Hamas terror cell planning attack arrested in West Bank

Forty members of a Hamas terror cell said to be planning an attack in the West Bank were arrested.

The arrests took place over the past several months, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said Wednesday in a statement. The Israel Defense Forces issued a similar statement.

Indictments will be submitted to a military court in the next few days, according to the IDF.

Among the operatives arrested were Hamas officials who have been jailed in the past for their involvement in terror activities, according to the Shin Bet.

Cell leaders established a headquarters in Nablus and made “intensive efforts” to reestablish Hamas terror activities in the West Bank, the Shin Bet said. The cell was directed from Qatar, and orders were sent to Hamas operatives via email.

The IDF and Shin Bet investigation revealed detailed information regarding another Hamas terror cell planning a terror attack that was thwarted during the course of the operation.

The announcement of the arrests comes after several days of terror attacks on Israeli targets and calls by the Israeli public to crack down on Palestinian terror groups.

Flame computer bug may have been released by Israel, minister says

A computer virus attacking computers in Iran and the West Bank may have been created with Israeli involvement, a government minister hinted.

Israeli vice prime minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an interview Tuesday on Israel Radio that “Anyone who sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat would be likely to take various steps, including these, to harm it.”

“Israel was blessed as being a country rich with high-tech, these tools that we take pride in open up all kinds of opportunities for us,” Ya’alon also said.

The discovery of the Flame virus was announced Monday by the Kaspersky Lab in Russia. It was discovered in high concentrations in Iranian computers and also in the West Bank, Syria and Sudan.

The virus was created to collect data, and may have lain dormant for several years and is controlled by a remote computer, which can turn it on and off at will. It is being called “the most sophisticated virus of all times,”

It reportedly shares some characteristics with the Stuxnet virus, which damaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges before it was discovered in 2010.

Experts believe that it took a sophisticated programming team and state resources to create the program.

Abbas says no talks without Israeli settlement freeze

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas repeated on Sunday his refusal to talk with Israel without a settlement freeze after international mediators, responding to his United Nations bid for statehood, urged negotiations within a month.

“We have confirmed to all that we want to achieve our rights through peaceful means, through negotiations—but not just any negotiations,” Abbas told a cheering crowd of thousands on his return to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“We will not accept (negotiations) until legitimacy is the foundation and they cease settlement completely,” he said, two days after presenting the application for Palestinian statehood and addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians say the settlements, built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, would deny them a viable state. Israel cites historic and Biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls by its Hebrew names, Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu, who has termed a settlement freeze an unacceptable precondition, gave no indication in his own speech at the U.N. of any change in his position. He urged Abbas to return to peace talks.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has said it will block the statehood move in the Security Council, which is expected to convene on Monday to discuss the application Abbas made after 20 years of failed Israeli-Palestinian talks.


Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have responded formally to a plan from the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators—the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N.—for a return to direct negotiations.

The forum urged Israel and the Palestinians to meet within a month and set a new agenda for talks, with the aim of achieving a peace deal by the end of 2012 that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Netanyahu welcomed the Quartet’s call but reserved an official reply until he meets with senior cabinet ministers after his return on Monday from New York.

Abbas has said he would discuss the ideas with Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leaders and other senior Palestinian officials.

Hours before Abbas returned to the West Bank, Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said there would be “tough repercussions” if the U.N. approved the statehood application {nS1E78L2CV].

Lieberman, who heads a far-right party in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, did not spell out what action Israel might take. He said Israel had reservations about the Quartet’s proposal but was “ready to open immediate negotiations” with the Palestinians.

In the past, Lieberman has suggested severing ties with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, if it wins recognition without a peace deal with Israel.

Israel is concerned that even if the United States vetoes a statehood resolution in the Security Council, the Palestinians could still win approval in the General Assembly for a more limited U.N. membership.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Sophie Hares

Settlements are the issue

While clearing away the rubble from Dennis Prager’s latest attack on “liberals,” which he likes to think is not ad hominem (unless, of course, one understands the term literally), we have to acknowledge that he may have a point.  One can debate whether Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are “the major impediment to peace in the Middle East.”  After all, there are weighty factors other than settlements that complicate prospects for a negotiated settlement, including Israeli political opinion, Palestinian public opinion, the attitude of neighboring Arab states, and the lack of resolve of the international community to offer carrots and sticks at the appropriate moments.

And yet, to those who brandish the claim that settlements are not the sole or primary obstacle to peace, one can only say, in the words of our sages: Tafasta merube, lo tafasta—you grasped a lot, but you didn’t grasp anything.  For settlements are the major impediment to Israel’s future as a Jewish state.  If you care about this future, you have to stop blaming others and start looking at the harsh reality.  This is not a liberal or conservative question.  This is a matter of survival.  Ignore it, and you are hastening the demise of that which you profess to love and cherish.

There is no time to lose.  Meron Benvenisti, the keen observer and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has been arguing for decades that the process is irreversible.  He suggests that it is no longer possible to uproot the intricate patchwork of settlements housing nearly 300,000 settlers that snakes through the West Bank (which is not to count the nearly 200,000 in the suburban communities ringing Jerusalem).  Not only is settlement a multi-billion dollar investment.  Pulling out of the occupied territories would require an exertion of political will that no Israeli government since 1967 has demonstrated.  Experience does indeed show that it is far easier for the Israeli government to build another housing unit in Ariel than to tear one down in Gush Katif.

This tendency follows the logic of what is often called “natural growth.”  Why should a family not be allowed to build an additional room or even apartment for its children?  Even if one accepts the claim that settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, as I do, it is not easy to turn a deaf ear altogether to the call for new housing starts, especially when thinking of the children or grandchildren of settlers who had no say in the decision to live in the territories.

But “natural growth” is not the benign and unobjectionable process that the expression implies.  All growth in today’s world is regulated, contingent on the kind of sensitivity to the surrounding environment and one’s neighbors that the settlers blithely and often violently eschew.  In the context of Israeli settlements, natural growth is but a mask for expropriation and dispossession of the Palestinian population.

Even more dangerously, the minute one begins to argue on the grounds of natural growth or, for that matter, Jewish rights to Judea and Samaria, the battle is lost.  If settlements remain where they are, then the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will become one political entity.  And within a matter of decades, if not years, the majority of the residents of that area will be Palestinian.  How can Israel then describe itself as democratic if it doesn’t allow all the residents of the land over which it claims control the right to vote?  If it grants the franchise at that point, Israel will have engaged in a fifty-year building project the net result of which is to vote itself out of existence.  The alternatives to this scenario are even more dire—either the denial of the franchise to Palestinians or their expulsion in the name of preserving the Jewish character of the state of Israel.

Faced with this array of options, it seems strange to trumpet the claim that settlements are not the major impediment to peace.  This dangerously misses the point.  To salvage a ship that is already sinking requires clear-headed, rapid, and dramatic steps.  Israel is now faced with a difficult, but unmistakable choice: either subordinate the interests of individual settlers or sacrifice the survival of the larger society.  There is no reason to believe that the Israeli government will make the right decision.  In any case, the moment for course correction may have already passed.  But at least we should not join Dennis Prager in the kind of willful and triumphant blindness that has brought Israel to the brink of collective suicide.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and chairs the History Department at UCLA.

L.A. donors play role in Israeli settlement

The city of Ariel is home to 19,000 Israelis, a university center of 12,000 students and a growing industrial park with 27 factories employing thousands of workers. The city’s backers describe Ariel as beautiful, diverse, peaceful. One repeat American visitor said, “It’s like driving into some San Diego suburb.”

But Ariel, whose nearly completed performing arts center recently became the subject of protest, is a Jewish settlement located in the heart of the West Bank, about 10 miles east of the pre-1967 border of Israel. It is within a region that may or may not become part of a future Palestinian state, because although Ariel is within commuting distance of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, two other major municipalities are geographically closer to the city-size settlement: the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Ramallah.

Established in 1978, Ariel has been aided in its growth by many generous American philanthropists, including a number from the Los Angeles Jewish community. Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman makes frequent trips to Los Angeles to raise funds for and awareness of Ariel. On his last visit here, he spoke from the bimah at Sinai Temple to nearly 1,000 congregants on a Shabbat morning.

Nachman, mayor since 1985, has done much to help cultivate relationships with Americans, who have dramatically strengthened Ariel and the Ariel University Center (AUC). Among the supporters are some of Los Angeles’ most well-known Jewish philanthropists. Real estate developer Larry Field estimates that he and his late wife, Eris, have given “a couple of million” dollars to the American Friends of Ariel over the past 15 years. Gifts from the Milken Family Foundation and the Lowell Milken Family Foundation to Ariel and the Ariel University Center add up to more than $2 million in 2006 and 2007 alone.

In late August, a group of Israeli theater professionals announced they would not appear at Ariel’s new performing arts center because of its West Bank location. The boycott set off a heated debate in Israel, made a few headlines internationally and recently garnered support from some American Jewish actors and writers.

Ariel’s supporters in Los Angeles, however, dismiss the controversy, and despite ongoing peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that could potentially redraw the boundaries of Israel, none seriously believe that Ariel will ever change hands.

“I think it’s nonsense,” Field said. “Even the Palestinians, in their last two times of drawing up what the West Bank would look like if it was given over to them, Ariel was one of the two major cities that was taken out of it.”

“Ariel is indeed within the consensus community,” said Avi Zimmerman, executive director of American Friends of Ariel. The understanding that Ariel is certain to remain part of Israel in any two-state settlement has helped to guide the L.A.-based philanthropists in their work. “We look at Ariel as part of the State of Israel, because the government of Israel looks at Ariel as part of the State of Israel,” said Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation and chairman of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. (The upper campus of AUC is known as the Milken Family Campus.)

Others disagree. “Any assertion that a settlement is a matter of national consensus is questionable, since the settlements are the most controversial subject on the Israeli national agenda,” Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg wrote in an e-mail to The Jewish Journal. Gorenberg is the author of “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977” (Times Books, 2006). “Keeping Ariel as part of Israel would mean having a finger of Israeli territory sticking into the West Bank,” Gorenberg wrote. “Whatever the odds on keeping other blocs in Israeli hands, the chances of keeping Ariel are lower.”

Ariel isn’t the largest urban center beyond the Green Line. Ma’aleh Adumim’s population was just under 35,000 in 2008, and many tens of thousands of Israelis live in parts of East Jerusalem that were captured by Israel in 1967. But Ariel is more distant from cities within Israel’s pre-1967 borders than are these other developed areas.

Given the popular conception of what settlements look like, foreign visitors are often surprised by Ariel. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, has taken U.S. senators and congressmen to Ariel. “They are always shocked that these are real cities,” Klein said of Ariel and the other large settlements in the West Bank. “They have these images of tents and one-room housing. They are shocked these are real cities — with schools and shopping centers.”

David N. Myers, chairman of UCLA’s history department, said that turning Ariel and other settlements into “real cities” is part of a broader effort to make Ariel feel “normal.” Ariel, Myers wrote in an e-mail, “has attempted to fashion itself as the ideal suburban bedroom community, and been quite successful. […] This work of normalization owes in no small part to the efforts of Ron Nachman. … He has repeatedly made the argument that Ariel is Israel no less than Tel Aviv, and Israeli politicians, for the most part, have listened.”

The American philanthropic dollars Nachman has helped bring to Ariel have helped make the city what it is today. “There are many projects that owe their entire existence and success to support from the United States,” said American Friends of Ariel’s Zimmerman. “It’s made the difference in terms of quality of life, and quality of education, and the quality of the different projects in our city.”

Perhaps no American Jewish family has been more supportive of Ariel than have the Milkens. “The Milken Foundation and the Milken family name appear on more buildings in Ariel than any other,” Zimmerman said.

“It’s not a political organization,” Sandler said of the Milken Family Foundation, which has been supporting schools in Ariel since the 1980s. “It’s no different than what we’ve always done,” he said, noting that the Milken family has supported every university in Israel. “We’ve always been involved in education, both here and in the State of Israel.”

Howard Lesner, executive director of Sinai Temple, echoed this apolitical theme when asked about the talk Nachman gave at the synagogue in April. “He [Nachman] basically came to give a message of what Ariel was. He didn’t talk about it in terms of it being a settlement. He didn’t talk about the political aspects of it. He talked about the growth of the city and encouraged people to visit,” Lesner said.

What happens to Ariel will impact the future of Israel and the future of any Palestinian state. The current 10-month moratorium on settlement building is set to expire on Sept. 26. Netanyahu has promised not to extend it; Abbas has said he will break off the talks if it is not extended.

“At this point in the current talks, the agenda itself is undecided,” Gorenberg wrote. “If and when borders are discussed, Ariel’s future will certainly be on the table.”

But Field, who has helped to establish “four or five projects” to improve Ariel’s quality of life — “We did a park, we did a gymnasium, we did a civic center,” he said — doesn’t believe Israel would ever walk away from Ariel. “I never thought it would be given up,” the philanthropist said.

And though the current controversy has generated much more heat in Israel than it has abroad, according to Ariel’s boosters, it hasn’t been felt much in the city itself.

“The same week in which there was this public outcry,” said Yigal Cohen-Orgad, the chancellor of Ariel University Center, “in that same week, we had two international conferences on our campus.”

Eldad Halachmi, also of AUC, said that the protest actually resulted in an increase in support for Ariel coming from elsewhere in Israel. “I was speaking to the mayor and to the manager of the new concert hall,” Halachmi said. “By now, he’s about to finish selling all the tickets for the season, maybe for the year.”