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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Who Killed Benazir Bhutto? Political Correctness versus morality

By  • Judea Pearl (UCLA and Daniel Pearl Foundation)
Published in: SPME Faculty Voices January 18, 2008

Amidst the hundreds of articles that analyzed the horrible murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan last month, there was one by Beirut-based journalist Rami Khouri that deserves special attention, for it points to a recurrent phenomenon we might well call "the Cult of the Superficial".

Entiled "Who Killed Benazir Bhutto?" ( 12/31/07) the article places Bhutto's murder in the wider context of region-wide proliferation of political violence and puts the blame on the fact that, "in the life of ordinary people in the vast region from North Africa and the Middle East to South Asia political violence has become an everyday fact of life."

The essence of Khouri's article shines through its concluding paragraphs:
"They kill as they have been killed. Having been dehumanized in turn, they will embrace inhumanity and brutality.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto? We all killed her, in East and West, Orient and Occident, North and South. We of the globalized beastly generation that transformed political violence from an occasional crime to an ideology and an addiction."

My Western upbringing resonates strongly with Khouri's ending: "We all killed her," which I take to be a poetic call for self-examination and social action. I am sure many in the Judeo-Christian tradition will echo this call with, "Indeed, let us work on ourselves first" -- it is in the nature of our cultural reflex.

But my moral instinct tells me something different. It tells me that what the world needs during this state of social upheaval are distinctions, not generalizations; clarity, not equivocation. To say "we are all guilty" is paramount to saying "no one is guilty," like that bully who excuses himself with the rejoinder, "They all do it."
Sweeping generalizations that spread guilt too broadly, tend to obscure the anatomy of violence; they drive attention away from critical factors and pivotal players, and hamper our ability to take corrective actions.

I became particularly sensitive to this logic of overgeneralization in the weeks following the murder of our son, Daniel, when Jihadi websites began ranting:"What's all the fuss about one Jewish journalist when so many Muslims are being killed in Palestine and Afghanistan?"

It is pointless, of course, to explain to Jihadis that terrorism earns its ominous and morally reprehensible character not through body count but through "intent," i.e., the intent of perpetrators to harm the innocent -- Jihadis refuse to get it.

One would expect, however, that modernity-minded thinkers should grasp this defining distinction and use it to tell a good guy from a bad one -- they, too, refuse to get it.

Time after time, in my lectures before mixed Muslim-Jewish audiences I get the question:
"Isn't the US operation in Iraq a state-sponsored terrorism?" or "Isn't Israeli targeted killing morally equivalent to Palestinian suicide bombing?" Even after admitting that suicide bombers aims to maximize, and Israel aims to minimize civilian casualties -- it is, after all, bad for public opinion -- the questioners refuse to accept the distinction.

Symmetry is so seductive, and the idea that every strife has two equivalent sides so deeply entrenched in our culture, that even well meaning intellectuals fall into its trap.

Michael Winterbottom, for example, the director of the movie A Mighty Heart, compared Daniel's murder to the conditions in Guantanamo, and wrote: "There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."

Khouri is thus in good company when he falls into the trap of body count and states: "It makes little difference, if this is the work of democratic or dictatorial leaders: Dead children and war-ravaged societies do not value such distinctions."

What is dangerous in this tendency to generalize and symmetrize violent acts is that it actually helps spread the ideology of political violence, for it permits angry youngsters to reason thus: "All forms of violence are equally evil; therefore, as long as one persists, others should not be ruled out. " This is precisely the logic used by Muhammed Siddiqui Khan, one of the London suicide bombers, in his post-mortem video tape on Al Jazeera.

But no less dangerous is the destructive influence of ideologues who, armed with the halo of non-violence advocacy, preach hatred and bigotry. Typical among them is Arun Gandhi, grandson of India's legendary leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who just last week published an article in the Newsweek/Washington Post website entitled "Jewish Identity Can't Depend on Violence," in which he states that "Israel and the Jews are the biggest players" in the creation of a "Culture of Violence that is eventually going to destroy humanity." Such wreckless twistings of reality, soaked in apocalyptic pontification, spring abundantly from the cult of the superficial and its lazy logic of body count.

Saying, "We all killed Benazir Bhutto" means that violence is so hopelessly symmetric, chaotic, and all-pervasive that we do not know where to begin our effort to contain it. But we do know where to begin, because some acts are violence-reducing while others are violence-producing -- the two are *not* equivalent and we should obviously begin with the former.

For example, Israel's military operations in Gaza are not equivalent to the firing of Qassam rocket into Sderot. The former will cease if the latter does, but not the other way around. This causal asymmetry is so glaring that only minds like Gandhi's can mindlessly ignore. We have a similar asymmetry in Iraq, where one side sees cessation of hostilities as an achievement, the other as defeat. In such cases, the asymmetries should be noted, analyzed and acted on, rather than dismissed with, "We all killed her?"

And this brings me to the role of the media in this web of violence, counter-violence and broken symmetries. The statement: "They kill as they have been killed," is poetic, compassionate, even noble, but not very accurate and not very helpful. No, the murderers of Benazir Bhutto did not "kill as they have been killed," they killed because they were taught to believe that they are the helpless victims of an evil oppressor of which Bhutto is a symbol and, once a victim, so the teaching goes, tantrum rules.

The thousands of Saudis recruited for suicide bombing in Iraq are a more familiar example. They kill because they were told that Islam is being attacked by America, that America kills Iraqis out of pleasure and that the sole reason for the US presence in the Middle East is to subjugate Muslims, steal their resources and humiliate them for fun. This is, sadly, what an increasing majority of Muslims now believe, and Rami Khouri knows how twisted a perception this is. He knows it because he spent time on fellowship at Harvard University and surely noticed that Americans have many worries on their plate -- humiliating Muslims is not one of them. He knows that America is genuinely trying to transport democracy to the Middle East -- if not for the love of humanity, then out of a selfish preference for regimes deemed less likely to wage wars.

No less important, they kill because they have been given a religious license to do so by clerics such as Egyptian-born Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most prominent Koranic authority in the Sunni world, who issued a fatwa authorizing suicide killing of American civilians in Iraq.

Put more generally, hardships and grievances in themselves do not breed political violence of the type that killed Benazir Bhutto. For a grievance to turn into an act of terror, two additional ingredients are necessary, each non-violent in isolation: a twisted prism of reality and a twisted license to kill -- e.g., an Arun Gandhi and an al-Qaradawi.

Sadly, the media in the region has not done its share to minimize these two perceptual ingredients. On the contrary, it did a lot to promote and propagate them. We rarely find an article in the independent Middle Eastern press that attempts to dispel the myth of America being the enemy of Islam. Al Jazeera, for example, choreographs a worldview in which an irreconcilable struggle rages between an evil-meaning Western oppressor and its helpless, righteous Arab victims. This twisted worldview does more to fuel the sense of helplessness, humiliation and anger among Arab youths than the physical presence of American troops in the region. (Let's not forget that in the absence of such propaganda, the Japanese managed to develop a thriving democracy while benefiting from the presence of American troops).

And what has the media done to curtail the production of twisted religious licenses like the fatwas issued by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi? Al Jazeera, again, has graciously granted the learned Sheikh two hours every week to spew his Koranic teachings in a program called *Sharia and Life*; it is broadcast to tens of millions of viewers, including Hamas operatives, Al Qaeda recruits, schoolteachers and impressionable Muslim youths.

More distressing yet, liberal newspapers such as the *Daily Star*, of which Khouri is an Editor-at-Large, have yet to call Al Jazeera management to task for spreading Qaradawi's ideology and thus committing Arab society to another century of helplessness.

I wish I could enjoy the poetry of "Who killed Benazir Bhutto? We all killed her." It is unfortunately factually wrong and strategically misleading. There is much we can do to curtail the banalization of violence, I agree, but this requires well-reasoned distinctions, not poetic equivocation.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is a co-editor of "I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Light, 2004).

Continued (Permanent Link)

Egypt caves in to Hamas: Gaza border to remain open

It states:
Ahmed Abdel-Hamid, the governor of north Sinai, said that "Palestinians will continue to cross until they get all their needs of commodities and foodstuffs".
He also said that Egyptian security forces have been "instructed to facilitate the Palestinians' passage and guide them to the places where they could get their needs".
"Welcome, Welcome. Explosives are sold in Ahmed's shop on Ramadan Street. RPGs are sold in Tareq's emporium on October 6 boulevard. Do you need rocket fuzes? Mahmoud's kiosk on Abdul Nasser Street sells very good fuzes. AK-47s are sold in Murad's firearms display. Anything else you might need?"
Ami Isseroff

Egypt: Border crossing to stay open   
The breach of the Rafah crossing is being seen as a strategic victory for Hamas [GALLO/GETTY]
Egypt has said it will continue to allow Gazans to cross the Rafah border in order to gain access to much needed supplies.
Ahmed Abdel-Hamid, the governor of north Sinai, said that "Palestinians will continue to cross until they get all their needs of commodities and foodstuffs".
He also said that Egyptian security forces have been "instructed to facilitate the Palestinians' passage and guide them to the places where they could get their needs".
Thousands of Palestinians are continuing to cross in and out of Egypt after Hamas defied Egyptian attempts to reseal the border on Friday and used bulldozers to smash through the barrier.
According to the UN, at least 700,000 Gazans - nearly half the territory's population of 1.5 million - have crossed into Egypt to stock up on desperately needed supplies.
Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing, said that while Israel had attempted to push Gazans into rising up against Hamas as a result of its blockade, the opposite had happened.
She said: "Hamas can claim credit now for breaking the embargo."
"Many believed their credibilty would crumble in the face of so much pressure, but the border opening and the fact that Gazans can break out of this prison, is now seen to be the work of the Hamas leadership."
She said: "Apart from the immediate humanitarian concerns, there is a major economic benefit to be gained from Egyptian traders, who are selling goods to the Gazans."
"There is a lot of things coming from Cairo, to Gaza, and this is also helping the Egyptian economy."
Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has called the situation in Gaza "unacceptable" and called on Israel to "lift its siege" and "solve the problem".
Factional dispute
Although Hamas' breach of the Rafah crossing has been seen as a challenge to Egypt's authority, Mubarak on Saturday invited Hamas and its political rival Fatah to meet for talks in Cairo.
In video

Gazans breach Egyptian border for a second time
Khaled Meshaal, the exiled Hamas leader, said: "I and all the brothers in the Hamas leadership welcome participating and will seek to make the dialogue a success."
But Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Saturday stuck to his conditions for resuming talks with Hamas, saying the group should reverse its takeover of the Gaza Strip.
In a speech on Saturday, Abbas called the Hamas takeover of Gaza as a "crime" and said the group must reverse these steps if they want to resume talks with him.
Fatah controls only the West Bank after Hamas seized total control of the Gaza Strip in June last year.
Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Ramallah, said that while Abbas welcome the invitation from Mubarak, he emphasised that the siege in Gaza is a Palestinian problem, and should remain so.
She said: "He [Abbas] was being diplomatic in his intentions to attend the Cairo talks, but he still insists that this issue will remain a Palestinone one, and is sticking by his demands that Hamas withdraw its control of Gaza."
US pressure
The Egyptian government has been heavily criticed by the US for allowing the border to remain open and the US congress has suspended $100 million of aid to Cairo because of its failure to close the border.
Violence erupted at the Rafah border on Friday after the Egyptian government announced it would be shutting the Rafah crossing.
Egyptian forces took up positions a few steps into Palestinian territory, using shields to protect themselves from some Gaza residents who threw stones at them.
The police responded with batons and water cannons. At least 22 people were injured, according to Mena, the state news agency
Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip last week saying the move was intended to counter cross-border rocket fire by Palestinian groups.
The closure of the territory led to dwindling supplies of food, fuel and other basic necessities.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israeli doctors save Palestinian childen

This report from the UN has the peculiar notice:

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Does the UN believe that saving kids is bad, or are they telling us that the surgery did not take place or what?

Ami Isseroff

Israel-OPT: Gazan hearts saved in Israel as conflict rages on

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

HOLON, ISRAEL, 17 January 2008 (IRIN) - With violence in the Gaza Strip and along Israel's southern border escalating, a small hospital in Israel offers a ray of hope for a handful of seriously ill Gazans.

"This child would have died without surgery," said Dr Alona Raucher-Sternfeld, as she simultaneously looked at the small Palestinian baby, Jamal, and the echo machine checking his heart.

Six-month-old Jamal came with his grandmother, Haifa, from the Dir al-Balah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip to get a check-up on 15 January at the Wolfson medical centre, an Israeli governmental hospital in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Jamal was operated on here when he was two months old, suffering from two heart defects. His tiny size further complicated the surgery, which was ultimately a success, the doctor said.

"When he came here, he was blue. It was an emergency," Raucher-Sternfeld said, reviewing the initial referral from Al-Awda hospital in Gaza.

Haifa now asked the questions typical of all grandmothers: why is he not talking or rolling over yet? Before the operation the queries had more to do with his chances of survival.

The surgery, hospital stay and logistics in bringing him out of Gaza were coordinated and partially funded by Save a Child's Heart, an Israeli humanitarian organisation, with some European Union donations. In 2007, 128 Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all suffering from heart conditions, were treated by the programme and the hospital.

Israeli rules

However, even this organisation could not bend the tight restrictions at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Jamal's 24-year-old mother is too young to be allowed out of the enclave, according to Israeli security regulations, and the grandmother was sent as an escort instead.

Col Nir Press, head of the Israeli coordination and liaison administration in Gaza, recently said Israel requires rigid security rules, as Palestinian militants have, in the past, taken advantage of permits issued for medical reasons. In 2004, for example, four Israeli soldiers at the Erez crossing were killed when a Palestinian patient blew herself up inside the terminal.

Press also said the number of permits to Israel issued for medical reasons had risen 50 percent in 2007 compared to the previous year. Some foreign aid workers said this was a result of the closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Young people not allowed to leave Gaza

Sometimes, simple mistakes of clerks, or clogged up bureaucracy, cause problems.

One-year-old Shahed, from northern Gaza, came with her grandmother to the hospital late in the day. They had been held up at Erez for an extended period of time, as someone had mistakenly entered the wrong date on the permit application.

The aging woman collapsed on the floor as she finally reached the hospital waiting room, tears of exhaustion - but also relief- rolling down her cheeks. She said she ran around inside the Erez terminal, trying to speak with Palestinian and Israeli officials, explaining she had an appointment for the young baby, who recently had a pacemaker put in by the Wolfson surgical team.

"I have diabetes, I'm not strong" she said, breathing heavily, as Jewish and Arab hands helped her into a chair. Like all Palestinians, she brought with her a small but weighty valise, just in case the doctors would make them stay more than one day.

Shahed's 19-year-old mother and 20-year-old father have little chance of leaving the enclave.

Beyond race, religion

Volunteers from Save a Child's Heart stressed the apolitical nature of their programme, noting that the man who started it 10 years ago, Ami Cohen, who has since died, believed strongly in looking past race, religion and nationality, and instead preferred to focus on individuals.

"If there's an Israeli child and a Palestinian child, whoever is in a more dire condition will get treatment first," said a hospital nurse.

And even with the Arabic-Hebrew language divide separating most of the staff from the Palestinian patients, a strong lesson on positive dialogue and cooperation emanated from the hospital examination rooms.



Continued (Permanent Link)

UN Security Council draft on Gaza still stuck

Apparently, the deal that legitimized Libya was not a good bargain. Libya continues to support terror and to oppose constructive action against it. That is the result to be expected from "dialogue" and bargains with such states.
Ami Isseroff

Last update - 09:16 26/01/2008       
Libya withholds support for UN draft condemning Qassam fire
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters
NEW YORK - Under pressure from Syria, Libya is withholding support for a Security Council draft declaration which includes an unprecedented condemnation of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
The draft presidential declaration devised by the United States gained approval of 14 out of 15 member states that comprise the Security Council.
Sources at the UN told Haaretz that all 15 states were minutes from signing the non-punitive declaration which for the first time ever condemns ongoing Qassam fire at southern Israel from Gaza, when Syria pressured Libya's ambassador to the UN, Giadalla Ettalhi, who this month assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council, to reconsider the bill at the last minute.
A decision on the draft statement is expected to be reached when the Security Council reconvenes on Monday. UN sources said Libya has requested time to discuss the declaration with other Arab states. The statement would also condemn other terrorist activities against Israel.
Sources at the UN headquarters in New York said the U.S. proposed the draft after a third day of discussions Thursday failed to produce agreement on a presidential statement about the situation in Gaza.
The draft statement also does not condemn Israel for imposing a blockade on the Strip, but rather calls on Jerusalem to take measures to ease the suffering of Gaza civilians.
A Western diplomat told Haaretz that, if approved, the statement would be the Security Council's first direct and explicit condemnation of the rocket fire.
The Arab League has submitted a non-binding draft statement to the council which expresses concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, criticizes the attacks on Israel and calls on the Israeli government to reopen the border crossings.
Only one of the 15 council members - the United States - opposes the Arab draft. A senior U.S. envoy said Washington was unhappy with it because it fails to condemn what it calls the terrorism against Israel and ignores the causes of the problem.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah forces in June 2007, was ultimately responsible for what was happening in Gaza. He said any council statement needed to reflect that.
"The Security Council has never addressed the issue of the illegal coup usurping power from the legitimate Palestinian authority by the terrorist group Hamas," he said, adding that this was at the "core of the problem."
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman expressed a similar view. "It is Hamas which is punishing and hurting its own people," he said.
Arab envoys rejected the U.S. and Israeli views, saying they wanted the council to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They said if Washington rejects the statement, they might resubmit it as a binding resolution and challenge the U.S. delegation to veto it.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari accused the Americans of "trying to turn the victims into victimizers and the victimizers into victims" with their proposed amendments.
Ryad Mansour, the permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, told reporters "Israel should take note that 14 members of the Security Council ... are saying that the humanitarian situation in Gaza cannot be tolerated."
Israel: UN humanitarian official ignoring rocket fire on Negev
Gillerman criticized the UN humanitarian affairs chief on Thursday for failing to acknowledge the suffering caused by Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza.
The ambassador was referring to comments last week by UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes, who said Israel's decision to shut all border crossings with Gaza had led to a humanitarian crisis and was "collective punishment" for its 1.5 million people.
"I did not hear Mr. Holmes describe the 4,100 rockets which have been launched at Israeli cities aimed at the killing of Israeli babies and children, innocents, as a humanitarian crisis," Gillerman told reporters.
"I want to remind Mr. Holmes and everybody else who is so worried about the situation in Gaza that Israel left Gaza over two years ago completely," he said

Continued (Permanent Link)

Palestinians attack Egyptian police, border guards - dozens hurt

Last update - 15:43 26/01/2008       
Dozens of Egyptian police, guards hurt in Gaza clashes
By Amir Oren, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
At least 36 Egyptian security personnel have been hospitalized, including some in critical condition, as a result of violent incidents with Palestinians on the Gaza border, the Egyptian foreign minister said Saturday.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters following a meeting with the Egyptian president and several cabinet ministers, that between 10 and 12 riot policemen and 26 border guards, including two senior officers, were all in the hospital, some in danger of losing their lives, due to "actions by Palestinian elements" over the course of the last two days.
These comments came two days after masked gunmen blew holes in the barrier wall separating Gaza from Egypt, prompting hundreds of thousands of Gazans to flood into Egypt in search of food and supplies.
Aboul Gheit on Saturday complained of provocations at the border, a thinly veiled reprimand of Hamas, who controls the Gaza Strip, and said that while Egypt is ready to ease the suffering of Gazans, "this should not endanger Egyptian lives."
"These provocations cause us concern and our Palestinian brothers should note that the Egyptian decision to host them and ease their suffering should not result in threats to the lives of our sons in the Egyptian forces," he said.
There were reports of Hamas gunmen opening fire Friday on Egyptian security forces attempting to stem the flow of Palestinians into the Egyptian border town of Rafah.
Aboul Gheit said that for now Egyptians forces would show self control in the face of these provocations and continue to let Palestinians into Rafah to buy supplies.
"The Egyptian decision has been to allow in the sons of Gaza to ease their suffering," he said. "This was the Egyptian decision taken a few days ago and we are still holding to it."
He added that the Egyptians were hoping to regulate the entry and exist of the Palestinian people as well as engage in talks with the concerned parties to devise a new border system.
Earlier Saturday, Egyptian border guards in armored personnel carriers were seen taking up positions around the various breaches in the frontier wall in Rafah, but not impeding the flow of people. Palestinians were not allowed to drive out of the town of Rafah into the rest of Egypt, however.
On the Gaza-Egypt border, traffic of cars and pedestrians remained heavy Saturday, four days after the wall was initially breached.
In an attempt to restore some control, Egyptian armored vehicles blocked the main street of the Egyptian border town of Rafah, causing a snarled traffic jam of honking cars filled with Gazans shopping for fuel, food and consumer products.
Earlier Saturday, dozens of riot police had formed human chains to block the two passages cut through the breached border, before giving up and allowing the cars to cross into the Egyptian side of the divided town. Authorities were making renewed efforts, however, to keep them out of the rest of the country.
The deployment marked the second attempt by Egypt in two days to regain control over the border.
Egyptian police set up checkpoints after the border, and Palestinians could drive no further than the coastal town of El Arish, about 35 kilometers from Gaza. In getting to El Arish, Palestinian motorists had to use side roads to avoid Egyptian police checkpoints.
Israel, meanwhile, expressed growing concern about the possible influx of Palestinian militants into areas of Egypt that border Israel. The Israeli military announced Saturday that its troops are on heightened alert along the Egypt-Israel border, and that an Israeli road and tourism sites in the area are temporarily closed.
On Friday, Egyptian police abandoned their positions after failing to reseal the breached frontier with human chains, guard dogs and water cannons.
In a direct challenge to Cairo, Hamas militants on Friday morning used a bulldozer to knock over a new section of the border wall. Hamas vowed to keep breaches in the border wall open until crossings into the Strip are reopened.
"The gaps shouldn't be closed because they provide urgent assistance to the Palestinians," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Egyptian security personnel had initially deployed Friday along the border in a human chain - in some places as many as nine rows deep - and Palestinians were reportedly told the frontier would be sealed by 7 P.M. local time.
Clashes ensued however, and Egyptian forces took up positions a few steps into Palestinian territory, using shields to protect themselves from some Gazans who climbed atop car roofs and threw stones at them. Witnesses said a photographer was lightly injured in the clash.
At one point guards aimed a water cannon above the heads of people, not at them, to keep them back.
An Egyptian soldier was reported slightly wounded in the leg, likely from gunshots fired by Hamas militiamen sporadically from the Gazan side, said an Egyptian officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media.
Five policemen were also injured by stones hurled by Gazans protesting the attempts to restrict their movement into Egypt.
By mid-afternoon, Egypt eased up on the attempts to restrict the cross-border movement. Hundreds of riot police suddenly left a border crossing at Rafah, to march back into the Egyptian side of the divided town, and Gazans again streamed by the hundreds through the regular crossing.
Mubarak: Gaza situation unacceptable, Israel must lift siege
In an interview published Friday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the situation in Gaza unacceptable and called on Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on all crossings into Gaza last week.
"They should get things back to normal according to previous agreements and understandings," Mubarak told the weekly Al-Osboa. He also invited rival Palestinian factions to Cairo for talks, but did not mention a date.
Yousef Mohammed, 17, from Gaza, said he had waited until Friday to make the trip because he was trying to get together enough money first to shop in Egypt. "They don't want us to go in," he said, pointing at the riot police.
Egyptian Amira Ali, 39, carrying her toddler son and holding a 6-year-old son by the hand, said she wants to visit her mother-in-law in Gaza. "Of course, I'm afraid [of being trapped in Gaza], but will try to go for a while so my mother-in-law can see the kids," she said.
The opening of the border, even if temporary, provided a significant popularity boost to Gaza's Hamas rulers, who can claim they successfully broke through the internationally supported Israeli closure that has deprived the coastal strip of normal trade and commerce for nearly two years.
Both Egypt and Israel restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza after Hamas won parliament elections in 2006, and further tightened the closure after Hamas seized control of the area by force last June.
IDF closes hiking trails, tourist sites near border
The Israel Defense Forces announced a temporary closure of all tourist trails and sites near the Israel-Egypt border early on Saturday. The moves comes as defense officials warn of possible terrorist attacks emanating from Sinai.
Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have used the newly open border with Egypt to send numerous terrorists into the Sinai peninsula over the last two days, with the goal of then sending them from Sinai into Israel to commit attacks, defense officials said Thursday.
As a result, the section of Highway 10 abutting the Israel-Egypt border has been blocked to traffic. In addition, authorities have sealed off hiker trails, including the Agur Sands, Be'er Milha, the Be'erotaim area, the Azuz region, Burot Lotz, Nahal Akrav, Nahal Eilot, Har Ramon, the Arod passage, Har Sagi, Har Karkum, Sha'ar Znifim, the Eilat hills, Ein Netafim, Nahal Zfahot, Nahal Shlomo, Nahal Yehosafat, Nahal Gershon, Nahal Shani, and Hakenyon Headom.
The IDF, the police and the Shin Bet security service have consequently beefed up their forces and their alert level along the Israeli-Egyptian border in an effort to thwart infiltrations. Should terrorists succeed in entering Israel from Sinai, one defense official said, they might commit suicide bombings, kidnap soldiers or civilians, or attack small agricultural communities or military outposts.
In addition, the counterterrorism unit in the Prime Minister's Office warned Israelis against visiting Sinai and urged those who are already there to leave, since the flow of terrorists from Gaza also increases the likelihood of terror attacks in Sinai's tourist resorts. Egypt is also worried about the possibility of terror attacks in Sinai.
One member of the counterterrorism unit noted that the open border not only enables terrorists to enter Sinai, but would also make it easier for them to smuggle an abducted Israeli back into Gaza.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Holocaust - UN chief Ban says 'never again' but does nothing to back his words

What Ban said:
Ban said in a statement in advance of Monday's event that the UN stands in solidarity with Holocaust victims and their families around the world.
"To those who claim that the Holocaust never happened, or has been exaggerated, we respond by reiterating our determination to honor the memory of every innocent man, woman and child murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices," Ban said.
"We mourn the systematic genocide of one-third of the Jewish people, along with members of minorities, which deprived the world of untold contributions," he said.
He called for a "sense of vigilance" and measures to thwart intolerance from happening again. The UN celebrates this year the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Ban said will be an occasion to again remind the world of the Holocaust. 
Do measures to "thwart intolerance from happening again" include organizing the Durban II anti-Zionist conference?
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 02:49 26/01/2008       
In remembrance of Holocaust, UN chief Ban says 'never again'
By Haaretz Service and News Agencies
The UN General Assembly will observe on Monday the third international day to commemorate victims of the Holocaust with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling on the world never to let it happen again.
The 192-nation body declared three years ago that each January 27 will be the International Day in Memory of Holocaust Victims. It was the first time since the end of World War II that the UN recognized the killing of an estimated 6 million Jews and minorities by Nazi Germany.
Germany nominated the day as a national day of commemoration in 1996, while the UN named the date International Holocaust Remembrance Day in November 2005.
On Monday, the assembly will hear addresses by survivors of Nazi death camps, including US Congressman Tom Lantos, and a concert by the Tel Aviv University Symphony conducted by Zubin Mehta. The UN plans also to issue a special stamp to mark the day.
Ban said in a statement in advance of Monday's event that the UN stands in solidarity with Holocaust victims and their families around the world.
"To those who claim that the Holocaust never happened, or has been exaggerated, we respond by reiterating our determination to honor the memory of every innocent man, woman and child murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices," Ban said.
"We mourn the systematic genocide of one-third of the Jewish people, along with members of minorities, which deprived the world of untold contributions," he said.
He called for a "sense of vigilance" and measures to thwart intolerance from happening again. The UN celebrates this year the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Ban said will be an occasion to again remind the world of the Holocaust.
"Let us never take our human rights for granted," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said it was a miracle that Jewish life had returned to Germany 63 years after the Holocaust. The chancellor spoke ahead of an international Holocaust remembrance day to be marked Sunday.
Still, during a speech at a conference in Berlin, she voiced concern that "anti-Semitism and anti-foreigner sentiment survive today," and that even educated people were susceptible to crude thoughts and disguised anti-Semitism.
Earlier Friday, in a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Nazi genocide, the President of the German parliament (Bundestag) Norbert Lammert said that it was "shaming" that Jewish institutions still require special police protection.
"We remember an unthinkable crime against humanity and a systematic mass murder," Lammert said.
"After the bitter experiences of the last century, we do not tolerate any kind of extremism, racism and anti-Semitism - nowhere in the world and especially not in Germany," Lammert added.
Excerpts from writings by Czech author Lenka Reinerova were read aloud in the parliamentary session, which was attended by Merkel as well as German President Horst Koehler.
The United Nations established January 27 as an annual Holocaust remembrance day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.
The day, which falls on a Sunday this year, was marked across Germany on Friday.
Former Israeli ambassador to Germany Avi Primor praised the way the country has confronted its Nazi past, saying at the state parliament of Thuringia "where have you ever in the world seen a nation that puts up memorials to commemorate its own shame?"
"Only the Germans have had the courage and the humility," he added.
Writing in the national daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung Friday, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, said the Holocaust had led directly to the founding of the state of Israel.
"The existence of Israel as a Jewish state continued to be questioned in Europe, even though Israel was the only country in the region that had maintained a stable democracy for 60 years," Lauder said.
Lauder warned against ignoring the dangers from Iran and its nuclear program.

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Egypt trying to force Fatah acceptance of Hamas, Abbas refuses

At the prompting of Saudi Arabia, Egypt has been consistent in urging Fatah to accept Hamas hegemony in a unity government, undermining the American initiated peace talks and the government of Abbas. Abbas has so far been steadfast, but it won't be easy to remain so for long.
 Last update - 15:51 26/01/2008       
Abbas: No talks with Hamas despite Gaza border chaos
By News Agencies
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday stuck to his tough conditions for resuming contacts with Hamas, despite attempts by Egypt to bring the rivals together to solve the growing chaos on the Gaza-Egypt border.
In a speech Saturday, Abbas denounced the Hamas takeover of Gaza as a crime and said the Islamic militants must reverse these steps if they want to resume talks with him.
On Friday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had proposed in a newspaper interview that representatives of Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement come to Cairo for talks. Abbas made no mention of that offer, and instead reiterated his plan to have his forces deploy on the Gaza crossings, instead of Hamas.
Mubarak's offer came as Egypt was enduring an influx of hundreds of thousands of Gazans through its border with Gaza Strip since Wednesday, when Hamas militants blew up segments of the border wall separating the area from Egypt.
Hamas on Friday accepted Mubarak's offer to host talks, while Abbas' representative in Egypt, Nabil Shaath, told reporters that Fatah has made no decision on the invitation.
Hamas hardliner Sami Abu Zuhri accused Abbas of trying to bypass Hamas. "His statements are a rejection of the Egyptian initiative," Abu Zuhri said of Abbas.
Abbas' position was clear, Shaath said. "Fatah was always ready for dialogue, but what was important was the result of such talks. And a result cannot be achieved unless Hamas announces its readiness to let go of military control of Gaza," he added.
Shaath also said Abbas will head to Egypt after meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday and would talk more here about Mubarak's offer.
Mubarak's offer was made in an apparent effort to raise his country's role as Mideast peace broker and ease the pressure following an influx of Palestinians into Egypt from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In an interview for Saturday's edition of the Egyptian weekly al-Osboa, Mubarak said he wants peace between the Palestinians.
"I want this language of violence to stop," Mubarak was quoted as saying by the state MENA news agency. "Peace could be achieved on the basis of international resolutions and agreements that demand the establishment of Palestinian state."
Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal said Friday "I and all the brothers in the Hamas leadership welcome participating and will seek to make the dialogue a success."
Hamas and Fatah broke ranks after fighters loyal to Hamas forcibly seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas' ruling Fatah faction last June. The clashes between the two shattered a Saudi-sponsored Mecca deal brokered last February.
Egypt has failed to stem the flow of Gazans into its territory, or manage the chaotic border situation, despite deploying reinforcement. Egypt has long feared the instability in the Hamas-controlled Gaza could spill over into Egypt, and has been distancing itself from Hamas. The last time Hamas and Fatah met for talks in Cairo was in Feb. 2005.
Earlier this month, Hamas Premier Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza called for talks with Egypt and Fatah, to work out a new shared arrangement for Gaza's border crossings. At the time, Haniyeh suggested Hamas would be prepared to cede some control to the Abbas government in the West Bank.
In Syria Friday, radical Palestinian factions called on the two rival Palestinian groups to begin dialogue and end their power struggle. A statement at the end of the three-day National Palestinian Conference of factions opposed to peace with Israel stressed the need for Palestinians to unite in the face of the worsening Gaza situation, which they ascribed to Israel's siege.
Dialogue is the only way to solve inter-Palestinian differences, the groups said.

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Another day, another Palestiian stabbing.

Are we seeing a new pattern?
Last update - 12:43 26/01/2008       
Palestinian stabs Border Policeman in north Jerusalem attack
By Avi Issacharoff, Amos Harel, Yuval Azoulay and Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service
A Palestinian armed with a knife stabbed a Border Policeman on duty near the Atarot industrial area in northern Jerusalem, Israel Radio reported on Saturday. Policemen nearby opened fire at the Palestinian, who was seriously injured.
The stabbed policeman, who suffered light to moderate wounds, and the Palestinian are currently receiving treatment at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.
According to Israel Radio, a group of Border Policemen was sitting in a patrol jeep when it asked to check the person of a Palestinian passerby in order to determine if he was armed.
The Palestinian approached the jeep, proceeded to stab the policeman in the driver's seat, and attempted to stab a policewoman sitting in the rear passenger seat, Israel Radio said.
A struggle ensued between the policewoman and the assailant before the crew commander on the site opened fire, wounding the Palestinian.
The attack is the third to take place in the Jerusalem area within the last 48 hours. Two armed Palestinians infiltrated a yeshiva in the nearby settlement of Kfar Etzion on Thursday night, wounding three civilians.

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AJC Memo about Obama - more smoke?

Another article that produces more heat than light. Obama, and his detractors, could dissipate the fog simply by making their positions clear instead of issuing general statements along the lines of "good for the Jews" or "bad for the Jews." But Obama is doing nothing of the kind, and his detractors seem to concentrate on trivia and generalities.
Ami Isseroff
Internal Memo Takes On Obama's Mideast Approach

By Jennifer Siegel
Wed. Jan 23, 2008

A confidential memo questioning Senator Barack Obama's potential approach to Middle East policy was distributed earlier this month among staffers at a major American Jewish organization.
Obama's approach to dealing with Iran "raises questions," said the document, which circulated within the American Jewish Committee. It also suggested that Obama placed the burden of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict primarily on the Jewish state.
The memo, a copy of which was given to the Forward, was written by Debra Feuer, the AJCommittee's counsel for special projects. It also contained information about the Republican winner in the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee.
After receiving questions from the Forward, top officials at the AJCommittee contacted Obama last Sunday. They sent a letter stating that "no element" of the memo "should be considered a position of the American Jewish Committee" and expressing "regret" that the document became public. Several days later, the AJCommittee disavowed the document in stronger terms, saying that it "contained inaccuracies" in a public statement.
The memo comes to light less than three weeks before February 5, when the vast majority of the country's Jewish Democrats will vote in primary elections held by New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Illinois.
As that date approaches, Obama has found himself at the center of several public exchanges concerning his personal associations, his background and his commitment to Israel. Earlier this month, the Chicago lawmaker responded to revived concerns about links between Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the senator's personal pastor, even as a number of Jewish senators and major Jewish organizations — including the AJCommittee — publicly denounced an e-mail smear campaign that falsely accused Obama of secretly being a Muslim. Meanwhile, as reports have surfaced in recent weeks that Republicans planned to question Obama's commitment to Israel, the senator found several unlikely defenders, including the editorial page of the staunchly conservative New York Sun.
Advocates for the senator point out that over the years, he has courted and received strong backing from the Chicago Jewish community and has built a strong pro-Israel record. Last March, he gave the first foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign before a meeting of a pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
But even as officials at the AJCommittee have repudiated the leaked memo as rushed and inaccurate, it betrays a quiet unease about Obama's potential Middle East strategy that still lingers in some pockets of the Jewish community.
Quoting Obama's much buzzed-about statement early in the campaign that "no one has suffered more than the Palestinians," Feuer questioned the lawmaker's potential as a peace broker.
"He appears to believe the Israelis bear the burden of taking the risky steps for peace, and that the violence Israel has received in return does not shift that burden," Feuer wrote.
She also expressed concern about Obama's emphasis on diplomacy, particularly in dealing with Iran and other "rogue states."
"The Senator's interpretation of the NIE raises questions," Feuer wrote, referring to the new National Intelligence Estimate, released in November 2007, which determined that Iran had halted its alleged nuclear weapons program in 2003. While Feuer did not explicitly elaborate further, she included a number of statements Obama has made that encourage diplomatic engagement with Tehran and are critical of the Bush administration.
Feuer also noted Obama's presence at a fundraiser headlined in 1998 by the now late Edward Said, and of public suggestions by Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based Palestinian activist, that the senator was more openly critical of America's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before his first run for Senate.
The memo also includes several pages of statements by Huckabee on Middle East issues, without editorial comment on those policies but noting the "overtly Christian" nature of Huckabee's campaign.
Officials at the AJCommittee have rushed to repair the fallout from the memo, which cast the nonpartisan group in an uncomfortable role as campaign critic. Earlier this month, the AJCommittee took the lead in speaking out against the rumors targeting Obama.
"We regret any inaccuracies that the memorandum, prepared from open sources on a tight deadline immediately after the caucuses — and never intended for publication — might have contained," wrote Richard Sideman and David Harris, respectively AJCommittee's president and executive director, in a letter sent to Obama on January 20.
The Obama campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In an interview with the Forward, one of the senator's chief backers, Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, argued that the memo reflected "political bias on the part of the drafter of the memo, rather than the facts."
Wexler, who chairs Obama's campaign in Florida, said he took particular issue with the idea that Obama's calls for diplomacy should cause alarm within Jewish circles, given that a number of Jewish lawmakers have advocated the same position.
"The whole notion that if a lawmaker supports renewed diplomacy with Iran, that that somehow suggests a position that the American Jewish community should be concerned about — well, put me on the top of that list," Wexler said. "Put Tom Lantos on the top of that list, put Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman on the top of that list."
Wed. Jan 23, 2008

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Lies about Obama may be effective

The campaign of lies about Barack Obama may be effective. The worst damage it does, is that it masks the real issues by raising infantile red herring charges - that he is or was a secret Muslim. The real issues about Obama's foreign policy are: Who are his advisers? How do they view the threat of Islamist terror? Is his proposal to withdraw from Iraq sound policy? Is dialogue with Iran a policy or a tactic? What role will people with the views of Pastor Wright have in his administration?
These questions are lost in trivial arguments about whether he did or did not put his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance, nonsense about Muslim religion etc.
Ami Isseroff 
Campaign Of Falsehoods On Obama Seen Sticking
On eve of Florida primary, signs that e-mail blitz charging Muslim background gaining traction among Jews.
    Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is fighting back against the innuendos, distributing this week an "open letter to the Jewish community" from seven Jewish Democratic Senate colleagues condemning the "abhorrent" tactics.
by James D. Besser
Washington Correspondent
When Doug Bloomfield, a columnist for Jewish newspapers and popular lecturer on the pro-Israel circuit, spoke in south Florida last week, he was astonished by what he encountered.
Anonymous e-mails and not-so-anonymous charges by some Jewish leaders about Sen. Barack Obama's alleged Muslim past have started gaining real traction in the increasingly furious battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, he said.
"I was really shocked by the number of people who took these things seriously," Bloomfield said this week. "One man said to me: how do you know he's not a 'Muslim plant'; another used the words 'Manchurian Candidate.'"
Bloomfield said he tried to "dispel what I see as a concerted hate campaign, coming largely from the Jewish right," in
Lasko Family Tours
his speech.
"But people were very skeptical; they said, 'how do you know he's not a Muslim?"
There are no measures of how deeply the anti-Obama campaign has penetrated the Jewish electorate. But Bloomfield, for one, came away saying, "I think it will have an impact on the way people vote."
He is not alone. Jewish leaders in diverse parts of the country say the year-old campaign to pillory Obama based on the four childhood years he spent in Indonesia and the fact his stepfather was a secular Muslim continues, despite intensifying efforts by the Obama campaign to reaffirm his friendship with the Jewish community and tout his credentials as an active Christian.
Last week, a group of top Jewish leaders representing groups across the religious and political spectrum issued a statement that sought to stem the onslaught of disinformation.
Leaders of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, among others suggested the anti-Obama campaign represented an effort to "drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion." The group stressed their statement implied no endorsement of Obama's candidacy.
Other signers included leaders of the United Jewish Communities, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Newsweek magazine also published a "Fact Check" online two weeks ago examining and debunking the charges. And the Obama campaign itself is fighting back hard via press releases, public statements and distribution this week of an "open letter to the Jewish community" from seven Jewish Democratic Senate colleagues.
"Over the past several weeks, many in the Jewish community have received hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo about Senator Barack Obama's religion and attack him personally," the Jewish lawmakers wrote. "As Jewish United States Senators who have not endorsed a candidate for the Democratic nomination, we condemn these scurrilous attacks. We find it particularly abhorrent that these attacks are apparently being sent specifically to the Jewish community. Jews, who have historically been the target of such attacks, should be the first to reject these tactics."
The letter, written by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Missing from the letter: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a leading supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton's Democratic nomination bid, and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.). Two calls to Schumer's office seeking information on his absence from the letter were not returned. An Obama campaign source said a decision had been made to stick with senators who were not backing any presidential candidate.
Such proclamations have not staunched the flood of e-mails, which cite Obama's childhood experiences between the ages of 6 and 10 in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Some messages state falsely that Obama attended a "Wahabi madrassa," or fundamentalist Muslim religious school, while there — a claim investigated and debunked by CNN, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, among others.
Other messages suggest Obama's exposure to Muslim culture and a Muslim stepfather implanted within him a pro-Muslim bias that would make him a big risk as U.S. president in an age of Islamic terrorism. They ignore Indonesia's long history as home of one of the world's most moderate forms of Islam and his stepfather's lax observance of his own religion.
In fact, since his 2004 arrival in the Senate, Obama has strongly backed Israel on issues ranging from its bombing of Lebanon during the war of summer 2006, which killed hundreds of civilians, to its right to be free of U.S. pressure in negotiating with its enemies. The neoconservative New York Sun, among others, has praised Obama for his strong support of the Jewish state and sharply rebutted critics who charge otherwise. Lee Rosenberg, national treasurer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Washington-based pro-Israel lobby, is a member of Obama's finance committee and a longtime supporter, as is billionaire Jewish philanthropist and pro-Israel stalwart Lester Crowne of Chicago.
Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama's early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.
"In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a 'pintele Yid' — a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one's roots," Ganchrow wrote. "With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a 'pintele Muslim,' with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?"
In an interview, Ganchrow conceded he had no evidence that the Democratic contender is influenced by Muslim theology or that he would be hostile to Israel.
"I just have this question in my mind" about Obama, he said. "I don't know what's in this man's heart and mind." He said his concerns are based on a "feeling in my gut; you can't quantify it." And he said there's little Obama can do to change that feeling.
"What's he going to say?" asked Ganchrow. "That he doesn't beat his mother?"
Rabbi Jack Moline, spiritual leader of a Conservative synagogue in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., said he sees some of the same receptivity to unfounded charges about the religious views of presidential candidates in his own congregation — which is known for a well-educated, politically connected membership.
Rabbi Moline was so concerned that this week he wrote a letter to congregants warning against the rumor attacks.
"This stuff is scurrilous," he told The Jewish Week. "Anybody who writes it is a criminal, anybody who passes it on is an accomplice and anybody who believes it is a bigot."
But the Obama rumors are getting traction because a candidate's religion is becoming fair game in an increasingly bitter political climate and because "political operatives understand that that kind of language gets traction in the Jewish community, even if the charges are completely false," Rabbi Moline said.
"We have a lot of self-examination and self-correction to do," he said. "This stuff wouldn't be out there if people didn't think it would get traction."
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said it is important to examine the Obama rumors in the broader context of today's bitter, unrestrained political environment.
"I've said consistently that this campaign will turn out to be one of the dirtiest campaigns in American history, and the first few weeks prove it," Sabato told The Jewish Week. "Obama has borne a disgusting burden so far — attacks on his race that are worthy of the 1950s, and complete lies about his supposed 'Muslim religion.'"
Sabato put part of the blame on the "mainstream media [which] has not done nearly enough to root out the perpetrators."
He said suspicions about Obama's religion may compound a racial divide in the campaign in which many white Democrats are simply reluctant to vote for a black presidential candidate.
"A lot of Jewish leaders have spoken out," lamented one such leader. "But there's no evidence they've had much of an impact."

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Obama and Israel: The Audacity of Criticism

A thoughtful article about Barack Obama. The campaign of lies produced a sympathetic backlash. But that is not a sufficient reason to vote for him. The fact that he asked Ambassador Khalilzad to ensure that any UN resolution about Gaza would condemn the Qassam attacks is a big point in his favor, but what is his record in non-campaign years?
His policy regarding Iran is dialog, but dialog is not a policy in itself. What will he say in the dialog? What will he do if it fails?
Ami Isseroff
The Audacity of Criticism
By Jonathan Tobin

Scurrilous rumors about Obama are wrong, but reasonable questions need answers
African-Americans and Jews were joined in a relationship long characterized by mutual respect and shared commitment to civil rights. But it was also one that often foundered on the sensitivities and resentments that both groups often could not rise above.

Yet now that the civil-rights movement, as well as fights over affirmative action and other hot-button issues, have faded from the top of the national agenda, blacks and Jews most often have little to do with each other.

But the presidential campaign of the first serious African-American contender for the White House has brought some of the old sensitivities and fears back to the surface.
Sen. Barack Obama's amazing climb from relative obscurity to the pinnacle of American politics is something that all Americans can feel good about. It is one thing to say that any American can grow up to be president, and another to see a black man have a more than reasonable shot at doing just that. Agree or disagree with his politics, but his ability to employ an uplifting brand of political rhetoric is an asset for any would-be president.

But for all the optimism the Obama campaign has generated, the bitter infighting among Democrats — as Sen. Hillary Clinton and her campaign teammate and spouse Bill pull out the stops to win the presidency for her — indicates that race is still a very touchy issue in 2008 America.

As soon as Obama began his run, Internet rumors about him began to spread like wildfire. The fact that he had a Muslim father and spent part of his early life in Indonesia led many to buy into the notion that he is himself a Muslim, was educated in a fundamentalist madrassa, and even that he took his oath of office to the U.S. Senate on a Koran. On the fever swamps of the right, he was denounced as a jihadi mole and latter-day "Manchurian Candidate" subverting America.

The truth is that Obama is a practicing Christian. And he is far more a product of Columbia and Harvard, as well as of the same popular culture of the 1970s and '80s on which most Americans were reared, than the Indonesian schools where he spent a portion of his youth.

But it was no surprise that amid all the acrimony of this campaign, the organized Jewish world felt it must speak up strongly in Obama's defense. Last week, the heads of nine of the most influential national Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the United Jewish Communities, signed a joint letter denouncing the rumors about Obama.

Why, despite the fact that such groups usually avoid intervening in partisan tangles, did they do it?

As their statement indicated, the rumors about Obama were clearly intended to "drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate" because of "religion." They knew that the effort to pigeonhole Obama as a sympathizer with Islamists on the basis of innuendo would poison the view of him in the Jewish community as well as black-Jewish relations.

Though urban legends such as those are almost impossible to eradicate, the groups were right to take a stand. But when substantive questions were raised about Obama's associations, the reaction from some Jews was to treat them as being just as noxious as any lie.

Thus, when Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote last week about the troubling facts about Obama's membership in a Chicago church, whose pastor was a friend and supporter of Louis Farrakhan, the racist and anti-Semitic head of the Nation of Islam, he raised a question that some people didn't want to hear.

In response to queries about his closeness with Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose Trumpet magazine once lauded Farrakhan as a man who "truly epitomized greatness," Obama subsequently made it clear that he didn't agree with his church and strongly condemned Farrakhan. The candidate repeated his disgust with anti-Semitism in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech in King's own Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

That was more than enough for the ADL. And though some might still ask why he belonged to such a church (would any candidate get away with belonging to, say, a country club that practiced or advocated discrimination?), the case seemed closed.

However, what was equally interesting was the response to Cohen, a liberal anchor of the Post's Op-Ed page, from some on the left.

Novelist Michael Chabon wrote on that merely raising any questions about Obama and Farrakhan was itself illegitimate, even if the facts of this case were not Internet rumors. For Chabon, simply putting the words Obama and Farrakhan in the same article was "fear-mongering" and using the tactics of "propagandists of hatred." Chabon seemed to feel that anything written about a black that might alienate him from Jews was part of a racist mindset.

So for all the distance we have traveled toward King's vision of a colorblind society, it appears that some view any questions about a black as inherently tainted by prejudice. This is the same sort of false sensitivity that turned an otherwise unexceptionable statement from Hillary Clinton about the roles of both King and President Lyndon Johnson's in passing civil-rights legislation into a controversy.

But if Barack Obama is to be elected president, he can't be treated as a racial icon who must be treated with kid gloves and spared the examination to which other contenders must submit.

Jews and anyone else who oppose him simply because his father was a Muslim from Kenya offend the spirit of American democracy. But Jews like Chabon, himself a virulent foe of Israel, who insist that not even reasonable questions about his associations should be raised, are just as wrong. There are good reasons for Democrats to like Obama, but there are also serious worries about him.
Rather than obsessing about the religion of his father, we should be probing his inexperience and foolishly simplistic takes on Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Instead of the non-influence of a long-ago stay in a madrassa, Democrats need to be asking about the presence of confirmed Israel-bashers among his advisers, such as Jimmy Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brezhinski, and Robert Malley, a Clinton-administration staffer who's been a relentless apologist for Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians.

Candidate Obama can answer these questions just as he did the Farrakhan query, with statements that indicate that he, too, understands that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard really are terrorists, and that a precipitous skedaddle from Iraq would leave both the United States and Israel seriously weakened. A President Obama can debunk the accusations by fighting the Islamists, backing Israel against its foes and renouncing unfair pressure on it to make concessions to terrorists.

Concern about racism should motivate us to speak out when Obama or any African-American is treated unfairly. But even though black-Jewish relations remain sensitive, that shouldn't silence questions about a man who may well become president. 

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Border policeman killed, 4 hurt in Jerusalem and W. Bank terror attacks.

Last update - 01:25 25/01/2008    
 Policeman killed, 4 hurt in two W. Bank terror attacks 
By Amos Harel, Yuval Azoulay, and Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondents

A Border Policeman was killed and a policewoman was seriously wounded in a terror shooting attack Thursday night as Palestinian gunmen fired toward the Ras Hamis checkpoint near the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.
Magen David Adom emergency medical services rushed to the scene and attempted to treat the victims. The policeman was pronounced dead at the scene after efforts to resuscitate him were for naught. The policewoman was evacuated to Hadassah Hospital, Ein Karem for treatment.
The Palestinian news agency Maan reported that a previously unknown organization, the Return and Struggle Brigades, had claimed responsibility for the attack. The organization said it was affiliated with Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

In a separate incident in the Kfar Etzion settlement in the West Bank near Jerusalem, three civilians were hurt after Palestinian militants infiltrated a yeshiva in the community and began stabbing students.
The checkpoint at which the shooting took place served as a pedestrian crossing point between the refugee camp and the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood of Jerusalem. At the time of the shooting, the checkpoint was manned by two Border Police officers.
"This is a serious incident and we will do everything in order to capture the killers," Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen said. "The passages are a serious Achilles heel."
According to an initial report on the Kfar Etzion stabbing incident, the two assailants entered the yeshiva building, one armed with a gun and the other with a knife. They were met by a group of students and one counselor who tried to subdue the attackers. A struggle erupted at the scene and one man was moderately hurt while two others suffered light stab wounds.
The counselor shot and killed the two assailants.
Cohen added that there is no connection between the two attacks.
Large military forces under the command of Colonel Nir Salomon arrived on the scene to investigate the incidents. Authorities will try to piece together the sequence of events in order to figure out how two terrorists managed to enter the grounds of the yeshiva. Magen David Adom ambulances were also summoned to the area.
"Israel continues to wage an unending battle against Palestinian terror which is fueled by extremists and rejectionism," David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said in response.
Jerusalem District Police chief Aharon Franco announced prior to the attacks late Thursday that, in light of the escalation of hostilities along the Gaza front, security forces have raised the level of alert, particularly in the run-up to Friday prayers on the Temple Mount.
Franco said the circumstances of the shooting attack remain unclear, though he believes that one or more terrorists arrived at the checkpoint and opened fire in the direction of the two Border Policemen. Franco added that one of the policemen's weapons is missing.
The Jerusalem police chief said that the checkpoint is manned round the clock, "as required by a High Court decision in order to enable traffic to move from the Shuafat refugee camp."
Were the decision left to the police, Franco added, the checkpoint would not be manned at night, and pedestrian traffic would be re-routed through the Shuafat checkpoint, which is situated close to 200 meters from the checkpoint where the shooting took place.
According to Franco, the Ras Hamis checkpoint where the shooting occurred is more accomodating, people-friendly, and safer. Franco said dozens of people pass through the checkpoint each day.
"We respect all decisions made by the Supreme Court, and I have no doubt that if we need to change the way in which we man the checkpoints, we will change it," police chief Cohen said.

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Israel Consulate in N.Y. displays one balloon for each Qassam - 4,200 in all

Last update - 23:59 24/01/2008

Israeli mission in N.Y. displays 4,200 balloons for each Qassam

By Haaretz Service

As the United Nations Security Council deliberates over the crisis in Gaza, the Israeli Consulate in New York organized a display featuring 4,200 red balloons - each balloon symbolizing a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians at Sderot and nearby communities since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - in front of UN headquarters on Thursday.
"The object of the display is to highlight the suffering of the residents of Sderot to the world," said David Saranga, the Media and Public Affairs Consul who introduced the idea. "To this day, all efforts at bringing this issue onto the U.S. media agenda have not succeeded. On the contrary, recently the coverage of the suffering of the people in Gaza has increased in the wake of Israel's measures."
Saranga said the purpose of the display is "to emphasize the incessant barrage of Qassam rockets and to call on the international community to stop ignoring what takes place in Israel."

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Yad Vashem opens Arabic Web site

Teaching about the Holocaust - in Arabic
Last update - 19:35 24/01/2008    
 Yad Vashem launches Arabic Web site to combat Holocaust denial 
By The Associated Press 
The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday launched an Arabic version of its Web site, including vivid photos of Nazi atrocities and video of survivor testimony, to combat Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world.
Among those featured on the site is Dina Beitler, a survivor of the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews in World War II. Beitler, who was shot and left for dead in a pit of bodies in 1941, recalls her story on the site, with Arabic subtitles.
"Holocaust denial in various countries exists, and so it is important that people see us, the Holocaust survivors, that they'll listen to our testimonies, and learn the legacy of the Holocaust - also in Arabic," Beitler, 73, said at Yad Vashem on Thursday.
Last year, Yad Vashem presented a similar version of its Web site in Farsi, aimed at Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called the Holocaust a myth and said Israel should be wiped off the map. He has also hosted a conference that questioned whether the Holocaust took place.
On the Arab street, many are indeed hostile to Israel, but Ahmadinejad's comments stand out as much harsher than those of any mainstream Mideast leaders.
A wide range of sentiments toward the Holocaust exists across the Arab world, from simple ignorance about its details to outright denial, to a more complicated belief - often expressed by many Arabs - that the Holocaust did indeed happen but does not justify what is viewed as Israeli persecution of Palestinians.
Nazi literature is accessible in many Arab cities and some of the media engage in anti-Semitic incitement. However, even Iran last year permitted the broadcast of a television miniseries that told the tale of an Iranian diplomat in Paris who helped Jews escape the Holocaust - and viewers were riveted.
"Still, Holocaust denial is quite common," said Edward Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
"Students often write their Ph.D. theses denying the Holocaust," he said. "Children are taught by elders that the Holocaust was a hoax. It's widespread in big universities in Cairo, so that means it's probably as common in the small ones in the rest of the country as well."
The problem also exists in Israel.
Last March, a poll showed that 28 percent of Israel's Arab citizens did not believe the Holocaust happened, and that among high school and college graduates the figure was even higher - 33 percent.
The poll, conducted by Sami Smooha, a prominent sociologist at the University of Haifa, surveyed 721 Arabs and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
Raleb Majadele, Israel's lone Arab Cabinet minister, said the Yad Vashem site was imperative in battling that trend. The Internet is difficult to block with barriers of censorship and hate. "From now on, also Arabic speakers will be able to learn the truth about the Holocaust," he said.
Speaking in Hebrew at the ceremony marking the site's launching, he called the Holocaust a horrific act against the Jewish people, but not just against the Jewish people. "It was against humanity, against all nations, against all religions."
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said Arabic-language Holocaust education was long overdue.
"Providing an easily accessible and comprehensive Web site about the Holocaust in Arabic is crucial," he said. "We want to offer an alternative source of information to moderates in these countries, to provide them with reliable information."
The site also includes chapters about Albanian and Turkish Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II, a film that documents a recent joint visit of Jews and Arabs to the Auschwitz death camp and a 25-minute video address by Prince Hassan of Jordan.
"All the children of Abraham feel a sense of enormous distress at the Holocaust, which afflicted one of the branches of our interlinked family," he said in Arabic.
In 2007, Yad Vashem said nearly 7 million people, from more than 200 countries, visited its Web site.
Some 56,000 of those came from Muslim countries, including 32,500 from Arabic-speaking countries. Yad Vashem said it hoped the new Arabic site would increase that number drastically and said it had discovered encouraging findings that indicated there was a large demand.

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Hizb ut Tahrir is back in Palestinian areas

Most of the information in this article is wrong, but the basic facts are correct. Hizb ut Tahrir means "party of liberation." It was founded by Palestinians, but its main focus of activity has been central and east asia, including Uzbekistan. It is generally not violent, but its web sites publish "Kill them wherever you find them" type propaganda. This is not a great group.
Ami Isseroff
Palestinian group sounds like Al Qaeda but forgoes violence
By Ilene R. Prusher Tue Jan 22, 3:00 AM ET
HEBRON, WEST BANK - A new fundamentalist player is emerging in Palestinian politics. The group sounds like Hamas – or even Al Qaeda – but doesn't support suicide bombings or secret militias. In recent months, it has shown it can put tens of thousands of supporters into the streets.
Founded in Jerusalem by a Palestinian-Jordanian judge more than 50 years ago – and once considered a quiet if quirky religious group with a utopian vision of returning to a time when the Muslim world was united – Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation) is now filling a hole left by Hamas in the West Bank.
"They've taken a decision to come out of the closet. The fact that they are out there competing for control of the political vacuum is a new phenomenon," says Ehud Ya'ari, one of the foremost Israeli commentators on Palestinian and Middle Eastern affairs. "There have been a series of rallies in West Bank cities, in which all of sudden they have flexed muscles to show how many people they can get on the street to a demonstration. They've been spending a lot on publishing literature on the caliphate."
He notes that since the group officially eschews violence, preferring instead to wait for some "coup de grace" in the form of a divinely ordained moment of international jihad, Israeli and Palestinian security services have not viewed them as a major threat. But, he quips, "they are not a vegetarian movement."
Active in 45 countries
Indeed, in many of the places where Hizb u-Tahrir is popular – the party says they're active in 45 countries – governments often see them as a feeder organization to more extreme groups.
In interviews here in the West Bank, its leaders and followers say they're winning the hearts and minds of millions with a purer idea: the reestablishment of one united Islamic rule under a caliphate, roughly translated as a successor to the prophet Mohammad.
Though its numbers are hard to measure – and the worldwide movement shuns polls and other Western democratic means – Hizb ut-Tahrir is emerging as a movement with formidable levels of popularity and an alluring ideology that is challenging the very bastions of Palestinian politics.
Hizb ut-Tahrir's influence has grown since Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, took control of Gaza six months ago in a violent coup and split with the West Bank, run by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). During that time, say analysts, Hamas has become less involved in West Bank life, with many of its leaders under arrest by Israel or PA forces.
And, from November's peace conference in Annapolis, Md., to President George Bush's visit here earlier this month, Hizb ut-Tahrir is growing more visible. It has rallied demonstrators to denounce the peace talks with the US and Israel. "There is no place for the illegal discussion of an Israeli-Palestinian process controlled by the United States," says Maher al-Jabari, a Hizb ut-Tahrir member authorized to speak to the press – itself a shift after years of a low-profile approach. "[Fatah leader] Mahmoud Abbas is a friend of Bush and his position is illegitimate. Abbas does not represent Palestine or the Palestinians," he says.
"We accept only Islam in politics and in vision. And we have a powerful secret: to keep out Western ideas and keep to a pure Islamic system," Professor Jabari, who teaches chemical engineering at a college here, explains in an interview in his sprawling, freshly furnished home here in Hebron, a conservative city where Hizb ut-Tahrir's support appears to be among the strongest in the West Bank.
The group is gaining supporters in other cities, too. In August, a major rally in Ramallah drew 20,000 people, according to official estimates. In the same week, demonstrations were held in other Muslim countries where the group is popular, with some 80,000-100,000 people attending a massive gathering in Jakarta, Indonesia. The rallies were called to coincide with the anniversary of the official 1924 dissolution of the caliphate – carried out by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey – following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
Many analysts see the demonstration against the Annapolis peace conference in November, during which Palestinian police killed Hisham al-Baradi, one of Hizb ut-Tahrir's activists, as a major turning point. Mr. Baradi has since been deemed a shahid, or martyr, allowing the group to ratchet up its rhetoric as a group persecuted not just by Israel, but by Palestinian authorities as well.
"We were attacked by the oppressive Palestinian police forces, and one our members was killed," says Mr. Jabari, adding that several hundred of their activists were also arrested in recent months, most of them later released. "They must be afraid of us," he concludes.
No peace talks with Israel
Additional evidence of this, he says, is the arrest of about 30 Hizb ut-Tahrir activists while President Bush was speaking alongside Mr. Abbas in Ramallah on Jan. 10. The activists handed out fliers decrying Bush, Abbas, and any Palestinian working towards a two-state solution alongside Israel. Instead, the group argues that the entire umma, or Islamic nation, should unite to overthrow the Middle East's many Western-backed states, emirates, and kingdoms – none of which, they say, are in line with Muslim ideals.
One of those who was arrested was Abdul-Nasser al-Baradi, the older brother of Hisham, who was killed in November. While Hisham was alive, he convinced Abdul-Nasser of Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideas, the elder Baradi says in an interview at his late brother's home, which he visits daily to help his brother's two surviving widows and seven children. One of them is Izz ed-Din, 14, who says that Hizb ut-Tahrir has the key to succeeding where democracy – which the group openly rejects – has failed.
"I'll give you an example," the high school freshman says. "Islam says if you steal, the punishment is to have your hand cut off. A democratic regime might not come to such a conclusion."
Hizb ut-Tahrir's leaders here say that other Islamic strictures would apply: they would ban the sell of alcohol in public, for example, but non-Muslims would be free to drink it in private and maintain their own religious practices at home.
The boy's uncle, Abdul-Nasser, puts the issue of why Palestinians are turning to Hizb ut-Tahrir into a broader perspective. "It's only natural that people feel threatened by the PA and look at it as a collaborator. People feel the Palestinian Authority is not with the people," he says.
"Hamas started with a similar ideology, but time has proven that the liberation of Palestine is not going to go according to Hamas' route, through resistance." At the same time, he says, Palestinians don't think that the answer lies in Fatah's approach – a negotiated settlement with foreign intervention and aid.
"The only route is with the march of armies under the rule of the caliph," he says. Anything else, including tit-for-tat violence and especially peace talks, is a waste of time. "Talks are not only useless and futile, but they're very destructive. These negotiations are only geared to protect the security of Israel. The majority of people support this view and support Hizb ut-Tahrir, Thank God, even though the media is hiding that."
While it is difficult to determine the depth of Palestinian support for Hizb ut-Tahrir, it's probably not accurate to say the media is trying to obfuscate the movement's rising star.
"Hamas is clearly weakening in the West Bank. The West Bank leadership has been distancing itself dramatically from the Gaza leadership, and we are seeing the reemergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a political player," says Mr. Ya'ari.
James Brandon, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Social Cohesion in London and an expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir, says that party officials worldwide don't advocate or organize violent attacks. "But ... they act as a conveyor belt organization, in which they attract people and radicalize them, and then those people eventually move on, reject the Hizb ut-Tahrir method, and start looking to Al Qaeda."
Growing in the US and Pakistan
He says that the group is growing in Indonesia and Pakistan, but appears to be losing supporters in Britain, where it is headquartered, and where politicians have talked of banning the group because some of its members graduated to organizations involved in acts of terrorism in Britain and elsewhere. Mr. Brandon says that the group, which has been banned in some Central Asian countries, is growing in popularity in the US and in Holland.
"They're quite good at getting followers initially, but it is based on such incremental change that after a while, people get bored with it," Brandon explains. "They tell people, you just have to be patient until we can overthrow all the regimes in Muslim or Arab lands. Whereas in Palestine, people have tried asserting their national or religious identity with existing groups and this hasn't worked, so maybe the attitude is, 'let's try something new.' "
The group may also have growing appeal in some countries because its pan-Islamic message can be translated into a promise to heal the Shiite-Sunni rift that opened in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Hizb ut-Tahrir's leader, Sheikh Atta Abu Rishta, reportedly lives in Lebanon but does not make regular media appearances. Jabari, the spokesman in Hebron, notes with some pride there is no cult of personality surrounding their leader and one will not find a picture of him or any other Hizb ut-Tahrir leader tacked on the wall of a home or office, as is common with other religious and political parties in the Middle East. Until there is a caliph, which means literally "successor" or "representative" of the prophet Mohammad, he says, no man's image belongs on the wall.

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Egypt pledges to seal Gaza border - or will they?

Other sources state explicitly that Egypt refuses to close the border. Which is true?
Time will tell.


Egypt pledges to seal Gaza border

Published: January 24, 2008, 09:38


Washington: Egypt has assured the US that it will soon close off it's border with the Gaza strip to prevent Palestinians from desperately trying to enter the country to access goods they can't afford or gain access to in their closed-off territory, said Arab and US officials.

Washington has expressed its concern over the high number of Palestinians pouring into Egypt from the impoverished seaside territory controlled by Hamas militants.

The US has refrained from criticizing Egypt's response to the influx of Palestinians or Israel's role in sealing its much larger borders with Gaza.

It is estimated that around 50,000 people had crossed through breaches in border barrier by late Wednesday afternoon.

Egypt expects the exodus to end by midday Thursday and has pledged to rebuild a border barrier smashed by Hamas militants.

Deteriorating conditions in Gaza have complicated new U.S.-backed peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, although US officials said Wednesday there was no sign that the outlook of the talks had been worsened.

Israel has come under international criticism for sealing off Gaza as a pressure tactic to curb Hamas militants who occupied the region in June.

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Effect of the Gaza Breach - the point of the whole exercise

The Gaza breakout was planned by the Hamas for quite a while, and was the culmination of the entire exercise - it was the reason for the rocket attacks or one of them, and it succeeded handsomely.
Ami Isseroff
ANALYSIS: Gaza border breach shows Israel that Hamas is in charge 
By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents
A few Israel Defense Forces Engineering Corps officers surely shed a tear yesterday while viewing the television reports from Rafah: The barrier built by the IDF with blood and sweat along the Philadelphi Route, on the Gaza Strip border with Egypt, was coming down.
It was, apparently, the final remnant of Israel's years of occupying the Strip. But Israel has better reasons to be worried by what happened yesterday. In destroying the wall separating the Palestinian and Egyptian sides of Rafah, Hamas chalked up a real coup. Not only did the organization demonstrate once again that it is a disciplined, determined entity, and an opponent that is exponentially more sophisticated than the Palestine Liberation Organization. It also took the sting out of the economic blockade plan devised by Israel's military establishment, an idea whose effectiveness was doubtful from the beginning but whose potential for international damage was not.
Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are now forced to find a new joint border control arrangement, one that will probably depend on the good graces of Hamas. If the PA is indeed interested in taking responsibility for the border crossings, as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has declared, it will have to negotiate with Hamas even though President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to avoid that at any cost. The other option - to leave the border untended - is even worse.
The Hamas action yesterday was anything but spontaneous. It was another stage in the campaign that began in Gaza's night of darkness on Sunday. As Gaza was plunged into widely televised blackness, Palestinian children armed with candles were brought out on a protest march and organized into prime-time demonstrations in support of the Egyptian and Jordanian branches of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Tuesday, Hamas put together a violent demonstration that ended in a confrontation with Egyptian police officers at the border, and, as usual, broadcast live on Al-Jazeera. Apparently it was enough to make Egypt lose its appetite for confrontation.
Yesterday, tens of thousands of people burst through to the west. President Hosni Mubarak explained that he instructed his police officers not to block the hungry on their way to grocery stores in El-Arish and the Egyptian side of Rafah.
Mubarak also had to contend with domestic politics. The violent suppression of the Palestinian masses would have turned up the tension between him and the Muslim Brotherhood, or Al-Jazeera. More than a few Arab commentators now see the Qatar-based satellite channel as the superpower of the Arab world. In many cases its broadcasts clearly promote an Islamic agenda.
Explosions were set at 20 points along the border fence, clear evidence of a campaign that was planned and coordinated well in advance. Israeli intelligence officials will have to explain, to themselves and the country's leaders, whether and how the preparations took place without their knowledge - another Gaza goof, in the wake of the Hamas election victory in January 2006 and the rapid military drubbing it gave Fatah in the Strip last June.
Most of the Gazans who crossed into Egypt are expected to return home within a few days, after stocking up on staples and meeting with relatives they have not seen for years. Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces set up dozens of checkpoints to prevent the Gazans from spreading into other areas of Sinai.

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UN Human Rights Council again condemns Israel by rote

The routine of Human Rights Council one-sided condemnations of Israel has become ludicrous. Louise Arbour, who hypocritically claims that she has no control over the HRC, aided and abetted. Countries that have murdered thousands of people, that persecute women and homosexuals, ganged up on Israel for the "crime" of defending itself against rocket attacks.

What a travesty of the high ideals of the UN!

What a bitter disappointment for those who have had high hopes for this organization!

Ami Isseroff

Last update - 14:45 24/01/2008

UN rights council slams Israel's 'grave violations' in Gaza Strip By Reuters

The United Nations Human Rights Council said Thursday it deplored the "grave violations" being committed by Israel in Gaza, and demanded that the week-long siege of the Strip be lifted.

The 47-member council adopted a resolution presented by Arab and Muslim states by a vote of 30 states in favor and one against with 15 abstentions. One delegation was absent.

Delegations from the United States and Israel, which both have observer status at the Council, boycotted the two-day session, diplomats said.

The U.S. and Israel termed the discussion one-sided, due to the fact that it completely ignored the ongoing Qassam rocket barrages fired indiscriminately by Gaza militants at Israeli civilian communities.

Most of those abstaining from the vote were Western states, including France, Germany and Britain. UN Security Council members China and Russia supported the resolution, and Canada was the lone vote against it.

It was the third time that the Geneva forum, set up in June 2006, rebuked Israel at a special emergency session called to address conditions in the Palestinian territories.

Mohammed Abu-Koash, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the talks at a special emergency session called to address conditions in the Palestinian territories, that Israel's siege and raids in Gaza constituted "war crimes".

"We hope the resolution will trigger international pressure and action to lift the Israeli siege and restore supplies of food, fuel and medicine, open border crossings and end repeated Israeli military attacks throughout the occupied Palestinian territory," he said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, in a speech on Wednesday, denounced Israel's "disproportionate use of force and targeted killings" as well as Palestinian militants' firing of rockets into Israel.

Arbour, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, told the forum that international law forbids collective punishment and said Israel should lift all restrictions on aid intended for Gaza.

"All parties concerned should put an end to the vicious spiral of violence before it becomes unstoppable," she warned.

Syria's ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, speaking on behalf of Arab states and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), accused Israel of turning Gaza into a "huge prison."

"The real aim of Israel from these aggressions and crimes is to deliberately abort all Arab and international efforts to invigorate the peace process," he charged.

Egypt's envoy Sameh Shoukry, speaking for African countries, urged Arbour's office to conduct more regular visits to the Palestinian territories and report more extensively "on all violations emanating from the Israeli occupation".


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Yet another church contemplating divestment from Israel

"The resolution is premised on the idea that the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is all Israel's fault," Mr. Regier said. "I think the situation is far more complicated than that."
Well yes, that is rather the point of divestment, and the idea of the people who initiate it. It is a movement to demonize Israel, isn't it? So why expect fairness?
The question is, whether this resolution has a chance of passing, or whether it is just organized by by a tiny minority as a way of grabbing headlines for their group and bringing the public's attention to the their views.
Ami Isseroff
Methodists To Mull Divestment From Israel
Special to the Sun
January 24, 2008
The nation's largest and most prominent mainline Protestant denomination, the 11 million-member United Methodist Church — whose members include both President Bush and Senator Clinton — is set to take up the issue of whether to divest from companies that do business with Israel.
The meeting, which is to be held on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas , will mark the highest level of consideration that the subject of economic divestment from the Jewish state has received within the Methodist denomination.
Key questions hanging over the event will be whether the church will decide to use its $16 billion pension fund as an economic tool against Israel, and whether divestment would shatter the church's traditional relationship with American Jews.
If the church moves ahead with a divestment resolution on the national level, the denomination would become the largest Protestant group to embrace such a measure. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which has 2.4 million members, voted in favor of such a measure in 2004. Another important liberal denomination, the United Church of Christ, went in the other direction last summer when it opted to engage in a "balanced study" of the Middle East conflict.
"I would counsel a bit of humility. I wonder how much the voice of the United Methodist Church even has in foreign policy or Middle East policy," an executive with the church's General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the Reverend W. Douglas Mills, told The New York Sun. "I'm concerned about protecting our relationships."
Rev. Mills will be one of four speakers from a variety of perspectives who will address a crowd of church delegates and others at the event later this week and will speak against divestment.
Another speaker will be a member of the New England Conference's Divestment Task Force, Susanne Hoder. She also headed an informational gathering on the Middle East in June, which gave attendees the opportunity to "learn how these companies profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian lands," "examine the impact of the occupation on Israeli and Palestinian society," give an "update on Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Gaza," "discuss apartheid in Israel and the occupied territories, and learn how many organizations, including churches, municipalities, and Jewish groups, are using economic measures to end it."
The New England Conference came out in favor of divestment three years ago, and in June of last year, it released a report urging divestment from 20 specific companies with business interests in Israel, including Blockbuster, General Dynamics, and General Electric.
Rev. Mills said he supported the church keeping a "balanced perspective" on the Middle East. "I would prefer to have, for example, shareholder activism in companies, rather than have no voice at all, which is what you have when you're not a shareholder," he said. Titled "Divestment, the Middle East, and Sudan," the Friday meeting in Texas will be part of a larger assembly beginning today and ending on Saturday in anticipation of the church's general conference in April.
The general conference in April will be the first national legislative gathering of the church since two of its regional groupings — the New England Conference and Virginia United Methodists — passed pro-divestment resolutions in 2005.
While the church did not provide a copy of specific legislation likely to be brought up at the church's general conference in April, the Friday session is an indicator that divestment will be on the Methodist agenda.
"As far as legislation for the conference, I don't believe it's available yet," a spokeswoman for the United Methodist Church, Diane Denton, said. "The briefing [in Texas] is to provide delegates and others with information on issues expected to arise on general conference. It will be up to the conference to determine what if any action may be taken on this issue." Coming out in favor of divestment would likely damage the church's ability to work with American Jewish groups.
"For another church to start down this road is very dangerous and very harmful to the relationship between the Jewish community and the mainline Protestant churches," the American Jewish Committee's U.S. director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, said.
Rabbi Greenebaum plans to travel to Forth Worth for the meeting. "These are churches that traditionally the Jewish community has gotten along with very well."
It would also likely have consequences for members of the church who favor a different approach. "I love my denomination, and I think this is a stupid move," a senior minister at the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, the Reverend Archer Summers, said. Rev. Summers, who plans to attend the April conference, is an executive committee member of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, a group of mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics who seek to inject fairness into the discussion of the issue.
A lifelong member of the Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass., John Regier, opposed the New England Conference's resolution, and will try to convince his pastor — who will attend the conference — to vote against divestment measures. "The resolution is premised on the idea that the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is all Israel's fault," Mr. Regier said. "I think the situation is far more complicated than that."

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Palestinian Refugees get disproportionate funding

Israel Zwick points out this comparison between UNHCR, the agency that deals with all refugees EXCEPT Palestinian refugees, and UNRWA, which deals ONLY with Palestinian refugees, and apparently is asking for half the budget of UNHCR, which deals with all other refugees.

Comparison of UNHCR With UNRWA

Editor's Note: The following comparisons of UNRWA and UNHCR were taken from their own official websites, and The data are self-explanatory. This was compiled by Israel Zwick, Editor, CN Publications.

UNHCR set to ask donors for over one billion dollars for 2008 budget

UNHCR is present in 116 countries, has 262 offices worldwide with 6,260 staff members – 5,400 of whom are in the field. We work with 624 partners to provide help and assistance to 32.9 million refugees, displaced and stateless people.

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 4 December 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Geneva next Tuesday (11 December), at its annual Pledging Conference, UNHCR will present to donor countries its 2008 annual budget of US$1.096 billion, up from $1.06 billion in 2007, to help millions of refugees, displaced and stateless persons around the world.

In addition to its regular budget, UNHCR will also launch a number of supplementary appeals for emergency and special programmes for an estimated total of US $480 million bringing UNHCR's total expected budget in 2008 to over US$ 1.57 billion, compared to US$ 1.45 billion in 2007.

In January 2008, UNHCR expects to launch supplementary appeals for programmes including the Iraq situation; relief operations in Darfur; the Somali situation; repatriation and reintegration of Sudanese and Mauritanian refugees; IDP programmes in Chad, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Colombia.

We hope the response by donors will be generous and swift to enable a smooth continuation during the coming year of our operations to assist and protect people uprooted by conflict and persecution.

The UN refugee agency relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions with only a very small proportion of its budget coming from the UN Regular Budget. So, it's important for us to have early, flexible and predictable funding so we can help the 32.9 million people of concern to us. UNHCR looks to the Pledging Conference to provide a strong funding start for the coming year, ensuring a timely launch of new activities and avoiding interruptions in current activities.

UNHCR's operations in Africa lead the needs with 37.5 percent of the total budget, followed by the Middle East and North Africa 17.5 percent, Asia/Pacific 9.9 percent, Europe 5.9 percent and the Americas 2.8 percent. The remaining percentage is made up of funds required for global programmes, headquarters and reserves.

The largest operations in the 2008 annual budget are: Chad (US$ 73.6 million), Afghanistan (US$ 49.87 million), Kenya (US$ 41.48 million) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (40.92 million).

The 2008 budget has risen by US$53 million – or five percent – from 2007, mainly due to the mainstreaming into the annual budget of the supplementary programme for the repatriation and reintegration of Congolese refugees in the DRC.

The 2008 Global Appeal reflects UNHCR's shift towards a two-year programme and budget cycle (for 2008 – $1.096 billion, and $1.108 billion for 2009) which will allow a more medium term approach to planning and implementation.

Pledges for both years would be appreciated, but we understand that donors frequently have their own restrictions which may only allow them to pledge for 2008.

So far, some 93 percent of last year's UNHCR budget has been funded by donors. Top donors in 2007 have been the USA, Sweden, the European Commission, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Norway.

UNHCR is present in 116 countries, has 262 offices worldwide with 6,260 staff members – 5,400 of whom are in the field. We work with 624 partners to provide help and assistance to 32.9 million refugees, displaced and stateless people.

Link: UNHCR Global Appeal 2008-2009

UNRWA Commissioner-General's Presentation to the Advisory Committee on Administrative & Budgetary Questions (ACABQ)

To meet the Agency's goals, the recurrent activities of UNRWA over the 2008 – 2009 biennium have been budgeted at $1.09 billion. Subject to member states' approval, the Agency has budgeted for an additional 20 international posts in this period. I will elaborate on this last point later in my presentation.

UNRWA's vital humanitarian and human development activities depend on the work of some 28,000 locally-recruited staff, many of whom have spent decades in the service of their fellow Palestinian refugees.

New York, 24 October 2007

Distinguished Chair and Members of the Committee:

Allow me to begin by expressing UNRWA's appreciation for this opportunity to present our programme budget requirements for the biennium 2008 - 2009.

Over the past 59 years, the population of registered refugees in UNRWA's five fields of operation, Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has grown to some 4.5 million, more than five times the number in 1948. The Palestine refugee issue is the most intractable the world has known, and given its intimate link with the geo-politics of the Middle East, is an issue with implications for global peace and security. Many of the refugees have become largely self-sufficient, but the majority continues to depend on UNRWA for essential education, health and relief services. My agency is also active in the construction and maintenance of infrastructure in 58 refugee camps and provides microfinance services to small businesses.

The scale of the task entrusted to us has grown dramatically over the past six decades, and with it, the nature of the challenge of achieving our mission. As the region has developed, refugee needs have inevitably grown more complex and sophisticated, compelling the agency to become more dynamic and more responsive to the demand for programmes of enhanced quality. These changing needs and plans for higher standards of service delivery are reflected in our biennial budgets and our Organizational Development Plan, which covers the three years to the end of 2009.

Amidst changing circumstances and growing needs, UNRWA's humanitarian and human development vision, however, remains constant. It is for every refugee to be able to enjoy the best possible standards of human development consistent with international and regional standards, in consonance with those fundamental rights enshrined in the UN Charter and its Conventions, and in line with the Millennium Development Goals. Irrespective of the waxing and waning of prospects for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which must include a just and durable solution to the refugee question, it is our obligation as a UN agency charged with upholding the wellbeing of the refugees to aim at achieving these standards for our beneficiaries.

UNRWA's strategic objectives for the coming biennium are thus to support the educational, health, social and economic development of the refugees and to provide targeted relief for the most vulnerable among them, particularly women, children and the disabled. Meeting these objectives requires an increased financial commitment on the part of the international community to improving the well-being of the refugees.

Allow me to outline briefly the main features of the 2008-9 budget.

Features of the 2008 – 2009 biennium budget

To meet the Agency's goals, the recurrent activities of UNRWA over the 2008 – 2009 biennium have been budgeted at $1.09 billion. Subject to member states' approval, the Agency has budgeted for an additional 20 international posts in this period. I will elaborate on this last point later in my presentation.

More at Comparison of UNHCR With UNRWA

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Canada to boycott Durban II anti-Israel "Gong show"

January 23, 2008
Gov't official calls anti-racism conference a 'gong show'

OTTAWA - Canada has withdrawn its support for a UN anti-racism conference slated to take place in South Africa next year, the federal government announced Wednesday.
The so-called Durban II conference "has gone completely off the rails" and Canada wants no part of it, said Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity.
"Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it," Kenney told The Canadian Press. "We'll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.
"Our considered judgment, having participated in the preparatory meetings, was that we were set for a replay of Durban I. And Canada has no intention of lending its good name and resources to such a systematic promotion of hatred and bigotry."
The 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban turned into "a circus of intolerance," Kenney said.
One government official on Wednesday called the conference "a gong show."
Arab and Muslim countries ganged up in their criticisms of Israel. Israel and the United States walked out in protest; the Liberal government of the day remained in an effort to decry the attacks.
With Libya elected to chair the next gathering, Cuba appointed vice-chair and rapporteur, and anti-Israel rhetoric and actions building, Kenney said his government was left with no choice but to abandon the preparatory process for the followup meeting.
B'nai Brith Canada applauded the government, saying Durban I "degenerated into a hate-fest directed at Israel and the Jewish delegates attending the conference."
The group's executive vice-president, Frank Dimant, said Ottawa has acted "clearly and decisively by refusing to participate in a venue that pays lip service to anti-racism but in fact provides a platform for the promotion of hatred and bigotry."
Kenney noted important preparatory meetings have been called on Jewish high holidays, preventing Israeli officials from participating.
The UN gave planning oversight for the conference to its Human Rights Council, which has targeted Israel in 14 of its 15 resolutions charging human-rights violations in its first two years of existence.
"We've tried to influence it so that we would not revisit the overt expressions of hatred which came out of the original conference," said Kenney. "But we unfortunately ran into a brick wall.
"The process has been hijacked by those who would seek to replay the terrible experience of the first Durban conference."
Iran was named to the organizing committee, Kenney noted.
"This is a country whose government has publicly expressed its desire to eliminate the only Jewish country in the world," he said.
Furthermore, all of the non-governmental organizations invited to the first conference have been invited back to the second, including those that were at the "forefront of the hatred," some of which posted pro-Hitler posters at the 2001 gathering.
Concluded Kenney: "If we felt there was any realistic chance that Canada could help to positively influence the process, we would stay involved. . . . By making this bold decision, Canada may send a wake-up call to the Durban organizers and other countries."

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Israel-EU confeence on racism in Jerusalem

According to Israel Broadcast Authority:
Israel-EU seminar on racism meets in Jerusalem
The Foreign Ministry is this week hosting a seminar between Israel and the European Union on combating racism and anti-Semitism. The gathering is a follow up to the first seminar in 2007 that was held in Brussels. The participants include high level officials from several European education ministries.

The seminar's agenda includes roundtable discussions on education, legislation against racism, ways to deal with hate in the media and Internet as well as visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

23.01.2008 13:50

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Negev Bedouin enlist in Israel National Service

This is particularly interesting in view of the calls of Arab leaders to boycott the national service:
A new phenomenon among Negev Bedouin - enlistment in the Israel national service, mostly among women. Recently 25 women have volunteered. Most of them are working in Soroka hospital in Beersheva.
Source: IBA News

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Cairo Sources: Assassination Attempt Against Arab League Sec'y Moussa Thwarted

Cairo Sources: Assassination Attempt Against Arab League Sec'y Moussa Thwarted

Diplomatic sources in Cairo have stated that an assassination attempt against Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa was thwarted, near the Lebanon-Syria border on the night of January 19.

The sources said that as Moussa returned from Damascus to Lebanon, Lebanese security forces became suspicious about a car parked on the road near the border and blew it up from a distance before the secretary's convoy reached it.

It was not reported whether it was a car bomb.

Source: Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt, January 22, 2008 (via MEMRI)

Posted at: 2008-01-23

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Negev Bedouin joining Israel National Service

A new phenomenon among Negev Bedouin - enlistment in the Israel national service, mostly among women. Recently 25 women have volunteered.  Most of them are working in Soroka hospital in Beersheva.
Source: IBA News

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Israel-EU confence on racisim in Jerusalem

Israel-EU seminar on racisim meets in Jerusalem
The Foreign Ministry is this week hosting a seminar between Israel and the European Union on combating racism and anti-Semitism. The gathering is a follow up to the first seminar in 2007 that was held in Brussels. The participants include high level officials from several European education ministries.

The seminar's agenda includes roundtable discussions on education, legislation against racism, ways to deal with hate in the media and Internet as well as visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

23.01.2008 13:50


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A short while after Palestinian snipers shot dead a volunteer from Ecuador, the news team covering the incident became the next target.

The camera caught it all - see the dramatic footage by clicking on the image below.

Despite this incident taking place some days ago, Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), which claims to protect press freedom worldwide, has yet to condemn this deliberate attack on the media. Send your letters to RSF's Middle East desk calling on the organization to do so -

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Dutch Foreign Minister visits Sderot, condemns rocket fire

Dutch foreign minister visits Sderot

Foreign Minister Maxime Jacques Verhagen of The Netherlands, says his country condemns Kassam rocket fire on Sderot. Verhagen said he has visited Sderot and seen how people there live in fear. No government should accept fire on its citizens, he said.

Verhagen met with President Shimon Peres, who repotedly told him that the Damascus-based Hamas political leader, Khaled Mashaal, is directing the Kassam rocket fire from Syria. Peres said that the world must understand that Israel will not sit idly by and will not send flowers to Hamas. Only when Hamas stops the fire will residents of Gaza be able to live normal and quiet lives.

23.01.2008 13:50

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Messianism: There's no Imam like the Hidden Imam

Ahmadinejad: The World Needs The "Hidden Imam"

In a speech inaugurating Iran's National Center for Globalization Studies, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that the center's goal was "to spread anticipation and love for the Hidden Imam" who is expected to save the community of Shi'ite believers and the world.

Ahmadinejad called the universal rule of the Hidden Imam humanity's most important need.

The new center, established recently on Ahmadinejad's instructions, replaced former president Mohammad Khatami's Center for Dialogue of Civilizations, which has been disbanded.

Source: Mehr, Iran, January 21, 2008

Posted at: 2008-01-23

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Watered down Iran sanctions plan approved

The new sanctions continue the policy of making noise about Iran and doing essentially nothing. The UN resolutions concerned nuclear enrichment, calling for further sanctions if it is not stopped. Everyone agrees that Iran has not stopped nuclear enrichment. The NIE report which showed evidence that Iran had stopped a nuclear weapons development program is therefore a red herring, which should not have impacted enforcement of the decision about enrichment.
Inevitably, the enrichment program will lead to production of bombs. It is only a matter of time.
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 09:09 23/01/2008    
 World powers agree to new sanctions on Iran over nuclear program  By Yossi Melman,
 Haaretz Correspondent 

The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany agreed Tuesday to impose additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
The decision's importance is primarily symbolic, since the planned sanctions will have little impact on Iran's economy. Nevertheless, they show that the international community remains suspicious of Iran's nuclear ambitions, despite the publication two months ago of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate claiming that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program.
That estimate had been widely interpreted, especially in Iran, as signaling international acquiescence to Iran's uranium enrichment program, which it has refused to halt despite the Security Council's repeated demands.
Iran claims that this program is strictly for civilian purposes, but enrichment is also a key element of any nuclear weapons program.
The proposal finalized by the U.S., British, French, Russian, Chinese and German foreign ministers will now be submitted to the full Security Council for approval. Should the council endorse it, this will be the third round of international sanctions against Iran.
A French diplomat involved in the talks said that the resolution is slated to be brought to a vote in the Security Council before the end of the month. However, other diplomats stationed at the UN were less optimistic, saying it is still not clear that Russia and China have dropped their fundamental opposition to further sanctions, and therefore, the vote might be delayed.
Since the foreign ministers decided not to publish the contents of their decision, the details of the proposed sanctions remain unclear. However, the main components will apparently be additional travel restrictions on Iranian officials involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs, and additional freezes of assets, such as bank accounts, belonging to such officials or to companies and organizations involved in these programs. Both previous sanction rounds "blacklisted" specific individuals and organizations in this fashion, and the current round apparently expands the blacklist.
U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who attended the talks, said that Washington was very pleased with the decision, because it expands the sanctions and proves that the six nations remain united.
While Washington has sought tougher sanctions than were ultimately agreed on in all three rounds, it attaches paramount importance to showing that the international community is united on this issue, and has therefore consistently been willing to accept watered-down resolutions.
The fact that even Russia and China, Tehran's traditional protectors on the Security Council, approved the new round of sanctions attests to the level of international unease about Iran's intentions. Even the NIE acknowledged that Tehran's ongoing enrichment program, along with its continuing efforts to purchase nuclear components overseas, indicates that it has not given up its quest for nuclear weapons.
Israel and the U.S. will begin the latest installment Wednesday of their strategic dialogue, which will be devoted entirely to efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear program. At the talks, headed by Burns and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Israel will submit proposals for additional sanctions against Iran, both within and outside the Security Council.
Next month, the International Atomic Energy Agency's board will hear a new report on Iran's nuclear program by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. The report is expected to shed additional light on the program's history, which in turn could clarify how quickly Iran is advancing. It will also focus on how well Iran has cooperated in answering the agency's questions about its nuclear program.
Israeli intelligence agencies believe that the program is not as far along as Tehran's public statements would indicate, and that Iran is having trouble operating enough centrifuges to enrich sufficient fissionable material for a bomb. Nevertheless, the agencies believe that Iran will overcome this technical hurdle by next year or the year after at the latest.
Shlomo Shamir and Barak Ravid contributed to this report.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Top EU Official apologizes for European anti-Israel bias

Maybe hell is about to freeze over, but something has finally begun to change in European attitudes to Israel. It is not just the French, but also the Dutch foreign minister, and now Franco Frattini, European Commissioner for Justice Freedom and Security says at the Herzliya conference:
"There has been a large misunderstanding in recent years between Europe and Israel. And Israel is justified in its concerns. For too long, Europe has put too much blame on Israel for lack of peace with the Palestinians. We, as Europeans, should have understood Israel's concerns sooner," said Frattini.
... "as friends, it was our duty to criticize when we felt criticism was needed, but we did it too often and unfairly. We asked you to take risks and often we didn't provide you with assurances that you wouldn't stand alone if things went badly."
..."Europe's attitude towards Israel is changing. Today, Europe better understands the complexities of the Middle East landscape."
As if that is not enough, Ynet also tells us:
Franco Frattini, said that the steps leading up to the Gaza blackout cannot be construed as a war crime and criticized the incessant Qassam rocket fire on Israeli civilian population centers.
Commenting on the rising tide of Anti-Semitism throughout Europe, which has often led to marked tension between Israel and various European nations, Frattini maintained that "We are strongly fighting against Anti-Semitism in Europe. This kind of prejudice has no place in Europe today and never will. We will not tolerate Anti-Semitism and we take it very seriously."
The European commissioner also congratulated Israel on the Annapolis peace summit, calling it "a new opportunity in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which we must not let slip through our fingers. To make 2008 the year of Israeli-Palestinian peace, we must remember the lessons of the past and move forward," he concluded.
Ami Isseroff

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PA sentences killers of two Israelis to 15 years

 Last update - 20:56 22/01/2008       
PA court sentences killers of two Israelis to 15 years
By Avi Issacharoff and Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondents
A special Palestinian Authority court in Hebron on Tuesday sentenced two PA employees to 15 years in jail for shooting dead two Israelis hiking near Hebron last month.
The two, 24-year-old Amar Taha, a Palestinian police officer, and 26-year-old Ali Dandanes, a PA court clerk, turned themselves in after killing Ahikam Amihai and David Rubin roughly three weeks ago, fearing they would be captured by Israeli security forces.
Amihai and Rubin were Israel Defense Forces soldiers on leave from their units. They were hiking near Hebron when they came under fire from three Palestinian terrorists in a Jeep.
Amihai and Rubin were both armed, and managed to return fire, killing one of the terrorists. Their female companion, a Kiryat Arba resident who had joined them for the hike, was uninjured.
The Palestinian intelligence agencies did not immediately inform Israel that the terrorists were in their custody, and only did so once the Shin Bet security service approached Palestinian officials.
Following the Shin Bet request, Palestinian intelligence confirmed that the terrorists had turned themselves in, and handed over to Israel the victims' weapons, which the assailants had taken following the attack, as well as the weapons used in the shooting.
According the Palestinian inquiry, the attack was premeditated, and the terrorists had waited for an opportune time to carry it out. One of the terrorists spotted the three Israeli hikers, and called the other two terrorists to the scene in order to carry out the attack.

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Is Palestinian Authority racism out to kill the peace?

One picture says it all. It is really hard to believe in a peace process when Fatah are publishing cartoons like the first one below.
The Hate Industry: the Palestinian media affiliated with both Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority continue incitement against Israel. It is in direct contravention of the Palestinian commitment to the first phase of the road map.
"For the sake of the place from which your prophet rode through the night sky [i.e., the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa mosque], run to help, Muslims" (Firas Website, affiliated with Fatah, December 12, 2007).
1. In the months that preceded the Annapolis meeting the Palestinian media carried larger amounts of anti-Israel incitement than usual, which continued and even increased afterwards. Often woven into it were anti-Semitic symbols and images which were irrelevant to the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
2. Anti-Israeli incitement is an integral part of the campaign Hamas directed against the Annapolis process, the United States and the PA. However, even the PA media itself, controlled by Abu Mazen and Fatah, were methodical in their propaganda policy of vicious anti-Israeli incitement , while expressing serious doubts regarding Annapolis . The hatred expressed by the media goes far beyond legitimate criticism , even severe criticism, of Israel 's policies in the PA-administered territories.
3. The raw material for the PA's anti-Israeli propaganda comes from daily life in the PA-administered territories. However, the Palestinian media present a one-sided, extremist view of the situation. Israel is represented as ceaseless endeavoring to make the Palestinian populace miserable and is "killing" the peace process while the terrorist attacks to which the IDF responds are almost never condemned and no connection is ever made between them and Israel's counterterrorist activities in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria. 1
4. However, in our assessment, in the background lies the enormous gulf in expectations which has accompanied the Annapolis process from its inception. It is based, perhaps unavoidably, on the maximalist demands presented by the PA since the beginning of the talks with Israel about the core issues , among them borders, refugees and Jerusalem . From the beginning, the PA demands were not accompanied by groundwork to alter Palestinian public opinion regarding the need to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and to make concessions and compromises as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but rather the opposite: Israel is consistently represented as responsible for the lack of process and for the anger channeled at it.
5. Paradoxically, anti-Israeli incitement has continually increased as the negotiations progress. That is in direct contravention of the Palestinian commitments to the first phase of the road map , which requires the PA to stop terrorism and violence and to put an end to anti-Israeli incitement, which serves to encourage terrorists and terrorism. Those two basic components of the road map have not been implemented so far by Abu Mazen's PA. While the PA cannot in fact put an end to Hamas's hate campaign (which is also aimed at the PA), it allows, and even encourages anti-Israeli incitement in all the media it controls.
Another cartoon from Palestinian Authority run Al-Jadida.. Israel (with a kippah and a long nose) is shown killing the peace.


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Israel government vows to introduce green cars by 2011

But what will produce the electricity?
Israel goes electric: Government vows to introduce green cars by 2011
JERUSALEM - Israel's government on Monday endorsed the ambitious plan of a private entrepreneur to install the world's first electric car network here by 2011, with half a million recharging stations to crisscross the tiny country.
Supporters hailed the undertaking as a bold step in the battle against global warming and energy dependency, but skeptics warned that much could still go wrong along the way.
In a signing ceremony with the Renault-Nissan Alliance - under the slogan "Transportation without fuel, making peace between transportation and the environment" - Israel's leaders pledged to provide tax incentives to customers to make Israel's cars fuel-free.
The project is a joint venture between Renault-Nissan, which will provide the electric vehicles, and the Silicon Valley-based startup Project Better Place, which will operate the recharging grid. The replacement and charging of the lithium-ion batteries is supposed to work like that of a cellphone battery.
"For the first time in history, all the conditions necessary for electric vehicles to be successfully mass-marketed will be brought together," the companies said in a statement.
The initiative is the brainchild of Shai Agassi, 39, an Israeli-American entrepreneur and high-tech star, who raised $200 million to get the project off the ground.
"Our planet's battery got charged over hundreds of millions of years, and yet we have consumed half the world's oil in one century. In the process, we got addicted to oil, polluted our cities and altered our planet's climate," Agassi said. "Finally, we are running out of out most precious commodity of all - we are running out of time."
Less than a year ago, Agassi quit as a top executive at the German software giant SAP AG to pursue his green dreams. Along with his partner Idan Ofer, he founded Project Better Place, aimed at helping reduce greenhouse emissions by building a network of charging stations for electric cars across Israel.
Agassi's spokesman said his home country of Israel was the ideal laboratory to market his vision because of its high fuel prices (around $1.70 a litre), dense population centres and supportive government. In Israel, 90 per cent of car owners drive less than 72 kilometres per day and all major urban centres are less than 160 kilometres apart, making the use of battery operated cars more feasible than in countries with longer average commutes.
Green cars are also particularly attractive to Israel, which hopes to weaken the political clout of its oil-rich enemies.
"Today is a new age with new dangers and the greatest danger is that of oil," President Shimon Peres said. "It is the greatest polluter of our age and oil is the greatest financier of terror."
Other automakers have produced plug-in hybrid prototypes, which switch from pure electric to gas engine to a blended gas electric mode. But the Renault model is the first mass-produced model designed to be completely fuel-free.
"Zero emission, zero noise," Renault-Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said. "It will be the most environmentally friendly mass-produced car on the market."
Ghosn said the cars, with a range of up to 160 kilometres per charge, would have a top speed of 110 kilometres per hour: the top speed limit in Israel. And Aggasi vowed that, in the long run, the electric car would be cheaper to operate than one based on fuel.
Israeli leaders said they hoped the country would prove to be a trailblazer in the field of alternative energy. "This initiative will revolutionize cars in Israel and throughout the world," National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said.
Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with Global Insight, said he was unfamiliar with this specific electric model but said there were plenty of pitfalls ahead before it could be up to par with the performance of fuel-based cars.
"The electrification of the car is definitely coming. Whether it will come that soon (by 2011) is another question," he said. "It doesn't sound impossible but a lot of things would have to go right for it to happen."
The project has also been met with skepticism in Israel, where newspaper articles have derided it as dreamy and unrealistic.
"Apparently people are again willing to invest in a technological idea without having seen a detailed business and technology plan," wrote Ora Cohen, a columnist for the Israeli Haaretz daily, in November. "Real problems remain to be solved before they start working on virtual ones."
But Agassi enjoys the enthusiastic backing of the government.
"There was a time when people said you couldn't stop smoking," Peres said. "Using gas is like smoking."

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China insists on yet more negotiations with Iran, opposes sanctions

It is not clear what this Chinese statement is meant to convey, other than oppositions to sanctions. The nuclear standoff has been at a critical stage for many months, since Iran announced it was continuing with enrichment no matter what.
Ami Isseroff
 Last update - 11:48 22/01/2008       
China: Nuclear standoff with Iran is at a 'critical' stage
By News Agencies
China said Tuesday that Iran's nuclear standoff with the West was at a critical stage and it hoped for an objective exchange of opinion in talks later in the day in Berlin.
The world's major powers are meeting in Berlin to try to overcome differences over imposing more sanctions on Iran and to keep up pressure on its leadership to curb its nuclear program.
"We believe the Iran nuclear issue is at a critical moment," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference. "China hopes the international community including Iran will make joint efforts for the resumption of talks so the issue can be resolved properly and comprehensively."
China has traditionally opposed sanctions and advocated more negotiations, and efforts to persuade it to be more forceful have been undercut by the release of a U.S. intelligence report that said Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Beijing would also be loath to risk its economic interests in Iran, which was its third-biggest source of crude oil imports last year.
Germany's foreign minister said Tuesday that the result of a meeting of six key powers in Berlin will show Iran that concerns remain over its nuclear program.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in an interview on Germany's ARD television before the meeting that he was not sure whether the meeting would result in a resolution on new sanctions. But, he said, he is "confident we will come to a result that will show Iran once again that our concerns are not eliminated and the resolve of the international community of states, including Russia and China, remains."
Iran said on Tuesday any new international sanctions against it would not succeed in forcing the country to halt its nuclear program.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian energy use, but Western powers accuse it of seeking to build an atomic bomb.
"The Iranian nation moves in the framework of its legitimate and legal rights ... and a possible ratification of a new [UN sanctions] resolution will not have an impact on our nation's behavior," government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told a news conference.

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Jewish pogrom in Bet Shemesh - enough is enough!

 Last update - 22:01 21/01/2008       
U.S. immigrant beaten up in 'pogrom' by ultra-Orthodox gang
By Daphna Berman, Haaretz Correspondent
An American immigrant was attacked and beaten Sunday night in Beit Shemesh by a gang of ultra-Orthodox zealots, in what appears to be an escalation of tension between religious groups in the city.
T., who is himself ultra-Orthodox, was kicked, beaten and threatened with further violence in an attack that landed him in the hospital. T.'s car windows were also smashed. T., who asked to go unnamed, has been active in trying to stem the recent tide of Haredi violence in the city.
"A bunch of goons, maybe 20 or 30 guys, attacked me - it was like a pogrom," he told Haaretz. "They kicked me, beat me, and then just left me there. Luckily, I am a strong guy and was able to get up and go to the hospital."
In response, residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, a Haredi stronghold in the city, held a protest Monday night. This was the first time ultra-Orthodox residents came out strongly against fringe elements from within their own community.
"My attackers thought they won, but there is a procession in my support," said T., who was born in New York. In recent months, Beit Shemesh residents have banded against what they call growing religious intimidation and coercion by some Haredi residents of the city.
This week, a family in one of the city's modern Orthodox neighborhoods received warnings and threats because a television in their living room faced a main thoroughfare that borders an ultra-Orthodox housing project. In October, five ultra-Orthodox men assaulted a woman and an Israel Defense Forces soldier for sitting next to each other on a bus bound for Beit Shemesh.
Signs along main streets call on people to dress modestly, meanwhile, and women say they no longer feel comfortable jogging along some roads.
T., who has since been released from the hospital, helped organize a recent protest against the violence. Sources say the attack on Sunday was a culmination of ongoing harassment.
Shalom Lerner, deputy mayor of Beit Shemesh, told Haaretz that the incident marks new heights for Haredi violence in the city.
"It's sad that they are trying to terrorize the city," Lerner said. "Unfortunately, though, the Haredi violence isn't news anymore. The fact that there is a demonstration, however, that the silent majority is standing up and fighting back, is a major achievement. People are realizing that the time for action is now."
A spokesman for the Beit Shemesh police said the case is currently under investigation.
"We have a few leads," spokesman Shmulik Ben Rubi said.

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Dutch Foreign Minister: UN unfair to Israel

At least someone has noticed this obvious problem...
Israel unfairly singled out by UN, says Dutch FM
By Cnaan Liphshiz

Visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told Haaretz yesterday that the singling out of Israel for criticism in international forums was unfair.
"It is not acceptable to focus on Israel time after time, while other countries like Sudan do not receive any reference whatsoever at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly in New York," Verhagen said in an interview.
"I would like to set the record straight on Israel."
Interviewed in his suite at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, the Dutch foreign minister said he has pursued "a more internationally balanced approach" to Israel and has conditioned Dutch support for resolutions criticizing Israel upon condemnations for Hamas' actions.
Describing himself as a friend of Israel who feels "a close personal attachment" to its people, Verhagen added he did not always see eye to eye with Jerusalem.
"Friends can speak freely about concerns and differences. In my talk with [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni I mentioned the need to observe human rights and dismantle outposts," he said.
Verhagen also said he believes that the people of Gaza "should not be collectively punished" and that "choking all economic activity there would only radicalize them and create more attacks on both sides.
"In my meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni I discussed the possibility of reopening the borders so the export of agricultural export could take place."
Asked whether the Netherlands' support for private business initiatives in Gaza, mainly in agriculture, would help Hamas, the minister said: "Hamas concerns me. It's important Palestinian civilians realize that we recognize the difficult situation in Gaza, and that we want to help." Supporting agriculture, he said, is one of the ways of doing so.
A member of the ruling Christian Democratic Appeal party, the minister said his cabinet "would never negotiate with Hamas for as long as it calls for the destruction of Israel and as long as it doesn't give up on violence as a tool."
Although some of the CDA's coalition partners have called for opening ties to Hamas, Verhagen said the Netherlands "should never give a veneer of legitimacy to the shelling of civilians and blowing up of buses - and this is the opinion of both the government and the majority of the Dutch parliament."
As for Israel's image in Europe, he said, "there is still mistrust on the part of few of my European colleagues but the implementation of Israel's obligations in the U.S. road map for peace, such as halting the expansion of settlements and dismantling outposts, would make a big difference in this respect."
As part of his visit to the region, Verhagen will also travel to Syria. "By participating in the Annapolis peace summit, Syria made a choice to belong to the negotiations. It cannot at the same time participate in anti-Israel events, and I will make this absolutely clear to the Syrians," he said.
Turning to Dutch internal issues, the foreign minister noted that his government was bracing itself for the screening of a provocative, anti-Islam film by right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders.
"Freedom of speech doesn't give anyone the right to insult people," Verhagen said, noting there were concerns of a violent response to the film, similar to the riots which followed the publication of cartoons of Mohammed by a Danish newspaper two years ago.
"Clearly, our embassies abroad have to prepare for such concerns," he said. "If the government's position is not in line with the film we will make it explicit that we don't agree with it. We hope that our partners in the peace process will consider our opinions, and not the opinions of one person named Wilders."

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Good news: Martyrdom comes to UK

Memri tells us about this campaign. It is not happening in Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the Middle East. It is happening in dear old blighty: a "Martyrdom is pious" campaign. Expect more "saints" in the London underground.
Ami Isseroff

'Martyrdom Is Pious' Campaign In England and Scotland

Birmingham, U.K.: As part of its Ashra [campaign during first 10 days of the holy month of Muharram] on the subject of 'Martyrdom Is Pious' organized in different towns of England and Scotland, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat has highlighted the works and sacrifices for the sake of Islam by the martyrs of Islam, and expressed gratitude to them.

In Edinburgh, Qazi Abdus Salaam Khurshid said that martyrdom is one pious activity that the Prophet himself longed for.

In Glasgow, Maulana Habibur Rahman said that the second Caliph [Umar] wished: O Allah, offer me martyrdom in your path. This prayer proves that martyrdom is pious, not a tragedy or difficulty.

In Dundee, Qari Noorul Islam said that martyrdom is a great honor.

In Manchester, Maulana Muhammad Iqbal Rangoni said that those who offer sacrifice of lives in the path of truth are lucky.

In Rochdale, Abdul Majeed Anwar lauded the greatness... of Islam's martyrs.

In Ashton-under-Lyne, Maulana Syed Abdul Kareem Shah said that the greatness of a martyr is also mentioned in the Koran.

In Oldham, Qari Abdur Rasheed said the [followers of] Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat worldwide believes that the Prophet's Companions and Members of his Household are two eyes of Islam and love of them is real faith. Maulana Amjad Hussein, Maulana Shamsur Rahman, [and] Mufti Hilal Mahmood also saluted the greatness of Islam's martyrs.

In Huddersfield, Maulana Muhammad Akram and Jameel Ahmad said that the taste of death by martyrdom is something that is not available in any other thing in the world.

In Wakefield, Maulana Islam Ali Shah and Mufti Tariq Shah said that the second Caliph Hazrat Umar and Imam Hazrat Hussain, by sacrificing life during Muharram, taught killing-dying for Islam's sake to their followers, to be borne till the Day of Judgment.

In Bradford, Maulana Muhammad Ibrahim said that the importance of Yaum-e-Ashura [10th day of Muharram] was prevalent before the incident of Karbala [in which the Prophet's grandson Imam Hussein and his followers died for faith.]

Maulana Abdul Hadi, Maulana Azizul Haq in Burnley, Maulana Asad Mian, Maulana Abdur Rasheed Rabbani in Dewsbury, Maulana Musa Qasmi in Bolton, Maulana Imdadullah Qasmi, Maulana Imdadul Hasan Nomani, Qari Tasawwurul Haq, Maulana Shamsul Haq Mushtaq, Maulana Muhammad Farooq, Maulana Muhammad Qasim, Maulana Ziaul Hasan Tyeb, Maulana Jamal Badshah, Maulana Mohammad Zaman, Maulana Adil Khan and others shed light on the subject of 'Martyrdom Is Pious' in Birmingham.

Whereas in Walsall, Maulana Muhammad Salman, Maulana Muhammad Aslam Zahid, Mufti Muhammad Aslam; Qari Abdur Rasheed Rahmani in Crowley, Qari Muhammad Ilyas in Bristol, Qari Ghulam Nabi in Cardiff, Maulana Imran in Swindon, Qari Muhammad Tyeb Abbasi in Southall, Allama Razaul Haq Siakhwi in Nottingham, Qari Ismail and Qari Minhaj in Sheffield, and Mufti Muhammad Abdullah in Gloucester informed the people about the martyrs of Islam [Imam Hussein and his followers].

Source: Roznama Jang, London, January 18, 2008

Posted at: 2008-01-21

Continued (Permanent Link)

IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazy at Herzliya Conference

About a year before the establishment of the State, Ben-Gurion held a long seminar in order to learn the challenges that would stand before the oncoming nation. He came to the understanding that the conflicts between the Jews and their neighbors would not be like those in the past. Ben-Gurion turned to the Hagana commanders and said, "I know that I say very difficult things, but in my heart my conclusions are even harder because the front is becoming more and more serious."
A current analysis from the last era provides a similar image to that which was seen by Ben-Gurion. The IDF must be prepared for any matter, and it is prepared and ready to defend the citizens of Israel, her sovereignty and her integrity. Only when these receive a proper response can there be a valid agreement. Today the IDF has to deal with armies that possess weapons of mass destruction, militias and strong and well established organizations.
 The threat against the home front increases and by doing so it becomes an integral part of the front. This is the result of a calculated effort by the enemy to bring the hinterland closer to the front.
 The development of rockets and Qassams is the direct result of the fact that every face to face conflict ends with IDF supremacy.
 The serene daily routine of most Israelis is not granted to the residents of Sderot and the settlements around the Gaza strip, but every night and day actions are taking place in order to minimize as much as possible the Qassam and rocket fire. Despite this, the response is not complete and IDF expends great resources to provide it.
I roam the field and I am attentive to our troops, to the way and the activity. As Chief of Staff I am both happy and proud to say that whoever has claimed that a generation is disappearing is wrong. Our soldiers are motivated by the righteousness of our way, great willingness to fight, and courage.
Residents of Sderot and the settlements surrounding Gaza, you strengthen us and we will do everything in order to restore the tranquility to your area. In the end the goal will be achieved. I promise to act responsibly and carefully.
Another process which is taking place in our region is Iran. The reality of a nuclear Iran is one which we can not tolerate. The Tefen Plan is one that forebodes [envisages?}  rebuilding and strengthening of IDF.
I am frequently asked, must we forever endure the sword? My answer is that in order to guarantee the State of Israel we must establish the IDF as a strong and advanced army, and in order to do so the IDF needs the backing of the Israeli society. The IDF's power and strength alone will ensure peace.
The IDF is the people's army. Each generation has contributed in turn and I believe that is still the mission of the generation, I know that there is no son who feels less committed than his grandfather, and I know they are driven by the will to contribute. Those who were awarded decorations during the war will be testimony to that. Those and the soldiers in the field, and pilots who watch over us from the sky and those who sit along-side the borders.
A concerning issue is the erosion in IDF enlistment. We need the people of Israel just as the people need the IDF. Especially now we are committed to fight for every enlisted man and woman, especially the combat bound. As part of this approach, more and more positions are becoming available to women as well as minorities and new immigrants. The maximal emphasis must be placed on every soldier. Even today the IDF constitutes for many the final junction for education and values.
The society must educate towards the service and I bless the public discourse which goes on today and encourages the enlistment into the IDF and rejects draft-dodging. Only with the help of the Israeli society can we return back to the origins. The society's recognition of its fighters will encourage them to walk proudly with their heads high bearing their beret in their shoulder strap.
The regular and reserve combat alignment are of great value. The reserve soldiers strengthen the military and we will continue to call upon them, to train them and properly prepare them. Together we will continue to assist those who are willing to leave their homes and schools and jobs. The late Ehud Ephraty, a fighter in the paratroopers who perished last October, had never once missed a day of reserve duty and is an example of true virtue.
We will continue to support the families of fallen soldiers; we will continue to be a warm shoulder to them and give support to our wounded, and we will continue to work towards the retrieval of our captive sons.

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Sopranos star Jamie Lynn Sigler falls in love with Israel and Judaism

Sopranos' star on birthright discovers her Jewish spirit 
Dina Kraft
Jamie Lynn Sigler, who played Tony Soprano's daugher on "The Sopranos," in Israel during her birthright israel trip. 
By Dina Kraft  Published: 01/21/2008 

JAFFA, Israel (JTA) – Meadow Soprano, Jewish?
"Everyone assumes I'm Italian," says Jamie Lynn Sigler, 26, with a sigh, pausing over her hummus lunch at the open-air market in Jaffa, one of the stops on her birthright israel tour. "Even kids on the trip keep asking, 'Are you Jewish?'"
Sigler, who played the daughter of Mafia kingpin Tony Soprano on the acclaimed HBO show "The Sopranos," grew up in a Jewish home in Jericho, N.Y., going to Hebrew school and having a bat mitzvah.
Her father's family immigrated to America from Greece and Poland. Her mother, who is Puerto Rican, converted to Judaism.
But it was only touring in Israel, her visit to the country, that she said she felt a true spiritual and emotional connection to her roots.
"It's one of the most beautiful, inspiring places I've ever been to," Sigler said. "I now have a greater understanding and motivation about preserving my Jewishness."
Among the highlights she noted were riding camels in the desert, dining on roast lamb in a Bedouin tent and exploring the back alleys of Jerusalem's Old City.
Sigler said she was especially moved during her visits to the Western Wall, where she was surprised by her tears, and to Yad Vashem, where the Holocaust and its history suddenly felt deeply personal.
"I started to think, 'What if I was there, what if I had been ripped away from my family?' " she said.
Sigler said Israel had been a fairly abstract concept before the trip, with her images limited to the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict portrayed in the media.
On the birthright trip, which brings Diaspora young people between 18 and 26 to Israel for free 10-day tours, her group was accompanied part of the time by a small group of Israeli soldiers.
Through them, Sigler said she heard about a much different life than the one she and her friends lead in America. She was taken by their sacrifices and the pride they have in their country and history.
"It's so different but so inspiring to be part of that I would want to move here and join the army, (too)," said Sigler, her face dominated by a pair of large designer sunglasses.
She bonded quickly with the other birthright participants; Sigler and her new friends kidded about returning to Israel together and renting apartments in the same building.
She compared these fast and seamless friendships to her experience with the cast and crew of "The Sopranos."
"It's a similar dynamic -- people loving what they are doing," she said.
Sigler acknowledged it's been difficult realizing that the show, considered to be among the seminal works of television drama, is finally over after six seasons. She has plans to move to Los Angeles and continue her acting career.
So would Tony have allowed Meadow to come to Israel?
"Probably not," she says.
Her friend, noting that Tony's mob rivals were out to kill him by the end of the series, interjects: "What are you talking about? It's probably safer for Meadow in Israel than near her father."
Stigler laughs, saying that's probably true.

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Arab liberal: Iranian Hegemony is upon us

Arab states are all afraid of Iran, and yet at the same time they are all intent on sabotaging any international effort to change the course of events in Iran or deter Iran.
Editor of Liberal Arab Website Aafaq:
On January 9, 2008, the editor of the Arab liberal website Aafaq, Omran Salman, published an article analyzing recent developments in the Middle East through the prism of the U.S.-Iran conflict and arguing that Iranian hegemony over the region was becoming a reality.
The following are excerpts:
"The Lebanon War… Announced the Birth of a New Era in the Region"
"On Wednesday [January 9, 2007] George Bush begins his eight-day trip to the [Middle East] region… The most important heading for this trip is that of confronting Iranian influence, allaying the fears of allied countries that arose from recent developments in America's [position] on Iran, and emphasizing Washington's commitment to stand by their side.
"However, anyone knowledgeable about affairs in the region knows that this is a desperate bid to change the course of [recent] events and developments, by a president who only has a few months left in office. He thus appears isolated and weak on the domestic front, while his [prospective] successors vie over which of them is the most capable of washing their hands of his policies. For this reason, neither friends nor enemies are expected to take this trip seriously.
"Following is an analysis of the situation in the region on the eve of Bush's trip:
"The Lebanon war in the summer of 2006, in which the Hizbullah organization remained steadfast in the face of the Israeli military machine, was not just another Arab-Israeli war. It announced the birth of a new era in the region – one of whose characteristics is, on the one hand, the powerful prominence of the alliance between Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, and other Islamist organizations; and on the other hand, the clear retreat of America's role in the region.
"For the first time in decades, the U.S. appears incapable of influencing events in the Middle East, and it is no longer capable of punishing or rewarding any state, as it always used to do. At the same time, Iran and its allies appeared to be preparing to take the initiative, both in the Gulf region and in the Middle East on the whole. Thus we entered the era of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East."
Iran, Qatar, and the Gulf Cooperation Council
"Since the Lebanon war, Iran and its ally Syria have increased their regional strength and influence, and have been able to make new gains, whether in the Gulf, Lebanon, Iraq, or Egypt.
"In the Gulf, Iranian President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad attended, for the first time, the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which took place December 3-4, 2007 in Doha. The importance of his attendance does not derive solely from Iran's breaking the Gulf states' traditional political barrier [against] Iran. More importantly, the GCC itself was founded in 1981 with the fundamental goal of standing up to the danger presented by Iran to the states of the region…
"In his speech to the GCC summit, Ahmadinejad proposed the establishment of an economic cooperation bloc, and proposed also that a joint security agreement with the GCC states be drawn up. He said: 'It appears that a new page has been turned in relations among the states of the Persian Gulf… Iran's policy is clear, and it is to encourage broad cooperation among all of the states, and especially with the friendly neighboring states'…
"After the meeting, Ahmadinejad told reporters: 'Times have changed, and the days of threats have come to an end… Iran has chosen its path, and from its point of view the nuclear issue is closed.'
"It is a paradox that it was Qatar – a major ally of the U.S. in the Gulf region and the site of the largest stockpiles of American weapons – that invited the Iranian president to attend the summit, and played the role of sponsoring the new Iranian influence in the region.
"Qatar's efforts can be interpreted as an attempt to assure a place for itself in the new regional equations. This is why the Qatari government thwarted U.S. attempts – particularly those of Defense Secretary Robert Gates – to isolate Tehran and to convince the Gulf states of the danger of rapprochement with Iran."
More Arab Leaders Are Going the Way of Michel Aoun
"Qatar's stance on this [issue] is like sembles the stance of Lt.-Gen. 'Aoun in Lebanon, who early on preferred to ride the train of Hizbullah and the Iran-Syria axis because he believed that the American train had broken down, or gotten derailed, or lost its way on the twists and turns of the Middle East.
"What deserves attention is that Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, in turn, already hastened to send an official invitation to Ahmadinejad to perform the hajj and thus become the first Iranian president to perform the hajj while still in office, though this is his third visit to Riyadh since becoming president.
"It doesn't take much to see that all this is a result of the uneasiness felt by the Gulf regimes friendly to the U.S. at Iran's increasing power and the U.S.'s retreating power.
"It appears that Iran's policy in the Gulf, which aims to remove the GCC states from American patronage – or at least to have them remain neutral in the event of confrontation with the West – has begun to bear fruit. More than one Gulf state – Qatar and Kuwait, for example – have made known their rejection of any military action against Iran.
"In order to achieve this goal, Tehran has pursued a dual discourse. On the one hand, it has tried to allay the Gulf states' fears of Iranian expansionism by sending soothing messages that its military arsenal is not aimed at these countries. At the same time, it has offered economic cooperation with the Gulf states, including providing some of them with natural gas."
"The U.S. Has Been Unable to… Rein In Syrian Policy or Punish Syria for What it is Doing" in Lebanon and Iraq
"[Regarding] Syria: The Bush administration has persistently accused Syria of interfering in Iraqi affairs by allowing armed followers of Al-Qaeda and the Ba'th party to infiltrate Iraq and kill American and Iraqi government forces.
"The administration has presented sufficient proof of this interference, but nonetheless the U.S. has been unable to employ its power and influence to rein in Syrian policy or to punish Syria for what it is doing.
"Likewise, there is much evidence of Syria's continued interference in Lebanese affairs, whether through its allies there, like Hizbullah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement… or through the more than 10 assassinations that have taken place in this country since 2005. Nonetheless, the arm of justice has not reached any Syrian official, and no [judicial] accusations have been brought against Syria.
"[In fact,] the opposite [has occurred,] and Syrian influence in Lebanon has grown stronger, as Syrian Vice President Farouq Al-Shar' stated… on December 11, 2007: 'The situation of Syria's allies in Lebanon is stronger and better than at any time in the past – including the time when Syrian [military] forces were present in Lebanon.' He emphasized that 'the American-Israeli project in the region has failed to achieve its goals, after Israel's defeat last year in Lebanon and America's failure in Iraq… And we Arabs have a great goal – that of shouldering the responsibility for the future of this region.'
"At the same time, those Lebanese opposed to a Syrian presence have become frustrated… with the American role, especially after voices were raised in Washington demanding cooperation and dialogue with [Syrian] President Bashar Al-Assad's government – voices that found their practical expression in the invitation to the Syrian government to attend the Annapolis Middle East peace conference.
"This is clearly revealed in the tone of truce that has begun to spread in the discourse of the prominent leaders of the government coalition that is defying Syria. In statements to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir on November 21, 2007, [Lebanese] Druze leader Walid Jumblatt called on Lebanese politicians to make concessions in order to arrive at a resolution of the presidential crisis that has come to threaten Lebanon with a slide into the furnace of anarchy and violence. He told the paper: 'As far as I am concerned, there is no impediment to leaving the international [i.e. the U.N.] resolutions to national dialogue directly after the carrying out of the presidential elections… We don't want to implement international resolutions over the corpses of the Lebanese.'"
Iranian Attempts to Draw Egypt Out of the "Coalition of 'Moderates'"
"[Regarding] Egypt: In a countermeasure to the efforts of the U.S., which is trying in vain to remove Syria from the Iranian orbit, several months ago Tehran launched a serious attempt to remove Egypt from the coalition of 'moderates' that President Bush had worked hard to form with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan.
"On Monday, December 24, 2007, Ali Larijani, the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] in Iran's Supreme National Security Council and Iran's former [chief] nuclear negotiator, made an important trip to Cairo. Although Egyptian sources said that this was a private family visit, the meetings Larijani held indicate that they were designed with the goal of renewing relations between the two countries, which have been frozen since 1980.
"On this trip, Larijani met with [Egyptian] Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit, Egyptian Intelligence director Gen. Omar Suleiman, Arab League Secretary-General 'Amr Moussa, and Sheikh Al-Azhar Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi. Likewise, he visited cultural and academic centers in the country, where he met with a number of university professors, scientists, and high-ranking officials.
"During his meeting with Larijani, 'Amr Moussa urged the Arabs to begin consulting and cooperating with Iran, emphasizing that expanding the relations between the two sides is something that is 'necessary and efficacious.'
"Likewise, Moussa spoke strongly about the importance of Arab-Iranian cooperation in order to deal with the sensitive situation in the region…
"As for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, it emphasized that Egypt and Iran would be conducting talks at the ministerial level, with the aim of fully reinstating diplomatic relations…
"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad already said last May that Tehran is ready for a full renewal of its relations with Egypt, and that it would open its embassy in Cairo the very same day that the Egyptian government gave its consent [to this]."
U.S. Policy Failures – Including the NIE – Paved the Way for Iran
"These developments came amidst the complete collapse of U.S. policy towards Iran. This collapse began with the failure of the double-containment policy implemented during the '90s vis-à-vis the Iranian and the Iraqi regimes, and continued with the entrusting of the Iranian nuclear dossier to the European troika (Germany, France, and England). This collapse became complete with the famous report published by the American intelligence agencies last November, that gave a nuclear certificate of innocence to the Iranians when it concluded that the Tehran regime had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
"It is no surprise that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the report a resounding victory for his regime, and began to act with the mentality of a victor. Today he is demanding that the U.S. recognize him as a [major] force in the region.
"American policy committed two major errors in the past period in dealing with Tehran. The first is that it gave the impression that Iran is just a country that is making trouble for the U.S. The reality is that Iran is not just a regular rogue state, like Syria for instance. It is, rather, a country that is competing with the U.S. for influence over the Gulf region and in the Middle East. It has been striving for a long time to inherit America's role [in the region].
"At every point of contact with American policy, there is a powerful and active Iranian presence, whether in Iraq, the Gulf, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, or Central Asia.
"The second error was the exaggerated focus on Iran's nuclear program, and its depiction as the only thing obstructing U.S.-Iran relations, and, more generally, relations between the West and Iran.
"The reality is that nuclear weapons are just a means or a tool (among a large group of means and tools) for ensuring Iranian influence and hegemony in the region, with the goal itself being the influence and the hegemony. While nuclear weapons may be the most important of these Iranian tools, Tehran is capable of attaining its goals through conventional means (support for militias, spreading ideology, conventional military power, etc.)"
American Policy is Inconsistent on the Question of Who is a Friend and Who is an Enemy
"[Another factor] that makes the picture even more confused and confounding for the U.S.'s allies is the lack of dividing lines between enmity and friendship…
"The reason for this is that in the American view, its enemies, like its friends, are in a perpetual stage of transition. There was a time when Iran was part of the axis of evil and Syria was the greatest obstacle to stability in Iraq. But today no one is sure any longer whether these assessments are still in effect, and no one knows where [these countries] have ended up on the enmity-friendship spectrum.
"American officials find nothing wrong with meeting and talking with representatives of the Iranian and Syrian regimes when necessary – but at another stage, they demand that the world strengthen sanctions against them. One of the indications of anarchy and drift in American foreign policy in the region is that it has changed under the pressure of the rapid pace of events, and has adopted hasty and contradictory policies…"
This is a Strategic Struggle That Will Determine Whether the New Middle East Will Be Iranian – and the Iranians are Advancing
"The struggle whose features we have seen and continue to see in Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and other parts of the Middle East, is likely to continue, and perhaps also to broaden. This is not a tactical struggle, but a strategic one, and it will determine whether a new Middle East will be Iranian, or whether it will be [a place] where the U.S.'s word will be strongest.
"Despite the fact that we are [only] at the beginning of this struggle, which can be expected to produce great and profound transformation, what is clear so far is that the Iranians and their allies are advancing, while American influence in the region is being eaten away. The earth is moving under the feet of the U.S.'s allies – first and foremost, Saudi Arabia – while the fate of the smaller allies, the Gulf states (with the exception of Qatar and Oman), is left to be carried away by the wind.
"Perhaps in a future stage they will be obliged to submit and to perform the duties of obedience and loyalty… to the new master in the Gulf." 
1, January 9, 2007.
 Source: MEMRI

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Europeans investing in Iranian rights violations

Iran is attracting a good deal of European investment, despite its flouting of UN resolutions and its abysmal human rights record.
Students claim that another dissident died of beatings in an Iranian jail. Presumably, that will double the French, German and Italian investment in Iran, while China wand the others will quadruple their investments.
Best beatings money can buy.
Ami Isseroff
Iran Attracts USD 11 b in Foreign Investment in 10 Months - Official

Over the past 10 months, foreign companies have expressed interest in investing in the construction of two refineries and a steel company.
Foreign investment is on the rise in Iran as a result of incentives and new laws for the protection of investments, the director of the Foreign Investment Department of the Ministry of Finance and Financial Affairs said on Monday.
Since March 2007, $11 billion has been invested in telecommunications, steel, petrochemicals, agriculture, and small-scale industries by foreign financiers, mostly from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, India, China, Germany, France, and Italy, Ahmad Jamali told ISNA.

Over the past 10 months, foreign companies have expressed interest in investing in the construction of two refineries and a steel company, the official said.

The Iranian government liberalized investment regulations in the early part of the decade, but since then foreign investors have only focused on a few sectors of the economy, namely the oil and gas sectors, the vehicle manufacturing industry, copper mining, petrochemicals, foodstuffs, and pharmaceuticals.

Iran attracted $24.3 billion of foreign investment from March 1993 to March 2007 and foreign transactions with Iran amounted to $150 billion between 2000 and 2007.
Jan 21 , 2008

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A real core issue:incitement

This article is especially pertinent in view of the call of the US ambassador for peace education.
The first 'core issue': Incitement

Last week the Israeli government reportedly started negotiations on the "core issues" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem - but not incitement and hate language.
It is well to examine the consequences of Israel's past failures to demand an end to Palestinian and region-wide incitement and hate language, which are early warning signs of genocidal intent by their perpetrators. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that it was words, not machinery, that produced Auschwitz. If the rocks, daggers, guns, suicide bombs, Kassams and long-range missiles are the hardware of today's terror threats to Israel, it is the incitement that is the software.
At Annapolis, the statement of principles called for "confronting terror and incitement - whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis." Prime Minister Olmert and President George Bush each used the term once - President Mahmoud Abbas ignored it.
During Bush's visit, official statements provided no evidence of any intent to monitor and eradicate incitement and hate language from official Arab media, texts and places of worship; a colossal act of diplomatic negligence.
Israel's politicians and opinion-makers, acting like abused children, have become habituated to regional incitement as normal. Incitement, like lead from gasoline, needs to be redefined as toxic - and unacceptable. MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch provide frequent updates on endemic regional incitement in school texts, mosques, on the airwaves, media and Internet.
AT ITS worst, incitement includes the dehumanization of Jews as "monkeys and pigs," the dissemination of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and maps without Israel; Holocaust denial and propagation of many of the classic motifs of anti-Semitism, in which Israel and Zionism have replaced "Jews" as targets. Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe Israel off the map, along with his Holocaust denials, are the tip of the iceberg.
An end to state-sponsored incitement to terror belongs right on top of the negotiating agenda, before any discussions on borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and all the other issues. The first "confidence-building measure" should be ending incitement, cutting off funding for those spreading such incitement, and prosecuting those who propagate hatred, not only in the PA, but its hinterland in Egypt and Jordan, and, yes, Saudi Arabia.
As The Jerusalem Post reported, even "moderate" Arab papers showcased anti-Semitic cartoons ahead of the Annapolis summit.
It is true that Israel has its own blue-and-white copycat inciters - such as Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri, who was indicted for calling Arabs "donkeys and beasts." But the decision of our legal authorities to prosecute Batzri is a role model for the region. My guess is that incitement in Israeli society is probably less by an order or two magnitudes than that in the Arab world, where state-sponsored educational systems, places of worship, printed media, Internet and airwaves are hardwired to disseminate it daily.
THE FOLLOWING phrases have yet to enter the lexicon of the negotiating process: "Incitement kills," "An end to incitement," "Incitement is toxic" and "Incitement makes genocidal terrorists."
In 1969, the Israeli government forcefully demanded removing and amending texts, including inflammatory content from Jordanian textbooks used in UN-supported refugee camps. But Israel has failed to exploit the precedent of the 1988 Knesset decision banning parties that incite to racism and violence.
Incitement and hate language are the most toxic exposures of our time. They shape the socio-cultural environment that enables genocidal terror to become an accepted or approved social norm. Children and adolescents are the most vulnerable, and exposing them is a form of child abuse. They are indoctrinated to act on its messages, thereby ensuring intergenerational perpetuation of hate.
It is state-sponsored incitement, - i.e. the messages on the loudspeakers, airwaves and the Internet - and not what is whispered between diplomats, that signals the intentions of states or their surrogate organizations. The blowback from "the street" makes the decision-makers captive to such messages. So long as incitement warps the minds of coming generations, no diplomatic solution of the conflict between Israel and the Muslim world will be sustainable.
Israel should be demanding an end to funding by US, EU and UN agencies of all institutions of learning and education that tolerate or issue hate language. Until Saudi Arabia and Egypt put an end to the propagation of the ugly anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish motifs in their mosques, texts, universities and media, neither should have any credibility as a participant or intermediary in any peace process.
Israel - and the world community - need to demand as the first "core issue" that we apply public health models of surveillance to identify and ban the use of hate language and incitement.
In order to reduce the risk of perpetual conflict, we have to institutionalize surveillance of incitement. The purpose of such monitoring would be to trigger bans and punitive legal actions designed to deter the perpetrators of incitement and hate language. Using the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Code, which specifies that incitement to genocide is a crime against humanity, Israel should be leading the way in criminalizing incitement to genocidal terror as a central part of any future agreement coming out of Annapolis.
I ASK President Bush and Secretary Rice: Has the US consul-general, who has been assigned to monitor "progress in compliance with the road map" been required to monitor how many times the words "pig," "cancer," "filth," "microbes" and "vermin" and the all the other anti-Semitic motifs appear in Arab textbooks, sermons, official Internet sites and media?
The core values of all human social contracts need to guide resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians and their hinterland. Incitement to terror is a blatant assault on respect for the most basic of all human rights - human life and dignity - signaling genocidal intent by its perpetrators and practitioners.
The road map explicitly calls for an end to incitement as an essential precondition for all future agreements. Official monitoring, reporting and sanctioning of incitement are the essential next steps to eradicating this fundamental obstacle to peace and threat to human life.
The writer heads the Genocide Prevention Program at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine and serves on the advisory board of Genocide Watch.

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Sderot rescue workers treat their grandchildren for Qassam injuries

Blood Relations in Sderot
Two MDA employees in Sderot treated their grandchildren injured by Kassam missiles
By Yerucham Mandola
MDA Spokesman
16 January 2008
On January 15, Lior Ben Schimmel, 5, was at her neighbor's house playing with their children when the Kassam attack occurred. She was moderately injured.
In all of his 34 years of working for MDA, Chaim Ben Schimmel, who works in the MDA Sderot station, never imagined that one day he would have to treat one of the members of his family. But, unfortunately, one of the Kassams fired yesterday, moderately injured his granddaughter Lior, a wonderful 5 year old, who was playing with a neighbour's son in a room on the upper floor of their house, when a Kassam directly hit it. The two children, who are used to running to the reinforced room as soon as the "Red Colour" alert is sounded, did not manage to escape from the fragments of the Kassam which hit them whilst running for shelter.
Chaim, who was at that very time in the MDA Sderot station, reinforcing the teams there, as he usually does when the level of alert in MDA has been raised, received a phone call from his son Yaron, telling him that Lior had been injured. "I immediately got in an ambulance and drove quickly to the place; the journey which usually takes a few minutes seemed to take forever, and during the journey I feared the worst," recalls Chaim about the incident.
Chaim, who has lived in the city of Sderot for the past 56 years, since he came to live in Israel at the age of one year, has experienced tens if not hundreds of Kassam volleys, and in the last seven years alone he has treated tens of Sderot inhabitants, some of whom are his neighbours and friends, and has seen many very difficult scenes. However, all this did not prepare him for the moment, yesterday, when he met up with his beloved granddaughter, covered in blood and white dust and parts of bricks and roof tiles, with fragments of the Kassam sticking out of all parts of her body.
"I began to wash her face, to clean her up to see where she was injured. I bandaged the wounds on her legs and hands and we transferred her on the gurney to the ambulance" says Chaim who transported his granddaughter to Barzilai Hospital and has not left her bedside since. "I just cannot leave her" says Chaim. "She and all the others were saved by a miracle, they got their lives back as a present, the total destruction of the top floor which was completely destroyed, shows the force of the tremendous explosion there." Lior had tens of X-rays all over her body, eye tests, surgical, orthopedic and ear, nose and throat tests and underwent a series of operations to take out the splinters, and was put in plaster on her hand and leg to mend the breaks.
Chaim tells that he always encourages his wife, his four children and his grandchildren, saying everything will be OK, and as a founder of the city he does not see himself or any of them leaving the place. "As a founder of the city, I have explained to my family and friends that everything will be alright, and we shall continue to live here and carry on with our lives as in the past; I love my work in MDA." 
Chaim recounts that Lior was having psychological treatment because of her fear of the Kassams and he continuously tried to encourage her.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time an MDA employee in Sderot has seen the evil injury of a Kassam just from the side of the one treating the injured, but also from the side of one injured. Yossi Cohen, Chaim's co-worker these past 30 years, who lives in Sderot, was two years ago called to treat his daughter, son in law and baby grandson, who was then 7 months old, who were injured by a Kassam missile, in their home on Moshav Karmiya.
The one who was the most badly injured was the baby. "Two years ago my grandson was hurt by a Kassam missile falling in Karmiya. He suffered a head injury and had to have two operations on his head to reconstruct his skull and a permanent drain was placed in his head. The moment of the injury is not the end of the story, it lasts one's whole life.
I have been living in Sderot for over 50 years, ever since I was a year and a half old in the transit camp, and I know everyone by name, even the children and their families. Every person injured in Sderot hurts me a bit, also those suffering from fear and panic attacks - I know what they are going through. These days," adds Cohen, "are very difficult ones. However, as long as I am doing a shift I push it all to one side. I go to work, and do my job properly. MDA is my home. I believe and know, as is written in the song, that will shall see better days than these."

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India lauches sophisticated Israeli synthetic aperture radar reconnaisance satellite

Both India and Israel will share information from the new satellite. Apparently it uses synthetic aperture radar to "see through" cloud cover and enhance effective resolution.
 Last update - 11:10 21/01/2008       
Satellite launch bolsters ability to spy on Tehran
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent
Israel launched early Monday a sophisticated new spy satellite, designated TECSAR, which could boost intelligence gathering capabilities regarding Iran.
The satellite was sent into orbit from the Sriharikota Launching Range in India, using an Indian rocket.
The TECSAR, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), has the ability to use radar to identify targets even under adverse weather conditions including dense clouds.
As such, it differs from Israel's Ofek series of reconnaissance satellites, which rely on cameras.
IAI officials said that the satellite, which weighs some 300 kilograms, was launched at 5:45 A.M. Israel time, and was successfully placed in orbit. IAI ground stations reported receiving signals at 7:10 A.M. showing that all measuring parameters were operating correctly.
Scientists and engineers are now conducting a battery of tests to check the systems and gauge their performance. A first picture from the satellite is expected within two weeks.
The TECSAR launch was postponed a number of times in the past, largely due to weather conditions.
Israel currently operates a number of reconnaissance satellites, including Ofek 5 and Ofek 7, as well as several commercial satellites such as the Amos and EROS series. A total of 11 Israeli satellites have been placed in orbit, a number of them still operational.
The Ofek 5 was launched in May, 2002, and the Ofek 7, last July, from the Palmachim missile range on Israel's coast.
Israel intends to launch another two spy satellites as part of its strategic cooperation commitments

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Your taxes at work: Educating the terrorists of tomorrow

Of course it is not just British money....
British NGO: UK taxes fund PA hate education

JONNY PAUL, Jerusalem Post correspondent , THE JERUSALEM POST  Jan. 19, 2008
British taxpayers are funding hate education and violence in the Middle East, according to a new report published by a British NGO over the weekend.
In the first of a series of papers analyzing the effectiveness of Britain's overseas aid, the Tax Payers Alliance (TPA), which lobbies for lower taxes and better government, has published a report looking at the effects of British aid spending in the Palestinian territories.
"Funding Hate Education" reveals disturbing evidence on the millions of pounds of British tax revenue has been funneled into hate education and promoting violence in the Middle East.
Some of the money is even being used to fund school textbooks that teach children in Palestine to worship violence and hate all non-Muslims.
"With moves towards a peace settlement at Annapolis and an American presidential visit to Israel, there is real hope that a peace deal can be reached," said Matthew Sinclair, author of the report and policy analyst at the TPA. "In order for a deal to stick over the long term, however, it is essential that the Palestinian population fully accepts it. This is why it is particularly concerning that British aid is supporting the radicalization of the Palestinian population, particularly the children."
The report, launched by the TPA with the Conservative Friends of Israel in Parliament on Thursday, shows that part of the £47.5 million of British aid to the Palestinian territories goes towards textbooks that praise insurgents in Iraq and encourage execution of apostates and idealize martyrdom.
The report offers as examples programs on the Palestinian Authority's official TV station. Many aimed at children urge violence against non-Muslims and promote the view that Israel should not exist.
"We want to kill the Jews. Kill them one by one, make their children orphans and their wives widows," exhorted one televised sermon in November 2006.
According to the report, one PA pre-school program, broadcast in 2004, featured the following exchange between a girl and a puppet:
Girl: "If a boy comes in front of your house where a tree is planted and cuts it down, what would you do?" Tarabisho (the puppet): "I'll fight him and make a big riot. I'll bring AK-47s and I'll commit a massacre."
"The future of the peace process in Israel and Palestine depends at least as much on positive attitudes among young Palestinians as it does on success at the negotiating table," Sinclair added. "British taxpayers' money is supporting the radicalization of Palestinian youth and hurting our objectives in the region. This needs to, and can, change."
David Lidington, Shadow Foreign Office Minister, said he was "disturbed" by the report's findings. "It is imperative that future generations... are taught a message of reconciliation and mutual understanding," he said.
Lidington said he had contacted representatives of both the Palestinian Authority and the UN Relief and Works Agency to discuss the issues raised in the TPA report.
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said it worried him "deeply that British taxpayers' money is being used, quite improperly, for destructive purpose... While aid needs to be directed to the needy, its abuse for terrorist purposes is grotesque."
Hannu Takkula, vice-chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education, said that children's rights "include [the] right to a hate-free educational system. Since the EU is financially supporting the Palestinian administration, including the educational system, it has to ensure that the values taught to these kids correspond to the fundamental values of Europe itself."
A spokesman for the Department for International Development said in response to the TPA report that "[The UK doesn't] fund the PA directly and therefore [doesn't] fund textbooks. UK aid is spent on helping Palestinians to pay doctors and teachers, maintain water and electricity supplies and support refugees."
The spokesman said that the department ran "stringent checks" to ensure that aid money was not being used to fund violent propaganda.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who is destroying Gaza/

Last update - 09:35 20/01/2008    
 In Gaza, life destroyed by the Qassams

By Catrin Ormestad 
The Qassam crew arrived in the late afternoon. The two men were in their mid-twenties, both from Hamas, and probably from Beit Hanun. The place they had chosen was perfect: an orange grove, only a few kilometers from the border with Israel. The roofs of the houses in Sderot are clearly visible between the palm trees.
In the small house behind the orange grove, Khadra Wahdan, 52, was making pita when she suddenly spotted the militants. It was not the first time they had fired Qassams from the fields around the house, but they had never come so close before. She ran out to tell them to leave.
"What are you doing here? Go away! There are children in the house!" she yelled.
At that moment, an Israeli shell exploded at the entrance to the house. Khadra died instantly, as did a 15-year-old boy who was collecting firewood in the groves. The militants were unharmed and fled.
One week later we visit the Wahdans, one of many families in Gaza who are trapped in the war of attrition between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian militants. Khadra's sons Muhammed and Daoud show us the spot where their mother died. The steel gates are perforated by tiny square holes. The shell was filled with hundreds of sharp pellets to maximize damage.
We walk across the fields, but the boys cautiously stay by the house. Under an orange tree, we find part of a rocket that was never fired, an empty steel pipe with tail fins, but without the rocket head and the explosives. In the grass are the launchers, aimed at Sderot. On the sandy road in front of the house we find another Qassam, a rusty pipe with a split open head. In the yard is a big hole, the result of a failed launch.
"We hate the rockets!" says Daoud. "They destroy everything. We can't even work anymore."
The Wahdans are a family of farmers, but they longer dare to work the vegetable fields around their house. They also used to have fruit trees, but they cut them all down after Khadra's death, in a desperate attempt to keep the militants away. But they keep coming back.
In the morning, before we arrived, militants launched four Qassams from the hill behind the house. Daoud shows us a piece of shrapnel from the Israeli response. In the garage they keep a piece of a whole missile, with writing in Hebrew, perhaps as a reminder of who their real enemy is. Their mother was killed the same day as Bush and Olmert were making their lofty speeches about the imminent peace.
"It is only words," says Muhammed. "It will lead nowhere. We have had so many shaheeds (martyrs) since Annapolis."
One of them was Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar's son. On Thursday the Gazans were still coming to the huge green mourning tent to pay their condolences with the grieving father. In a more modest setting, the Kassem family in Beit Hanun was also receiving visitors to mourn the death of their son Muhammed, the child who was killed alongside Khadra.
His mother Salwa is still crying. Her husband Maher has been out of work since the intifada began in 2000. Since then, the family has relied on "God and the UNDP's food coupons," and their eldest sons have been helping with the breadwinning. That is what Muhammed was doing when he was killed - collecting twigs and leaves to sell for a few shekels. Since Israel started cutting the power supply to Gaza, people have been making fires to stay warm in the winter cold.
"The cold makes the children sick," says Muhammed's aunt Tahane, gently rocking the baby in her arms, Shahed, 6 months. "We don't have money to buy medicines, and warm clothes have become so expensive in the market."
The sanctions have sent prices soaring in Gaza. Basic commodities like rice, olive oil and tehina have almost doubled in price. They also have emptied the supermarket shelves, closed shops and factories and halted all construction, since Israel no longer allows the import of cement. This has also made it impossible to bury the dead properly, since there is no cement for the headstones. Rocks or lumps of concrete are now used to mark new graves.
The closure has stopped not only the import of goods but also the export, which affects the farmers. In Beit Lahia it is time to harvest strawberries. Saddam and Alia Maruf and their six children are working in the fields, loading boxes of succulent red berries onto donkey carts. But instead of being exported to Europe for a good profit, they will be sold at the local market, where the farmers will barely earn a fraction of the tens of thousands of shekels they have invested in the crop.
"This year we will lose everything," says Saddam Maruf.
Suddenly, a huge explosion. A Qassam has been fired from a grove nearby. The strawberry pickers look at the white smoke and continue to harvest. That is all they can do, pick their strawberries and wait - for the Israeli response, and for the border to open.

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Israel government at odds on how to protect Negev

Dichter wants to  "direct the IDF to bring the firing [of rockets] to a complete stop. Not to curb or reduce it but to stop it, whatever the cost for the Palestinians." He doesn't explain how that might be done, short of a massive takeover of Gaza or a cease fire with Hamas, nor does he recommend a course of action. Is he serious or grandstanding?
Ami Isseroff

Ministers clash over Gaza policy Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 20, 2008
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter exchanged harsh words during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday after Dichter accused the government of desensitization to the suffering of the residents of Sderot and the Gaza belt communities, who he said were living in a "Gazan roulette."
Dichter said the government was not doing enough to stop Kassam rocket attacks, demanding that it "direct the IDF to bring the firing [of rockets] to a complete stop. Not to curb or reduce it but to stop it, whatever the cost for the Palestinians."
Dichter also lashed out at the army's command, saying he would have expected the chief of the general staff to be at the meeting after such a difficult week. Pinpoint air force attacks were not enough, he added, and another sort of deterrence was needed.
Responding to Dichter's harsh words, Barak said such statements did nothing to strengthen the people of Sderot.
"I don't remember such anxious talk in the government like what I'm hearing here," Barak said. The government should be united during testing times despite differences of opinion, he said, adding that a government that looked like a press conference weakened itself and the people it governed.
"We will find a solution to the Kassam just as we found a solution to suicide bombers," Barak pledged. "We will continue our actions against the rocket launching cells, we've closed off the crossings for several days and we are continuing to prepare for a large-scale operation."
Five Kassam rockets were launched from the Strip on Sunday. Four landed in open fields near Sderot while the fifth landed on the Palestinian side of the Erez Crossing. No casualties or damage were reported in any of the attacks.
Since last Sunday, close to 165 Kassam rockets and 70 mortar shells were fired at the western Negev, and more than 30 terrorists were killed.

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Turki al Feisal: If Israel quits Arab land, it could join Arab world

This sounds like great news. But wait: please define "Arab land." Jerusalem? Yaffo?
And define the nature of this acceptance:  Is Saudi Arabia going to recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people?
Ami Isseroff. 
Last update - 13:07 20/01/2008    
 Saudi prince: If Israel quits Arab land, it could join Arab world  By Reuters 
A senior Saudi royal has offered Israel a vision of broad cooperation with the Arab world and people-to-people contacts if it signs a peace treaty and withdraws from all occupied Arab territories.
In an interview with Reuters, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States and Britain and adviser to King Abdullah, said Israel and the Arabs could cooperate in many areas including water, agriculture, science and education.
Asked what message he wanted to send to the Israeli public, he said:
"The Arab world, by the Arab peace initiative, has crossed the Rubicon from hostility towards Israel to peace with Israel and has extended the hand of peace to Israel, and we await the Israelis picking up our hand and joining us in what inevitably will be beneficial for Israel and for the Arab world."
The 22-nation Arab League revived at a Riyadh summit last year a Saudi peace plan first adopted in 2002 offering Israel full normalization of relations in return for full withdrawal from occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land.
Israel shunned the offer then, at the height of a violent Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But it has expressed more interest since the United States launched a new drive for Israeli-Palestinian peace at Annapolis, Maryland, last November, aiming for an agreement this year.
Prince Turki, who was previously head of Saudi intelligence, said that if Israel accepted the Arab League plan and signed a comprehensive peace, "one can imagine the integration of Israel into the Arab geographical entity."
"One can imagine not just economic, political and diplomatic relations between Arabs and Israelis but also issues of education, scientific research, combating mutual threats to the inhabitants of this vast geographic area," he said.
'Arab Jews'
His comments, on the sidelines of a conference on the Middle East and Europe staged by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation think-tank, were some of the most far-reaching addressed to Israelis by a senior figure from Saudi Arabia.
The desert kingdom, home to Islam's holiest shrines, has no official relations with Israel, although both are key allies of the United States in the region.
"Exchange visits by people of both Israel and the rest of the Arab countries would take place," Prince Turki said.
"We will start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews rather than
simply as Israelis," he said, noting that many Arabs historically saw Israel as a European entity imposed on Arab land after World War Two.
Prince Turki, brother of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, holds no official position now but heads the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.
He said Israel could expect some benefits on the way to signing a treaty and making a full withdrawal, noting that after the 1993 Oslo interim accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization, regional cooperation had begun and Israel had achieved representation in several Arab states.
Those Israeli advances were reversed after the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000.
Israel was wary of the Arab League plan partly because it would entail handing back the Golan Heights captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, as well as redivision.
But an Israeli participant at the conference, Yossi Alpher, co-editor of the Bitter Lemons Israeli-Palestinian Web site and a former senior intelligence official, welcomed the comments.
"I was delighted to hear Prince Turki's description of the comprehensive nature of normalization as he envisages it within the framework of the Arab peace initiative," Alpher said.
"His remarks should encourage us Israelis and Arabs to deepen and broaden the discussion of ways to reach a comprehensive peace, implement the Arab peace initiative and reach the kind of cooperation that his highness described."
Alpher said he hoped that once there was a comprehensive peace, Israel's Arab neighbours would accept Israelis "as Jewish people living a sovereign life in our historic homeland" and not as "Arab Jews" or "European Jews"

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News: Not everyone hates Israel

An understanding article from Australia. Such articles are all too rare.
But we didn't have 1,500 deaths from terror in any year of the recent violence.

Greg Sheridan, foreign editor | January 19, 2008
IN a land of stark, powerful and sometimes bizarre images, as Israel is, perhaps the most ghostly for an Australian are the countless gum trees that populate Israel, the north especially.
Israelis brought in the gum trees to drain the swamps. Now they are not so sure whether the fast-growing and thirsty trees are an ecological plus or not. But these exotic Australian settlers in the land of the Bible are now too numerous to eradicate, and too beautiful.
Their presence is almost surreal in the much bombed and fought over land of Israel. But the gum trees are friendly, especially to an Australian visitor. It's as if a single ghost gum represents every Australian soldier who ever fell in the Middle East, through all the many decades that Australian soldiers have been fighting and dying there.
The Middle East is an indelible part of Australia's past and of its future. Our strategic engagement there is in the direct defence of our national interests, for the Middle East is the pivot of global conflict.
Three weeks in Israel recently presented a compelling series of images. Often enough it's images that are fought about in the Middle East. Yet in the context of Israel, it is seldom images of Israel that attract attention. It is images instead of the Palestinian territories. These are indeed compelling and they are among the most reported, seen and discussed images in the world. They deserve attention. But here's something else.
Alongside the territories is a much under-reported but fascinating and unique country. It's called Israel.
The world media makes a mistake by using the same reporters to cover the Palestinian territories as well as Israel. They can't do both, and most don't try to.
They cover the territories and they only cover Israel as a brooding and malign presence in the territories.
Naturally the reporting is one-sided. But it is worse than that. It omits from the equation Israel and the Israelis, and all the countless enthralling and diverse aspects of Israeli politics and society.
It is ever the fate of stable, democratic countries, even those involved in a conflict, to be under-reported. Israel was more reported a few years ago, when terrorists were murdering 1500 of its citizens a year. Now, with the security barrier, wrongly labelled a wall when it is mostly a fence, terrorist infiltration is much more difficult and perhaps a dozen or so Israelis are killed a year by terrorists.
Although Israel is a physically small country - it's one-third the size of Tasmania - most of its seven million people distribute themselves over incredibly diverse cities.
Jerusalem is an eternal city: the centre of Judaism, the fountainhead of Christianity and an important site for Islam. Visually it is stunning, its character maintained by the most enlightened civic ordinance on record: that all new buildings must be constructed of white Jerusalem stone. Like most Israeli cities it has several diverse communities: ultra-orthodox religious Jews who don't serve in the army and often don't work, Arab Muslims, Arab Christians (a small and diminishing minority), secular Jews, and national religious Jews who serve in the army and participate in the modern economy.
Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest city, is entirely different. It is a sensuous Mediterranean city that offers every decent amenity of any cosmopolitan European city. Its hedonism and its sensuousness are tempered by the strategic gravity of Israel's situation, by everyone doing their military service and by the cultural depth of Judaism, the traditions of the book. Tel Aviv is predominantly secular Jewish, with very few Arabs and ultra-orthodox Jews.
Haifa, the port city to the north of Tel Aviv, is different again. It has the largest Arab minority of a big Israeli city and is where Arabs and Jews most easily and fully mix together, although such mixing occurs all across Israel. Haifa is also the world headquarters of the Bahai faith, which was founded in Iran and has suffered terrible persecution there and so has fled to two countries where religious minorities are not persecuted: Israel and India.
Israel is full of such anomalies. The Druze are a small, separate, Arab religious group found in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Within Israel, they are fiercely loyal to the state of Israel (the Druze in Syria are loyal Syrians and in Lebanon loyal Lebanese) and serve in the Israeli army with great distinction, so that many have been represented in its most elite fighting units.
I caught a glimpse of another Muslim minority, the Bedouin, from the air when I flew in a small plane over the Negev Desert, south and east of Tel Aviv. There I spied dozens of small makeshift settlements, more or less completely outside legal regulation. But these were not the illegal Jewish settlements of media legend. They were Bedouin encampments, often of a few caravans or houses, seemingly impossibly isolated, scattered through the desert. The problem they cause is for those trying to get education and social services to their children.
To the east of the Negev, on the edge of the Dead Sea, I got an aerial glimpse of Masada, the astounding mountain-top fortress where a group of Jews made their last stand against the Roman Empire. On another day, visiting a northern part of the Dead Sea, I came upon a group of tourists cavorting joyfully in the strange, viscous, mineral-filled water. Their accents were unmistakable. They were a group of Malaysian tourists; yet Malaysian passports bear the absurd restriction that says Malaysian citizens may not visit Israel.
One night I dined at the home of a local Israeli Arab leader in the almost entirely Israeli Arab town of Abu Ghosh, just west of Jerusalem. It has always been identified with the Israeli state. My host had his complaints about the Israeli Government but he was also a proud Israeli. And every night his town, which has many restaurants, is full of Israeli Jews at the countless eateries because, and here I'll make a clear statement of cultural preference, Arab food is generally a little more interesting than Jewish food.
I spent days in the north of Israel and visited the town of Metulla, on the tiny tip of a finger of Israeli territory that juts into southern Lebanon. Until the 2006 war with Hezbollah, its people were repeatedly attacked by rockets from southern Lebanon. The municipality organised field trips away from the town for the children, but mostly the residents stayed. I visited the town's Canada Centre to try the odd practice of pistol shooting on the gun range. Here's another paradox of Israeli society. Many people have guns but it is not remotely a macho society. Its murder rate is low. Binge drinking is not part of the culture. Nobody fires a gun into the air at a wedding. Although the shortest time in Israel is between the light turning green in front of you and the car behind you honking, people don't settle traffic disputes with gunplay. Israelis argue - loudly, abrasively, obsessively - at endless length, but they seldom resort to fisticuffs.
I saw Gadot, the now disused network of bunkers and tunnels constructed by the Syrian soldiers in the Golan Heights. Before Israel seized the Golan Heights, Syrian soldiers would fire from the bunkers at workers on the kibbutz below.
But I also sought out the controversial images of Israel, in particular those of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A word on definitions. After the 1967 war, when Israel was attacked by a coalition of its Arab neighbours, Israel took territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Some of this, Israelis argue, is necessary for security.
It has since left Gaza. Israel is constantly urged to go back to its 1967 borders, but the two places where it has done that, in southern Lebanon and Gaza, the result has been disastrous. It was subject to thousands of rocket attacks from southern Lebanon until it went to war with Hezbollah and now every day Qassam rockets are fired from Gaza at nearby Israeli civilian towns, especially Sderot.
The final borders between Israel and a putative Palestinian state have yet to be worked out. Every inch of territory with a Jewish inhabitant beyond the 1967 borders is commonly referred to as a Jewish settlement. I spent days driving up and down the West Bank and visited as many Jewish settlements as I could. These included suburbs of Jerusalem such as Gilot and Har Homa, big settlements just outside Jerusalem such as Gush Etzion and Ma'ale Adumin, and the biggest, distant settlement, the town of Ariel.
Although I think Israel will be prepared to give up numerous settlements in the West Bank, I don't think any of those named above will be given up under any circumstances. The stereotype of the Jewish settler, as columnist and author Hillel Halkin has written, is of "a belligerently bearded Jew with a knit skullcap on his head, a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other". It's a stereotype I didn't meet at all in any of these settlements, and not for want of trying, although of course I met only a fraction of the nearly 400,000 Jews who live beyond the 1967 lines.
There are certainly ideologically militant and intolerant settlers, but they are a minority. While committed to Israel like virtually all its citizens, the settlers I met lived where they did for a variety of reasons, mainly the lower cost of housing, the communal lifestyle and educational opportunities, and sometimes because of a desire to be connected to biblical lands.
The status of the different communities routinely lumped into the single category of settlements varies enormously. Israel officially annexed some parts of East Jerusalem straight after 1967. Although there may one day be a compromise on Jerusalem, no Israeli government will give up central suburbs such as Har Homa and Gilot.
For an Australian it is almost impossible to imagine the smallness of the distances involved. Gilot was routinely fired on by snipers in Bethlehem several years ago, and so, well before the security fence was put up, Gilot had its own system of walls and shields, especially for children's playgrounds. For Gilot to be fired on from Bethlehem is like Sydney's Surry Hills being fired on from Redfern, or Richmond being fired on from the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Jerusalem, in the view of many Israelis, becomes indefensible without its Jewish suburbs developed since 1967.
The status of Gush Etzion, a little distance to the southwest of Jerusalem, is also intriguing. It was a Jewish area before 1948, when the UN divided the land of Israel into Jewish and Palestinian states, which the Palestinians and their surrounding Arab neighbours declined to accept, so that several Arab nations launched a war on Israel. The Jordanian army took control of Gush Etzion at that time.
After 1967 it was re-established as a Jewish settlement. Gush Etzion as a Jewish settlement has a 20th-century history long pre-dating 1967. Before the intifada, to get to Gush Etzion you would drive through Bethlehem. Israelis in those days commonly went to dentists in Ramallah, because it was cheaper. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians earned a good living working in Israel.
The need to prevent terrorism has compromised everyone's quality of life. Now, to get to Gush Etzion from Jerusalem, you drive through a tunnel road. When you emerge from the tunnel, a good deal of the subsequent road is behind walls. The road is Israeli, the land on either side is Palestinian territory, and of course there are checkpoints to get back into Jerusalem as well as armed guards at the entrance to Gush Etzion.
And yet life in Gush Etzion is normal. Behind the gates people hitchhike routinely (as they do in much of Israel) because they all trust each other. On the day I visit, a group of American Jewish teenagers are there as part of a program to acquaint diaspora Jewish youth with their cultural heritage. They are the normal loud-mouthed, good natured, overbearing American kids.
The only odd thing about them is that they are accompanied by two security guards, in this case Israeli girls who look barely older than the teenagers they are guarding and carry rifles as tall as themselves.
The mayor of Gush Etzion, Shaul Goldstein, tells me that many people live there because of the availability of quality housing. They can buy a good apartment for $US200,000 ($228,000) and for a little more, a house with a garden. That's impossible in Jerusalem proper. And the settlement has renowned schools. Says Goldstein: "We thought during the intifada that people would leave. But people didn't leave. Instead they kept coming, even from Australia, even from Bondi Beach.
"One reason is the community lifestyle. People's children can walk safely from house to house. People also feel they are part of history. I'm driving to work through the path of King David. It's important to me as a religious man."
The most emphatic settlement I visited was Ariel. It's a Jewish town of about 30,000 people, deep in the West Bank. Ariel University College has about 10,000 students, 3000 of them doing pre-undergraduate courses. The student population is racially diverse, as is Israel. The Ethiopian presence is noticeable. But Ariel officials tell me some local Palestinians attend as well, although of course they are under pressure not to.
Ariel is a small but substantial city. It is a beautiful place, full of public gardens and garden homes, and it has a distinctly European air and style. People don't like to use the back road to Jerusalem because even in these relatively calm days there is the danger of attacks. Just a few days before I visit, a Jewish settler, not from Ariel but from nearby, was killed on the road, as it turns out by two Palestinian Authority policemen who simply waited for a victim to come along.
I attend a seminar at Ariel on the international media's treatment of Israel. Leonard Asper, the Canadian part-owner of Network Ten in Australia, delivers an alternately witty and fiery denunciation of the media's bias and hostility against Israel. Later Asper, former Israeli defence minister Moshe Arens and I tour the university. It is doing remarkable, cutting-edge work on laser technology. It is able to do this because of the one million Russian Jewish immigrants who have come to Israel in the past 15 years.
Among them were many brilliant scientists and intellectuals. Some Israeli universities were cautious about hiring them, unsure whether their budgets could sustain rapid academic expansion. Ariel went ahead and hired the best Russians it could get, and the research funds have followed.
I comment to Arens that it is a good time, a calm time, in Israel. He replies: "It is calm only because of the efforts of the Israeli Defence Forces, not for any other reason."
Of course the settlements and their future are endlessly debated in Israel, as is everything else. I left Israel profoundly optimistic about the morale of the society and the resolve of the people, but profoundly pessimistic about the peace process. If there were peace, any compromise on borders might be possible. But too many Arab leaders, and too many Palestinian leaders, are playing for the very long term and still believe that in time they will wipe Israel off the map.
Apart from the overwhelming experience of visiting the Yad Vashem museum recalling the Holocaust, the most powerful image I saw in Israel was in a small office in the Knesset (parliament) building in Jerusalem. I had gone to see Ephraim Sneh, a white-haired veteran Labour Party politician and soldier, a former cabinet minister and a former general.
He points to a picture on the back wall of his office. It is of two Israeli F-15 fighters flying over Auschwitz. "When we didn't have F-15s, we had Auschwitz," he says.
His grandparents, he tells me, were killed by the Polish farmers they had paid to shelter them. You learn the lessons of trusting other people with your security.
Israel will certainly make compromises. But it will not commit suicide.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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