Istanbul bomber did not deliberately target Israelis, investigation finds


A suicide bomber who killed three Israelis in an attack in Istanbul did not target the Israeli tour group, Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau has determined.

The attacker, who detonated himself on March 19 as the Israeli tour group left a restaurant in the major Turkish city, was attempting to disrupt tourism in general to Turkey, the bureau announced Sunday after a month-long investigation, the Associated Press reported. An Iranian national also was killed in the explosion.  Two of the Israeli victims also held American citizenship.

Turkish media reported a day after the attack that the bomber followed the Israeli culinary tour group from their hotel to the restaurant, and waited until they were leaving the restaurant to detonate his explosives.

The bomber was identified as a Turkish citizen, Mehmet Ozturk, who was affiliated with the Islamic State. He reportedly spent two years in Syria before returning to Turkey illegally.

Following the attack, Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office issued a travel warning calling on Israelis not to travel to Turkey. That warning remains in place.

Arab Lawyers Union honors terrorist who killed 21 Israelis in Haifa


The Palestine Committee of the Arab Lawyers Union recently bestowed its “highest honor” on female suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat, who killed 21 Israelis in a 2003 attack on Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa, Palestinian Media Watch reported on its website here.

Jaradat, who worked as a lawyer, also injured 51 Israelis in her bombing of Maxim’s. The lawyers union “created the ‘’” for her, according to an Oct 14 report in the Palestinian daily publication Al-Ayyam.

A delegation “conveyed to the family of Martyr Jaradat the good wishes of the head of the Union, Mr. Omar Al-Zayn… and also emphasized the pride of the Arab Lawyers Union for what their daughter had done in defense of Palestine and the nation.”

Would-be suicide bomber tells Gaza children to be like her


A would-be Palestinian suicide bomber freed by Israel in the prisoner swap for soldier Gilad Shalit told cheering schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip the day after her release Wednesday she hoped they would follow her example.

“I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs,” Wafa al-Biss told dozens of children who came to her home in the northern Gaza Strip.

Biss was traveling to Beersheba’s Soroka hospital for medical treatment in 2005 when Israeli soldiers at the Erez border crossing noticed she was walking strangely. They found 10 kgs (22 lbs) of explosives had been sewn into her underwear.

A member of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, Biss was sentenced to a 12-year term for planning to blow herself up.

After she spoke, the children cheered and waved Palestinian flags and chanted: “We will give souls and blood to redeem the prisoners. We will give souls and blood for you, Palestine.”

Biss said she had planned to blow herself up at the checkpoint but her detonator malfunctioned.

“Unfortunately, the button did not work at the last minute before I was to be martyred,” Biss told Reuters.

She said she had not yet adjusted to her freedom and arose early Wednesday for prison roll call.

“This morning I woke up in my room, wore my scarf and stood up awaiting the line-up time before I realized I was home and not in jail,” she said.

“We will pursue our struggle and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu] knows that. Arrests will not deter us from our strong battles and confrontation in the face of Zionist arrogance in the land of Palestine,” she said.

Biss was one of 477 Palestinians freed by Israel Tuesday in the first stage of an exchange with Gaza’s Hamas Islamist rulers that ended Shalit’s five years of captivity. Another 550 Palestinans will be freed in the second stage later this year.

Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi, Editing by Ori Lewis and Peter Graff

31 dead, 130 hurt in suicide bomb at Moscow’s busiest airport


At least 31 people were killed and 130 wounded Monday in a suicide blast at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, Russian Health Ministry officials said.

Smoke wafted out of the baggage claim area and people were seen running out of the emergency exits at Russia’s busiest airport, local media reported.

Russian officials branded the bombing a terrorist attack and President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Monday that those behind the explosion would be “tracked down and punished.”

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Taming a Former Suicide-Bomber City


The streets of Jenin are still plastered with posters commemorating Palestinian “martyrs” killed fighting Israel. Buildings are still pocked with bullet holes from the fighting when Israeli troops stormed this West Bank city several years ago. That’s hardly surprising in a place long notorious as one of the fiercest hotbeds of Palestinian militancy, home to at least 30 suicide bombers and site of the bloodiest battle of the last intifada.

Today, however, Jenin is gaining attention in an unexpected way: as a model of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

Suicide attacks have stopped. Militant leaders have laid down their weapons. Even during Israel’s ferocious war with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip last year, there were demonstrations but no violence in Jenin.

The newfound calm is largely thanks to an American-trained Palestinian police force that first hit the streets, with Israel’s support, three years ago.

“When we first got here, it was chaos,” says Col. Rade Asedeh, commander of the Jenin branch of the new National Security Force (NSF), sitting in his office beneath a mural of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. “Jenin was famous as the place with the most illegal guns on the streets. They were in the hands of outlaws and drug dealers as well as resistance fighters. Now, we challenge any city in the world to match our security situation.”

Every one of a dozen-odd residents of Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp I spoke with on a recent visit agreed that the new force has made the city much safer. “Now I can sleep at night without having to worry about my car or my sheep getting stolen,” says Talal Waimi, a middle school teacher. “I don’t have to fear that if I get in a fight with someone, he might come back and kill me.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has declared Jenin “a great success.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair lauded the city as “a model,” and ex-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it “a place of hope.”

Asedeh and the several hundred men under his command were trained by American, Canadian and British military and police advisers in neutral, neighboring Jordan under a program launched in 2007 to rebuild the Palestinian Authority’s security capabilities. The PA, dominated by the late Yasser Arafat’s secular nationalist Fatah movement, needed a serious boost at the time, having just lost control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody power struggle with its longtime rivals, the Islamist group Hamas.

The National Security Force recruits are all screened by American, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian intelligence agencies to root out potential infiltrators from Hamas or other hard-line groups. The U.S. is providing more than $160 million in funding and equipment for the force.

The new troops, armed only with assault rifles and pistols, are being deployed in other West Bank towns as well. The idea is to build up a professional Palestinian force that can enforce, someday, a full-fledged peace with Israel.

The NSF has disarmed local militias, arrested some of their leaders and given amnesty to others on condition they pledge not to attack Israel — pledges that have so far been kept. NSF troops have even shot it out with Hamas gunmen in the town of Qalqilya, leaving a total of nine dead on both sides. Their efforts — along, of course, with the Israeli-built wall that now cordons off much of the West Bank — help explain why last year was the first in a decade in which not a single suicide bomber hit Israel. In 2002, at the peak of the Second Intifada, 429 Israelis were killed in attacks from the West Bank; last year, the figure was six. All of this is part of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ strategy of renouncing violence in favor of a political approach to winning statehood for his people.

“In the end, violence yields nothing for us or the Israelis,” says Asedeh, who fought the Israeli army as a Palestinian Liberation Organization soldier in Lebanon in the 1980s. “We’ve had five or six wars, and it’s only brought thousands of deaths. We think a political solution is best.”

But the experiment is still perilously fragile. Though security is much improved, Jenin’s economy is in shambles. Before the last intifada, the city of 40,000 was a major shopping destination for Israelis crossing over the then-unmarked Green Line separating the West Bank from Israel. Now, that line has become a heavily fortified, de facto border crossing. Cars are not allowed through, and pedestrian travelers must navigate a series of gates under the watchful eye of rifle-toting soldiers. Many Israeli citizens are denied permission to enter — including the photographer who was supposed to accompany me — and almost no Palestinians are allowed to leave via the crossing, cutting off Jenin from both trade and jobs in Israel.

Films: Thwarted suicide bombers get ‘hell,’ not glory


Sixteen-year-old Hassan is deeply frustrated because he was caught by Israeli police before he could blow himself up, together with the targeted Israeli civilians.

“If I had been killed, my mother would call it a blessing,” he says. “My family and 70 relatives would have gone to paradise, and that would be a great honor for me.”

Hassan is one of more than a dozen Palestinian suicide bombers, men and women, captured before they could carry out their missions and interviewed in the documentary “Suicide Killers” by French Jewish filmmaker Pierre Rehov.

The movie’s subtitle is “Paradise Is Hell,” a deliberate counter-allusion to last year’s Oscar-nominated Palestinian documentary “Paradise Now,” which, critics charged, “humanized” its two suicide bombers.

The prison interviews will leave most viewers shaken, not because of the ferocity of the would-be terrorists, but because of their calmness and the certitude of their convictions.

No regrets or second thoughts are apparent, except for the failure of their missions, with the women in particular displaying a truly frightening serenity.

Producer-director Rehov, who has made six previous documentaries on Israeli-Palestinian relations and societies, is himself the product of a multicultural upbringing.

Born in Algeria into an old Jewish family, he said in a phone interview that he grew up among Arabs and Muslims and continues to feel comfortable among them.

That background, and his French citizenship, made it easier to conduct the interviews, once the Hamas prison bosses, who in effect control the inmates of the Israeli prison, gave their permission.

Rehov’s main purpose, and the most interesting aspect of the film, is to explore the terrorists’ minds and motivations.

It is Rehov’s thesis that while Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza, revenge for Palestinian deaths, frustration at checkpoints and poverty may all contribute to convincing young men and women to strap on explosive belts, the real reasons lie much deeper.

He assigns two psychological factors to the formation of the terrorist’s mindset, both inherent in Islamic religion and tradition: a high degree of sexual frustration, and a deep sense of humiliation and wounded pride.

Rehov’s conclusions, which in the light of Europe’s climate of opinion he labels as “politically incorrect,” are borne out to a considerable extent by the prisoners’ own words and the commentaries of Arab, Israeli and other experts interspersed in the film.

The would-be terrorists rarely speak of nationalist grievances, but constantly emphasize their religious mandate.

“Our goal is to kill all enemies of Islam,” one young woman says.

“Those who die for Allah are not dead but live in paradise,” a young man proclaims.

Such beliefs easily reinforce hatred of Jews.

“Jews have never obeyed God and are not part of mankind,” another prisoner adds.

One former recruiter of terrorists says that volunteers signify their wish to become “martyrs” by declaring that they wish to “marry Allah.”

A sense of shame is another major motivating factor for aspiring terrorists, according to Rehov.

“It is bad enough that the infidel West is superior in technology and wealth, but to have been defeated by Jews, whom Muslims have held in contempt for centuries, is the utmost humiliation,” he said.

Rehov treads on more controversial ground when he lists sexual frustration as perhaps the key component of the terrorist mind.

“Young Muslim men are raised in a highly restrictive atmosphere, riddled with sexual guilt and taboos,” he said. “They grow up without a natural relationship to women, whom they hold in deep contempt.”

The fantasy of rewarding martyrs with 72 virgins in paradise is part of that, as is the sense that the Israeli lifestyle, with its half-clad women, is corrupting Islamic purity, Rehov noted.

He observed similar sexual attitudes among serial killers in other countries, one reason he titled his film “Suicide Killers.”

The filmmaker dismissed another Western belief that if Islamic moderates are encouraged, they will eventually rein in the extremists.

“All Muslims, even in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, believe that Islam will prevail worldwide in the end, because that’s the word of God,” he said.

“Moderates believe that this will happen sometime in the future. The extremists think that it will happen in their lifetimes, and they want to be part of the victory. It’s just a difference in the timing, not in the ultimate outcome.”

“Suicide Killers” has screened at various film festivals in Europe, America and the Far East and Rehov expects that the film will open in commercial theaters early next year.


Click on big arrow to view trailer for ‘Suicide Killers’

Salman Rushdie Q & A: there’s a fascination with death among suicide bombers


Salman Rushdie, 59, has spent many years thinking and writing about terrorism. In this interview with political author Erich Follath, which appeared last month in Der Spiegel and is reprinted here with permission, Rushdie reflects on why apparently normal young men turn to terror, the dangers of religion and whether the United States has turned into an authoritarian state. Rushdie divides his time between New York, London and Mumbai; he appears in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, as keynote speaker at the American Jewish Congress’ event, “Profiles in Courage: Voices of Muslim Reformers in the Modern World.”

Erich Follath: Mr. Rushdie, as an expert on terrorism you….
Salman Rushdie: What gives me that honor? I don’t see myself as such at all.

EF: Your book, “Fury,” with its description of an America threatened by terrorism and published in spring 2001, was seen by many as prophetic — as more or less anticipating 9/11. Your most recent novel, “Shalimar the Clown,” describes how a circus performer from Kashmir is transformed into a terrorist. And for almost a decade, your life was threatened by Iranian fanatics, with a price of $4 million on your head.

SR: If you think that’s enough to qualify me as an expert on terrorism….

EF: While researching your books — and especially now after the recent near miss in London — you must be asking yourself: What makes apparently normal young men decide to blow themselves up?

SR: There are many reasons, and many different reasons, for the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism. In Kashmir, some people are joining the so-called resistance movements because they give them warm clothes and a meal. In London, last year’s attacks were still carried out by young Muslim men whose integration into society appeared to have failed. But now we are dealing with would-be terrorists from the middle of society. Young Muslims who have even enjoyed many aspects of the freedom that Western society offers them. It seems as though social discrimination no longer plays any role — it’s as though anyone could turn into a terrorist.

EF: Leading British Muslims have written a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair claiming that the growing willingness to engage in terrorism is due to [President] Bush’s and Blair’s policies in Iraq and in Lebanon. Are they completely wrong? Don’t the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and the cynicism of Guantanamo contribute to extremism?

SR: I’m no friend of Tony Blair’s, and I consider the Middle East policies of the United States and the U.K. fatal. There are always reasons for criticism, also for outrage. But there’s one thing we must all be clear about: Terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate goals by some sort of illegitimate means. Whatever the murderers may be trying to achieve, creating a better world certainly isn’t one of their goals. Instead they are out to murder innocent people. If the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, for example, were to be miraculously solved from one day to the next, I believe we wouldn’t see any fewer attacks.

EF: And yet there must be reasons, or at least triggers, for this terrible willingness to wipe out the lives of others — and of oneself.

SR: Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right. That’s exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality — that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual, too.

Upbringing certainly plays a major role there, imparting a misconceived sense of mission, which pushes people toward “actions.” Added to that there is a herd mentality once you have become integrated in a group, and everyone continues to drive everyone else on and on into a forced situation. There’s the type of person who believes his action will make mankind listen to him and turn him into a historic figure. Then there’s the type who simply feels attracted to violence. And yes, I think glamour plays a role, too.

EF: Do you seriously mean that terrorism is glamorous?

SR: Yes. Terror is glamour — not only, but also. I am firmly convinced that there’s something like a fascination with death among suicide bombers. Many are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic that is inherent in these insane acts. The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other peoples’ lives. There’s one thing you mustn’t forget here: The victims terrorized by radical Muslims are mostly other Muslims.

EF: Of course there can be no justification for terrorism. But nevertheless, there are various different starting points. There is the violence of groups who are pursuing nationalist, one might say comprehensible, goals using every means at their disposal….

SR: …. And there are others, like Al Qaeda, which have taken up the cause of destroying the West and our entire way of life. This form of terrorism wraps itself up in the wrongs of this world in order to conceal its true motives — an attack on everything that ought to be sacred to us. It is not possible to discuss things with Osama bin Laden and his successors. You cannot conclude a peace treaty with them. They have to be fought with every available means.

EF: And with the other ones, the “nationalist terrorists,” should we engage in dialogue with them?

SR: That depends on whether they are prepared to renounce their terrorist struggle under a certain set of conditions. That appears to be showing at least initial signs of working with the Basques of ETA. I think we have Bin Laden to thank for that to no small extent — the Basque leaders didn’t want to be like him. And with the IRA, it was the loss of credibility among their own people, who no longer saw any point in fighting violently in the underground.
Remolding former terrorist organizations into political parties in the long term is at least not hopeless. It might work with those groups that are not primarily characterized by religious fanaticism — the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, for example, a group which virtually invented suicide bombings, have no religious background at all. They have clear objectives: an independent state.

EF: Should such a state be granted to a minority just because they are particularly ruthless? What about Shalimar, the hero of your latest novel, who murders for Kashmir? Should he determine the region’s future?

Nation & World Briefs


Israel Upholds Contested Immigration Law

Israeli Arabs are upset after Israel’s top court upheld a controversial law that prevents Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from living in Israel.

By a vote of 6-5, the High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected petitions filed against the Citizenship and Entry Law.

While acknowledging that the law violates the human rights of the thousands of Israeli Arabs married to Palestinians, the High Court said national security must take precedence.

At least one of the Palestinian suicide bombers to have struck since 2000 was a resident of Israel through marriage, and Israeli Jews are all the more suspicious of Palestinians since they voted in a Hamas government earlier this year.

“The Palestinian Authority is an enemy government, a government that wants to destroy the country and is unwilling to recognize Israel,” Justice Mishael Cheshin wrote.

But Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, voiced their opposition to the decision.

“On this day, the High Court effectively approved the most racist legislation in the State of Israel: legislation which bars the unification of families on the basis of national belonging: Arab Palestinian,” Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, said in a statement.

Adalah likened the ruling, which means that many Israeli Arabs will either have to live apart from their Palestinian spouses or move to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, to South Africa under apartheid. Israeli officials have long rejected such comparisons as false, given the open conflict with the Palestinians and other constitutional rights generally enjoyed by Israeli Arabs.

First passed in 2002 at the height of the terrorist attacks, the Citizenship and Entry Law all but banned residency rights for the Palestinian spouses of Israelis.

An amended version in 2003, when the High Court petitions were first filed, loosened the law to allow eligibility for female candidates older than 25, and men older than 35 — ages at which Palestinians are statistically far less likely to take up arms.

Then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said national security justifies the law. But she also cited growing fear of an influx of Palestinians seeking the better life on offer in Israel, some of them through fictitious marriages with Israeli Arabs.

“There is nothing wrong with looking to safeguard Israel’s Jewish majority by law,” she said at the time.

Her successor, Haim Ramon, said Sunday that he would seek to enshrine the Citizenship and Entry Law in Israel’s Basic Laws.

“The High Court ruling appears to apply to a certain population sector, but I intend to make a law that will apply to everyone,” he told Army Radio. “Under the law, a citizen of a hostile country won’t be able to adopt Israeli citizenship, except under certain circumstances that the state will determine.” — Dan Baron, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

American Teen Dies of Bomb Wounds

An American teenager died of wounds sustained in last month’s Tel Aviv suicide bombing. Daniel Wultz, 16, succumbed Sunday in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, becoming the sole American fatality of the April 17 attack. Wultz, of Weston, Fla., was visiting downtown Tel Aviv with his father over Passover when they were hit by shrapnel from a Palestinian suicide bomber. Tuly Wultz, who suffered light injuries, went on to organize prayer campaigns for his son’s recovery. Daniel Wultz was the 11th fatality from the bombing, which was carried out by Islamic Jihad. Another casualty, 26-year-old Israeli Lior Enidzer, died last Friday. He had recently married.

Israel Gets Spot on U.N. Committee

Israel was appointed to a spot on the United Nations committee on nongovernmental organizations. The committee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council meets twice annually and reviews applications for special status with the commission. “Maybe our membership in the committee will help make Israeli NGOs more aware of this avenue and encourage them to seek a relationship with the economic and social council,” said Marco Sermoneta, a counselor at Israel’s mission to the United Nations. In addition, he said, membership would be a “good way to diversify our visibility in the United Nations.”

Poet Stanley Kunitz Dies at 100

Stanley Kunitz, a former U.S. poet laureate who made metaphoric use of the Talmud and other Jewish images in his poetry, died Sunday at 100. Kunitz, who was known for writing on themes ranging from life and death to gardens, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1959. The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, he gave up his dream of earning a doctorate at Harvard after being told that non-Jewish students wouldn’t enjoy being taught English literature by a Jew. A pacifist, Kunitz was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and, later, U.S. military involvement in Central America and Iraq.

Abbas Criticizes Hamas

Mahmoud Abbas assailed Hamas for harming the Palestinians’ image abroad. In a speech broadcast Monday, the Palestinian Authority president called on the Islamic terrorist group to renounce violence and accept peacemaking with Israel now that it’s leading the P.A. government.

“We must not resign ourselves to fiery speeches and slogans that could bring about international isolation,” Abbas said.

He added that by continuing to call for the Jewish state’s destruction, Hamas justifies Israeli arguments that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Abbas also appealed to Israel not to implement Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan,” under which it will withdraw unilaterally from parts of the West Bank and annex others in the absence of peace talks.

Pilgrims Flock to Tunisian Synagogue

Thousands of people attended the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to the Tunisian island of Djerba. The two-day celebration at the Ghriba Synagogue marks the end of a legendary plague 2,000 years ago. The synagogue was the site of a 2002 Al-Qaida terrorist attack that killed 21 people, mostly German tourists. The synagogue is the oldest Jewish house of worship in Africa and serves one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.

Holocaust-Era Archives to Open?

A commission of 11 nations is expected to vote to open Holocaust-era archives. Representatives of the countries that oversee the former Nazi files met Tuesday. Germany recently agreed to open up the archive, which contains 50 million files and is administered by the Red Cross.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

The Goalie of Oz


Oz Iluz loved to play goalie on his soccer team, but wasn’t too keen on math or the math exam that awaited him. So the 12-year-old didn’t really want to get on the small No. 14 bus in Jerusalem on that February morning in 2004.

A suicide bomber also boarded the bus, killing eight, including Oz’s friend. Oz suffered serious injuries and underwent surgery and therapy. He still has flashbacks about the bombing and panic attacks.

Thanks to an anonymous American donor and some friends, Oz and his family recently came to the United States.

Oz’s future is looking brighter. He still loves soccer , so he got a particular thrill attending and participating in a practice at a private home with 30 players from the Maccabiah soccer team arranged by coaches Kobi Goren and Philip Benditsen.

Then after Steve Sampson, coach of the L.A. Galaxy, learned of Oz’s story, he invited him to a team practice at the Home Depot Center in Carson, where Oz dressed in full soccer gear.

His recent bar mitzvah also was a milestone. His Torah reading from Genesis — “In the beginning” — couldn’t have been more appropriate for his rejuvenated outlook.

“I was engulfed in love,” Oz said.

What did he like most about his trip? Oz smiled again and spoke the name of the donor who brought him here.

For more information, call (310) 550-1160.

Nation & World Briefs


Suicide Bomber Kills 3, Injures 24 at Netanya Mall

At least three people were killed and 24 wounded in a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Netanya on Tuesday. Islamic Jihad released a statement claiming responsibility for the blast at a shopping mall.

The 18-year-old bomber’s dismembered head and shoulders lay in the street, as shoppers rushed out of the mall, and security forces searched for other terrorists.

With competition at the 17th Maccabiah Games taking place at the Wingate Institute just north of the city, frantic Foreign Ministry officials scoured the crowd for any sign that Jewish athletes from abroad had been hurt.

An hour earlier, another terrorist tried to detonate a car bomb in the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, but the explosives misfired and only the driver was hurt.

There was no sign that Tuesday’s attacks had thrown the Gaza Strip pullout off track, and the 17th Maccabiah Games went ahead as scheduled.

“We will carry out the disengagement,” Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. “Its schedule will not be changed one iota.”

However, Olmert hinted that Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas’ actions would determine whether Israeli-Palestinian contacts, which were revived after the death of Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, could lead to a permanent peace accord.

“If the Palestinian Authority does not fight terror, we will fight terror,” Olmert said. “It will be a shame if we find we have no real peace partner” for the long term.

G-8 Pledges $3 billion in Assistance for Palestinians

Industrialized nations pledged $3 billion in assistance to the Palestinians to spur peace. The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations concluded a three-day summit in Scotland last week with announcements of aid packages to developing nations.

Palestinian Authority officials say they need a quick influx of cash to ensure a smooth transition after Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip this summer.

Lethal Force Will Be Allowed in Gaza Strip Withdrawal

Israeli forces taking part in the upcoming Gaza Strip withdrawal will be allowed to fire at settlers if they present a deadly threat.

Under a code of conduct drawn up this week by Israeli security strategists, soldiers and police taking part in next month’s pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank will be under orders to try all nonlethal means to quell settler resistance, but reserve the right to open fire if they feel their own lives are at risk.

Settler leaders have vowed to mount nonviolent resistance only, but authorities fear some activists could fire at security forces to forestall evacuation.

Record Aliyah to Take Off

Two El Al flights were scheduled to take off Tuesday, carrying the largest-ever single-day aliyah of North American Jews to Israel. The flights, sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency for Israel, will leave from New York and Toronto with approximately 500 new olim (those making aliyah).

The planes will be the first of six dedicated El Al flights this year carrying 3,200 North American immigrants to Israel through the two organizations. This will be the first year since 1983 that more than 3,000 North American Jews will be making aliyah, and the first time a planeload of olim leaves from Canada.

The immigrants were expected to be met at the airport in Israel by Prime Minster Ariel Sharon, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zeev Bielski, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

O.U. Assails Ruling Denying U.S. Scout Jamboree Aid

The Orthodox Union (OU) criticized a U.S. federal court ruling barring Defense Department assistance to a Boy Scout gathering. The court ruled June 22 that government support of the annual Scout Jamboree was in violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, because Boy Scouts are required to make a nonsectarian oath of “duty to God.”

“The Boy Scouts is clearly a nonsectarian organization, which welcomes participants of diverse faiths and backgrounds,” Nathan Diament, OU’s director of public policy, said in a statement Monday.

By providing the jamboree with temporary housing and other logistical support, Diament said, the Defense Department gains the benefit of training personnel to perform these tasks in other instances and supporting the work of the Boy Scouts.

30,000 Mark Anniversary of Rabbi Schneerson’s Death

More than 30,000 people streamed by the gravesite of the Lubavitcher rebbe to mark the 11th anniversary of his death. Many of the visitors reflected and prayed Saturday night and Sunday at Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s burial place in the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, N.Y., said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch.

Among those visiting the gravesite were Lubavitchers, other Chasidim, some nonreligious people and visitors from Europe.

Jewish Film Receives Six German Oscars

A comedy about German Jewish life was the big winner at the German film awards. Dani Levy’s “Go for Zucker” won six Lolas over the weekend, including best film, best actor and best director.

The movie depicts a secular, near-bankrupt German Jew trying to cope with the death of his mother.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Short Films, Big Messages


In Sidney Lumet’s searing short film, “The Rachel Aria,” a fanatical Jew tears a Torah scroll while making a horrific vow: He’s decided to let himself and his adopted child be boiled alive rather than convert to Christianity; he won’t save her by revealing she’s actually the daughter of the cardinal, his arch-nemesis.

For the filmmakers, the short — based on the 1835 opera, “La Juive” — is as much about terrorism as anti-Semitism.

“We talked a lot about suicide bombers,” producer Paula Heil Fisher said. “We talked about how a person can be driven to choose revenge over family.”

“Rachel” premieres this week at the 10th annual Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, the largest event of its kind in North America. It’s one of six shorts on a Jewish program that, like some festival fare, exhibits a kind of Sept. 11 hangover.

“Strangers,” by Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor, revolves around a Jew and an Arab who band together to escape skinheads on the subway. “Old Country,” by Mark Adam and Allen Kaeja, explores a community traumatized by the brutality of war.

Like all successful shorts, the Jewish films are concise but powerful; Lumet, for one, “gives just the necessary information while delivering emotional depth,” the festival’s Helen du Toit said.

In a spare 10 minutes, the protagonist, Eleazar, displays the level of angst one sees in Lumet’s Oscar-winning feature, “The Pawnbroker,” about a Holocaust survivor also embittered by loss.

“It’s intensely psychological storytelling,” du Toit said.

But the focus is political, too. Eleazar (tenor Neil Shicoff) “speaks of intolerance and prejudice and fanaticism that’s so contemporary I can turn the TV on now and see it on CNN,” Shicoff told Newsday.

Which is why his character commits such an unspeakable act in the film.

“He tears the Torah, which is an unbelievable sin beyond anything you can imagine — beyond murder,” Lumet said.

The Jewish short film program screens Sept. 1 at thefestival, which runs from Aug. 31-Sept. 6. For information, visit www.psfilmfest.org .

Safe — and Sorry


Early Friday morning a few weeks ago, I was on a bus to Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station. I planned to take another bus from there to Mevasseret Tzion, a suburb of Jerusalem, to get a ride to Bet Shemesh for my weekly job in a school there. I was right on schedule. On the bus, I went over my notes for the day, jotting down any new ideas that came along. The bus sighed as we curved around a sharp bend in the road, and I looked around at the other passengers.

I love riding public transportation because I see the most interesting people. I find myself staring at them, picking them apart, and imagining their stories. I examine their clothes, their hair, their belongings, their facial expressions, note whether they are traveling alone or in a pack, if they meet my gaze or if they are also looking around at the other passengers. With all of these bits of information, I piece together their histories and where they are going. It was a gorgeous day, a preview of spring, and the tension that continuously hangs in the Jerusalem air seemed lighter. Though it was early, people were already out preparing for Shabbat.

I noticed a woman sitting diagonally across from me. She was young, probably about 16, and obviously religious. Her hair was neatly brushed and pulled back, and she wore plain, modest clothing and sensible leather shoes. She wasn’t pretty, but that was due partly to her dowdy appearance. Nose buried in a small book of Tehillim (Psalms), she mouthed the words silently as the bus rattled along its course. She never looked up, and I imagined myself in her place. A good girl. Reliable. Helps her mother take care of her siblings, cook and clean. I wondered if I, being raised as she was, would sit on a bus reading Tehillim. Or would I just carry around the book for show, shirking my duty to read every day?

The bus stopped and about 10 people got on. I kept my eye out for elderly people who might prefer to sit where I was, closer to the front. One of the last people to step on was an older Arab man. He sat down facing me and I, of course, looked him over. I admired his suit. It looked tailor-made, and part of the lining peeked out, showing the words "ENGLISH WOOL ENGLISH WO–." The suit had a jacket and a long skirt-type wrap, in matching gray pinstripes, and his well-worn brown leather shoes needed a shine. Under his kefiyah was a beautiful face. Lined with deep creases, his brown skin looked soft to the touch. His gray eyes were bright beneath thick, white eyebrows. I found myself wishing I knew how to paint, so that I could make a portrait of this intriguing man. I wanted him to meet my gaze, to make eye contact so that I could smile. I wanted to befriend this man.

"Is it strange," I wondered, "to be the only Arab on a bus full of Jews?"

In high school I was the only white employee in a restaurant full of African Americans and Latino Americans.

Then I thought, "Is he nervous? Is he worried about terrorist attacks?"

A friend had told me recently about an Israeli Arab scolding others for riding buses because he thinks it isn’t safe. Noting the irony, I considered how I would feel in his shoes. Would I be more or less afraid of riding buses? The odds are far more likely that I’ll die from all the second-hand smoke in Israeli public places than from a terrorist attack. Guards step onto buses every so often to check, and the bus drivers take a good look at everyone who gets on, but then again, how much time do they really have to size up a passenger?

I looked around the bus again, to see if anyone else seemed nervous about being there. When I looked back at the man in the seat across from mine, I noticed the large briefcase in his lap. He clutched it to his chest, and suddenly my thoughts took a sharp turn. Arab man. Baggy suit. Briefcase. Sitting across from me. My heart started to pound. I looked around again. Had anyone else noticed? Nobody on the bus seemed the least bit perturbed. The woman on the other side of the aisle was still mouthing her prayers to God. She had not even noticed the man sit down. A soldier stood a few feet behind me looking bored. My mind raced as I realized that my wrinkly Arab friend could be a suicide bomber. I didn’t know what to do.

I tried to shrug off my concern. Hadn’t I just been admiring his suit, his wrinkles, his eyes? Hadn’t I just felt a strong connection to this stranger sitting across from me — this stranger who could kill me with the touch of a button? Should I get off the bus? Am I a racist for even thinking of getting off? About two months ago, a woman called me to apologize for being late to a meeting. She explained through heavy breaths that she had gotten off her bus and had to walk because there was someone on the bus who looked suspicious.

I finally decided to stand by the back door, behind the heavy plastic partition so that, at the very least, I would be better protected. I stood up and moved subtly to the back. I didn’t want anyone to guess why I was moving. I was ashamed for assuming that an Arab man with a briefcase was a suicide bomber. I tried to make it look like I just needed to stretch my legs. When I stood behind the window, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Two stops later I got off the bus. I scanned the crowd on the busy street, my heart still pounding, not even sure what I was looking for. Though all I wanted to do was drop to the ground and weep, I forced myself onward. Feeling guilty for jumping to conclusions, shaken by the stress of the situation, and grateful to be alive, I took a deep breath, faced forward and marched across the street to catch my second bus.


Miriam Lewis is a freelance writer, designer, performer and stage director in Jerusalem. Originally from Michigan, she lived in Los Angeles for a year recruiting for long-term Israel programs.

Bombing Hits Close to Home for Group


Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon was describing the Palestinian Authority’s strategy of terrorism, when a small commotion erupted in the corner of the room.

One of Ya’alon’s aides swiftly scribbled a note and passed it to the Israeli army chief of staff, who hardly skipped a beat in his Sunday-morning speech to a visiting delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

It was only several minutes later, after Ya’alon had finished his presentation, that he told the group that a Palestinian suicide bomber had detonated himself aboard a bus barely 100 yards from the group’s hotel in downtown Jerusalem.

At least eight people were killed in the explosion, and more than 60 were wounded. The attack took place near the German Colony, an upscale neighborhood filled with trendy shops and beautiful homes.

The Al-Aqsa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack. It cited Israel’s construction of its West Bank security barrier as the primary grievance.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, who has seen the aftermath of other suicide bombings, appeared visibly shaken. He said he had never been to the site of a bombing so soon after the attack.

“It’s overwhelming,” Hoenlein said. “It’s too hard to comprehend. There were body parts right there by our feet. You can’t bring the war on terror any closer to home.”

The explosion came a day before the International Court of Justice at The Hague began a hearing on the legality of the security barrier Israel is building to keep Palestinian terrorists from crossing into Israel. Israeli officials said the bombing lent new weight to Israel’s argument that the fence is needed to block terrorists.

“This is Arafat’s response to The Hague,” Hoenlein said. “If anything underlines the obscenity of The Hague trial, this is it. It’s Israel’s obligation to bring an end to this kind of outrage by building the fence.”

A statement from Arafat’s office said, “We will not stand idly by while Palestinian interests are harmed” — apparently a reference to the damage the bombing could cause the Palestinian case at The Hague hearings. The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing and vowed to catch those responsible. Similar pledges have gone unfulfilled in the past.

The eight people killed in the bombing were identified as Ilan Avisidris, 41, Jerusalem; Lior Azulai, 18, Jerusalem; Yaffa Ben-Shimol, 57, Jerusalem; Rahamim Duga, 38, Mevasseret Zion; Yehuda Haim, 48, Givat Ze’ev; Staff Sgt. Netanel Havshush, 20, Jerusalem; Yuval Ozana, 32, Jerusalem; and Benayahu Yehonatan Zuckerman, 18, Jerusalem. Funerals for them were held Sunday and Monday.

Israeli officials said the Palestinian attacker would not have been able to infiltrate Israel from his home near Bethlehem had the 450-mile barrier been complete.

“I hope that The Hague’s 15 justices get the message,” Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid told Israel Radio Sunday. “If there had been a fence around Jerusalem, there would not have been a terrorist attack today.”

Nir Barakat, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, was on his way to visit a local school when the bus exploded across the street from him. He told an aide to call an ambulance and ran to aid the wounded.

“Life is more important than the quality of life,” Barakat said, referring to Palestinian arguments that the fence intended to thwart terrorists impedes Palestinian freedom of movement and makes it difficult for farmers to reach their fields. “I want to protest. The world has a double standard and needs to get its priorities straight. The first thing is to stop the killing.”

American Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a member of the Conference of Presidents delegation, said the Palestinians were “thumbing their noses at the world” by carrying out an attack the day before the hearing.

“We knew about these attacks intellectually before, but now we have a little more emotional understanding,” Nadler said. “One thing that is really mind blowing is seeing this piece of flesh, like uncooked meat, lying on the ground and knowing that it comes from a person.”

JTA correspondent Dan Baron in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Is There a Hole in the Fence Plan?


The burnt-out hulk of an Israeli bus destroyed by a Palestinian suicide bomber had just arrived at The Hague on Sunday, when a second bus was blown up at a busy intersection in Jerusalem.

The first bus — the remains of a Palestinian bomber’s work in Jerusalem on Jan. 29 — was meant to protest this week’s International Court of Justice hearings on the legality of the security barrier Israel is building to stop the bombers.

The images of the two mangled buses made Israel’s case against terrorism better than words ever could. However, they also raised serious issues for Israel.

The two bombings, which killed 19 Israelis and injured more than 100, occurred in densely populated residential sections of the city within three weeks of each other.

Their proximity raised two key questions: How effective is Israel’s barrier likely to be against would-be Palestinian bombers, and if it is effective everywhere else, will Jerusalem — with its patchwork of Arab and Jewish neighborhoods — become the soft underbelly of the system and the main target of Palestinian terrorism?

The barrier, for most of its planned 450 mile-route, is a sophisticated network of wire-mesh fences built with electronic sensors, patrol roads, ditches, cameras and watchtowers. In some short spans, the barrier is a concrete wall.

In both bombing cases, the attackers came from the Bethlehem area. According to Israel’s Shin Bet security services, the bombers infiltrated Jerusalem though gaps in the fence south of the city. Work on the fence there has been held up for weeks in Israeli courts.

Had that southern portion of the barrier been complete, Israeli advocates of the fence system said, the bombings probably would have been prevented. They said the fact that the bombings occurred is a strong argument for speedy completion of the barrier separating Israelis from Palestinians — in Jerusalem and everywhere else.

The problem with that argument is that the fence in Jerusalem is unlike the fence anywhere else.

Between Israel proper and the West Bank, the fence separates Israelis from Palestinians and serves as a security barrier between would-be suicide bombers and their targets in Israel, even if it does not offer protection for Jewish settlers on the Palestinian side of the fence.

In Jerusalem, however, the fence runs along the city’s outer perimeter, separating it from the West Bank but leaving on the Israeli side most of the city’s 200,000 Palestinians. There is no barrier between them and the city’s buses. They could provide a huge fount of Arab terror against Israel.

Danny Seidemann, a U.S.-born lawyer who has studied the Jerusalem fence and knows virtually every inch of its convoluted route, is convinced that that is precisely what will happen.

Seidemann argues that besides leaving nearly 200,000 Palestinians in the capital city, the fence cuts arbitrarily through Palestinian suburbs, cuts off Palestinians from their natural hinterland in the West Bank and cuts off others from Jerusalem itself. Given the mixture of Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, he maintains that a rational division of Jews and Arabs simply is not possible.

"In Jerusalem," Seidemann said, "Israelis should defend themselves against terror by other, more sophisticated means."

Seidemann contended that the fence in Jerusalem is counterproductive. He argued that the main reason Jerusalem Arabs have not taken any significant part in terrorist activities until now is because of their relatively high standard of living.

Per capita income for Jerusalem Arabs, Seidemann said, is about $3,500 a year, more than four times as much as in the rest of the West Bank. Until now, Jerusalem Arabs have been unwilling to risk their standard of living by provoking Israeli reprisals and defensive measures that could strangle economic life, Seidemann said.

However, the fence threatens to put an end to all that. Cut off from the West Bank, prices in Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem will rise and standards of living will decrease. The humanitarian and economic problems created by the fence, Seidemann said, will increase terror, not reduce it.

Moreover, Palestinians in Jerusalem who decide to turn to terrorism will not be impeded by a barrier, because the fence runs mainly outside the city, not inside it.

Jerusalem could become the prime focus of the terrorists, because of its symbolic resonance in both Israeli and Palestinian narratives and because of the relative ease with which its targets can be reached. That would create a new security problem for Israel’s armed forces and its police, possibly entailing a stronger presence in the eastern part of the city.

Already, there have been 25 suicide bombings in Jerusalem during the three years of the intifada, nearly all by bombers from outside the city. These attacks have claimed more than 180 lives, nearly 20 percent of all Israeli casualties of the intifada.

Jerusalem Arabs joining the ranks of the terrorists could have horrific consequences for both sides, Seidemann said.

Blowing up the second bus in Jerusalem seemed to play into Israel’s hands in the public relations campaign against the proceedings at The Hague, which Israel officially is boycotting on the grounds that the court lacks jurisdiction in the matter.

On the day the proceedings began this week, Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot led its front-page preview of the court’s hearings with a letter to the 15-judge panel from a woman who was widowed by Sunday’s bombing.

"You are sitting in judgment," wrote Fanny Haim, "and I am burying my husband."

Though the Palestinian Authority condemned the latest bombing, Palestinian spokesmen seemed more concerned about the bad timing of the attack than the bombing itself. A branch of the Al-Aqsa Brigade, affiliated with P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization, claimed responsibility for the attack. Some Israeli analysts saw this as evidence of chaos on the Palestinian side, because the bombing does not seem to serve the Palestinian Authority’s interests.

Meanwhile, P.A. leaders reportedly have sent messages to terrorist commanders urging them to exercise restraint for the time being. But whether controlled from above or the result of grass-roots efforts, the attacks against Israeli civilians show few signs of abating soon.

If the judges at The Hague rule against Israel’s fence — ignoring the terrorism that prompted its construction — their ruling could encourage terrorists further.

The bottom line is that whatever happens at The Hague, Israel will go on building its security fence. In Jerusalem, however, that may not be enough.

The Soul of Judaism


Rabbi Binny Freedman, the educational director of the
international Jewish organization Isralight, was nonchalantly eating his baked
ziti in the back of Jerusalem’s Sbarro’s pizza store when a suicide bomber
detonated his bomb there.

“It was the loudest explosion I have ever heard, and I am an
Israeli army officer who has been under artillery fire,” Freedman said of the
August 2001 incident. “People started screaming, and then a huge ball of fire
swept through the entire front and there were flames everywhere. It was one of
the most horrible things I have ever seen. I was coming down the stairs, and I
saw a woman lying on the ground, looking at me  trying to say something. I
kneeled down next to her and I saw the light go out in her eyes. I watched her
die. There was a man who had been at the table to my right, and he had been
blown back against the wall, and he was lying there without his legs.”

Freedman’s decision to dine at the back of Sbarro’s meant
that he emerged unharmed from the incident, but the impact of the moment has
not left him. “To be honest, I am still trying to process it,” said the
39-year-old rabbi, who is speaking in Los Angeles this week. “You wonder why
God thought you should still be here, and you wonder why your life was worth
saving.”

A few weeks after the Sbarro bombing was Sept. 11. By then,
Freedman had moved to America, dividing his time between Florida and New York.
He started receiving calls from Sept. 11 survivors and the families of the
victims, who wanted to use Freedman’s experience to help them deal with terror
and make sense of life. Freedman said he made no pretenses about having the
answers, but he started to explore the questions. “If it just about how do you
deal with terror, so then at the end of the day it is just an experience,” he
said. “But the real question is, ‘What is really going on? What is the message
behind all of this?'”

As the educational director of Isralight, Freedman wants
other Jews to start thinking about these questions, too. Isralight is a Jewish
educational organization that began in 1984 in Jerusalem, with the aim of
creating a renaissance of Jewish identity and inspiring Jews of all backgrounds
to have a deeper relationship with their Judaism. Although Freedman and the
other rabbis who work at Isralight are Orthodox, Freedman said the organization
is pluralistic and open to Jews of all backgrounds, from ultra-Orthodox to
Reform. Today there are Isralight centers in Florida, New York and Israel, and
the organization runs educational retreats, weekly classes, Shabbatons, a
leadership training program and a Torah newsletter that goes out to some 15,000
people.

This month, Isralight will have its inaugural Los Angeles
program, a Shabbaton at the Park Hyatt hotel in Century City with Freedman as
the guest speaker, talking about topics such as “Is being a good person
enough?” and “Tikkun Olam: Jewish education after Sept. 11.” After the
Shabbaton, Isralight will hold classes in Los Angeles taught by Rabbi Shlomo
Seidenfeld, and will also look for Los Angeles recruits for its leadership
training program.

As Jews get lost in the many technicalities of the religion,
Isralight can reacquaint them with the soul of Judaism, Freedman said. “There
is something seriously lacking in Jewish education today,” Freedman said. “I
meet a lot of Jews who can tell you the nuts and bolts of Judaism. They can
tell you how to make a tea on Shabbat. They can list for you the 39 categories
of prohibited labor on Shabbat, but if you ask them why Judaism is meaningful,
they couldn’t tell you,” he said. “If you ask the average Jew in Israel, do we
need a State of Israel, they will tell you yes. But if you ask them why — they
couldn’t tell you.” Freedman said that no one is giving “proper answers” to
these questions. “The Jewish people have a lot to offer the world, but we
really have to believe in what we are doing. And that is what Isralight is here
for — to allow people to get back in touch, to challenge people, to explore the
religion.”

Freedman said that Isralight differs from other outreach
organizations such as Aish HaTorah, because Isralight does not aim to convince
anyone of anything, to prove the validity of Judaism and its teachings or to
direct people to Orthodox yeshivot. “At the end of the day, believing in God is
not an intellectual decision,” Freedman said. “It is an emotional and
experiential decision. You don’t prove God, you experience God. I am looking to
inspire people — I want them to rediscover their Jewish pride, not as a
political statement, but as a spiritual statement.”

Isralight’s Two-Day Getaway Shabbat
Retreat will be held at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Century City, from Jan. 31 to
Feb. 1. For reservations, call Stacey Katz at (212) 595-5004 or e-mail stacey@isralight.org

.

The Making of a Potential Suicide Bomber


Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little children and kill them?

In war, one does not kill children. That is a fundamental human instinct common to all peoples and all cultures. Even a Palestinian who wants to take revenge for the hundreds of children killed by the Israeli army should not take revenge on children. No moral commandment says, "A child for a child."

The people who do these things are not known as crazy killers, blood-thirsty from birth. In almost all interviews with relatives and neighbors, they are described as quite ordinary, nonviolent individuals. Many of them are not religious fanatics. Indeed, Sirkhan Sirkhan, the man who committed the deed in Metzer, belonged to Fatah, a secular movement.

These persons belong to all social classes; some come from poor families who have reached the threshold of hunger, but others come from middle-class families, university students, educated people. Their genes are not different from ours.

So what makes them do these things? What makes other Palestinians justify them?

In order to cope, one has to understand, and that does not mean to justify. Nothing in the world can justify a Palestinian who shoots at a child in his mother’s embrace, just as nothing can justify an Israeli who drops a bomb on a house in which a child is sleeping in his bed.

As the Hebrew poet Bialik wrote a 100 years ago, after the Kishinev pogrom: "Even Satan has not yet invented the revenge for the blood of a little child."

But without understanding, it is impossible to cope. The chiefs of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have a simple solution: hit, hit, hit. Kill the attackers. Kill their commanders. Kill the leaders of their organizations. Demolish the homes of their families and exile their relatives.

But, wonder of wonders, these methods achieve the opposite. After the huge IDF bulldozer flattens the "terrorist infrastructure," destroying, killing, uprooting everything in its way, within days, a new "infrastructure" comes into being. According to the announcements of the IDF, itself, since operation "Protective Shield," there have been some 50 warnings of imminent attacks every day.

The reason for this can be summed up in one word: rage.

Terrible rage that fills the soul of a human being, leaving no space for anything else. Rage that dominates the person’s whole life, making life itself unimportant.

Rage that wipes out all limitations, eclipses all values, breaks the chains of family and responsibility. Rage that a person wakes up with in the morning, goes to sleep with in the evening, dreams about at night. Rage that tells a person: get up, take a weapon or an explosive belt, go to their homes and kill, kill, kill, no matter what the consequences.

An ordinary Israeli, who has never been in the Palestinian territories, cannot even imagine the reasons for this rage. Our media totally ignore the events there or describe them in small, sweetened doses.

The average Israeli knows somehow that the Palestinians suffer (it’s their own fault, of course), but he has no idea what’s really happening there. It doesn’t concern him, anyhow.

Homes are demolished. A merchant/lawyer/ordinary craftsman, respected in his community, turns overnight into a "homeless person," he, his children and grandchildren. Each one a potential suicide bomber.

Fruit trees are being uprooted by the thousands. For the officer, it’s just a tree, an obstacle. For the owners, it’s the blood of his heart, the heritage of his forefathers, years of toil, the livelihood of his family. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

On a hill between the villages, a gang of thugs has put up an "outpost." The army arrives to defend them. When the villagers come to till their fields, they are shot at. They are forbidden to work in all fields and groves within a one- or two-kilometer range, so that the security of the outpost will not be endangered.

With longing eyes, the peasants see from afar how their fruit is rotting on the trees, how their fields are being covered by thorns and thistles waist high, while their children have nothing to eat. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

People are killed. Their torn bodies lie in the streets for everyone to see. Some of them are "martyrs" who chose their lot. But many othersare killed: "by mistake," "accidentally," "trying to escape," "were close to the source of fire" and all the 101 pretexts of professional spokesmen.

The IDF does not apologize; officers and soldiers are never convicted, because "that’s how things are in war." But each of the people killed has parents, brothers, sons, cousins. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

Beyond these are the families living on the fringes of hunger, suffering from severe malnutrition. Fathers who cannot bring food to their children feel despair. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.Hundreds of thousands are kept under curfew for weeks and months on end, eight persons cooped up in two or three rooms, a living hell difficult to imagine, while outside, the settlers have a ball, protected by the soldiers. A vicious circle: yesterday’s bombers caused the curfew, the curfew creates the bombers of tomorrow.

And beyond all these, there is the total humiliation that every Palestinian, without distinction of age, gender or social standing, experiences every moment of his life.

An Israeli who has not seen it cannot imagine such a life, a situation of "every bastard a king" and "the slave who has becomes master," a situation of curses and pushes at best, threats with weapons in many cases, actual shooting in some — not to mention the sick on the way to dialysis, pregnant women on the way to the hospital, students who don’t get to their classes, children who can’t reach their schools. The youngsters who see their venerable grandfather publicly humiliated by some boy in uniform with a runny nose. Each one a potential suicide bomber.

A normal Israeli cannot imagine all this. After all, the soldiers are nice boys, the sons of all of us, only yesterday they were schoolboys. But when one takes these nice boys and puts them in uniforms, pushes them through the military machine and puts them into a situation of occupation, something happens to them.

Many try to keep their human face in impossible circumstances, many others become order-fulfilling robots. And always, in every company, there are some disturbed people who flourish in this situation and do repulsive things, knowing that their officers will turn a blind eye or wink approvingly.

All this does not justify the killing of children in the arms of their mother. But it helps to grasp why this is happening, and why this will go on happening as long as the occupation lasts.

Uri Avnery is a columnist for the Israel daily Maariv, a founding member of Gush Shalom and a former Knesset member.

World Briefs


Four Israelis Killed This Week

At least two Israelis were killed and 32 injured by a Palestinian suicide bomber at a shopping center in the city of Kfar Saba on Nov. 4. Two infants were among those wounded after the bomber set off his explosives at an electronics store in the shopping mall. Located near the West Bank, Kfar Saba has been the target of numerous Palestinian terror attacks. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. Funerals were held Wednesday for two Argentine immigrants Gaston Perpinal, 15, and Julio Pedro Magram, 51, the security guard who blocked the bomber from entering the Kfar Saba shopping mall in Monday’s attack. Meanwhile, a Palestinian worker shot and killed two Israelis and wounded a third before being killed in a Gaza Strip settlement Wednesday. The attack occurred in the greenhouse area of the Rafah Yam settlement in southern Gaza. The two Israelis were identified as Amos Sa’adah, 52, and Asaf Tsafira, 18. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the attacker as a resident of Khan Yunis

Clinton Remembers Rabin

There would have been a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in 1998 if Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated, former President Clinton said. “I never loved another man more than I loved Yitzhak Rabin,” Clinton said Tuesday at a memorial for the former Israeli prime minister at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. The event was attended by three former U.S. secretaries of state and numerous officials of the first Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as by Rabin’s son, Yuval. Clinton later told reporters that he believed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and incoming Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are capable of doing “the right thing,” noting their participation at the Wye River talks with the Palestinians in 1998.

Army Approves Ramadan Measures

The Israeli army agreed to ease restrictions on Palestinians during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The army said, however, that the easing would depend on the security situation. Ramadan begins Wednesday.

U.S. Lawmakers Want Miniseries
Canceled

U.S. lawmakers sent a letter Monday urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to condemn an anti-Semitic television program. The Bush administration also has urged Egypt to review the 40-part miniseries “Horseman Without a Horse,” which is based in part on the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” On Monday, about 100 people protested in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, charging that the program preaches hate toward Jews.

Israel Might Restore Immigrant Tax
Benefits

The Israeli army agreed to ease restrictions on Palestinians during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The army said, however, that the easing would depend on the security situation. Ramadan begins Wednesday. [hed] Israel Might Restore Tax Benefits

Progress was made in efforts to reinstate Western immigrant tax benefits that were canceled under Israel’s tax reform law. A bill that would exempt for 10 years overseas income from such things as interest and dividends passed in a preliminary Knesset vote Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported. The bill’s sponsor, legislator Zvi Hendel, had warned that canceling the tax benefit would prompt immigrants to leave the country.

Is “Ethicist” Anti-Semitic?

Randy Cohen’s “Ethicist” column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine came under fire last week for being insensitive to Jewish laws of modesty. Cohen wrote that it was ethical for a woman to “tear up the contract” with an Orthodox real estate agent because the man refrained from shaking her hand. The advice so incensed members of the Jewish community that a delegation from the Orthodox Union was to meet this week Cohen and Times editors “to sensitize the Times on this issue,” according to OU officials.

The Ethicist’s query was posed by “J.L.” who said she had a “courteous and competent real-estate agent” whose religious refusal to shake her hand “offended me…. As a feminist, I oppose sex discrimination of all sorts. However, I also support freedom of religious expression. How do I balance these conflicting values? Should I tear up our contract?”

Cohen replied that though it was “a petty slight, without ill intent,” she doesn’t have to work with someone who denies her “the dignity and respect” he shows to men. “I believe you should tear up your contract” at the offense of the Orthodox man rendering “a class of people untouchable.”

E-mail outpourings and web sites castigated Cohen’s answer. Blu Greenberg, president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said, “tolerance to the right always seems to be in shorter supply. Pluralism means you sometimes have to stretch and understand the other person’s convictions.”

Amnesty Report Accuses Israel of War
Crimes

Amnesty International accused the Israeli army of committing war crimes in Jenin and Nablus during its anti-terrorist campaign last spring. In a report issued Monday, the human rights group cited unlawful killings, use of civilians as human shields and the prevention of medical and humanitarian aid from reaching Palestinian civilians. The Israeli army said in a statement that its actions came in self-defense following Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians. The army said it took all necessary care in fighting a terrorist infrastructure that had deliberately established itself in the heart of a civilian population. Amnesty International also said that Shaul Mofaz, a former army chief of staff who was expected to become defense minister Monday, could be charged with war crimes for overseeing the military actions in Jenin and Nablus.

During a debate Monday before the Knesset was to vote on Mofaz’s appointment, some legislators asked for a delay in the confirmation process until Israel investigates the Amnesty report.

Mexican film prompts anti-Semitic
response

The American distributor of a Mexican film denounced by Catholic groups has been flooded with protest letters, many with an anti-Semitic tone. “The Crime of Father Amaro” is based on a 19th-century Portuguese novel, but the film is set in contemporary Mexico. Its protagonist is an ambitious young priest who starts an illicit affair with a young woman that ends in tragedy. Also shown are issues confronting modern Mexican priests, such as donations received from drug dealers and aid sent to fund guerilla activities in poor rural areas. Catholic groups say the film depicts the Roman Catholic Church in an unfair, negative light. A huge success in Mexico, where it was released last summer, “Father Amaro” is being distributed in the United States by Samuel Goldwyn Films. The company’s president, Meyer Gottlieb, told the Los Angeles Times that he is alarmed by the anti-Semitism in many of the protest letters and postcards the company has received.

“I am sure you don’t plan on showing rabbis or Jews in a compromising position, but your hatred is vented against the Savior who gave his life to redeem mankind for their sins,” one man from Manchester, Conn., wrote.

“What I find offensive is that they are taking the leap that I am only doing this because I am Jewish,” Gottlieb said. “Everyone can have an opinion about a film. But the thing that I object to” is the insinuation that “if I wasn’t Jewish I wouldn’t be releasing this movie, which is of course absurd.”

The protest is being organized by a conservative Catholic lay group, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, known by the initials TFP. The group says its members will picket theaters when the film opens Nov. 15.

“Father Amaro” became the highest-grossing movie produced in Mexico, despite pressure from Mexican bishops to have the movie banned.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

2002 terror attacks


Jan. 15 Palestinian gunmen kill an elderly Israeli American who drives into the Bethlehem area.

Jan. 17 Six Israelis are killed and 33 injured when a Palestinian terrorist with an assault rifle attacks guests at a bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera.

Jan. 22 A Palestinian terrorist opens fire in downtown Jerusalem, killing two women and wounding dozens of others, before being shot and killed by police.

Jan. 25 A Palestinian suicide bomber detonates explosives in a crowded pedestrian shopping mall in Tel Aviv killing 24 bystanders.

Jan. 27 A female suicide bomber strikes in Jerusalem, killing one man and wounding more than 100 people.

Feb. 6 A mother and her 11-year-old daughter are murdered in their Jordan Valley home by a terrorist disguised in an IDF uniform.

Feb. 16 A suicide bomber kills three teenagers and wounds 27 people in an attack on a shopping mall in a West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron.

Feb. 18 A Palestinian kills an Israeli policeman and himself when he detonates a car bomb. That same day, three Israelis are killed and four injured during a Palestinian ambush in the Gaza Strip.

Feb. 22 A Palestinian tries to set off a bomb in an Efrat supermarket, but he is killed by civilians.

Feb. 25 Two Palestinian terrorists wound at least 10 Israelis when they open fire in northern Jerusalem. Palestinian terrorists shoot dead two Israelis and wound two others in an attack on motorists near Bethlehem.

Feb. 27 Three Israeli police officers are wounded when a female Palestinian suicide bomber blows up her car at a West Bank checkpoint near the border with Israel.

March 2 A suicide bomber kills 10 Israelis, among them six children in the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Beis Yisroel, near Mea Shearim.

March 5 A Palestinian terrorist opens fire on two Tel Aviv restaurants, killing three Israelis and wounding dozens. In Afula, a suicide bomber blows himself up on a bus at the central bus station, killing one person and wounding 10. Near Bethlehem, an Israeli woman is killed and her husband moderately wounded when shots are fired at their car.

March 7 Five Israeli teenagers are killed and 23 others wounded by a Palestinian terrorist in a Gaza settlement.

March 9 Two Palestinian terrorists shoot dead two people and injure about 50 others in Netanya’s hotel district. Eleven Israelis are killed and at least 54 injured in a suicide bombing at Cafe Moment in Jerusalem.

Being Good Neighbors


When a suicide bomber walked unimpeded into a crowded supermarket in Efrat earlier this month and set off a small bomb, the explosion damaged a section of the store’s bakery. Miraculously, no Jews were injured by the blast, but the Arab casualties were believed significant.

Following the attack, the first to occur inside the settlement, Efrat officials reinstated a ban prohibiting Arabs from entering the community. During the past year and a half, several temporary bans have been imposed and then lifted.

On one occasion, Arabs were prevented from entering Efrat ostensibly for their own protection a day after a particularly gruesome terror attack elsewhere in the country. And throughout the year, residents have hotly debated the wisdom of maintaining an open community at a time of widespread violence.

That debate, says Efrat’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, has now been resolved. Speaking to several hundred of the city’s residents who had gathered in the waning hours of Shabbat to give thanks that the attack had been thwarted without a single serious injury to Jews, Riskin announced that Arabs would not be allowed into Efrat. His announcement was greeted with loud applause.

This time, the ban is likely to remain in effect. The dozens of Arabs who come here every day to work in construction, municipal services and as handymen, gardeners and house cleaners for private individuals suddenly find themselves out of work.

"I always believed in coexistence, but to my sorrow, I have now reached the conclusion that at this point, there is no room for coexistence, as long as there is incitement on the other side," Riskin said following the attack in Efrat. "We are at war, and we have to show them that they cannot beat us. Only then can there be peace, and only then we will be able to rehabilitate the relations between us and the Palestinians."

It’s a tough pill for the 61-year-old rabbi to swallow. Efrat was founded in 1982, and early on, Riskin began efforts to forge meaningful relationships with the Arabs who live in villages scattered around Efrat in the Judean Hills south of Jerusalem, in the region known as Gush Etzion.

There is no fence around the community, and although there are security regulations, up to now they have been only lightly enforced. Arabs enter freely on foot, donkey or bicycle; shop in local stores, and knock on doors looking for odd jobs.

Last year, vandals entered one of Efrat’s synagogues in the middle of the night and damaged books and spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of the sanctuary. The perpetrators were never caught, but they left a message emblazoned on a wall trying to blame the act on residents of a nearby village. The link was never established, and many believe they were attempting to undermine the good relations between Efrat and its closest Arab neighbors.

In the months following the synagogue desecration, three residents of Efrat were killed in drive-by shootings on the road just outside the settlement. But until the bombing, there had not been a violent incident inside Efrat.

In a private interview held prior to the attack, Riskin spoke about the past 18 months of conflict. "We are fighting against the Palestinian Authority, not against the Palestinians as a people," the rabbi said. That remains a critical distinction for Riskin.

"My perspective, coming into contact with Palestinians everyday, is that the average Palestinian villager wants peace like I want peace. They want to watch their children and grandchildren grow up. They are bitterly disappointed by Arafat," he said.

Good neighborliness, said Riskin, is an idea both Jews and Arabs should be able to understand. "Both the book of Proverbs and the Quran teach, ‘A good neighbor is better than a far-away brother.’"

Among the outreach programs that Riskin has spearheaded is creation of a special humanitarian fund, which he distributes to needy local Arab families. When Yasser Arafat pressured local Arab leaders not to accept money from Jews, Riskin intervened and wrote a letter to Arafat, asking him to allow the aid to continue.

Some residents of Efrat criticized Riskin, accusing him of maintaining diplomatic ties with Arafat while he incited violence against Jews. But Riskin held his ground and the fund continues to operate.

In addition to financial support, many doctors in Efrat have provided medical services to the local Arab population without charge. Riskin also helped local villages to form soccer teams and paid for their uniforms. Perhaps most significantly, Riskin said, Efrat’s security personnel have received warnings of possible attacks.

"Many real friendships have developed," Riskin said. And despite pressure from the Palestinian Authority, "those friendships still exist."

Riskin wears two hats: as chief rabbi of Efrat, home to 10,000 people and 21 synagogues, and as president of Ohr Torah Stone educational network, with more than 3,000 students in its high schools, colleges, graduate programs and rabbinical college.

He also writes a popular syndicated Torah column, which appears in 40 newspapers each week. "What’s constantly amazing to me is that the Torah always seems to speak to our present situation. It’s timeless, but at the same time a very timely Torah."

A column he wrote about the Torah portion of Jethro in January illustrates his point: "Israel is entitled to live in freedom — and must be willing to wage battle against autocratic, Amalek-like governments which themselves utilize terrorism against innocent citizens and which harbor, aid and abet terrorists. And Israel must establish Jethro-like partnerships with those who, although they may still follow their individual religions, recognize the overarching rule of the God of justice, compassion and peace."

As the violence continues throughout Israel, Riskin continues to deliver a tough message about maintaining a strong commitment to life here: "We’re living in very fateful times. If we are called upon to express commitment, even to the point of committing one’s life, in our generation, the Jewish state and the Jewish homeland are worth that kind of commitment.

"It’s difficult to be here, but it’s a privilege, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. Whatever happens in Israel is a chapter heading to history. Whatever happens in Diaspora is at best a footnote. And if we have one life, I want to be a chapter heading."

The Wounded Have Names


Last Saturday night, someone told me 85 people had been killed by a suicide bomber in Haifa. I ran to the computer to check cnn.com, and for an instant was relieved to discover the death toll was in fact 15.

That’s just how awful our world has become.

We are relieved when only 15 innocent people are, in an instant, murdered. The best response we can muster, the only encouraging words we have left to mutter, are, “Thank God it wasn’t more.” That response is no longer sufficient.

Last February, Sharon Evans received news that her daughter had been gravely wounded in a terrorist attack. A Palestinian had driven a car into a group of soldiers waiting at a bus stop, killing eight, wounding 21. Evans’ then 19-year-old daughter Monique Goldwasser was among what most newspapers — The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and, let’s face it, this and other Jewish papers — simply reported as “the wounded.”

Here is what “wounded” means: Monique’s four front teeth were destroyed, and her face was smashed in. She suffered a broken pelvis, two broken legs, a perforated intestine and a ruptured main artery in her left leg. She was unconscious and, when she arrived at the hospital ER, she had stopped breathing. That’s “wounded.”

“The doctors told me she had a 1 percent chance of surviving that first night,” Evans told me on Monday. “But I made a deal with God. If Monique lived, I would spend my time helping the families of children who are no longer with us.”

Goldwasser remained in the hospital for eight months, undergoing six surgeries. Evans, a divorced mother with four children, who lives in Ashkelon, left her job as an export manager and moved into the hospital beside her daughter. The Israeli government’s aid to victims of terror paid for some of the costs associated with Goldwasser ‘s care, but the help was limited.

One day, Neil and Susan Thalheim visited Goldwasser in the hospital. The couple had started an organization, the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund, to help Israeli victims of terror, offering them not just financial assistance but a comforting presence and a phone number to call whenever they needed anything. “They said, ‘What can we do to help you?'” Evans said. The fund provided Evans with financial assistance and purchased a laptop computer and new clothes for Goldwasser, who had lost 40 pounds following the attack. Victims of terror contacted by The Journal said the fund’s moneys do indeed end up where they’re needed. Geula Herskovitz’s husband, Arye, was shot and killed by terrorists while returning home from work. Three months later, terrorists shot and killed her son Asaf outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra. The fund provided Herskovitz instant monetary relief — no red tape, no delay.

Herskovitz told me by phone that she has been in touch with the fund about sponsoring a small memorial garden in her husband’s memory, and about helping her fortify a vehicle for travel to and from the settlement. I asked her if she felt safe staying in Ofra. “Where should I go? Is it safer in Netanya? In Jerusalem?” Good point.

We in America can’t do a whole lot to stop these murders. Helping the victims and their families is one small but important thing we can do. This Sunday at 9 a.m., the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund will hold a walk-a-thon to raise money for Israeli victims of terror. The walk will begin at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive. Sharon Evans has flown in from Israel to speak at the event and to be among those walking. “The Israeli government has to work out a way to protect its citizens,” she told me, “and the rest of the Jews have to work out how we’ll help people who have been hurt.” One way is to show up for the walk, or sponsor someone who can.

Call (310) 772-8170 or log on to www.lawalk4israel.com  to help.

The Debate


Another gut-wrenching week.

With the murder of American Shoshana Greenbaum by a Palestinian suicide bomber, the violence in Israel turned even more tragic, if that is possible, and even more personal. As our Religion Editor Julie Gruenbaum Fax, a former classmate of Greenbaum’s at Hillel Academy, writes on page 7, the brutality left not just a family bereft, but an entire community in grief.

The world’s far-from-outraged response to such terror continues to confound most American Jews, but I wonder if Israel’s own reaction isn’t sometimes just as confusing.

Instead of a swift and bloody retaliation, Israel executed a quick takeover of the Palestinian’s symbolic "Capitol" in Jerusalem, Orient House, and sent F-16s to destroy a Palestinian police station.

And, days later, just before another suicide bombing in Kiryat Motzkin, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to send his partner in the unity government, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, to negotiate a cease-fire deal with senior Palestinian officials.

This willingness to deal diplomatically with Yasser Arafat has got to be baffling, especially to those Jews here and in Israel who are convinced Arafat himself is the intractable cause of this ongoing violence, and who, they believe, seeks no less than Israel’s utter destruction.

Why are Peres and Sharon, like Netanyahu, Rabin and Shamir before them, still bothering with this man?

The answer to this, as David Landau and Douglas M. Bloomfield report on page 12, goes to the heart of an ongoing debate between Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which believes Arafat doesn’t completely control the Palestinian violence, and IDF’s Military Intelligence, which believes he can control it, but doesn’t want to.

It’s a debate that cannot possibly comfort those left devastated by this violence, but which, the politicians hope, will somehow lessen the violence to come.

Sbarro’s Aftermath


Erev Shabbat.

Her eyes, I think, will stay with me forever. Imploring, beseeching, full of so much sadness. I think the shock of where and how she was, was sinking in. I can’t begin to describe all that was in those eyes.

Thursday, Aug. 9, the 20th of Av. On my way to work, I found myself walking down Jaffa street. Hungry, I decided to stop and grab a quick bite — at Sbarro’s Pizza.

In the past five years, I have frequented this establishment exactly twice.

Walking into Sbarro’s there is a larger area for sitting in the front, but the back looked a bit cooler and quieter, so I decided to grab a seat in the back. That decision saved my life.

Waiting on line, when they brought me the baked ziti I asked for, it was cold. So I asked the woman behind the counter if she’d mind warming it up. “Ein ba’ayah,” no problem, she said with a smile. I will always wonder if that was her last smile on earth.

A couple of moments later, a fellow from behind the counter came to the back with my baked ziti. Then he started to speak to someone at one of the tables. That baked ziti saved his life.

At about 2 p.m., I both felt and heard a tremendous explosion, and day turned into night.

And then the screaming began. An awful, heartrending sound; the sound of people coming to terms with a whole new reality, of people not wanting to comprehend that life has changed forever.

Those of us sitting in the back were spared, but I was afraid of panic, so I started yelling at everyone to quiet down; not to panic. The ceiling looked like it might cave in, but there is always the danger of a second explosion, detonated on purpose shortly after the first.

But then I smelled smoke, and was suddenly afraid the restaurant might be on fire. So, we started climbing our way through the wreckage to the front.

Would there be another explosion? Would the roof collapse? Were we making the wrong decision by climbing through? These are moments that last a lifetime.

There are no words to describe what the front of Sbarro’s Pizza looked like in the immediate aftermath of that explosion.

A woman was lying near the steps to the back. Her eyes were staring straight at me, following me. So full of pain and longing, sadness and despair. I dropped down beside her trying to see if she could speak. And then I watched the life just drain out of her. I tried to get a pulse, to no avail. She died there, on the steps in front of me. She was lying by the table I had decided not to sit at.

There were bodies everywhere, and those images are in my mind, they won’t let go. A child’s body under the wreckage; a baby-carriage; limbs and a torso; A woman holding a motorcycle helmet and screaming next to a person on the floor who had obviously been someone she was with.

And then the mad rush to help the ambulance and emergency crews get the wounded out. They were obviously afraid of a second bomb, so there was no medical effort inside beyond getting the wounded onto stretchers and out: a religious Jew was in tears and shock missing at least two limbs. What do you say? “Yehiyeh beseder,” it’ll be all right? Will it?

I happened to sit a bit to the left as you walk towards the back, and so the wall behind me shielded me from the blast. Another fellow whom we went back in to get wasn’t so lucky. Sitting only five or six feet to my left, he caught the full force of the blast and was thrown in the air. When we got him on the stretcher he was bleeding profusely and was missing a leg.

There are no words to describe what that man’s hand, clenched around my arm, felt like. He just kept looking from me to his leg and back again. I started saying tehillim.

So many mixed emotions fill my head today. I came home last night and gave each of my children a very long hug. But, there are so many families today who are waking up to the reality that life will never be the same. Seventeen funerals with friends and families saying goodbye to those they loved so, whose only crime was a desire for a slice of pizza on a beautiful Jerusalem afternoon.

I recall once reading a story of a boy who was saved from a near-drowning by a stranger. As the fellow carried him ashore, the boy looked up and said, “thanks for saving my life, mister.” To which the man responded: “Just make sure it was worth saving.”

Tonight we celebrate Shabbat. All over Israel, in eight hours, parents will bless their children at the Shabbat table. I imagine we will all hug them a little tighter this week.

Wherever you are, and whomever you are, be with us here, in Yerushalyim, and offer up a prayer for all those who lost loved ones in that terrible tragedy.

Rabbi Binny Friedman works for the Isralight Institute in Jerusalem and lives in Efrat.

A 17-Year-Old Mourns


One week after a suicide bomber had killed seven of her schoolmates, among 21 dead, 17-year old Olga Bakharakh, president of the student council at the Shevach Moffet magnet school in Tel Aviv, spoke at a shiva (mourning ceremony) to the families of the dead and wounded students.

Last Sunday, facing thousands at the solidarity rally in Los Angeles, the Moscow-born Israeli repeated some of the same words.

"We do not wish for revenge. We wish for life and hope. We wish to grow and evolve, to learn and to have fun, to serve and to work. We wish to live a full life."

Alluding to the longing of young Russian immigrants (who constitute 90 percent of the Tel Aviv school’s student body) to be fully accepted as Israelis, Bakharakh spoke of two old sycamore trees that stand at the school’s nearby Mount of Hope. "Like these sycamore trees, we, the new immigrants, wish to hold on to hope and give root. We wish to be, like these sycamores, a part of the landscape of this country," she said.

Bakharakh came to Los Angeles with fellow student Samion Katin and the school’s vice principal, Karen Ben Ayoun, whose parents came to Israel from Morocco. Ben Ayoun told The Journal that two days after the June 1 bombing in front of the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv, students were scheduled to take their bagrut, one in a series of demanding tests for graduating high school students. Despite the tragedy, the school administration decided to give the exam, as scheduled. "Inside we were crying," said Ben Ayoun, "but we had to show that we would be strong enough to go on."

Shevach Moffet’s sister school in Los Angeles is the Milken Community High School. In addition to ongoing student exchange programs, the two schools will launch a series of joint science projects in September.

Heeding a Tenuous Cease-Fire


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Home Front


Standing with the crowd in Netanya where, hours before, a Palestinian suicide bomber had killed three Israelis and himself, local carpenter Ya’acov Ohayon was asked if he thought the public — the home front — was ready for more of the same, or worse.

“Are they ready?” he replied. “Everybody says they want to go to war to put an end to all this. Would a war be any worse than what we’ve got?” In any war, high morale at home — an ability to withstand constant fear and loss of life, and to maintain determination to fight — is considered absolutely vital. The morale of the Israeli home front is now being tested. Palestinian terror has jumped the Green Line and entered the Israeli heartland — killer bus drivers in Holon, exploding bus passengers in the Galilee, detonating pedestrians in Netanya.

Despite the army’s all-out effort to close off the country to incoming Palestinians, the sense is that terrorists are entering Israel one by one, nearly every day, and succeeding in their missions. Meanwhile in the West Bank and Gaza, the shooting at soldiers and settlers goes on. It’s not just Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as in earlier years; now it’s the Palestinian Authority itself, Israel’s “partner.”

All assessments are that the violence shows no sign of subsiding; if anything, it will get worse. Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and his allies speak of finding new, no-nonsense ways of putting down the intifada, and while they haven’t been long on specifics, widespread speculation is that the next steps may be 1) to target the higher-ups in the intifada, including Arafat’s top lieutenants, and 2) to bring the fight onto the P.A.’s turf — into the cities, villages and refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank.

This could have severe repercussions, the most greatly feared of all being that other Arab forces, such as Hezbollah on the northern border or Syria, as well as other Arab states, could join the fight against Israel. At the very least, an escalation of the fighting would mean more tension, fear and death for Israelis to live with.

Are they up for this? Or would they crack under the pressure and, in essence, sue for peace with the Arabs? Prof. Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on terror at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, said Israeli society, like all bourgeois societies, is “soft.” While the Palestinians are enraged and even encouraged with the death of each new shaheed (martyr), Israelis “fall apart,” he noted.

“But this doesn’t mean the Israeli public is going to collapse,” Sprinzak stressed. In the short term, at least, Israelis will stand fast, he predicts, not least because the previous government of Ehud Barak went such a long distance for peace.

Barak said repeatedly that it was important for the morale of the public and the army for them to know that its government had done everything possible for peace. Thus, if they were forced to go to war, it was because of the other side’s intransigence — it was truly a “war of no choice.”

“If Barak achieved any successes in his term of office, that was it,” Sprinzak said.

Dr. Reuven Gal, former chief Israeli army psychologist and now director of the Carmel Institute for Social Studies, agreed that the political context of the current fighting made all the difference in the public’s morale.

While the Palestinians achieved their aim in the first intifada by getting Israel to negotiate with the PLO, and while Hezbollah achieved its aim by forcing Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the current intifada can’t push Israelis to make any more concessions because they’ve already made about as many as they can, Gal said.

“If anything, the terror is producing a political backlash to the right,” he noted. He senses a healthy “resilience” in the public to the violence. Among soldiers, he sees an upsurge in morale because they’re not acting as policemen against stone-throwers, as in the first intifada, but rather like soldiers fighting gunmen. “The attitude now is, ‘We’re finished with all that pussy-footing — war is war.'”

The way it’s beginning to look, the Israeli home front is likely prepared for a lot more than Yasser Arafat and the fighters of the Al-Aqsa intifada might have imagined.

Up Front


Photo illustration by Carvin Knowles

The Sukkah Patch?

The annual fall festival and pumpkin patch is along tradition at the Farmer’s Market at Third and Fairfax. Thisyear, it will host an even longer tradition: the building of asukkah.

In conjunction with the Skirball Cultural Center,the market will erect a sukkah, the traditional booth that marksSukkot, in the midst of all the festivities. Visitors can helpdecorate the structure, learn more about the holiday and schmoozewith representatives of the Skirball.

The actual sukkah is being funded by the Farmer’sMarket, and Lopez Family Produce is donating the decorative produce.”We’re trying to bring out the universal aspects of Sukkot: shelter,hospitality and thanksgiving,” said the Skirball’s Joana Fisch.”We’re not only showing the Jewish side but the universalthemes.”

The sukkah will also be used as a collection pointfor a canned-food drive to benefit needy families in the season ofThanksgiving. You can visit the sukkah at the Fall Festival Oct.3-5.

The Skirball’s own Sukkot Festival will be held onOct. 19. The cultural center, along with Gelson’s Markets, will holda food drive during the festival to benefit the Los Angeles RegionalFoodbank. Bring canned or packaged goods to donate when you visit.The festival will feature art projects, live music, dance andstorytelling. You can also see an exhibition that celebrates Sukkot,”Temporary Quarters: Artists Build for Shelter and Celebration.” Formore information, contact the Skirball at (310) 440-4500.

A Mother’s Plea

Left to right:

Noam, Lior, Tzvi, Elana and ShiraRozenman.

Sixteen-year-old Noam Rozenman was walking downBen-Yehuda Street last month when a suicide bomber’s blast foreverchanged his life. The Los Angeles native, who moved to Israel withhis family seven years ago, suffered burns over 30 percent of hisbody. His eardrums burned. He remains in the burn unit at HadassahHospital in Jerusalem.

The cruelty and randomness of the violence thatinjured her son provoked Elana Rozenman to action. So did her son’sfear of the city she loves. Last week, he said to her, “I’m afraid toleave the hospital.”

A trained social worker, Elana has long beenactive in Israel, organizing women’s business networks. She turned toone of her networks of working women to mount a 24-hour vigil at thebase of Ben-Yehuda Street on the 30th day after the bombing, at 3p.m. — the exact time the first bomb went off.

In a speech to announce the vigil, Rozenman told agroup of women: “I beg you, let us transcend the religious, cultural,political differences that separate us. I pray to God, let him be thelast child to go through this horror.”

The Oct. 5 vigil will be silent. That way,Rozenman hopes to draw women from all different political andreligious persuasions, united by a common desire to make the streetsof Jerusalem safe for their families.

A similar vigil might be organized here in LosAngeles by the friends of the Rozenmans’. For more information, callMarilyn Hershenson at (310) 204-0600. You can reach Rozenman bye-mail at women@qanton.com.

Shooting Straight

When Israel needs a friend in Congress, it canalways rely on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. But when Feinsteinwants something in return, can she rely on Israel?

What Feinstein wants is for the Israeli governmentto intervene and block the export of tens of thousands of Galil andUzi military-style assault rifles to the United States. IsraelMilitary Industries Ltd., a company owned by the state, recentlyreceived permission from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco andFirearms to export a modified version of these automatic weapons tothe States.

In a Dear Mr. Prime Minister letter sent toBinyamin Netanyahu on Sept. 11, Feinstein wrote that the weapons areeasily remodified to automatic, and that such weapons — designed torapid-fire up to 100 bullets a clip– have plagued the urban streetsof California for years. This year alone, there have been nineincidents involving assault weapons, used in bank robberies, drive-byshootings and revenge killings.

How ironic, wrote Feinstein, that while U.S.military equipment and assistance have made Israel safer, Israelwould endanger American lives by selling military-style weaponshere.

Copies of the letter were sent to about everymajor Jewish organization we know of. Feinstein knows American Jewssupport gun controls. Does Netanyahu?

The Youngest Victim


For Olga and Yevgeny Pesachovitch, it was as if their son, Grisha, died three times. The 15-year-old Russian immigrant boy was the youngest of the 13 Israeli civilians killed by the twin suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market last Wednesday. His body was so mangled that the pathologists had to do blood tests before they could identify him.

But that was only the beginning of the family’s anguish. The father, Yevgeny, is Jewish. The mother, Olga, is not. As it happens, the couple is divorced. When they settled in Israel two years ago, the mother and son were registered as Christians, though they lived as secular Jews in Russia and came here under the Law of Return. The father, who immigrated shortly afterward, lives separately.

The religious authorities refused to bury Grisha in a Jewish cemetery. Since the mother was not Jewish, nor, according to Jewish law, was the son. Innocently believing that Israel honored its martyrs of Arab terror, Olga offered to have him buried in a secular ceremony. The trouble is that there is no secular graveyard in Jerusalem.

A sympathetic official recommended quiet, nondenominational burial in a Christian cemetery he knew of on the Mount of Olives. The family agreed, and a small, sad congregation of Russian Israelis followed the casket to the grave.

To the family’s horror, a black-robed Greek Orthodox priest asked permission to start the ceremony. Olga burst into tears. “No, no priest,” she wailed. “My son, Grisha, lived as a Jew in the Land of Israel. He was not a Christian. I am not ready to let him be buried as a Christian.”

The priest replied that if the Pesachovitches wouldn’t accept the funeral rites of the church, Grisha could not be buried in the Greek Orthodox cemetery. As reported by Ma’ariv, a distraught Yevgeny demanded a spade and offered to dig a grave with his own hands. But the priest would not yield, and the casket had to be reloaded on the hearse.

At City Hall, officials tried desperately to find a kibbutz or a secular cemetery where Grisha could at last be laid to rest. Either they had no one to prepare the ground on a Friday afternoon, or they were too far from Jerusalem. Olga, a high school science teacher, wanted to be able to mourn at her only son’s grave.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Yuli Edelstein, heard about the saga of misery on Israel Radio and rushed to help. “It was an absurd, tragic spectacle that doesn’t dignify the State of Israel,” said Edelstein, a kippah-wearing Russian immigrant whose own parents converted to Christianity. “I was ashamed. When I met Grisha’s parents, I didn’t know what to tell them. It was a desecration which profaned the dignity of the deceased.”

From his car in the City Hall parking lot, Edelstein telephoned various religious officials in the hope of finding a civilized solution. This was not the first such case with which he had dealt. The religious authorities had previously agreed to bury people whose Jewish identity was in doubt in separate areas of Jewish cemeteries, divided not by the traditional wall but by a simple path. In fact, it transpires that nothing has been implemented.

Eventually, Edelstein reached the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, who promised to arrange for Grisha to be buried on Sunday in an area set aside for “questionable” Jews in the city’s main cemetery at Givat Shaul.

Decency, it seemed, was prevailing. But the Pesachovitches’ humiliation was not yet over. The chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Yitzhak Koolitz, barred them from even a “questionable” Jew’s grave. Grisha was not Jewish at all, and there could be no concession, the rabbi determined.

In the end, the youngest victim of the Mahane Yehuda bombers was laid to rest in a vacant lot, belonging to the Bahai faith, adjacent to the Jewish cemetery.

Olga declined this week to talk to reporters. She had applied for Orthodox conversion before Grisha’s death, and she didn’t want to jeopardize her chances. The rest, as a more liberal-minded Jewish sage once said, is commentary.