to Washington.

Furthermore, when he wears his medal, tradition requires that even five-star generals salute him and that the president of the United States stand when Rubin enters a room.

He is bound to get a lot of salutes at the White House, and later that day in a ceremony at the Pentagon, hosted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Rubin is allowed to invite 200 guests for the White House ceremony, and among them will be the survivors of his old company and their families. There will also be relatives, but Rubin doubts that his cousins in Israel will be able to make it.

Although he usually says what's on his mind, Rubin promises to be on his best behavior at the White House and Pentagon: “My wife told me to be very humble, very nice.”

When Rubin was interviewed three years ago, he told this reporter, “I want this recognition for my Jewish brothers and sisters. I want the goyim to know that there were Jews over there, that there was a little greenhorn, a little shmuck from Hungary, who fought for their beloved country.”

Times have changed.

“Now,” said Rubin with a self-deprecating laugh, “It's Mister Shmuck, the hero.”

 

First Person – Torn in Two


To the Jews of the Diaspora:

I recently returned from a monthlong vacation to the United States. Since I’ve gotten back home to Israel,

however, it seems as though “reality” has smacked me upside the head. I say this because of such a severe contrast between daily life in the United States and Israel.

Every minute of television, radio and Internet coverage is dedicated to the disengagement currently taking place. I feel so torn. It is just as hard to see people being booted out of their homes, as it is to see the soldiers unwillingly carrying out their orders because they have no choice in the matter. When the TV is filled with images of a kippah-clad settler crying and dancing arm in arm with a kippah-clad solider, one the evictor and one the evictee, how can a Jew not be profoundly moved to tears?

The disengagement is not solving any problems — it just creates many smaller ones. Where are these people supposed to move? The government has not planned sufficiently for this. People are living in tents.

A mother holds her child up and says, “Look, sweetie, this is who evicted you from your home … remember….” Is this the kind of image we want our Israeli/Jewish youth to have of our own Israel Defense Forces (IDF)? Is that how people will see me when I don an IDF uniform in a month, when I am to be drafted? Why should soldiers be forced to carry out these orders? They do not deserve this type of bad reputation.

How on earth is this “good for the State of Israel,” as Ariel Sharon claims over and over? Will the terror stop? Will the imams stop chanting and preaching “Allah is great and kill the Jews?” Will they stop educating their kids to do the same and will suicide bombers’ parents stop being proud of their children who “died for the cause?” Does Sharon not see and hear on Al Jazeera how the Arabs are dancing on the rooftops at the Israeli retreat? Does he not hear their preachers saying, “This is only the beginning?” What are Israelis receiving from the Palestinians in return for our bending over backward for them?

How can a Jew not cry when he sees four crying female soldiers trying to console one another while at the same time forcefully carrying out a crying woman from her home or shul?

How can a Jew not tear his garments when he sees crying rabbis and yeshiva heads abandoning their shuls and batei midrash where they spent days and nights sanctifying God’s name and learning Torah? They lead somber processions of their students, Torah scrolls in hand. They stand together in a circle with soldiers singing “Hatikva,” their voices cracking. Seeing these images and hearing their souls singing and their “Shema Yisroels” resonating is equally as mind boggling, disturbing, moving and awe-inspiring as thinking of how Jews throughout our history have done everything possible to make Kiddushei Hashem in the face of the worst situations imaginable.

I cannot just go on with daily life and not be affected. I feel like I have so much more to say. The simplest questions of “How are you? How was your day today?” take 2,000 words to answer. What if it was me being evicted? What if one day I’m going to be commanded to evict some of my neighbors? How can I ever raise children in this country when this is what they might have to face? The State of Israel and all of its people are in a state of mourning. I feel so lonely. I feel like there’s nothing I can do, completely helpless to reverse this awful direction my country is taking. It makes me want to run away, back to the States. I ask myself so often now, “Why am I here? Am I crazy?”

A planeload of 250 immigrants from Canada and the United States arrived in Israel last week. Former mayor of Jerusalem and current Finance Minister Ehud Olmert greeted them. Immediately upon arrival, they engaged in heckling him and the government’s “crazy” policies. He shouted back at them, “Well, if a million of you would’ve come a long time ago, maybe things wouldn’t be this way.”

Is this the kind of greeting new ideological immigrants to Israel, who give up “the good life” in the States are supposed to have from a government minister? Is Olmert right, though? Hopefully reading what I’ve had to say has made you just stop and think for a minute or two. I just wish you were here with me.

Robert Strazynski is a former resident of Los Angeles who has been living in Israel for the past seven years. He resides in the West Bank settlement of Ginot Shomron.

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