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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Anniversary pledge: Hamas promises more violence

 Last update - 15:23 15/12/2007       
Hamas leader: Palestinians can launch more intifadas
By News Agencies
Hamas' Damascus-based political leader Khaled Meshal rejected Saturday any notion that the Islamist organization has seen its power eroded, warning that it is capable of waging a third intifada.
In a 20th anniversary message to Hamas TV, Meshal said Hamas would not abandon violence.
"This is our real choice, our trump card, which causes the enemy to succumb to us," he said. "Our people are able to launch a third and fourth uprising until the dawn of victory arrives."
Meshal said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank, does not have the mandate to negotiate with Israel.
Also Saturday, Hamas said Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas had arrested 26 of its members in the West Bank.
"The Palestinian security forces continued the detention campaign that targets Hamas supporters in various cities in the West Bank," Hamas said in a statement faxed to the press.
The statement added that most of the detainees were arrested in the town of Qalqilya.
"The arrests are meant to prevent Hamas from marking its 20th anniversary," the statement said.
Hamas marks its anniversary amid a continuing feud with rival Abbas' Fatah movement. In June, Hamas routed pro-Abbas security forces and took over the Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters gathered Saturday in a sandy lot and nearby streets in a Gaza marking the anniversary. The crowd appeared to be equal in size, if not bigger, than the one marching in support of Hamas' rival, Fatah, in November in the same spot. That rally drew 250,000, a major challenge to Hamas.
"This is the real referendum on the popularity of resistance, the people converging behind Hamas," said Zayed Herzallah, a 28-year old merchant, who brought a van full of young relatives. "Hamas today, after 20 years and after thousands of martyrs, is graduating the fourth generation (of supporters)."
Large pictures of Hamas' leaders, both in Gaza and in exile, were draped across the speakers' podium. A black banner hanging from a nearby building read, in Arabic, English and French: "We will not recognize Israel."
In the crowd were about 50 female members of Hamas' military wing, dressed in long robes and sporting military-style ammunition vests. Some covered their faces with veils, others with ski masks. Several took to the stage, waving green Hamas flags.
Ahead of the rally, tension was rising between Hamas and Fatah. On Friday, Hamas police arrested Omar Al-Ghoul, an adviser to Abbas' prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and seized some of his belongings.
Al-Ghoul was the most senior Fatah politician to be detained since Hamas forces overtook the territory in June.
Also Friday, three people were killed in a mysterious explosion at a Fatah-organized funeral in Gaza City. Witnesses said a man carrying explosives in a jacket accidentally detonated them, while Hamas security said a member of the procession threw a pipe bomb.
Fatah quickly accused Hamas of being behind the explosion, and the Ramallah government announced Saturday a national day of mourning. Hamas denied involvement, and issued orders to question another senior Fatah official in Gaza, Ibrahim Abu Naja, accusing him spreading the rumors. As of Saturday, Abu Naja was not in detention.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Iran reformists ridicule Ahmadinejad for Holocaust denial

 Last update - 20:15 14/12/2007       
Reformist Iranian opposition slams Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial
The Iranian opposition on Friday labeled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust "political adventurism," saying to unnecessarily harmed Iran's international standing.
"It was totally unnecessary political adventurism by the president, which harmed the country," Abdollah Nasseri, the spokesman of the Reformist Coalition Headquarters (RCH), told reporters in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad's remarks that Israel should be wiped out from the Islamic world map and relocated to either Europe or America and his reference to the Holocaust as a "fairy tale" led to widespread international protests in the last two years and even condemnation by the United Nations in January 2007.
"The Holocaust is a historic event and we [reformists] do not deny it, but more important is that the issue has nothing to do with us," the spokesman said.
The RCH, initiated by former president Mohammad Khatami, is set to unite all reformist and moderate factions into one coalition to run against the ultraconservative wing of Ahmadinejad's party in the March 14 elections.
"We earned ourselves unnecessary UN condemnation [under Ahmadinejad], while during the [1997-2005] presidency of Mr. Khatami, the name of Iran was raised in the UN for its peace-promoting initiative of Dialogue Among Civilizations," said Nasseri, who was the head of state news agency IRNA during the Khatami era.
Observers in Iran have said that Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli remarks and especially his Holocaust denial was one of the main reasons for the international antipathy towards Iran and has furthermore inflicted severe damage to the country's foreign policy apparatus.
Although Ahmadinejad has in the meantime refrained from referring to the Holocaust antagonistically, he still uses every occasion to predict the "collapse of the Zionist regime (Israel)."
He also accused the West of a double-standard, considering insults against Muslims' religious institutions as freedom of speech while making a taboo out of the Holocaust.

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Qassam hits Negev factory as gov't declares 'special situation'

It is time to understand that there is a war going on in and around Gaza....
Last update - 22:21 14/12/2007    
 Qassam hits Negev factory as gov't declares 'special situation'
 By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press 
A Qassam rocket struck a western Negev factory Friday, hours after the cabinet declared a "special situation" in Sderot and in other communities bordering the Gaza Strip due to constant Qassam rocket attacks.
The Kibbutz Gabim factory, which operates around the clock, sustained damage. None of the employees who were at the factory at the time of the attack were wounded.
Friday's vote to declare a "special situation" was carried out over the telephone by Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel, and came after Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided Thursday evening to seek government approval for the move.
Officials from the Defense Ministry said that the decision will have to go before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in order to go into effect, where it will remain until March 2008.
The declaration essentially transfers emergency authority from the state to the army. Therefore, the IDF Southern Command can determine whether or not schools will remain open, and the Home Front can order factories containing dangerous materials to close their doors.

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NIE Report and Israeli strategy

U.S. report on Iran forces Israel to alter strategy 

By Leslie Susser  Published: 12/11/2007 

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- After the shock of last week's U.S. intelligence estimate that found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Israel is reshaping its Iran strategy.
Israel essentially is arguing that the U.S. assessment is dangerously misleading and that Tehran is as determined as ever to acquire nuclear weapons.
The Israeli dilemma is how to prove Iran is cheating without being accused of trying to push the United States into war. That is why the official strategy is to work quietly behind the scenes.
Israel's top intelligence agencies all believe Iran is still at full throttle to produce a nuclear bomb and will be capable of doing so by 2009 or 2010.
The new Israeli strategy is based on four main elements:
· actively pushing for stiffer international sanctions on Iran, despite the U.S. report;
· working quietly behind the scenes to convince others through Israel's own intelligence material that Iran is intent on producing nuclear weapons;
· refraining from arguing with the U.S. assessment in public, lest Israel be seen to be trying to push the United States into military action against Iran;
· and Israel keeping open its own military options.
The National Intelligence Estimate's report is likely to affect more than Israel's strategy on Iran.
Although they won't say so openly, Israeli officials feel a deep sense of abandonment by the United States in the face of this existential threat to the Jewish state. This sentiment could have implications for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and in the Israeli domestic political arena.
The sense of abandonment places a heavy burden on Israeli decision makers.
Now that Israel is on its own, the question of what to do about an Iran on the verge of nuclear capability could be one of the biggest decisions in the history of the state, pundits say.
"It will be one of the biggest decisions an Israeli prime minister will ever have to make. And if the Americans object to an Israeli operation, it will be even bigger," former Mossad analyst Yossi Alpher, co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian Web site, told JTA. "In other words, if this is done against the backdrop of an Israeli-American disagreement over Iran's intentions and from our standpoint it's an existential issue, this would be a moment of truth for the State of Israel, without a doubt."
The emerging policy is the result of close consultations among Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
In a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Olmert stressed that Israel would work to "expose Iran's clandestine operations."
Barak earlier had advised the prime minister not to get into a public spat with the United States over its assessment of Iran's nuclear program but rather promoted the behind-the-scenes effort.
Livni is determined to ensure that the international alliance for sanctions against Iran does not crumble in the face of the report. Last week she briefed Israeli ambassadors worldwide, urging them to stress that even if taken at face value, the U.S. report shows that Iran can be pressured and that sanctions work.
Later, in a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Livni secured promises from several of her European counterparts that they would go ahead with sanctions of their own if Russia or China veto a new sanctions package in the U.N. Security Council.
Barak has hinted that Israel will keep all its options on the table.
"It is our responsibility to ensure that the right steps are taken against the Iranian regime," he declared. "Words don't stop missiles."
Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman says it doesn't even matter whether or not the Iranians have a secret military program. He argues that once the Iranians have sufficient quantities of enriched uranium -- which they continue to produce openly, ostensibly for civilian purposes -- they could manufacture a bomb in a matter of months.
Then, Lieberman said, "for them to go nuclear or not is simply a political decision."
In questioning the American intelligence assessment, Israeli analysts point to three indisputable facts: In defiance of the international community, Iran continues to enrich uranium, Iran has an advanced missile program that it continues to develop, and it could quickly reactivate its military program -- assuming it has been stopped -- to produce a bomb within a relatively short time span.
"They can stop on the edge of the project to weaponize and decide to proceed at any time," former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said.
The bottom line in the U.S. assessment is that the Iranians, concerned by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, suspended their nuclear weapons program in 2003.
The Israeli counter-assessment is that Tehran easily could have shifted its nuclear program underground without being detected, and even if they didn't, it doesn't matter much because the transition from an advanced civilian nuclear program to weaponization is relatively simple and brief.
The Israelis say that the Jewish state, which is within range of Iranian missiles, cannot afford to take as sanguine a view of the potential threat as the Americans, who are not within range of Iran's missiles.
Israeli analysts agree that right or wrong, the U.S. intelligence estimate will prove a seminal event that reduces to zero the possibility of a U.S. military strike against Iran.
Some see the assessment as an attempt to tie the hands of an activist U.S. president; others see it as providing support to a president looking for a way to back down from an increasingly unpopular military option against Iran.
Either way, the American dial-down on Iran could affect Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
If Israel can no longer count on the United States when facing major security threats, it will be less inclined to take chances for peace with Palestinians, some analysts say.
"It is going to be a lot harder for the Americans to persuade Israel, which has been left isolated on the Iranian front, to take security risks vis-a-vis the Palestinians and also perhaps with respect to the Syrians," Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn wrote in Israel's daily Ha'aretz.
Alpher, however, argues that Israel has never made any explicit linkage between the Iranian and Palestinian arenas.
"Olmert has never said he would ask the public to support concessions to the Palestinians because we are getting some sort of American umbrella on Iran," Alpher said. "On the contrary, he says cutting a deal with the Palestinians is a supreme Israeli interest."
Still, the scenario that would have had the United States "take care" of Iran in return for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians has been blown out of the water.
The new situation could have implications for domestic politics, too.
If it becomes clear that Iran does not intend to go nuclear, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built a career around the Iranian threat, could be in trouble. Conversely, if Israel seems alone in the battle against a nuclear Iran, Netanyahu could become the man of the hour.
Does Israel have a genuine military option against Iran?
Some Israeli and foreign experts are skeptical, given the large number of widely dispersed and well-fortified nuclear targets in Iran. Moreover, Iran would be able to retaliate with missiles fired from its own territory, as well as by its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. The Islamic Republic also could unleash terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets abroad.
Nevertheless, Israel has built a highly sophisticated elite strike force capable of hitting a wide range of Iranian targets. The Israeli estimate is that it could put the Iranian program back several years.
Israel, however, probably would need U.S. approval for any such strike.
With U.S. forces active nearby, the Israel Air Force would find it extremely difficult to operate over Iran without first receiving American "friend-or-foe" flight codes for the airspace over Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These codes were withheld from Israel during the 1991 Gulf War; a clash over the codes in the Iranian context would be far more serious.
It could mean back to square one: Even though Israel rejects the new U.S. reading of Iranian intentions, it remains dependent on U.S. cooperation for any future operation concerning Iran.

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Egyptian discusses Israel

A little slice of truth: Egyptian working in Israel is confronted by angry Egyptian media presenter:

(Presenter): Couldn't you have got a job in an Arab country?

(Egyptian): You mean to work as slave? Have a kafeel ( sponsor who subcontract the foreign worker) to ill treat me, keep my passport in his desk-drawer and I have no rights or protection?

( Presenter) ( Interrupting): Arabs are your brothers and cousins , there might be bad examples but thousands of Egyptians work in Arab countries

(Egyptian): Good luck to them, and I hope they get some decent treatment, but here I belong to the union, there is law, I have rights, and I can take my employer to court and get my full rights.

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Peace settlement: So near yet so far!

Is the Outline of a Peace Deal Really All That Clear?
The Strategic Interest
'Truthfully," Tony Blair said barely a month ago, "if you took any group of well-educated Israelis or Palestinians and said to them, describe on two sheets of paper the rough solution to the core final status issues — territory, right of return, Jerusalem — they could probably do it roughly along the same contours of a solution."

The Quartet's envoy to the Middle East is far from the only one to hold this belief. Indeed, it has become common wisdom that the parameters to a successful two-state solution are quite clear.

This notion that the contours of a solution are obvious, however, is patently incorrect. Worse, it obfuscates the real areas of controversy that separate Israelis and Palestinians and that have to be addressed if we are to reach even a partial solution to the conflict.

What is perhaps most striking about the substantive gaps ignored by Blair and others is that they have widened in recent years — primarily due to changing Israeli positions on final status issues since the abortive summit at Camp David in July 2000. Indeed, the Palestinian side has been remarkably consistent in its positions, which reflect the belief that having conceded Israeli sovereignty over the state that lies within the 1967 lines, the Palestinians cannot be expected to offer additional concessions. The changes in Israel's positions are in many ways an adjustment necessitated by Israeli recognition of the Palestinian refusal to offer appreciable concessions on the core issues.

Let us take the issue areas enunciated by Blair one-by-one and examine just how considerable the gap now is.

We begin with territory. At Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were close to agreement on the settlement blocs Israel would annex, disagreeing mainly on the ratio of territorial compensation Israel would offer. Barak even allowed that parts of the Jordan Valley which Israel deemed vital for security reasons could be turned over to the Palestinians after an agreed-upon number of years. By 2003, when the United States occupied Iraq, even that security necessity became moot, as Israel could look east all the way to the Iraq-Iran border and see only friendly neighbors.

Since then the settlement blocs have continued to grow, while empty areas adjacent to the Green Line that Israel could offer to the Palestinians in return have become scarcer. Moreover, the Olmert government has correctly perceived the strategic value of a Gaza-West Bank corridor for a Palestinian state and attaches greater value to it within the framework of territorial swaps. Finally, with Iraq in collapse and Iran emerging as the hegemon in all or most of a future Iraq and thereby directly threatening Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Israel can no longer easily cite a date certain for transferring control over the Jordan Valley to a Palestinian state.

Moving to the right of return issue, the Israeli mainstream has in recent years concluded from Palestinian demands and behavior that the ideal Palestinian vision of a two-state solution comprises an Arab state alongside a state called Israel that is understood by Palestinians to be a binational Jewish-Arab state. Israel as Palestinians wish to see it would have a fast-growing indigenous Arab population and would confront pressures to absorb Palestinian refugees based on Israeli de facto recognition that in 1948 it was born in sin by expelling the indigenous Palestinians.

Aspects of this position are now reflected in mainstream Israeli Arab position papers that have been published during the past year. This means that the future status of Israel's Palestinian citizens has now become yet another Israeli-Palestinian issue characterized by a growing perceptual gap. This position is also clearly reflected in the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to acknowledge, as part of the successful peace process envisioned by the Olmert government, that Israel is a Jewish state as constituted in 1947 by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 — the authoritative document under international law that created a two-state solution to the conflict.

The Israeli "Jewish state" demand was nowhere on the agenda at Camp David in 2000. Today, however, with its very different perception of the ultimate Arab understanding of a two-state solution, Israel cannot permit itself in final status negotiations to accept even the symbolic return of a few thousand refugees — unless the Palestinians renounce the right of return and accept Israel as a Jewish state (with a protected Palestinian national minority). The gap between the two sides' positions on this issue is considerably greater today than that reflected at Camp David, or in the parameters laid out by President Clinton before he left office, or in the Geneva Accords drawn up in 2003.

Finally, Jerusalem. It was only at Camp David and thereafter that leading Palestinian spokesmen, from Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas on down, informed their Israeli counterparts that in fact there had never been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount. According to authoritative Palestinians, it was only at Camp David that the Palestinian side realized for the first time how important the Temple Mount actually is to Jews.

Never mind that prior to the conflict, Arab historiography readily acknowledged that the mosques on the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif as it is known in Arabic, were deliberately built on the ruins of the Temple in order for Islam to benefit from the perception of being a continuation of Judaism. Today the Palestinians are unable to accept a solution that acknowledges the historic Hebrew roots of the mount and provides accordingly for Jewish access. And mainstream Israel is unable to accept anything less, insofar as it would officially feed the Palestinian narrative that the Jews of Israel are merely a band of colonialists who lack roots in the land that they took by force.

That, Mr. Blair, would only fuel the conflict, not end it.

Yossi Alpher, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, is co-editor of the bitterlemons family of online publications.

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Top Fatah official abducted by unknown gunmen in Gaza

 Last update - 12:18 14/12/2007       
Top Fatah official abducted by unknown gunmen in Gaza
By News Agencies
A senior adviser in the Palestinian government was abducted by unknown gunmen in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Friday, officials in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction said.
It was the highest-profile abduction since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing secular Fatah forces.
Fayyad's information minister, Riyad al-Malki, blamed "criminals working for Hamas" for the abduction and called for Ghoul's immediate release.
Omar Al-Ghoul is an adviser to Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister appointed to lead the West Bank government after Hamas took control of Gaza. Al-Ghoul is considered a harsh critic of Hamas and has a regular newspaper column in which he frequently attacks the Islamic movement.
Al-Ghoul arrived in Gaza from the West Bank on Thursday to attend the funeral of his mother-in law. Around 4 a.m. Friday, armed gunmen in civilian clothes burst into his Gaza home, turning it upside down and seizing Al-Ghoul, his relatives reported.
There was no claim of responsibility. Hamas officials were not immediately available for comment.
Also Thursday, an explosion hit a funeral procession for three militants killed in an Israel Air Force strike on Thursday.
Medical officials said at least 20 mourners were wounded in Friday's funeral blast, which police believe may have been caused by a grenade dropped by a gunman.

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About time: Israel, U.S. to meet to discuss differing assessments on Iran

Shouldn't consultation among intelligence services occur before the assessment is completed?
Last update - 13:41 14/12/2007       
Israel, U.S. to meet to discuss differing assessments on Iran
By Amir Oren, Haaretz Correspondent
Israeli and American officials involved in the intelligence analysis of Iran's nuclear efforts will meet soon to discuss the two countries' differing assessments of Iran's rate of progress toward achieving nuclear weapons.
Israel, which was surprised by the National Intelligence Assessment on Iran released last week, initiated the meeting. Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the idea of a meeting, reportedly preferring lower-level talks that would avoid involving diplomatic positions or organizational responsibility for the meaning or interpretation of the data.

Defense establishment sources said this week that Israel accepted 90 to 95 percent of the intelligence material on which the American assessment was based, including the assertion that Iran stopped the development of nuclear weapons in 2003 but was continuing uranium enrichment and the development of long-range weapons.
Among the Israeli participants in the talks will be experts at the level of department heads in the Intelligence Branch of the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad, the Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission, mostly at the level of colonel or their civilian counterpart.
The U.S. intelligence community will be represented by representatives from the CIA, Pentagon intelligence agencies, the Department of Energy and the National Intelligence Council operating alongside the Director of National Intelligence. The main framers of the report were Leslie Ireland, issue manager on Iran in the National Intelligence Council and her colleague, Vann Van Diepen, issue manager for weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a meeting this week with the editors of USA Today, a transcript of which was distributed by her office, that President George W. Bush had decided to release an unclassified version of the intelligence report to stress that along with stopping the development of nuclear weapons four years ago, Iran continues to enrich nuclear material for military purposes and to obtain missiles.
Rice said that if the Iranians "embraced" the whole intelligence report, the U.S. would want to know what program was stopped in 2003, how far it went and what the significance of was of stopping it, "given that weaponization is only one element of a weapons program."
Rice confirmed repeatedly that the U.S. demanded that Iran stop enrichment of uranium as a precondition to negotiations. "The situation we would not want to get into is where there are endless negotiations while Iran perfects the enrichment and reprocessing capability because once you've learned to do it - it's an engineering problem, " she said.
The Washington Post quoted last Saturday from statements made two years ago by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani to American experts then visiting Teheran. "Look, as long as we can enrich uranium and master the fuel cycle, we don't need anything else. Our neighbors will be able to draw the proper conclusions," he told his guests. The statement was also quoted by former American peace emissary Dennis Ross in the New Republic weekly.
Until the release of the American report, the defense establishment believed Israel might find itself involved in a military conflict with Iran in the coming year if Bush decided to act against Tehran and Iran responded against Israeli targets as well.
In the wake of this assumption, the extension of Air Force commander Major General Elyezer Shkedy's command, until April 2008, is under consideration. A number of additional reshuffles of Air Force brass depend on whether Shkedy remains in his post.
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashskenazi recently interviewed three candidates for Shkedy's job: the chief of planning on the General Staff, Major General Ido Nechushtan; Brigadier General Amir Ehsel, head of the Air Force headquarters and head of the IAF's Air Directorate, Brigadier General Yohanan Locker.

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Never a dull moment in Gaza: At least three dead, 30 wounded in Gaza blast

Last update - 13:51 14/12/2007    
 At least three dead, 30 wounded in Gaza blast 
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent 

At least three people were killed and 30 wounded Friday morning during a funeral procession as hundreds of mourners marched through Gaza City, hospital officials said.
Witnesses said gunmen were firing in the air during the funeral of a Palestinian Fatah militant, who was killed Thursday in an Israel Air Force airstrike. Then, a powerful explosion went off. The source of the blast was unknown and it was unclear if the device was triggered or set off accidentally.
At a nearby hospital, medics tended to the wounded. 

Hamas security officials said a participant in the funeral lobbed a pipebomb at the edges of the procession, but the bomb bounced back into the procession, causing the mayhem.
Gunfire and the setting off of fireworks are common forms of commemoration at Gaza funerals.
The procession was organized by Fatah militants affiliated with the dead men killed Thursday when IAF aircraft
fire killed him and two others. The IDF said the men belonged to a Palestinian cell that had fired Qassam rockets at Israel.

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Record number of students to take part in Birthright Israel this year

By Irit Rosenblum 

The first 300 of the this winter's 17,000 Birthright participants will land in Israel next week in the latest chance for Jews 18 to 26 years old to visit Israel on an educational trip.
In the current program, they will be coming from 20 countries from all over the globe, with the first group arriving from Australia and Uzbekistan.
The huge number of participants, a new record for Birthright (taglit in Hebrew), will bring the Israeli tourism industry about NIS 130 million over the four winter months.
Six airlines will be carrying the participants: El Al, Israir, Arkia, Continental, Delta and Turkish Airlines.
Birthright participants spend 10 days in Israel touring historical and national heritage sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Galilee, the Golan Heights and the South, including Masada and the Dead Sea.
About 3,400 Israeli soldiers join the students.
During the eight years of Birthright, over 150,000 participants from 52 countries have visited Israel. On the business side, this has generated tourism revenues of NIS 1.2 billion for services such as hotels, food, security, guides, entrance fees, buses and flights.
Birthright is a joint initiative of the Israeli government and a number of Jewish philanthropists and communities around the world. The founders were Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have pledged $60 million to the program, which has allowed thousands of students who were on the waiting list to come to Israel on Birthright this year.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Report: Nasty Nasrallah demoted, no longer heads Hizbullah military

Our favorite terrorist may have been demoted, or not.
Report: Nasrallah replaced as head of Hizbullah military wing

According to London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has ordered Hizbullah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to hand over control of Hizbullha's military wing to deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qasim
Roee Nahmias
Published:  12.13.07, 23:31 / Israel News
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has ordered Hizbullah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to relinquish control of Hizbullah's military wing to his deputy, Sheikh Naim Qasim, the London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Thursday.
These reports, based upon "sources within the liaison and recruitment office of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards based in Lebanon," serve to confirm earlier reports in various media regarding this transfer of power from Nasrallah to Qasim.
Sources within the Revolutionary Guards operating in Lebanon, report that there have been marked differences of opinion between Nasrallah and Qasim as of late regarding key issues facing Hizbullha's military wing. This ultimately led Khamenei to restructure Hizbullah's chain of command, and transfer power to Qasim.

Nasrallah will continue to reign as Hizbullah secretary-general, as well as heading the organization's intelligence unit. Imad Mornia, Hizbullah's chief of operations, will continue to act as liaison between Hizbullah, the Palestinians, Iranian intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards.
Hizbullah was quick to deny these reports of turmoil facing its military wing. "These reports are utterly unfounded, groundless and lack all basis in objective fact," said Hizbullah sources.
"These reports of turmoil in Hizbullah's leadership stem from the world's distress at the support the organization enjoys, the lofty status that its leader Sheik Nasaralla enjoys within the Arab world, and the resolve that Hizbullah's warriors show in face of Israeli occupation."

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Peki'in: Jews welcome back - sort of

We cannot and must not accept the idea that it is ok to attack families because they are of the same ethnicity as others who caused trouble, or that it is OK to use violence against anyone who only expresses political opinions, however obnoxious.
Ami Isseroff
Peki'in: Jews welcome back
About two months after violent riots that rocked Druze town, World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency organize assembly to promote coexistence in Peki'in. Town leaders call on Jewish residents to return, emphasize that 'provocateurs' are not welcome
Ahiya Raved
Published:  12.14.07, 00:13 / Israel News
Leaders of the majority Druze Galilee town of Peki'in, which was the scene of ethnic tensions two months ago, declared Thursday night that Jewish residents were welcome to return to live in the town at an assembly organized the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.
 "We are calling on the Jews of Peki'in and all those who are interested to come back and live in Peki'in, however we will not agree to again take in provocateurs," the leaders said.
The speakers described the riots of October as an anomaly that would not have long-term consequences on Jewish-Druze relations in the Galilee or in Israel as a whole.
The assembly featured many members of Galilee municipal and regional councils as well as Zionist leaders such as Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski.
Leaders of the Druze community showed up in force. They brought up what they saw as the catalysts for the rioting.
Other speakers, primarily heads of Jewish municipalities, remarked that the events that took place in Peki'in were primarily the result of frustration brought on by discrimination, a lack of infrastructure, jobs and education.

'Troublemakers stay out'
Peki'in local council head Muhammad Kheir called on the Jewish families that lived in the town to return, although he and other speakers noted that two Jewish families seen as provocateurs were not welcome to come back.
 "It's as if someone comes into your home, goes into the living room, creates a mess and flips over the couch. (All the Jewish residents) were welcome and are still welcome except for those people."
Chairman Bielski spoke about the rioting and warned about taking democracy for granted: "Democracy is an invaluable gift but it has its limits. We also have criticism about police conduct, but when people attack a governmental body they need to act carefully.
"Today it is the police, tomorrow it is the court and later the military. In a democratic regime we don't raise our hand against the police even if it seems to us that the police presence is exaggerated."
The Jewish Agency has about 25 buildings that it has acquired through the years in Peki'in's center. The buildings are not suitable for habitation and the town leadership is requesting that the agency remodel them and allow them to be used as public buildings.

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President Ahmadinejad Seen Through the Eyes of the Poor

President Ahmadinejad Seen Through the Eyes of the Poor

نگاه اقشار محروم به احمدی‌نژاد؛ 28 ماه پس از حضور در قدرت

Maryam Radnia | Mazandaran | 5 December 2007

Podcast: 2 MB, 8 mins 40 secs [Download audio file...]


When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected Iranian president in 2005, most of his support came from the poorer sections of society. His famous campaign pledge was that he'd distribute his country's oil money so that it landed on people's dinner tables. He also promised to establish social justice and root out corruption.

In short, what Ahmadinejad was offering was an end to the way things had been run so far in Iran. He was going to reshape the system so that it worked in favour of the most vulnerable sections of the population.

The people who turned out to vote for him were certainly motivated, in part, by religious conviction and by their anger at the record of bureaucracy over past years.

But what's just as important is that many of those seventeen million voters were hoping for a reduction in inequality. They were hoping they really would end up with more on the dinner table.

Twenty-eight months after that watershed election, almost none of Ahmadinejad's promises has materialised.

Economic policy decisions and the unrestrained emission of money have resulted in unprecedented inflation over the last ten years. A fifty per cent rise in house prices has been accompanied by sharp increases in the cost of staple items like dairy products, fruit, meat and vegetables.

The result is that people have less purchasing power, and their tables are emptier. There's no sign of all that oil money.

Social justice has not been established, and the factors commonly used to measure it show no signs of improvement. Social security and health provision remain problematic, and the gulf between their availability and demand has widened. A recent report from the Central Bank of Iran shows that massive rises in water, electricity, gas and telephone charges have contributed greatly to the overall inflation figures.

Far from being reduced, unemployment is on the rise, as production falls and the population increases in size. The petrol rationing scheme introduced over the summer has created still more problems for poorer people.

The authorities have encouraged unprecedented levels of imports to maintain the availability of goods on the market. But the deluge of imports has had a damaging effect on local manufacturing.

All this provides critics of the government with ammunition to claim that President Ahmadinejad is becoming less and less popular among the poorer sections of society that form his natural constituency.

But although that argument contains an element of truth, it is far from being a complete reflection of the situation.

Ahmadinejad is certainly facing increased criticism from the educated elite and parts of the urban population in the big cities. But it isn't logical to suggest that the president is losing support among university students, the educated classes and the better-off. He never enjoyed much popularity with them anyway.

The bulk of the population doesn't necessarily feel the same way about Ahmadinejad.

It's certainly true that none of his election promises have been delivered on. Purchasing power has definitely declined, unemployment has gone up, and that nearly ten per cent more people now fall below the bread line. Yet even these facts don't automatically mean that rural and other impoverished communities have ditched their president.

It's important to remember how much impact government propaganda can have among poorer sections of the population, especially as they live in an oral culture, not a literary one.

Take the shoemaker I met this summer in Noor, a town in the northern province of Mazandaran. This man genuinely loved Ahmadinejad. It was the president's rivals, he said, who were responsible for his plans being derailed and for the rising cost of living. There are many people in villages across Mazandaran and other undeveloped provinces who think the same way.

Some of the president's policies and actions have genuine popular appeal, even if the educated classes dismiss them as misguided, populist gestures.

In the past two years, Ahmadinejad has visited virtually every city and town in Iran, meeting the people and speaking to them directly. In many deprived parts of the country, the mere fact that you have talked to the president is an intense experience that you will remember over many years with a sense of pride.

In the course of all these visits, Ahmadinejad gets a lot of letters from members of the public. So far there have been six million of them.

And in reply, he sends out literally tens of thousands of letters to government bodies instructing them to take action. Often these instructions lead to the person who appealed to him getting their problem resolved.

About half of these letters from the public are requests for small sums of money. The authorities appear to be responding to them with small gifts of money ranging between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand toman, or up to one hundred US dollars. More importantly, the president's office replies to each and every letter, and hands out sums of money to most of the supplicants through the Emdad or Aid Committee.

The government has also changed the banking system to make loans on easy credit terms available to millions of less well-off people. These loans, which don't exceed a million toman, roughly a thousand dollars, can go a long way towards resolving some of the short-term problems these people face. Before Ahmadinejad came to power, it was extremely difficult for people to take out such unsecured loans.

Another scheme – known as self-employment credit - has seen hundreds of thousands of loans of between five and ten million tomans offered to young unemployed people, to allow them to set themselves up in business. Many economists argue that the loans haven't actually created jobs, as the young borrowers use the money to buy a car or other consumer goods, or to get married. In other words, the scheme has simply turned the young unemployed into the young, unemployed and indebted.

But even if these employment loans haven't been an economic success, they've still had immense impact in terms of propaganda.

The final thing Ahmadinejad has been able to pull out of his war chest is the so-called Justice Share scheme. Under this somewhat rushed scheme, the government issued millions of shares in state-owned industries to the most impoverished strata of society.

There's been considerable criticism of the scheme, and many experts see it as highly risky for the economy. But the government has pressed on regardless, and in early November it announced that the first dividends from the Justice Shares were now due – and that they'd be paid out to deprived families in hard cash.

So despite the economic instability and the fall in purchasing power for less well-off Iranians, the Ahmadinejad government has nevertheless taken a number of steps that may keep its support solid in small provincial towns and in the countryside. Even if some of these measures could ultimately go against the national interest and further undermine economic stability, in the short term, at least, they will meet some of the needs of Iran's poorest voters.

Maryam Raadnia is a reporter in Mazandaran province.

This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.

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Iran: Upsurge in Dissident Arrests

From Mianeh

Upsurge in Dissident Arrests

وضعیت حقوق‌بشر؛ دور بی‌سابقه سرکوب یا جنگ روانی منتقدان؟!

Hamid Khosravi | Tehran | 12 December 2007

Human rights organisations in Iran say dissidents are being targeted in an unprecedented wave of arrests and harassment. It looks very much like all-out war on anyone critical of the regime.

Iranian government officials, meanwhile, insist that everything is fine and that attacks on their human rights record are merely a diplomatic weapon deployed by the West as part of the broader nuclear dispute.

In September, for instance, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told students at Columbia University in the United States that Iran was one of the most free countries in the world. Other officials have expanded on the theme, arguing the merits of "religious democracy" as an ideal political model and decrying external criticism as a form of psychological warfare.

When the European Union produced a tough report about the state of human rights in Iran, a foreign ministry spokesman responded, "These political statements are aimed at pressurising Tehran over the nuclear issue."

A member of the judiciary official, who did not want to be identified, told Mianeh that "everyone in the world knows that concerns about the state of human rights are a political instrument for exerting pressure on governments opposed to the west".

Domestically, the authorities have dealt with the troublesome question of human rights by the stifling news sources that report on it. The ILNA news agency, which carried critical reporting on political detentions despite having official status, has been closed down. The Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, which focused on the detention of students, has undergone management changes which have radically changed its editorial policy.

For the last few years, both news agencies have been under fire from the conservatives, who viewed them as the voice of counter-revolution and hostile human rights groups. With their elimination as critical voices, the official media carry little news about the treatment of government critics.

Even so, news sources – radio and internet sites based abroad – continue to report on the issue, and the picture they paint is an alarming one, indicative of a wave of arrests and harassment of critics of the Ahmadinejad administration in the last few months.

The groups targeted in this offensive can be divided into six main groups - students, political activists, trade unionists, journalists, women's rights defenders and ethnic minority activists.

Most of the detentions appear to involve student activists, judging from the reports that have been published. The high-profile arrest in May of Ehsan Mansouri, Ahmad Ghassaban and Majid Tavakkoli from Tehran's Amir Kabir University, and especially the open letters they wrote alleging physical mistreatment in detention, led to protests from students at other institutions, who in turn were subject to arrest.

Continued here 

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Man bites dog: Israeli banks accused of financing terror

Two Israeli Banks Accused of Sending Millions of Dollars to Hamas Entities
Arab Bank Turns Tables on Israel
By Marc Perelman
Wed. Dec 12, 2007
MONEY: Several banks are under scrutiny for questionable transfers.
Two of Israel's biggest banks are mired in a court battle over allegations that they conducted transactions that ultimately benefited Hamas and its affiliates.
Bank Hapoalim and Israel Discount Bank are facing charges in New York federal court that they violated American anti-terrorism finance laws by allegedly serving as a conduit for Hamas. The accusations come from the Arab Bank of Jordan, which was first accused of similar charges and is now striking back by throwing the charges at the Israeli banks.
The Israeli banks "initiated or substantially participated in many of the very same acts and transactions complained of by the plaintiffs and had at least equal if not greater opportunity than Arab Bank to know of the alleged wrongful nature of such acts and transactions," the Arab Bank said in its complaint.
On November 30, the Israeli banks jointly filed motions to dismiss the Arab Bank's complaint, claiming that the Arab Bank had failed to provide evidence of the Israeli banks' intent to support terrorism-related entities. But in September, it was revealed that nearly three-quarters of a million dollars made its way from Israel Discount Bank to Hamas's main armed group.

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New light on Taba negotiations, separation plan

The history of the Taba negotiations will continue to be revised. In Gilad Sher's book, no mention is made of any such agreements as are described below. However, it is clear to everyone that a final status agreement has to look like this.
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 10:30 13/12/2007       
Document shows progress on core issues at Camp David summit
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
A document obtained by Haaretz shows that the Palestinian Authority vehemently rejected most of Israel's security demands in negotiations at Camp David and Taba in 2000 and 2001, but contrary to what has been assumed for years, significant agreement was reached on parts of three core issues: borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
The 26-page document, signed by Gilad Sher, bureau chief to then prime minister Ehud Barak, was entitled, "The Status of the Diplomatic Process with the Palestinians Points to Update the Incoming Prime Minister."
The document, revealed as Israel and the Palestinians resume official talks following a seven-year hiatus, shows details of the Palestinians' objections for the first time, and illustrates the precise differences in the respective negotiating positions when the talks were frozen in early 2001.
The document also reveals that as early as June 2000, an "initiated separation" plan that would eventually become the basis for Israel's withdrawal from territories were being formulated, in the event talks with the Palestinians break down.
That plan received the cabinet's final approval in October 2000. The separation plan was to encompass all aspects of life, and would take place over a number of years, even while negotiations would be kept on the back burner as an option, should conditions change.
The document was presented to Barak two weeks after the elections on February 6, 2001, in which Barak lost to Ariel Sharon, and a few days before Sharon assumed office.
Among the PA's objections were the demilitarization of the Palestinian Authority; the proposed timeline for the Israel Defense Forces to withdraw from the territories; the IDF's right to emergency deployment in the Jordan Valley; and control of the skies.
The document notes that "at the Camp David negotiations, President [Bill] Clinton agreed on the security issue in the spirit of Israel's positions, but after the summit, the Palestinians reneged on most of the understandings."
Some of the details have been revealed over the years in books and articles, but most have remained ambiguous or unknown.
According to the plan:
* Israel would keep settlement blocs comprising 80 percent of the settlers in the West Bank.
* No evacuation of settlements was planned for the initial phase of the plan. At an appropriate time, it stated, isolated settlements outside the blocs or security zones would be transfered to one of the settlement blocks or to Israel.
* A wide security zone would be maintained along the Dead Sea as far north as Meholah in the Jordan Valley.
* Security forces would be beefed up in the Old City and East Jerusalem, and its environs.
The 26-page booklet was written during a long series of discussions by a team headed by Sher, which included former deputy head of the Shin Bet security service Israel Hasson; Barak's political adviser, Pini Meidan; the IDF chief of planning and strategy, Brigadier General Mike Herzog; head of the Military Advocate General's international law department, Colonel Daniel Reisner; the secretary of the negotiating team, Gidi Grinstein; the head of the negotiation administration, Colonel Shaul Arieli; his deputy, Moti Kristal; and Foreign Ministry representative Oded Eran. Then-head of the National Security Council, Major General Uzi Dayan, also contributed comments. The booklet summed up in almost obsessively thorough and precise detail all diplomatic action that had been taken vis-a-vis the Palestinians during Barak's term in office.
Far-reaching ideas

The main principle toward which Israel was working, according to the document prepared by Sher's team, was not to offer any more territory to the Palestinians before understandings were reached on all the core issues. Israel was prepared to discuss far-reaching ideas, but continually emphasized that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
Another rule was that "no issues could be agreed upon separately from others," because of the interlocking connection among all the issues. These two messages were emphasized frequently during the talks in 2000.
In preparation for the current renewal of talks, the documents were presented to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her team a month before the Annapolis summit. The Israeli and the Palestinian teams, headed by Livni and Ahmed Qureia, met Wednesday in what was intended as the official reopening of talks, seven years after they were frozen.
During the talks at Camp David and Taba, the parties worked toward a Framework Agreement for Permanent Status (FAPS). The agreement was supposed to encompass all the core issues and offer guidelines and time tables to arrive at a solution.
In comparison, during the opening of talks between Israeli and Palestinian teams on Wednesday, the parties avoided defining the legal status of the document toward which they were working. The joint statement at Annapolis stated that the goal was a "peace agreement," a term open to interpretation.
Olmert has not yet given guidelines to the negotiating team on the present talks. However, the 2001 booklet documents 12 guidelines given by Barak to the negotiating teams.
Gaps revealed

The 2001 document reveals the gaps between the parties on all the core issues:
The parties were divided over when to make a declaration on the end of the conflict. Israel wanted the end-of-conflict declaration to be at the time of the signing of the FAPS. The Palestinians refused, and wanted all prisoners incarcerated in Israel to be released with the signing of the FAPS. Israel proposed that the prisoners be released with the Palestinian end-of-conflict declaration.
The document also reveals the nature of the Palestinian state, constituting the implementation of the right of the entire Palestinian people to self-determination. Among the differences noted was "a disagreement among the Palestinians with regard to formal recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state."
With regard to borders, the booklet states that the Palestinians were willing to show flexibility, and had agreed to adjustments to the June 4, 1967, borders, which were "equal in their extent and quality to meet Israel's demographic needs." The talks failed to reach an agreement over the Latrun area, the area annexed to Jerusalem after 1967, and the Dead Sea.
In addition, while Israel sought to exchange territory for 6 to 8 percent of the West Bank in order to keep the settlement blocks, the Palestinians demanded that all territorial exchanges be at a 1:1 ratio, and would not be greater than 2.3 percent of the West Bank.
In terms of safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, Israel wanted the passage to remain under its sovereignty, but controlled by the Palestinians; the Palestinians wanted a land corridor through Israel that would be under its sovereignty.
With regard to Jerusalem, it was determined that there would be two capitals, Jerusalem and Al-Quds, and that special arrangements would be made on matters of security, planning, construction and law enforcement. The Palestinians emphasized the idea of the "open city"  that the two capitals would constitute one urban unit separate from its surroundings, both Israeli and Palestinian.
In the areas outside the Old City walls, Israel's guiding principle was that Arab areas would be Palestinian, but presented a map with Jewish territorial contiguity that created Palestinian "bubbles." The Palestinians, for their part, demanded Palestinian territorial contiguity with Israeli "bubbles" connected to Jewish Jerusalem via roads.
In the matter of the "sacred basin" and the Old City, Israel wanted a "special regime," and to keep the Jewish and the Armenian quarters under its aegis. The Palestinians, however, wanted sovereignty over the Muslim, Christian and most of the Armenian quarters.
In terms of the Jewish holy sites outside the walls, the Palestinians proposed special arrangements that would benefit Israel but would not constitute overeignty.
An even more complicated issue was that of the Temple Mount. Israel suggested that sovereignty would be "ambiguous," and that powers of administration and control would be shared, or alternatively, that sovereignty would be determined based on the bond of each party to the site. The Palestinians refused both alternatives and rejected any compromise on the Temple Mount.
On refugees, Israel refused to accept sole responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem and to any right of return, theoretical or actual. Israel did agree to recognize the suffering of the 1948 refugees; to take part in an international effort to bring in a small number of refugees 20,000-40,000 at its discretion based on humanitarian considerations only; and to contribute funds to refugee rehabilitation. Israel's condition was that the "implementation of the final status agreement would bring an end to demands and a solution to the problem."
The Palestinians demanded that Israel recognize its sole responsibility for the creation and perpetuation of the refugee problem, and wanted Israel to recognize the Palestinian right of return as per UN resolution 194. However a document written during the talks stated that the Palestinians "showed understanding of the sensitivity of the issue for Israel, and willingness to find a formulation that would balance these feelings with their national needs."
The gaps on the issue of water remained at a legal level, while on the practical level agreement was extensive.
On the process of ratifying the agreement, Israel declared its intention to hold a referendum, while the Palestinians said nothing about this part of the process.

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Ultra-Orthodox prejudiced against Ethiopian Jews

It seems that prejudice against Ethiopian Jews is concentrated among ultraorthodox Israelis Only 19% of the general population objected to their children marrying an Ethiopian, but 61% of ultra-orthodox objected to it. 50% of ultra-orthodox Jews would not send their children to school with Ethiopians, but only 14% of the general population objected - reflecting mostly ultra-orthodox opinions.
Since I would object to my son or daughter marrying an ultra-orthodox Jew, I guess we are more or less even. I would not object to ultra-orthodox Jews going to the same secular school as my children.
The chant of of the religious fanatics:
"tsvei fier, zex und acht
Mir villen nit farmischenzach"
(two, four six eight, we don't wanna integrate)
Ami Isseroff
A week after the disconcerting reports about the discrimination running rampant at several Israeli schools, it seems that perhaps there is still hope that most of the public does not suffer from such worrying racism.

According to a new Ynet-Gesher poll, the majority of Israelis would not object to see their child marry an Ethiopian and would not hesitate to send their children to a school that has a large Ethiopian student body. And yet, 52% of the population admits that they do not have any personal friends of Ethiopian descent.

The Ynet-Gesher poll was conducted by the Mutagim center and was based upon a representative sample of 500 adult, Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis.

When asked "would you let your child marry an Ethiopian?" 63% answered they would gladly welcome the marriage while 19% said "absolutely not." Another 6% said they would be saddened but would not object. Religious segmentation points at a different attitude: 61% of ultra-Orthodox respondents said they would vehemently object such a marriage. Only 25% would welcome an Ethiopian in-law.

The second question examined the degree of familiarity respondents have with community members: 32% admitted they do not have any Ethiopian friends and that they do not know any Ethiopians with whom they could build friendships. 20% do know Ethiopians but have no Ethiopian friends and 34% said they or
their children have such a friend.

Once again a religious segmentation points at a different trend in the ultra-Orthodox community: 72% don't have Ethiopian friends.

Age analysis reveals that 77% of the 65-and-over and 58% of 55-64 year olds said neither they nor their children have Ethiopian friends. Only younger Israelis, aged 18 through 44, have at least one Ethiopian friend.

Does the segregation in some of Petah Tikva schools reflect parents' wishes? 63% claim they have no problem sending their children to schools where 40% of the students are Ethiopians. On the other hand, 14% said they "would never" send their children to such institutions.

50% of ultra-Orthodox respondents said they would not send their children to such a school.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Breaking stereotypes: Muslim defends Jews in subway attack

Muslim saves Jews in subway attack

A Muslim saved a group of Jews being attacked on a New York subway in an apparent hate crime.

Hassan Askari, a student at Berkeley College in Manhattan, came to the aid of Walter Adler when he and three friends were attacked on the Q train running between Manhattan and Brooklyn on the night of Dec. 7, according to The Associated Press.

Ten men and women, aged 19 and 20, verbally and physically assaulted Adler and his friends after they wished the assailants "Happy Chanukah" in response to their "Merry Christmas" wish.

Askari, 20, tried to fight off the attackers, which gave Adler time to pull an emergency brake on the Brooklyn-bound train. The assailants were arrested at the next stop.

The attack is being investigated as a hate crime. One of the attackers reportedly had been arrested previously for a hate crime.

"That a random Muslim kid helped some Jewish kids, that's what's positive about New York," Adler, 23, told AP. Adler suffered a broken nose.


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Hamas Kiddie Show: We will wipe out the people of Zion, and will not leave a single one of them."

Hey boys and girls, dig this, from a Palestinian Hamas kiddie show:  
The following are excerpts from a children's show which aired on Hamas Al-Aqsa TV on December 3, 2007.
Boy: "My beloved brothers, as you know, today the Al-Aqsa Mosque is crying out: 'Where are the people of the frontline, the Palestinian people?' Yes, my dear brothers, that is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The subject of our lesson today is Jerusalem, to where your Prophet made his nocturnal journey – the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"Yes, my beloved brothers, as you know today, and as you knew yesterday and the day before, the Al-Aqsa Mosque has fallen into oppressing and malicious hands, the hands of those who know nothing but injustice. But let me tell you how the Al-Aqsa Mosque will be returned, how we shall rescue it from the shackles of the occupation, from the shackles of the Zionist entity.
"Will it be through conferences? No, not through conferences, but by means of force, because the Zionist entity, your enemy, the enemy of Allah, the enemy of Islam, knows nothing but injustice and the killing of Palestinians, the persevering people on the frontline. Indeed, the [mosque] will be returned only by means of force.
"In 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued. Balfour decided on the cleansing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. But look what the Zionist enemy has done, look what Israel and America have done. Look what the allies of Israel and America have done. They have dug tunnels underneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but the sheikhs and mujahideen of the Al-Aqsa Mosque have exposed these tunnels and called upon the Palestinian people: 'Look what has happened, look what has happened.'
"These calls have gone unheeded, my beloved brothers. But is it too late? No, it is not too late. If we all unite, the Al-Aqsa Mosque will not remain in the hands of the Zionist enemy, it will not remain in the hands of your enemy, despite all their conspiracies against the Palestinian people."
Girl: "To Al-Aqsa, to Al-Aqsa – we shall unite our ranks. We will wipe out the people of Zion, and will not leave a single one of them."

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American Intelligence Reappraises the Iranian Nuclear Issue

INSS December 12, 2007 No. 39

American Intelligence Reappraises the Iranian Nuclear Issue

Ephraim Kam and Ephraim Asculai

At the beginning of December 2007, the National Intelligence Council, the supreme body of the American intelligence community, released a reappraisal of Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities. The document, a non-classified summary of a detailed and classified analysis on the subject, states that Iran halted its secret nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and has yet to restart it. The summary also comes to the conclusion that Iran is less intent on developing nuclear weapons than was previously thought. On the other hand, the new assessment also states that, in technical terms, the end of 2009 is the earliest possible date for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium, but that this scenario is not very likely. Technically speaking, Iran can probably enrich enough weapons-grade uranium for a weapon between 2010 and 2015.

The new intelligence assessment reflects the appraisal of the entire American intelligence community, apart from some marginal differences of opinion, and represents a significant shift as compared with the previous intelligence assessment released in December 2005. Two changes in particular stand out:

  • The new intelligence assessment states for the first time that Iran froze a secret military nuclear program that sought to produce and enrich uranium and attempted to turn fissile material into weapons. The 2005 assessment invoked reliable information that Iran was running a secret nuclear program, though nothing connected that activity directly to a nuclear weapons program.

  • The latest assessment expresses doubts regarding Iran's intentions and determination to develop nuclear weapons, in contrast to the 2005 assessment which stated that Iran was firmly bent on attaining such weapons. It also estimates that Iran is more subject to pressures and influences on the nuclear issue than was previously thought to be the case.

By contrast, there has been no change in the estimated time-frame -– between 2010 and 2015 -- within which Iran will acquire the technical capability to build a nuclear weapon.

The new intelligence document does not make clear whether it was newly received information or a reexamination of existing information that produced the changed assessment. On the basis of the unclassified document, it is therefore difficult to appreciate whether the reappraisal is on firmer ground than the previous assessment. It is fair to assume that the American intelligence community has been affected by its serious failure in Iraq and perhaps also by the fact that senior members of the American defense establishment have expressed reservations about military action against Iran. However, it is also fair to assume that this is a professional assessment. It should be remembered that by releasing this appraisal, the American intelligence community is admitting that it failed when it presented its earlier assessment, and intelligence communities are normally reluctant to admit previous failure.

At the same time, it is important to stress that the new assessment does not negate the possibility that Iran will continue to seek nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the new assessment clearly states that:

  • Iran retains the option to develop nuclear weapons;

  • Iran is accelerating its civilian uranium enrichment program (which, under certain conditions, can also lead to the production of weapons-grade fissile materials);

  • Iran is liable to return to a secret program, which would be the preferred method to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons;

  • it will be difficult to convince Iran to abjure the development of nuclear weapons;

  • Iran has the technological infrastructure needed to develop nuclear weapons should it choose to do so.

Moreover, despite the document's quasi-moderate conclusions, it stresses the severe dangers inherent in Iran's nuclear program:

  • Iran's potential capacity to produce weapons-grade material is the most significant issue of the day. Iran can attain fissile materials through its civilian program should it decide to reject inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Because it is difficult to assess intentions, which are subject to change without warning, this is a threat that needs to be confronted.

  • Given the current state of the uranium enrichment program, Iran can probably not produce weapons-grade fissile material before the end of 2009. However, Iran has successfully overcome technical difficulties in the past and could expand enrichment capabilities within that time frame. At any rate, it does not make a significant difference in terms of evaluating the comprehensive picture of the nuclear program if the target date is somewhat sooner. It is important to examine the issue of a nuclear Iran as a threat, and not as an exercise in assessing time-frames.

  • Iran has a lot of experience in hiding facilities and operations, so the statement that the nuclear weapons program was frozen has only limited value. It is impossible to state whether the freeze is total or partial, whether it is temporary or permanent, and whether activities were simply transferred to different sites and can be renewed at a later date.

  • It is customary to assume that the stage of turning fissile material into nuclear weapons is much shorter than that of producing the fissile material itself. Therefore, there is no guarantee that freezing this stage will impact the general time-frame of the nuclear program.

However, the bottom line that emerges from the reassessment is that the Iranian nuclear threat is not as serious or urgent as previously thought. This assessment therefore reopens the debate over Iran's determination to develop nuclear weapons that had somewhat subsided in recent years. This conclusion has two immediate ramifications:

  • The rug has been pulled out from under the possibility of any American military action against Iranian nuclear facilities in the near future. As long as the assessment is seen as valid, any American administration will find it difficult to take the kind of action which has, in any case, been extremely problematic. This assessment will also make it more difficult for Israel to justify a military move.

  • The reassessment will also make it difficult to intensify the economic sanctions against Iran, despite their unambiguous success. Even now, some countries – led by Russia and China – are opposed to intensifying the sanctions. The reassessment of the intelligence community will play into the hands of these countries, who will claim that, in light of the document, there is no justification for intensifying the sanctions. The assessment will also support the approach of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been criticized for being conciliatory to the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has just been handed an unexpected gift and is now claiming that the sanctions already in place ought to be lifted, and it might be able to convince other countries of its position. The Iranian regime will also benefit from increased internal support and can actually accelerate its nuclear program because it will be less pressured diplomatically and less concerned about a military action attack on its nuclear facilities.

Much will depend on the actions taken by the United States and Israel in the near future. At this stage, both countries maintain that the new intelligence assessment will not affect their understanding of the Iranian nuclear threat or the avenues of actions open to them. However, it is clear that the freedom of action of both countries has been curtailed and that both will have to develop new responses to the situation that has been created. Israel will also try to argue that the assessment is not well founded. This will not be easy, because it is safe to assume that the data base available to the American and Israeli intelligence communities is similar and that the difference lies in interpretation. However, it is also necessary to remember that intelligence assessments can be wrong and can change course again.

Finally, if the new intelligence assessment turns out to be correct – and only time will tell – this is good news even though it not does make the Iranian nuclear threat entirely a thing of the past. The problem is that if the assessment is wrong, it will be harder than ever to confront the Iranian threat.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why should this be news? Israeli novel published in Egypt

 Israeli novel published in Egypt
Eli Amir's novel 'Jasmine' will be the fourth Hebrew-language novel ever published in Egypt
Ynet Published:  12.11.07, 11:14 / Israel Culture 
Israeli novelist Eli Amir's novel 'Jasmine' will soon be available to readers shopping in Egyptian bookstores. While many Hebrew-language novels are translated around the world, rarely does an Israeli author get to see his work translated into Arabic and published in an Arab country.
In the introduction to the Arabic version, translator Hussein al-Sarag, deputy editor-in-chief of 'October' magazine, wonders why only three Israeli novels have been published in Egypt so far.
Al-Sarag also quotes Eli Amir's statements from a literary conference in Cairo: "After the peace agreement with Egypt was signed, many Egyptian authors were translated into Hebrew. We, Israelis, do
not fear the spread of Arab culture in Israel. I wish the same would be true for you. How can there be peace without us knowing each other?"
'Jasmine,' which was released by Am Oved in 2005, is the love story of a Jewish immigrant from Iraq and Yasmin (Jasmine), a young Palestinian widow, in Jerusalem after the Six Day War.

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End IDF Draft Exemptions for Ultraorthodox

The draft exemption for ultraorthodox Jews is also a work exemption. A huge parasitic class that contributes nothing to society is being created. As they multiply, they gather votes and ensure that this arrangement will be perpetuated. Each year, the tax base that supports them becomes smaller in proportion. Future generations may record that the Zionist project ended in disaster, as the number of ultra-orthodox Jews living on the dole exceeded the number of people willing to support and defend them.
Ami Isseroff
Israeli businessman slams IDF exemptions for haredim

Israeli entrepreneur Zohar Zisapel tells participants at Tel Aviv business conference that the modest arrangement once reached on exemptions must be overturned before "the tumor becomes malignant"
Tani Goldstein
Published:  12.10.07, 19:47 / Israel Jewish Scene
"Draft exemptions for full-time yeshiva students have become a cancerous tumor that require us to expunge it without compromise," said RAD Group founder Zohar Zisapel Monday at the Israeli Business Conference in Tel Aviv.

Zisapel made the remarks while speaking on a panel of businesspeople and senior officials regarding the influence of failures in Israeli education on the economy. Zisapel claimed that the fact that many haredim do not work has made them impoverished and harms Israel's economic achievements. The successful entrepreneur added that he is intimately familiar with the problem, as his RAD Group employs many haredim.
Zisapel told the audience of an initiative he once took part in to involve outstanding haredi yeshiva students in the IDF's Talpiot academic project. He appealed to the Haredi Yeshivas, asking them to suggest students who would fit the project in exchange for government funds.
According to Zisapel, the haredim were instead interested in a different arrangement. "What they offered was this," he said. "You can take quasi-haredim who will work, the most important thing is that we get our budget. Needless to say, nothing came of it."
"Expunge the tumor"
Zisapel reminded participants that the historic agreement between Ben-Gurion and the representatives of the haredi community provided only for military exemptions to be delivered to a few dozens of outstanding haredi students.

Over the years, the combination of skilled haredi deal-makers and overly flexible secular leaders, the arrangement grew until today, when almost ten thousand of those haredim receiving exemptions annually are students in name only.

"In order to prevent this tumor from becoming malignant, we must expunge it without compromising. We can allow a few dozens of students a year (to continue in yeshiva), as in the original agreement, and as the religious world requires to fill its reserves with the rabbis of the future. Also, we need to demand that every school implement the core curriculum- including mathematics and English, not just Gemara and Aramaic."

As the panel continued, Zisapel expressed his opinion that the government must transfer funds currently marked for yeshivas to support IDF soldiers. His remarks were received with applause by the audience, which included many important members of the Israeli business community, most of whom are secular- with almost no haredim.

Dinur: Haredi unemployment- enormous waste
Prime Minister's Office Director General Raanan Dinur, who also participated in the panel, addressed the issue at hand, saying: "Unemployment in the haredi sector — as in others like that of Arab women — constitutes an enormous waste of potential. The government has done much in recent years to overcome this problem. The majority of the public is not sufficiently aware of what we are doing there, and that's a shame."

As an example, Dinur pointed to the government's project to increase employment opportunities for haredi women, like software companies, high tech firms, telephone call centers, and others- which were established with government support.

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Translation of Olmert speech on Qassams

Speaking at the opening of a Tel Aviv conference hosted by the Institute for Security Studies, Olmert said "the situation in the southern part of the country, because of the Qassam rocket fire, created a difficult reality. We will have to operate on this matter in the appropriate dose at the right time and without exaggerating with unrealistic expectations," he said.
Translation, "It's true they are firing Qassam rockets on Sderot, but I don't live in Sderot. We would very much like to stop the rocket fire, but we are utterly clueless about how to do it, so we will keep doing the same old thing we have done until now. "
Ami Isseroff  
Last update - 23:20 11/12/2007       
Olmert: IDF won't stop until it removes Qassam rocket threat
By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and News Agencies
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that the Israel Defense Forces "wouldn't stop" until the threat of Qassam rocket fire toward Sderot and the western Negev had been removed.
Speaking at the opening of a Tel Aviv conference hosted by the Institute for Security Studies, Olmert said "the situation in the southern part of the country, because of the Qassam rocket fire, created a difficult reality. We will have to operate on this matter in the appropriate dose at the right time and without exaggerating with unrealistic expectations," he said.
Olmert spoke shortly before the IDF concluded an operation in the Gaza Strip, aimed at curbing the ongoing Qassam fire, which left eight Palestinian gunmen dead and four IDF troops lightly wounded.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials warned Tuesday that IDF raids in the Gaza Strip endangered the newly revived peace process, coming a day before the first Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in seven years.
Dozens of IDF tanks and armored vehicles moved into Gaza on Tuesday morning, setting off clashes with Palestinian militants firing rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds.
"The Israeli policy of escalation aims to sabotage and place obstacles before the negotiations even before they start," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He called for the international community to intervene to end the incursion.
Israel Air Force planes providing cover killed three unidentified militants, soon after three militants were killed by an IDF tank shell, including one from the Popular Resistance Committees. Four soldiers were lightly wounded after an anti-tank missile was fired at their vehicle, and were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.
Earlier Tuesday, two Palestinian militants were killed in two separate IAF strikes in northern Gaza.
An IDF spokeswoman confirmed that about 10 tanks and armored vehicles entered southern Gaza as part of a routine operation against Palestinian militants.
The operation focused on an area that is a main launching ground for rocket and mortar assaults on army bases and the Israeli-controlled Sufa crossing into Gaza. More than 15 militants have been killed in the area in recent IAF airstrikes.
IDF troops in the southern Gaza operation took over the rooftops of several homes and detained about 60 people for questioning in house-to-house raids, residents said.
The violence came a day after Olmert pledged to forge a historic path toward a final accord with Abbas' moderate West Bank Palestinian government. On Wednesday, the two sides are to launch their first formal peace talks in seven years at the historic King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Among Israel's targets was a multi-story building that suffered heavy damage. Amid the rubble, at least two militants lay dead, including one man whose body was torn in half by a blast. As rescuers pulled the bodies away, two Israeli shells struck the building seconds apart, sending people scrambling for cover. The body of a third man lay motionless after the blast.
Schoolchildren ran through the streets of Khan Yunis, let out early from school so they could take refuge in their homes.
In Khan Yunis, militants carrying land mines and other weapons dodged among houses and maneuvered behind the tanks to fire at troops. Others took cover behind trees or covered themselves in leaves to camouflage themselves in open farmlands. into Gaza.
More than 15 militants have been killed in the area in recent IAF airstrikes.
"They believe that such operations will harm the resistance and weaken it, but they are mistaken," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
Although Israel has warned that a major operation against Gaza militants was in the offing, it has said now is not the time for such action. The army said Tuesday's incursion was nothing out of the ordinary.
Earlier Tuesday, a Qassam rocket fired by Gaza militants struck and industrial center in the western Negev city of Sderot. No injuries or damage were reported.
IDF soldiers arrest 12 Palestinians in West Bank raids
In the West Bank, IDF soldiers arrested 12 wanted Palestinians early Tuesday, Israel Radio reported.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, a Palestinian militant died when an explosive he was planning to use against IDF troops detonated accidentally, local residents said.
Hospital officials identified the dead man as a militant from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. They said three other people were wounded by the explosion.

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Reform Judaism and Israel

T.A. Reform rabbi fears for Israel ties within American community
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Jewish World Correspondent
The rabbi of Israel's largest Reform synagogue may dream of plane loads of American Reform and Conservative Jews visting Israel, but fears that the ties between the U.S. communities and the Jewish state are eroding.
"I am worried for the future of the Reform movement and the State of Israel," says Meir Azari, rabbi of the Beit Daniel synagogue in Tel Aviv, in an interview before leaving for the U.S. Reform movement's conference.
The pinnacle event of the U.S. movement begins Wednesday in San Diego and is expected to draw 5,000 participants, both professionals and laymen.
"I'd like to see large groups of Reform and Conservative Jews on El Al flights from the U.S. - not just the many ultra-Orthodox, blocking the aisle with minyanim," Azari says.
The rabbi, a former chairman of the Reform movement in Israel, feels that over the last couple of decades, members of the American Reform community have fallen out of love with the Jewish state. Azari now wants to challenge the American branch to get all its members to visit Israel at least once in the next decade.
"I think every Reform community in the U.S. should send a mission to Israel every two or three years. Right now, the number of people Reform Jewry is sending to Israel via projects like Taglit-birthright israel and MASA is much lower than what they are capable of. Just imagine what a contribution a major influx of Reform visitors could make to the Israeli economy," says Azari.
But it isn't just the future of the local tourism industry that's worrying one of the most successful Reform rabbis in the country.
"Looking at the [Biennial] program, I think that the portion dedicated to Israel is too small, embarrassingly so in my opinion. The central theme they should be talking about there is how they can help build a better Israeli society, how to strengthen the ties between our two communities."
Azari doesn't believe this is simply something the American movement owes its Israeli brothers.
"It's a huge mistake on the part of large communities to ignore the challenges each is facing. I am fully aware of the American challenges, the fight against assimilation, for Jewish education and continuity. There is also poverty there - I certainly don't envy my American colleagues. And yet, we must not ignore the difficulties facing Israeli society, which should be the focus of the agenda. The Reform movement has to announce a real plan for Israeli society - not only for our benefit, but for theirs also. I don't want to sound like an old-fashioned Zionist, but without a real involvement in Israel, American Jewry will also suffer. They will be hit with the ricochets of whatever develops here.
"The lack of peace in the Middle East, a racist and fascist Israeli society, without sufficient rights for women, will affect also them, they can't bury their heads in the sand. The tension between Muslims and Christians will isolate them too. The Reform community in the U.S. is the largest and richest Jewish community on earth and throughout history. There has never been such a sophisticated and intellectually-advanced community, and it has to also shoulder some of the responsibility for what is happening here in Israel. Right now, I can't see that happening."
Azari doesn't believe Americans should be involved in Israeli politics on a daily basis, but he is convinced that there is a lot more they could be doing.
"It's not a question of where to put the separation fence or which settlement to dismantle, but why can't they be involved in the failing school system? Why can't the Reform movement set up an alternative education system or shore up the collapsing welfare net? We are doing things in this field but there is a huge difference between giving several hundred thousand dollars and working with millions."
Azari even agrees with right-wing voices that argue for the Jewish world's say on fundamental issues facing Israel in new negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
"There are questions that transcend the State of Israel, such as Jerusalem and the Jewish nature of our state. Israel defined itself in the past, not as a normal state but as the homeland of the entire Jewish people. It was the destiny of the Jewish people that built the state."
The reasons for the lack of meaningful connection between the U.S. and Israeli Reform communities are clear to Azari. "First of all, it's the day-to-day worries of rabbis and the communities that are pushing aside the real challenges. It's also a lack of leadership. Reform Jewry has to urgently find among itself figures like Abba Hillel Silver, who alongside work for his own community, did everything possible to build the State of Israel in his generation."
The official cold shoulder
But also the Israelis shoulder a large portion of the blame in his eyes. "There is a great amount of discomfort with Israel, that comes from two sources - first, the state's official attitude toward the Reform movement. How I can ask HUC president Stanley Gold to contribute to Israel after he was humiliated by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski? Not to mention the way former president Moshe Katsav spoke to our leaders, as if they weren't rabbis - he gave more respect to Christian clergymen. Second, the image Israel broadcasts of a state in crisis, with a society based on power and violence, not of enlightened Judaism. So Jews in America, like many Israelis, just close themselves off to the outside world."
Azari is aware that his criticism might be seen simply as a fundraising ploy and he is at pains to stress "it's not my contributions that are important." But he also thinks that more emphasis has to be put also on that field. "I don't think the Reform movement is giving enough guidance to its donors. Habad rabbis tell me they have many Reform donors, as do a number of extreme right-wing yeshivas. The Reform movement has to launch a significant campaign to strengthen its contributions to Israel. Jews who give to the Technion [- Israel Institute of Technology] or Hadassah University Hospital have greatly improved the level of medical treatment and scientific research in Israel. I just want our donors to be aware that they can achieve all this - improvement in the fields of education, social welfare and higher learning - through the Reform movement in Israel."
Rabbi Andrew Davids of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists in America, whose job it is to maintain the U.S. branch's connection with Israel, finds it hard to understand Azari's criticism.
He is convinced that "at the Biennial, Israel will be everywhere. One of the five major forums will be focusing on Israel, as will one day of the plenary session. We'll be showing a film on Reform aliyah to Israel, followed by an address by Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor. There are 20 workshops focused on Israel, and Rabbi Eric Yoffe's Shabbat sermon will also focus [on Israel]. Perhaps Rabbi Azari is not aware enough of the major changes in the movement over the last decade regarding our attitude toward Israel. I appreciate Meir's perspective, but the numbers show something different. Sixty-one percent of the regular members of Reform congregations have traveled to Israel and all the top leadership is Zionist and very Israel-oriented."
Even so, Davids also agrees there is still a lot to be done to bolster the identification of the movement's rank-and-file with Israel.

"We have to get out there and make people understand that Israel is not only politics and the conflict, it's also social and cultural issues and it is foremost a product of the entire Jewish people. There is a tremendous misunderstanding between the great centers of the Jewish people, a great lack of knowledge and there are so few people who speak in more than just platitudes and statements.

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How Israel can achieve victory over the Arabs.

Israel proposed a resolution in favor of giving farm technology to poor countries, and therefore was able to get it approved by the UN General Assembly. The Arab countries, so solicitious of peace and neighborly relations abstained. Apparently, they are against giving farm technology to poor countries, if it is Israel's idea. The logical thing for Israel to do is to set up an association in favor of breathing, eating and motherhood.
The Arabs countries will boycott this organization and organize protests against it. Perhaps they will go on collective hunger-strikes or organize smother-ins.
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 23:02 11/12/2007    
 UN General Assembly adopts first Israeli-proposed resolution 

Israel, often pilloried in the United Nations, claimed an unprecedented diplomatic triumph on Tuesday when a resolution it had drafted, on farm technology rather than Arab-Iraeli issues, was approved by a UN committee.
"It is the very first time that Israel initiates and authors and submits a resolution which has nothing to do with the (Arab-Israeli) conflict," Ambassador Dan Gillerman told reporters, calling it "a historic occasion."
The resolution passed the General Assembly's Second Committee, dealing with development issues, with 118 votes in favor, none against and 29 abstentions, according to UN figures. It will go before the full assembly next week.
The resolution calls on developed countries to make their agricultural technology know-how - an area where Israel has expertise - more available to the developing world.
Israel is more used to resolutions criticizing its actions in the Middle East being passed by various UN bodies, especially the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
"It is not easy for Israel to have its resolutions and its points of view adopted," Gillerman said.
Countries that abstained on Tuesday included all 19 Arab states present, although Muslim Afghanistan and Pakistan voted in favor. Iran, Israel's fiercest critic at the world body, did not take part.
Gillerman criticized South Africa, one of several African countries to abstain. The abstention was "a shameful mistake for a country that considers itself to be the leader of Africa," he said.
It took Israel six months to negotiate the text of the resolution, which calls on developed countries to make their agricultural technology more accessible to developing nations in order to fight poverty.
The UN has set the goal of halving the number of poor by 2015, as one of the targets of the "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs). The other goals deal with education, child and maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS.

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Shades of 19th century diplomacy: Moscow Middle East Meeting?

This is beginning to look more and more like the Middle East game of the 19th century. European powers met to protect or dismember the Ottoman empire as suited their momentary policies.
Who is Turkey in this game?
Last update - 09:52 11/12/2007       
Moscow pushing for follow-up Mideast peace summit in April
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
The United States supports the holding of a second peace conference in Moscow that would address Israel's conflicts with Syria and Lebanon as well as the Palestinian issue, according to information obtained by the Foreign Ministry from Russian sources in recent days.
Nevertheless, government sources in Jerusalem said they have some doubts about the Russian claim, as they have received contradictory reports from Washington. They added that they expect the situation to become clearer at next week's meeting of donor nations to the Palestinian Authority, as representatives of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - will meet on the sidelines to discuss whether to hold a Moscow conference and if so, when and in what format.
According to the Foreign Ministry's information, obtained from conversations with Russian diplomats in both Moscow and UN headquarters in New York, the conference would probably take place in April 2008 and would be at the level of foreign ministers.

Last month's Middle East peace summit, held in Annapolis, Maryland, focused almost exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Russia had expressed interest in hosting a follow-up event that would broaden the agenda. Thus far, no member of the Quartet has publicly voiced opposition to Russia's proposal.
The Russian diplomats assured their Israeli counterparts that the proposed Moscow event, like Annapolis, would be billed as a "meeting" rather than a "conference." They also said that its purpose would not be to finalize agreements, but merely to move the Middle East peace process forward.
According to the information reaching Jerusalem, the Russians would like to divide the event into two sessions. The first would be devoted to assessing the progress of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while the second would deal with the issue of a comprehensive regional peace, with particular emphasis on resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria, and the launching of Israeli-Lebanese talks.
According to the Russians, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice approves of both the proposed Moscow meeting and the idea of restarting Israeli-Syrian talks.
Jerusalem also supports plan
The Russians' impression is that Israel, too, looks favorably on both the meeting and the Syrian focus. Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the two discussed the idea.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the Israeli team negotiating with the PA, met with her Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, on Monday in order to finalize the agenda for a meeting of the full negotiating teams, which is slated to take place Tuesday in Jerusalem. "The first meeting of the negotiating teams will deal mainly with procedure and technical arrangements," said an Israeli government source.
PA threatens to boycott
But Palestinian sources threatened Monday that the PA would boycott the session if Israel did not stop construction of 307 apartments in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.
In addition, the diplomatic-security cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip. Various defense agencies will present reviews of the situation, and a senior government official said the main focus will be on the defense establishment's views about launching a major military operation against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.
"The last [security] cabinet meeting dealt with civilian sanctions, because then, the defense establishment said that it did not support a large military operation in Gaza," the official said. "Since then, there has been a shift in its position, and therefore, cabinet ministers need to hear about this first-hand."

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Iran opposition group: Iran Resumed Weapon Program

Group Says Iran Resumed Weapon Program
By MARC CHAMPION in Brussels and JAY SOLOMON in Washington
December 11, 2007; Page A4
The Iranian opposition group that first exposed Iran's nuclear-fuel program said a U.S. intelligence analysis is correct that Tehran shut down its weaponization program in 2003, but claims that the program was relocated and restarted in 2004.
The claim, to be made public today by the National Council for Resistance in Iran, joins a broad pushback by conservative hawks who say the U.S. analysis has wrongly given the impression that Iran's nuclear-fuel program doesn't present an urgent threat.
In recent days, Republican lawmakers have called for a review of the process that created the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, a nonclassified version of which was released last week. Senior U.S. officials have been consulting with allies in Israel and Europe to explain why the estimate differed so drastically from previous assessments.
A former U.S. intelligence official who works closely with the White House on Iran said that all the intelligence related to the NIE was being reassessed and that information coming from sources such as the NCRI would be included. "You have to take seriously what they say, but you also have to realize that they have gotten things wrong," the official said.
Representatives of the National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence both said they wouldn't speculate on how any new intelligence on Iran may be utilized. "We stand by the NIE assessment, which is the consensus view of all our intelligence agencies," said Ross Feinstein, a DNI spokesman.
The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, a group that still has as many as 4,000 members in a disarmed military camp just inside Iraq's border with Iran. The MEK has its roots as a Marxist-Islamist body that fought to overthrow the Shah and has been seeking to overthrow the current government since the mid-1980s. The U.S. and the European Union list both the NCRI and Mujahedin e-Khalq as terrorist organizations. The NCRI has had a mixed record in the accuracy of its claims concerning Iran's nuclear program.
U.S. intelligence officials have declined to comment on what role the NCRI or other Iranian dissident groups may have played in developing the new intelligence estimate. The NCRI first identified Iran's covert nuclear-fuel facilities in 2002, and the White House and State Department have credited the group with helping to expose the program.
The intelligence estimate by 16 U.S. government agencies concluded with "high confidence" that Iran shut its weaponization program in 2003, and with "moderate confidence" that it has remained frozen since. Diplomats say that because the report makes the need for action seem less urgent, it is likely to be harder for the U.S. and European Union to secure international support for tougher sanctions against Iran, aimed at pressuring it to suspend its nuclear-fuel program, which can be used for civilian or military purposes.
According to the NCRI, Iran's Supreme National Security Council decided to shut down its most important center for nuclear-weapons research in eastern Tehran, called Lavisan-Shian, in August 2003.
The NCRI, which claims to have intelligence sources inside Iran, said Lavisan was broken into 11 fields of research, including development of a nuclear trigger and of the technology to shape weapons-grade uranium into a warhead. But at the same meeting, the council decided to disperse pieces of the research to a number of locations around Iran, according to the NCRI. By the time international nuclear inspectors were allowed to get access to the Lavisan site, the buildings allegedly devoted to nuclear research had been torn down and the ground bulldozed.
"What the first part of the NIE says is right, that they halted their weaponization research in 2003," said Mohammad Mohaddessin, foreign-affairs chief for the NCRI. "But the second part, that they stopped until at least the middle of 2007, is wrong. They scattered the weaponization program to other locations and restarted in 2004."
Equipment was relocated first from Lavisan-Shian to another military compound in Tehran's Lavisan district, the Center for Readiness and Advanced Technology, Mr. Mohaddessin said. Two devices designed to measure radiation levels were moved to Malek-Ashtar University in Isfahan and to a defense ministry hospital in Tehran, he said. Other equipment was sent to other locations the NCRI hasn't been able to identify, he said.
"Their strategy was that if the IAEA found any one piece of this research program, it would be possible to justify it as civilian. But so long as it was all together, they wouldn't be able to," Mr. Mohaddessin said.
The NCRI said in a report on Iran's nuclear program in September 2005 that the Lavisan facility had been closed, setting back the regime's weaponization program by approximately one year. Mr. Mohaddessin said his group was certain no other Iranian nuclear facilities were closed in 2003.
A representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog in Vienna, declined to comment on the claims, but said the agency would consider seriously any NCRI information. A spokesman for the Iranian government couldn't be reached for comment.
Write to Marc Champion at and Jay Solomon at

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Monday, December 10, 2007

The Church's Witness on Issues in the Arab/Israeli Conflict


This is a discussion of the witness of the American Churches with regard to the Arab/Israeli conflict.(1) Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East is concerned that a bias against the state of Israel has emerged within many of the mainstream Christian denominations. This prejudice is reflected in a troubling willingness to lay the blame for the conflict in the Middle East on Israel's shoulders while saying very little about any culpability the Palestinians or Arab nations might have. An example of this bias is found in the Divestment and other resolutions that have been passed by various Protestant denominations since 2004. In these resolutions, history seems to begin after the 1967 Six-day war ended, and the "occupation" and Israeli policies are focused on as the sole cause of the conflict. Some of the Christian commentary on the conflict has become quite extreme, with accusations of apartheid, Nazi-like behavior and attempts at ethnic cleansing, all aimed at Israel. This does not serve the cause of peace and justice.

In the past year there has been an increase in attacks on the fundamental legitimacy of a Jewish state. That begins to send out very serious warning signals.

While some of this we understand is rooted at least partly in a wholesome, righteous, gospel centered and legitimate concern for Palestinian suffering, it incorrectly assumes that the party suffering the most at a given moment is the most innocent party and it is flawed in its refusal to acknowledge the complexity of the situation.

Continued here: The Church's Witness on Issues in the Arab/Israeli Conflict

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After Annapolis what?

The answer to "after Annapolis, what? Seems to be: Nothing much.
The Road from Annapolis
Strategic Assessment, December 2007, Vol. 10, No. 3
Brom, Shlomo 


As expected, the November 26-27 international peace meeting at Annapolis ended with some modest achievements. As Israel and the Palestinians failed before Annapolis to agree on a joint statement of principles on the permanent status agreement, and actually failed to conclude any joint statement at all, it was decided to be less ambitious and turn the meeting into a launching pad for a negotiations process that will hopefully do what the parties were not able to do thus far, namely, deal with the core issues of the permanent status agreement. Significant also was the broad Arab and international (including Muslim) participation. It manifested the almost wall to wall support for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the two-state solution. Prime Minister Olmert reciprocated in his statement by mentioning the Arab peace initiative very positively.

At the meeting itself and after much US pressure, the two parties accepted a Joint Understanding that includes the following elements:

·         Agreement to launch immediate negotiations on a peace agreement that will implement the two-state solution.

·         The negotiations will deal with all the core issues.

·         The parties will make an effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.

·         A steering committee will meet continually to oversee the negotiations and address all issues.

·         The two leaders will have bi-weekly meetings for follow-up on the negotiations.

·         Renewed commitment to implement the Roadmap under US monitoring.

·         Implementation of the future peace agreement will be subject to implementation of the roadmap.

In his concluding statement President Bush also included two additional themes. First, he said that "while the borders of a Palestinian state are important, the nature of a Palestinian state is just as important." Second, he responded to a central Israeli demand by emphasizing that the purpose of the negotiations is to end the occupation and "establish Palestine as a Palestinian homeland, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people," reiterating later that the US is committed to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.

The Joint Understanding is a compromise between contradictory positions. The Palestinians wanted immediate permanent status negotiations according to a fixed timetable that would be followed by implementation of the concluded agreement. The Israeli contingent that doubts the Palestinian leadership is capable of concluding such an agreement and implementing it prefers a more gradual process in which Palestinian capabilities and institutions will be built and tested, as only then conclusion and implementation of a permanent status agreement will be possible.

On the one hand the two parties agreed on immediate negotiations on the permanent status agreement. On the other hand, they recommitted to the full implementation of the obligations of the roadmap, which is a gradual process, as a prerequisite for a permanent status agreement. That means that the agreement that the two parties will hopefully conclude will be shelved until these commitments are fulfilled. As such, while it can be argued that the agreement to start negotiations on the permanent status negotiations according to a determined timetable is an achievement for President Abbas, many Palestinians in his own camp think this achievement is completely neutralized by its link with the roadmap. The fact that President Bush decided to take sides and adopt the Israeli position on the issue that prevented agreement on even a watered down joint statement before Annapolis, namely, the Israeli demand to define Israel as a Jewish state, only aggravated the negative perception of the results of the meeting among the Palestinian side and its failure to strengthen Mr. Abbas' position. On the Israeli side there is concern because of the determination of a timetable for the negotiations, that if not kept may cause important parties to put the blame on Israel.

Most of all, the day after Annapolis, nothing has really changed in the problematic domestic political situation of both negotiating parties, which already inhibited implementation of the roadmap and prevented the two parties from dealing seriously with the core issues of the permanent status agreement. The Palestinian Authority is still divided between two separate political entities: Gaza ruled firmly by Hamas, which does not want a peace agreement with Israel, and the West Bank, which is under Israeli security control and only virtual rule of the Palestinian president and the Fayyad government. Actually there is much validity to Mr. Fayyad's recent assertion that what is happening in Nablus (his government's effort to assume control of the city) is much more important than what happens at Annapolis, because real progress will be possible only when the Palestinian government will demonstrate that it can establish genuine security control in the West Bank.

On the other side Mr. Olmert's political situation is still weak. He does not enjoy the support of the people and the stability of his government is based on avoidance of controversial issues. He will have to decide whether to make a bold move and exploit the Annapolis understanding to try to achieve a breakthrough with the odds of success quite unclear. Such a move would risk his coalition government and might lead to early elections in the short term, yet might also strengthen his political status in the long term. Alternatively, he might choose to keep his present coalition intact by dragging his feet. The conditionality embedded in the Annapolis understanding indeed provides ample opportunities for procrastination.

Source of this Israel News Item

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Compromise anyone?

Those who have illusions about the ease of making peace would do well to consider the following, from the Web site of the Hamas terrorist group, Ezzedeen Al Qassam. They are named after Izzedin-El-Qassam, appropriately enough, a Syrian fanatic agitator who migrated to Palestine and whose death at the hands of the British triggered the revolt of the 1930s.  
Hamas: We won't waive an inch of Palestinian lands
2007-12-09 Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades - the armed branch of the Islamic
Resistance Movement (Hamas).

Hamas confirmed on Saturday that it would never relinquish a particle of dust from the Palestinian lands whatever the sacrifices would be and that it is ready to continue offering martyrs to pave the way for the Arab and Islamic peoples' march for the liberation of Palestine.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the first intifada, Hamas renewed its call for dialogue and restoring the unity of the Palestinian people as one of the most important elements of struggle against the Zionist  occupation.

In a statement, Hamas called on the international community especially the Arab and Islamic countries to extend all kinds of support to the Palestinian people whether politically, financially or spiritually.

It also asked them to contribute to ending the siege imposed on Gaza, underlining that the international community should respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people.

Hamas pointed out that the Zionist occupation before and after the Annapolis conference waged a series of vicious terrorist attacks against the Palestinian people and resistance fighters during which its troops committed the worst crimes in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

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Sderot in the blitz

Another day, another bombardment
By Tobias Buck
Published: December 7 2007 01:15 | Last updated: December 7 2007 01:15
The small Israeli town of Sderot is enveloping itself in a blanket of concrete. The grey material is everywhere. Schools and nurseries crouch below hulking canopies, dozens of bomb-shelters dot the urban landscape and even the bulletproof windows of one school have been provided with thick overhanging slabs.
One by one, the town's open-air bus stops are being replaced with concrete cubicles. Painted bright yellow, the roadside shelters are adorned on the inside with hastily scribbled insults to Hamas, the Islamist group, and other graffiti, one of which reads: "Relax – we are praying."
The profusion of concrete is a determined, but ultimately futile, attempt to shield Sderot's 20,000 citizens from the Qassam rockets that are fired into the town every day. Launched by Palestinian militants from northern Gaza, the home-made rockets have just a few kilometres to travel before impact, leaving residents with no more than 20 seconds to seek refuge.

"It's like Russian roulette. If it's your day you are finished," says Tiger Avraham, the head of the local paramedic team. "Children don't go outside and you cannot walk far from home. It's hard to live like this."
Worn out by the daily alarms and the constant threat to their families, more and more residents are giving up. About 2,000 people have departed this year alone, says Yosef Cohen, the spokesman for the municipality.
"Those who are capable financially have left but the poor can't leave," he says.
The line of fire

More than 7,300 Qassam rockets and mortars have been fired at Sderot and surrounding areas in the past six years, killing 12 people. Earlier versions of the rocket had a range of 3km and carried 500g of explosives, but today's can travel 10km and are packed with up to 20kg of explosives as well as metal pellets. Their accuracy is poor and the vast majority land in open space.
For the citizens of Sderot, the rockets have become a daily source of anxiety. But for Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, they are one of the biggest challenges he faces as he embarks on a round of intense peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Mr Olmert's political opponents asked how he could go to last month's peace conference at Annapolis and launch talks on Palestinian statehood while an Israeli town was under attack. He also remains vulnerable to criticism over his predecessor's decision two years ago to pull out Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip. Mr Olmert, a senior cabinet member at the time, supported the withdrawal.
Now his inability to stop the incoming Qassams – along with last year's botched war in Lebanon – is fuelling perceptions that he is weak and lacks the military expertise Israelis expect from their leaders.
Israel's military planners are tormented by the thought of a Qassam blowing up a Sderot school bus or inflicting a large number of civilian deaths through a direct hit. They believe the inevitable outcry would force them to launch a large-scale operation in the densely populated Gaza Strip – a move that would result in heavy casualties on both sides and almost certainly stop the peace talks in their tracks.
"There is no general in the Israeli defence forces who likes this idea," says a senior defence official. "But if we do it, it will be because of some massacre that we cannot tolerate."

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Muslims celebrate Hanukkah with Jews

In your face, Christopher Hitchens
Muslim clerics light Hanukkah candles

Delegation of Muslim clerics arrives in Israel as part of initiative launched by Simon Wiesenthal Center. Clerics' will visit Sderot, Western Wall and light holiday candles with yeshiva students. Project founder: 'Not every Muslim is a Hamas terrorist'
Koby Nahshoni Published:  12.09.07, 23:32 / Israel Jewish Scene 
While Hanukkah is usually touted as a symbol of steadfast Jewish resistance against invading foreign cultures, this year some are utilizing the festival of lights to bridge the void between different faiths.
A delegation of Indonesian Muslim clerics arrived in Israel Monday night (less than a day before Hanukkah) with the expressed intend of "getting to know the Jewish people a little bit better." The visit is part of an initiative launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC).

The clerics visited the rocket-battered town of Sderot as well as the Western Wall in the Old City in Jerusalem and took part in a festive Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with yeshiva students in Kiryat Shmona.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Are we proud of this Israeli achievement?

Are we sure we are proud of this Israeli achievement?
Actually some other news is hidden in the artice:
Israel has passed Britain to become the world's fourth largest exporter of weapons, Defense Ministry Director-General Pinchas Bucharis said on Sunday.
Israel exported a total $4 billion in defense exports in 2007, Bucharis said. The United States, Russia and France lead the world's list of exporters.
The Defense Ministry held a special session on Sunday to present to arms dealers and security export companies details of a new law set to go into effect at the end of the month regarding the supervision of defense exports.
The new supervision law takes into account considerations of national security, foreign policies and international agreements, Bucharis emphasized during the session.
Defense exports supervisor Eli Pinko called the law revolutionary, adding that it would turn Israel's defense establishment from a recipient of services to world provider and regulator.
Defense Ministry legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari said an important issue covered in the new law is Israel's ability to supervise international mediation of defense equipment acquisitions and sales between Israelis and foreign sources abroad.
"Israel will not serve as a refuge for people dealing with security exports that the defense establishment has decided to embargo," Ben-Ari said. He added that violators of the supervision law would now be subject to severe penalties and fines.

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Bringing Israelis back to Israel

The number of Israelis living abroad and their descendants is probably underestimated below. Wouldn't it be better to focus on the conditions that cause so many to leave, in order to give people a bigger incentive to stay?
Last update - 23:33 09/12/2007       
Absorption Ministry seeks to bring back Israelis living abroad
By The Associated Press
Israel is trying to persuade hundreds of thousands of its citizens living overseas to return home in a project to coincide with the state's 60th anniversary next year, the Absorption Ministry announced Sunday.
The project, dubbed "coming home", will try to lure Israelis living abroad to come back with tax breaks, employment and small business loans.
About 650,000 Israelis live abroad, 450,000 of them in North America, the ministry said. The ministry began contacting them last month through direct phone calls, an Internet site and a hot line.
"What surprised us most is the amount of positive feedback we received from countries where the standard of living is very high," said Erez Halfon, director of the Absorption Ministry. "We received 285 calls from Israelis living in Switzerland, and of them, 15 families have committed to coming home."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed support for the project at a cabinet meeting Sunday.
"Every Israeli, even if he lives abroad, is Israeli at heart and knows that his home is here. I call on all Israelis to return home," Olmert said.
"The project aims to bring 10,000 ex-pats back to Israel in the first year and double that number of the next few years. Between 18,000 and 21,000 Israelis emigrate each year," Halfon told reporters.
The estimated cost of the campaign is NIS 140 million a year, an amount the ministry believes will be paid back by the returning Israelis themselves. Within half a year of their being reintroduced into society as consumers, the government will get all their money back, Halfon said.
Halfon said the project aims to remove the social stigma faced by those who leave Israel, so they will have a softer landing upon their return.

Labels: ,

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Perpetuating the Palestinian problem: UNRWA

Shadow Of 1947
December 6, 2007
On December 8, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East — UNRWA — will mark its 58th anniversary. That is quite a record for an agency created in 1949 as a temporary relief organization.
One of the FAQS on the UNRWA Web site asks, "If UNRWA was set up as a temporary Agency, why is it still working after over 50 years?" The question is worth considering, not only because the Web site does not answer it — the explanation simply cites the Palestinians' "continuing needs" — but because the answer bears directly on the Annapolis Conference that America initiated. Originally, UNRWA was established to serve 652,000 Arabs after the 1948 war against Israel. On its Web site, UNRWA says it now has "over 28,000 staff," provides aid to "over 4.4 million refugees" in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and is "by far the largest U.N. operation" in the Middle East.
In comparison, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, established in 1950 to serve all other refugees in the world, has a staff of 6,300 that currently serves, by its count, 32.9 million refugees in 111 countries.
Pursuant to the Annapolis understanding, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will address the question of "refugees" over the next year. To properly tackle that issue, however, it is necessary to understand: a) UNRWA's unusual definition of a "refugee," b) the status of the Palestinians currently so categorized, and c) the reason their problems have not been solved in 58 years, despite a massive U.N. agency devoted exclusively to them.
The common conception of a "refugee" is an individual who had to leave his country because of political upheaval or war and resettle in a new place. The common conception of a refugee relief organization — particularly a temporary one — is an agency assisting such people to resettle into new homes in new countries.
For the Palestinians, however, UNRWA uses a unique definition — one that focuses not simply on the refugees themselves, but on conferring "refugee" status on successive generations born and raised in new locations. On its Web site, UNRWA proudly calls itself unique not only in terms of its "commitment to one group of refugees," but its contributions to "four generations" of them. If there are "four generations" of Palestinian refugees, including parents and children who never lived in Israel but simply had grandparents or great grandparents who did, then there are also "four generations" of Jewish refugees — the approximately 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries in 1948 plus their succeeding generations born and raised in Israel.
No discussion of Palestinian "refugees" can fairly take place without a simultaneous discussion of the even larger number of Jewish "refugees" under the same definition, who had their homes and property taken by Arab states — states that also waged war against the nascent state of Israel that absorbed the refugees they created.
To charge Israel — a place that resettled hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the 1948 war — with responsibility for Palestinian Arabs who left amidst a war the Arabs commenced is an extraordinary case of international chutzpah, particularly with respect to successive generations of Arabs born and raised in Arab countries, with a large U.N.organization to help them.
Even if a uniquely broad definition of a Palestinian "refugee" were accepted for purposes of the Annapolis negotiation, it raises other questions: what is the refugees' current situation, and why has it not been resolved in 58 years by an agency whose sole purpose was to solve it?
Consider the current situation of Palestinian "refugees" in Lebanon, who have been living there for four generations but have not been given even elementary rights of resettlement — they are barred from citizenship, banned from owning property, prevented by law from working in dozens of professions, and classified as "foreigners" who must pay tuition they cannot afford to attend public schools.
Instead of resettling subsequent generations born in Lebanon, UNRWA works to maintain them in camps, outside the political and social cultures of their longstanding country of residence, living in squalor perpetuated by Lebanese laws.
The situation in Lebanon exemplifies the massive failure of the 58-year-old UNRWA. The Palestinians living there are not "refugees" in the common understanding of the term, but rather successive generations of Lebanese residents who have lived in that country their entire lives, without the right to become citizens, work in significant professions, own property, or otherwise better their lives — not because of Israel, but because of Lebanese law.
It is important to remember that there would not be a single Palestinian refugee today, under any definition, if the Arabs had accepted the 1947 U.N. resolution endorsing both a Jewish state and an Arab one. The Arab countries that attacked Israel in 1948, in violation of that resolution, thus bear the historical, political, and moral responsibility for the refugees they caused.
Until those Arab states assume responsibility for absorbing their longstanding residents, now suffering their fourth generation of consequences from the wars Arabs started, there can be no solution to the problem Annapolis has charged Israel and the PA with "negotiating."
Mr. Richman edits Jewish Current Issues.

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Dichter: Qassam threat can spread

Dichter: 250,000 under Qassam threat if we don't act
'Palestinians conducting war of attrition against Negev communities,' internal security minister tells cabinet. 'We must not allow any mistakes that may raise the number of Israeli communities facing the Qassam threat'
Roni Sofer YNET Published: 12.09.07, 12:35 / Israel News

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter warned Sunday of a tenfold increase in the number of Israelis subjected to a "war of attrition" should Ashkelon and nearby communities also fall under the threat of Palestinian terror and Qassam rocket fire.

"We must check to see where we went wrong and deal with the problem of Sderot if we do not want to face the same problem when Ashkelon, Ofakim and Netivot will enter the cycle of rocket fire and terror," he said during the weekly cabinet meeting. "We must complete the fortification plan for Sderot and the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip."

According to him, Palestinian terror organizations, led by Hamas, are "conducting a war of attrition" against Sderot and the rest of the western Negev communities.

The minister said the number of Israelis facing the threat of Palestinian terror may increase from 25,000 to 250,000.

"Qassam attacks are being carried out daily and we have also seen an increase in mortar fire directed at IDF bases near the Strip," Dichter told the ministers. "Statistics indicating an 8% drop in the number of students in Sderot are extremely worrying. We must not allow any mistakes that may raise the number of Israeli communities facing the Qassam threat."

During the cabinet meeting, ministers were updated by IDF Home Front Command officials on the progress made in the fortification of educational and public institutions in the Negev region, which is expected to cost between 1 and 1.5 billion shekels ($258-387 million).

The army also presented cabinet members with a fortification plan that would also include Israeli communities such as Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim, which are within the range of the Grad missile (range of about 25km) and other surface-to surface missiles the Palestinian terror groups have in their possession.

The cost of this plan is estimated at NIS 5.5 billion ($1.4 billion).

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset's State Control Committee last week that Israel should not enter a process of "over-fortification", and officials in his office said the State was investing hundreds of millions of shekels in the development of rocket-interception systems to be placed along the border with Gaza.

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Fourteen year old Palestinian killed in Gaza

Another Palestinian killed in Gaza! The Zionists are murdering Palestinians, right? Let's see:
The boy, Mahmoud al-Shaer, of Rafah, disappeared last week shortly after his father sent him to deposit several hundred dollars in a local bank.
Over the weekend, Hamas's security forces arrested Rami Khalifeh, a prominent militiaman from Rafah who has long been involved in drug trafficking and smuggling weapons across the border with Egypt. Khalifeh's younger brother was also arrested as an accomplice.
Hamas described Khalifeh as a senior officer in the former Fatah-controlled security forces in the Gaza Strip. But Fatah responded by saying that the suspect was actually a top member of Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam.
Rafah residents said the suspect was known as a member of Fatah. They added that he had served briefly as an officer in the Fatah-controlled Preventative Security Service.
Khalifeh, who has confessed to murdering the boy, led Hamas policemen to his bedroom, where he had buried the decapitated body. He said he kidnapped the boy after seducing him to accompany him to his home, where he stole the money he was carrying before murdering him.
Neighbors alerted the police after noticing a bad smell emanating from Khalifeh's home. When the Hamas security forces raided the house, they were shocked to discover the boy's headless body.

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IDF to present evidence for nuclear Iran to US

IDF to show US nuclear data on Iran
Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST  Dec. 6, 2007
Disappointed after failing to make their case on Iran and influence the outcome of the United States's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released this week, Military Intelligence will present its hard core evidence on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program on Sunday to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during a rare visit he will be making to Israel.
Admiral Michael Mullen will land in Israel Sunday morning for a 24-hour visit that will include a one-on-one meeting with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
According to a Time magazine article published Wednesday, Mullen is a member of the Pentagon's "anti-war [with Iran] group" that includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral William Fallon, current commander of the US Central Command.
In a recent press briefing in Washington, however, Mullen took a hard-line approach, refusing to rule out the possibility that military force will be used to stop Iran's race towards nuclear power.
"I would never take the military option off the table," Mullen told reporters, although he stressed that his remark did not mean that force would be used. Diplomacy, he added, was very important.
Mullen's visit to Israel will be exactly a week after the publication of the NIE report that claimed Iran had frozen its nuclear military program in 2003 and has yet to restart it. During his visit, Military Intelligence plans to present him with Israel's evidence that Iran is in fact developing nuclear weapons.
"The report clearly shows that we did not succeed in making our case over the past year in the run-up to this report," a defense official said Thursday. "Mullen's visit is an opportunity to try and fix that."
In addition to Iran, Ashkenazi and his staff will also discuss with Mullen America's commitment for Israel to retain its qualitative edge in the face of the sale of advanced JDAM missiles to Saudi Arabia.
In the past, Israel had asked the Pentagon to permit the sale of the F-22 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet - also known as the Raptor - but the request was rejected.
Mullen will be met by an honor guard at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv and will sit through a day of presentations by IDF generals, including Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin and OC IDF Planning Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan.
Sunday night he will be honored at a festive dinner hosted by Ashkenazi and will leave Israel Monday morning.
The presentations that Mullen will hear will be on a wide range of topics - including the Hamas buildup in the Gaza Strip, Egypt's failure to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, Hizbullah activities in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
Israel plans to take advantage of Mullen's visit to Israel to reinforce the already strong ties the IDF has with the Pentagon and the US armed forces. Appreciation for the IDF has increased within the Pentagon in recent months following the Israeli air strike on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor.
Mullen's visit will be the first time a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has visited Israel in the past decade. Mullen was in Israel with his wife two years ago when he was the commander of the Navy.
He met Ashkenazi at the NATO military commander conference in Brussels last month, and the two have already established an effective work relationship, defense officials said.
Also Thursday, China's government said it was studying the US intelligence review and remained steadfast in its opinion that talks were the way to end the standoff with Iran.
"We will earnestly study the report and make communications with relevant parties," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing. "China's position on the Iranian nuclear issue is that we support the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, and oppose proliferation of nuclear weapons, and we uphold a peaceful and stable Middle East," Qin said.
Earlier this week, China's ambassador to the United Nations said the report raised concerns about new sanctions.
"I think the council members will have to consider that, because I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed," Chinese UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said Tuesday when asked whether the release of the intelligence estimate made the prospect of new UN sanctions less likely.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the change in the US's intelligence assessment vis-à-vis Iran was based mainly on notes acquired last summer from discussions between Iranian military officials. The notes reportedly detailed conversations in which certain army officials complained about Iranian leaders' 2003 decision to shut down efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The notes gave no clue as to why Iran had decided to stop weapons development. The information contained in the notes was supported by other intelligence, including conversations between Iranian officials which had been intercepted in recent months, the paper reported.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday said he had no reason to doubt the intelligence assessment.
"There's always the possibility that circumstances will change. But I think they've done the best job they can with the intelligence that's available," Cheney told
The vice president stressed that the administration would not change its policy towards Iran. "We still think there's a need to continue the course we've been on to persuade the Iranians not to enrich uranium," he said.
AP contributed to the report.

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Palestinian Arab Identity

Identities Constructed Here

by Hugh Fitzgerald (Dec. 2007)

The word "Palestinians" and the invention of the "Palestinian people" was a deliberate construct. It was not the term used, ever since there were Arabs in what Western Christendom called "Palestine." The phrase was never used by the local Arabs until after their defeat in the Six-Day War. And then, having jettisoned Shukairy a few years before, the Arabs collectively decided, with a little help from public-relations advisers in the West, Jimmy Carter among them, to thoroughly redo their presentation.

The most important thing was to redefine the conflict. No longer are all those Arabs against a tiny Jewish state. No. Now, by an act of optical illusion, the tiny Jewish state would be transformed into a vast empire, this Greater Israel (why, the same BBC newscasters who routinely refer to Lebanon as that "tiny country" and to Jordan as that "tiny country" -- I hear it all the time -- for some reason never use that epithet with Israel. Never. Not once) which, even if it came into being, would be all of the size of Massachusetts, and less than one-one-thousandth the size of the Arab states.

And what isn't these days presented as a "constructed" identity? Is being "French" or "English" (or "British") or "American" -- pace Hector St.-John Crevecoeur's "what is this new thing, this American?" -- a "constructed" identity? Yes? No? Mebbe? Yes, "identity," we are told, is "constructed" and "fluid." You can be anything you want to be, and no nasty Westerners have a right to hold onto an identity, their own, which of course doesn't, being American or Western European, exist. Other lands have "identities" and can hold onto them. But it is to the United States, England, France, and all those other places where so many others, especially Muslims arrive, with their inculcated hostility undeclared at customs, packed carefully in their mental package, and to be unpacked as soon as they are safely in the country.

 We live in an age when so many things are claimed not to embody any truth based on the considerable evidence of one's senses (including the "eyesight" that permits one to read books), but are claimed, rather, to be "socially constructed." Think of the kind of words Terri Gross, in those intolerable NPR interviews, likes to dwell upon with her quests, questioning them about "coming to terms" with, or "discovering" or something-or-other, with their own "Sexuality" and "Identity." And of course "race" is merely a social construct, isn't it, which is why the man who parachutes into Beijing, or Iowa, or the Congo, doesn't notice the slightest difference in the kind of people he happens to meet.

Oh, did I forget to mention "reality"? Yes, nowadays "reality" also doesn't exist. It's merely "constructed." And we all thought it was just jesting Pilate who said "there is no such thing as truth." You can learn about all this from Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak, and Judith Butler, and even the equally-impenetrable-prosist Homi Bhabha (who, by the way, should mind his self-conscious manners and wait before attempting to walk out of a lecture-cum-concern when it only has a few minutes to go).

But the absurdities pile up. It was time to rename the local Arabs, both those in the territories won by Israel that were part of the original Palestine Mandate (Gaza, the "West Bank" quondam Judea and Samaria), and those who had been called simply, and a bit too easily, "Arab refugees" -- by every single Arab spokesman at the U.N., the Arab League, and elsewhere -- living in those villages (always described as "refugee camps" though some are full-fledged cities, and all have stores and built-up areas; these are not tent cities -- the kind of thing that refugees in Darfur must endure) in Jordan, Lebanon, and so on.

The term "Israeli" was not deliberately invented to score political points. Far from it. The Jews of Israel are really what is in play here, the survival of a Jewish state, of the right of the Jews to have a state.

It is absurd to equate the deliberate and sinister creation of this fake "Palestinian identity" for political ends, with the simple term "Israeli" to describe those who are citizens of the state of Israel.

So let's do it otherwise. Let's, more truthfully, talk about Arabs and Jews. Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. The Jews, who come from the Middle East, and a million of whom in 1948, having endured for centuries the life of dhimmis under Muslim rule (save in those places, such as North Africa, where the brief rule by European powers led to Jewish emancipation from the burden of living under Shari'a -- thanks in Algeria to the loi Cremieux of 1870) left, and most fled to the state of Israel. Do the Jews have a right to a state, a state that can be defended against permanent Muslim aggression, or do they not?

And as for the local Arabs, whose numbers have been so exaggerated -- few bother to consult the Ottoman cadastral or demographic records, such as they are, in pronouncing on the subject of "Palestine" and fewer still put that "Palestine" and the non-Muslim and non-Arab minorities of the Middle East into their proper light, their proper perspective -- for the Kurds also, now is perhaps the time to add, have a right to an independent state, and Lebanon, by rights, should remain a haven, a final haven, for the Arabic-using Christians -- not all, by a long shot, are Arabs -- in the Middle East.

So there it is. A Jewish state, permanently imperiled, and asked to voluntarily make itself still more imperiled. And the implacable relentless Arabs, using salami tactics, and their vast unearned wealth, to apply every kind of pressure to get the world's Infidels to join in the gang-up, and to push Israel back to clearly indefensible borders, without control of vital aquifers, without control of traditional invasion routes, eight miles wide at its waist, from Qalqilya to the sea. And this is the one country, the only country, that the most persecuted tribe in human history, having recently been the victim of the most unbelievable crime in human history, that exists for that tribe to embody its national identity without any doubts or need to conform to what others would have.

And on the other hand, there are the Arabs, who having denied or attempted to deny every non-Muslim and non-Arab people in North Africa and the Middle East -- Kurds and Berbers and now blacks in Darfur and Christian Copts and Maronites and Assyrians and Chaldeans and others -- their rights, in some cases their linguistic and cultural rights, in others their rights to control or profit from their own natural resources, in still other cases, to enjoy freedom from Arab political masters -- and those Arabs have denied these peoples the right to speak their own non-Arab languages (see the case of the Berbers), retain their own culture, have even mass-murdered them in the Sudan and Iraq, with the other Arabs looking on, openly or silently supporting them, and blocking all attempts to stop the murder.

And those same Arabs, with their 22 states, have also been the beneficiaries of unmerited wealth, having nothing to do with their own efforts, their own industry or entrepreneurial flair. The rich Arabs and Muslims have received, for doing absolutely nothing, some ten trillion dollars since 1973 alone, and we all know the arms, and the luxurious palaces, and the call girls, and the yachts, and all the rest of it, that they have spent their money on, including the mosques and madrasas and Da'wa and propaganda on behalf of Islam -- through buying up journalists, creating academic centers, dangling possible contracts before greedy businessmen, and all the rest of it.

The war in the Middle East is that between Arabs and Jews, not between "Israelis" and "Palestinians" Long before there was an Israel, there were Jews living in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria, in North Africa, in Iran (before expelled by the Muslims from the Jazirat al-Arab, they were even on the Arabian Peninsula; Hebrew lettering has been found on ruins in northwestern Saudi Arabia, Land of the Midianites). The appropriation of the term "Palestinian" -- as in "Palestinian people" -- and its deliberate promotion from adjective to noun (as in "the 'Palestinians'") -- was a deliberate and tendentious act of propaganda. The term "Israeli" per contra, is nothing more than a description of "the citizens of a nation-state called Israel" (not all of whom, by the way, are Jews), and it would be far more accurate to describe the business in Annapolis, or Camp David, and the conflict itself, as being not between "Israeli" and "Palestinian" but between Arab and Jew, or still more accurately, between Believer and Infidel, for the source of the conflict is to be located in Islam, and the refusal in Islam to countenance an Infidel state or power, of any size, controlling land, of any amount, that was once ruled over by Muslims.

If Israel happens to have been at the forefront of Arab Muslim efforts, that hardly means that the same claim is not made on Spain, Sicily, the Balkans, Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, much of Hungary, almost all of India, and so on. Nor, of course, does the fact that places formerly part of Dar al-Islam are at the top of the Islamic To-Do List (Recover Lands), mean that the claim to the rest of the known world has disappeared, or would disappear, if the denizens of Dar al-Islam managed to recapture every inch of land once part of Dar al-Islam. No, they have bigger fish to fry -- the whole world. And surely at the SOAS there are books, if not courses, that will let you in on that not-exactly well-kept secret.

If the Arabs of Iran, those around Ahwaz, where all the Iranian oil is pumped, in Khuzistan, were to go for broke and try to fight off "the Persians" and create a separate, well-funded state for the ethnic Arabs, and began, for the purposes of propaganda, to call themselves the "Khuzistanian people," would you claim that the term "Khuzistanian people" is not more of a "construct" than the term "Persian people" or "Persians"? Think about that for a bit.

The leader of As Saiqa, one terrorist group under the PLO umbrella, Zuhair Mohsen, is widely known for having made the following statement in a March 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw:

"The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct "Palestinian people" to oppose Zionism.

For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan."

And there are many other remarks like this, sometimes by Arabs, and sometimes even by those engaged in "Arab refugee" work before it was taken over completely by "Palestinians" and other Arabs.

See, for example, what Elfan Rees, the special advisor on refugees to the World Council of Churches, wrote in 1957 in The Refugee Problem Today and Tomorrow:

"I hold the view that, political issues aside, the Arab refugee problem is by far the easiest postwar refugee problem to solve by integration. By faith, by language, by race and by social organization, they are indistinguishable from their fellows of the host countries. There is room for them, and land for them, in Syria and in Iraq. There is a developing demand for the kind of manpower that they represent. More unusually still, there is the money to make this integration possible. The United Nations General Assembly, five years ago, voted a sum of 200 million dollars to provide 'homes and jobs' for the Arab refugees. That money remains unspent, not because these tragic people are strangers in a strange land, because they are not; not because there is no room for them to be established, because there is; but simply for political reasons."

Read the U.N. records, the records of what every Arab said, threatening or cajoling, from 1948 or well before 1948, right up to the Six-Day War, and even for a short period beyond, and it is only then that, out of the blue, comes this phrase "the Palestinian people."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Gaza Christian: Radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care

Muslim gunmen target Christian in Gaza
Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST  Dec. 8, 2007
Muslim gunmen in the Gaza Strip tried to kill another Palestinian Christian over the weekend, sources in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post.
They said four masked gunmen tried to kidnap Nabil Fuad Ayad, who works as a guard at a local church. Nabil's cousin, Rami, was kidnapped and murdered two months ago by the same group, the sources said.
The sources identified the gunmen as members of the radical Islamic Salafi movement.
"They were dressed in the traditional Salafi clothes," said an eyewitness. "They were also carrying guns."
The gunmen tried to force Ayad into their car as he was walking in the street, but he managed to escape to a nearby shop. Shopkeepers who began shouting drove the gunmen away.
As they fled the scene, the assailants fired several shots into the air.
Salafism represents a Sunni Islamic school of thought whose followers argue that Islam was perfect and complete during the days of Prophet Muhammad, but that undesirable innovations have been added due to materialist and cultural influences.
The Salafis, who have become very active in the Gaza Strip in recent months, are totally opposed to common Western concepts like economics, constitutions and political parties. They refer to the 2,500 Christians in the Gaza Strip as Crusaders and have vowed to drive them out of the area.
Hamas denied any involvement in the attack, saying its security forces had launched an investigation after receiving a complaint from the victim.
Christians living in the Gaza Strip told the Post that they were very worried about the increased attacks on members of their community and religious institutions. "The latest incident is aimed at sending a message to all the Christians here that we must leave," said a Christian leader. "Radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Christians' plight in the Holy Land

Christians' Plight
It's highly doubtful that Dr. Justus Reid Weiner's chilling forecast of the impending demise of Christian communities under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction will generate much outrage or uproar in Christendom.
If, as expected, it fails to do so, it will be more than a shame. At the very least, Weiner's words of warning ought to ring powerful alarm bells among overseas coreligionists of local Christians.
As reported in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post, Weiner - a human rights lawyer and scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs - painted a bleak picture of the travails of the PA's fast-dwindling Christian enclaves. He went on to predict that in some 15 years, Muslim harassment and hounding will lead to the disappearance of these communities. Christian presence will shrink to be a smattering of westerners, assorted clerics and church representatives, but grassroots Christian-Arabs will have dispersed.
An ongoing exodus is already under way, as many thousands of Christians emigrate to the West.
Only 50 years ago, Christians accounted for 15 percent of the population in the same PA areas in which they today make up no more than 1.5%. Weiner pointed to Bethlehem as the ultimate touchstone. Not too long ago a city with a solid Christian majority, it is now over 80% Muslim, with its Christian component continuing to shrivel in direct correlation to increasing Muslim pressure.
All this fits too snugly for comfort into the international pattern of an intolerant, aggressive and expansionist Islam. The takeover of Bethlehem recalls Islamists' openly aggressive stance against other religions shown by the blasting of Afghanistan's giant Buddhist monuments or the wanton disregard of the threat to antiquities demonstrated by the Muslim Wakf's myriad construction schemes on the Temple Mount.
Trying to survive under the Muslim thumb, PA Christians keep a low profile, strive to give no offense and often even toe the most extremist Arab line to evince loyalty and remove the threat from themselves. Many publicly blame Israel for their plight, while murmurs of protest against Islamic domination grow ever-fainter, presumably for fear of making things even worse for beleaguered Christians.
The silence of Christian Arabs and Christians abroad in the face of the desecration of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity by Muslim terrorists who invaded it a few years back was a case in point. Israel was condemned for seeking to remove the raiders, when it was the violent intruders who should have been denounced. Fanatical Arabs are dreaded. Israelis are not.
This pattern persists. Weiner noted that Bethlehem's ills are often ascribed to the security fence, because church representatives "sing the PA's tune" and are quick to censure Israel for everything.
The temptation to do so will increase in the Advent to Christmas, whose celebration in Bethlehem will to no small extent depend on the goodwill of Muslim PA overlords, who make a point of attending the midnight mass each year, all but appropriating the festivities. The grand entries made by Yasser Arafat have still not faded from memory; nor has the empty seat left posthumously for him in the Church of the Nativity, as if elevating him to singular spiritual status.
Like Arafat, his successor Mahmoud Abbas often poses in the guise of Christianity's protector, implying that it, along with Islam, is menaced by Judaism. Yet false and brazen though this cynical affectation is, it goes unquestioned in most of the world. This year, post-Annapolis, this sham has taken on particular significance.
Abbas has just demanded Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, promising "religious freedom and full access to sites of worship to all faiths." Such promises, however, were already part and parcel of the 1949 armistice, though brutally violated and never complied with for a day. No fewer than 58 synagogues in Jerusalem's Old City - some ancient and highly important - were razed. Tombstones from the ancient Jewish Mount of Olives Cemetery were ripped out and used to pave public latrines. No Israelis could pray at the Western Wall, Rachel's Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Present-day vandalism on the Temple Mount augurs ill for recycled guarantees. The unfortunate odds are that freedom of worship under Palestinian rule would be as hollow a pledge as it was under Jordanian occupation.
This is something for world Christians to reflect upon during this holy season, as eyes again turn to Bethlehem. Arab disrespect for Jewish rights is the lot of Christians here as well.

Continued (Permanent Link)

British spy chiefs: Iran 'hoodwinked' CIA over nuclear plans

Whom to believe?
Iran 'hoodwinked' CIA over nuclear plans
By Tim Shipman in Washington, Philip Sherwell and Carolynne Wheeler
The Sunday Telegraph (UK) Last Updated: 1:39am GMT 09/12/2007

British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran.

Analysts believe that Iranian staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation.

The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.

The security services in London want concrete evidence to allay concerns that the Islamic state has fed disinformation to the CIA.

A senior British official delivered a withering assessment of US intelligence-gathering abilities in the Middle East and revealed that British spies shared the concerns of Israeli defence chiefs that Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons.

The source said British analysts believed that Iranian nuclear staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation. "We are sceptical.
We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from? Was it on the basis of the defector? Was it on the basis of the intercept material? They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.

"It's not as if the American intelligence agencies are regarded as brilliant performers in that region. They got badly burned over Iraq."

A US intelligence source has revealed that some American spies share the concerns of the British and the Israelis. "Many middle- ranking CIA veterans believe Iran is still committed to producing nuclear weapons and are  concerned that the agency lost a number of its best sources in Iran in 2004," the official said.

The Foreign Office is studying a new text of a third United Nations Security Council resolution that would impose tough travel bans on regime figures and penalise banks that do business with Iran.

But diplomats say the chances of winning Chinese and Russian support for the move are in freefall. A Western diplomat said: "It's created a lot of difficulties because of the timing, just as we were about to go for a third

Bruce Reidel, who spent 25 years on the Middle East desks at the CIA and the National Security Council, said: "By going public they have embarrassed our friends, particularly the British and the Israelis. They have given our foes insights into our most secret intelligence and taken most of the options off the table."


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NIE report on Iran won't change US policy - ??

According to Haaretz, the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran won't change US policy or influence public opinion. It really seems hard to believe it won't have any effect at all:
WASHINGTON - Observers from the right and left have told Haaretz that the report released a week ago, maintaining that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003, will have no impact on U.S. public opinion or its effect will erode.
The political-security cabinet will hold special deliberations on the report Sunday, as Israeli officials have conducted a quiet campaign aimed at exposing the National Intelligence Estimate's deficiencies.
Some American observers told Haaretz those deficiencies would become increasingly apparent.
Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, told Haaretz Friday that the report ignored the uranium enrichment at the Iranian city of Natanz because this project was not secret.
The congressman from California said the intelligence community was only interested in secrets, and the media simply focused on what was new.
Sherman said that while the report effectively removed the military option for both Israel and the United States and complicated Russian and Chinese support for sanctions, a "pushback" against the report had begun.
Wednesday's edition of The Washington Post stated that the report was an insufficient substitute for a clear signal that Iran intended to cooperate with the international community.
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also questioned the report in their editorials. Gary Samore, an arms control expert in the Clinton administration, told The Los Angeles Times that the report had not sufficiently stressed Iran's uranium enrichment program.
Anthony Lake, a former Clinton national security adviser and now adviser to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, focused on Iran's uranium enrichment activities and concerns over the fate of sanctions.
Leonard Spector and James Martin of Center for Nonproliferation Studies shared the assessment of many Washington experts when they wrote that Iran has not stopped working toward its nuclearization goal, it has simply changed the order of its activities.
The experts discuss whether the report's authors formulated it as they did because they want to stop the Bush administration from attacking Iran, or because they were simply unaware of the way the report would be received.
Senior politicians are treading with caution. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said he wanted to learn more about the report, while Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada said a Senate investigation committee should be established to study the paper.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel: Hey look at us!

Israel is doing OK/.
From Yoram Ettinger:
In defiance of war, terrorism and political uncertainty...Jerusalem Boardroom #120, Dec. 7. 2007 
In spite of the 2006 Lebanese War, in defiance of sustained Palestinian terrorism, irrespective of no progress in the "peace process" and independent of Israel's political uncertainty:
1.  Israel is ranked as the top foreign source of deal-flow, ahead of Canada, China and India, by US VC funds managers. The survey, conducted by Delloite Touche, has also ranked Israel as the second (to Canada) most attractive source of entrepreneurs.  46% of US VC funds invest abroad (The Marker, Dec. 6, 2007). 

2.  Standard & Poor raised Israel's credit ratings, for the first time since 1995, to A (long-term foreign currency rating), to AA- (long-term local currency rating) and to A1+ (short-term domestic rating).  S&P based its decision on Israel's economic indicators: GDP growth, shrinking budget deficit, reduced public debt per GDP (2000-87%, 2001-92%, 2002-100%, 2003-102%, 2004-101%, 2005-97%, 2006-88%, 2007-80%), low inflation, balance of payment and balance of trade surplus, tax decrease, continued market reforms, etc. Improved rating is expected to attract more overseas investments and lower interest on loans (The Marker, Nov. 28).
3.  Israel leads the world in civilian R&D per GDP - 4.5%, compared to 3% expected by the EEC by 2010. Israel was 5th in the world in GDP growth - 5.2% in 2006 (Globes, Dec. 5). Israel's GDP grew 6.1% during the 3rd quarter of 2007, the 17th quarter of straight growth since mid-2003, the longest growth streak since 1948 (2001 - minus 0.4%, 2002 - minus 0.6%, 2003 - 2.3%, 2004 - 2.5%, 2005 - 5.3%, 2006 - 5.2%, 2007 - projected 5.5%-6%). Overall investments rose 24% during the quarter (Globes, Nov. 26).
4.  Israel has the second largest concentration of startups per capital next to Silicon Valley. Israeli startups developed crucial flash drive, call center and instant messaging technologies. According to Jon Medved, both share energized entrepreneurial spirit, informal work atmosphere, pioneering risk-taking ethos and a large number of high-quality immigrants. 400 Israeli start ups emerge annually, more than any European country. The number of funded startups has doubled since 2000. Next to the US, Israel has more stocks traded on NASDAQ than any other country.  High tech (which is minimally vulnerable to terrorism and political instability) accounts to 50% of Israel's exports - about $15BN annually. Israeli companies have easier access to Asian markets, since they are not perceived as a commercial threat (Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2007).
5.  SAP and McCaffee expand their R&D operations in Israel, hiring additional personnel (both) and constructing a new site (McCaffee) (Globes, Nov. 14).
6.  Israel's Telematics is acquired by Singapore's St. Electronics (Globes, Nov. 20).  Israel's Esther Neuroscience was acquired by Britain's Amarin for $15MN and additional $17MN per milestones (Globes, Dec. 6).  Israel's Oridian was acquired by India's Ybrant for $15MN (Globes, Dec. 5).
7.  GE Medical participated in a $30MN round by Israel's InsighTech (Nov. 30).  US-based Radius Venture participated in a $27MN 2nd round by Israel's Mendigo (Globes, Nov. 21).  Varburg-Pinkus participated in an $8MN 3rd round by Israel's NuLens (Globes, Nov. 21).  Sequoia invested $8MN in the 1st round of private placement by Israel's DensBits (Globes, Dec. 3). Taiwan's CIDC VC fund led a $6MN 3rd round by Israel's AdvaSense (Globes, Nov. 22).   


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Iranian humor: Iran protests U.S. Spying

This really happened - Iran protested U.S. spying following the NIE report. At least someone over there has a sense of humor.
Iran protests US nuclear 'spying'   
Iran has sent a formal protest note to Washington for "spying" on Tehran's nuclear activities, in the wake of a US report on the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
The US report earlier this week concluded that Tehran halted the development of atomic weapons in 2003 and had not resumed it since.
Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said on Saturday that the report indicated US intelligence agencies based their findings on "satellite and espionage activities," according to Irna, the country's official news agency.
Irna said that the note was handed over to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which looks after US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.
Mottaki was quoted as saying: "The day the report was issued, the foreign ministry submitted a formal note of protest to the Swiss Embassy and demanded explanations over [US] espionage activities taking place."
Source of Israel News item

Continued (Permanent Link)

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