Palestinians: IDF kills 2 Gazans; 4 others wounded in IAF strike
By Haaretz Staff and Agencies
Earlier on Saturday, four Palestinians were wounded, two moderately and two lightly, in an Israel Air Force strike in the northern Gaza Strip.
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Saturday, March 29, 2008
In addition to the "militants" of the moderate Mahmoud Abbas's moderate Fatah faction, IDF shot a 'gunman' who threw a grenade. I would think a guy who through a grenade would be a 'grenadier' rather than a gunman. How many circumlocuations are there for "terrorist?"
Last update - 01:19 30/03/2008
Palestinians: IDF kills 2 Gazans; 4 others wounded in IAF strike
By Haaretz Staff and Agencies
The Israel Defense Forces killed two Palestinians who tried to plant a bomb on the Gaza Strip's northern border fence on Saturday, Palestinian hospital officials and a militant faction said.
They identified the men killed near the town of Beit Hanoun as members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.
An Israeli military spokesman had no immediate comment
Earlier on Saturday, four Palestinians were wounded, two moderately and two lightly, in an Israel Air Force strike in the northern Gaza Strip.
The IDF confirmed the air strike, saying it targeted a group of three militants.
The air strike came shortly after a Qassam rocket hit the western Negev, causing no damage or injuries.
On Friday, a rocket hit between a children's house and a nursery school in a Negev community, and two armed Palestinians were killed by IDF fire in Gaza.
There were no injuries in the rocket strike as staffers and children managed to reach shelter in time. One woman suffered from shock, however, and a nearby structure was damaged.
In Gaza, IDF soldiers shot dead a gunman in the northern part of the territory late Friday after he hurled a grenade close the border fence with Israel. Palestinian medics were allowed to retrieve his body Saturday morning.
Earlier Friday, troops opened fire on a group of gunmen during an incursion into the southern Strip, killing one and wounding two others.
Two other rockets fired by Gaza militants on Friday struck a Negev kibbutz and an open field. There were no injuries. In addition, militants fired six mortar shells at southern Israel, which exploded near the security fence in central Gaza.
Senior Palestinian Authority sources told Haaretz this week that Hamas militants who recently returned to the Gaza Strip after training in Iran have a detailed plan for upgrading the capabilities of the rockets being developed in the Strip.
The source said militants have smuggled blueprints and other detailed technical instructions into the Strip that will enable the group to develop rockets capable of striking at longer distances.
If talks with Syria are a central goal, Israel is in trouble, as there is clearly no progress in that area. Intelligence people insist that it would be impossible to remove Syria from Iranian influence and Syria's president Assad blames Israel for everything from global warming to his acne.
Last update - 00:33 30/03/2008
Barak: Renewed talks with Syria are a central policy goal
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Friday that renewed peace negotiations with Syria are a primary objective of Israel's foreign policy.
"Israel sees launching negotiations with Syria and removing it from the circle of extremism as a central objective of its policy," the defense minister told diplomats in Tel Aviv.
Barak said Israel is keeping a watchful on developments along its northern border, including "the strengthening of Hezbollah with Syrian backing as well as the whispers from the other side of the Syrian border.
"Israel is the strongest country in the region, which allows it to both stand guard and try to reach agreements," he added.
Barak's comments came as Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Friday that Israel has been making efforts to bring Syria back to the negotiating table.
Ben-Eliezer spoke just days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted that Israel might be holding - or planning to hold secret talks with Syria.
"All efforts are being made to bring Syria to the negotiating table in order to sign a peace treaty," Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio.
"We know exactly what the price would be," he added - namely, Israel's return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.
He would not disclose what results there have been, if any, from Israel's efforts to resume dialogue with the Syrians.
Israel-Syria peace talks - a centerpiece of then-prime minister Ehud Barak's political agenda - broke down in 2000 with Syria rejecting Israel's offer to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and insisting that Israel pull back to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio that Barak, now defense minister, was a partner to the current efforts to renew talks with Damascus.
On Wednesday, Olmert told foreign journalists that Israel favors face-to-face talks with Syria that could result in a peace treaty, adding: "That doesn't mean that when we sit together you have to see us," he said, an apparent reference to the possibility of secret contacts.
A week earlier, Olmert told a joint meeting of the Israeli and German Cabinets that he was ready to restart negotiations with Syria if Damascus would end its support for Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian militant groups. All are backed by Iran and opposed to Israel's existence.
Since Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah, both Israel and Syria have declared their readiness to renew negotiations and exchanged messages through third party emissaries, but there has been no sign of movement.
The Israeli efforts to engage Syria in negotiations come at a time when
Israeli attempts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians are making no visible progress.
Arab FMs re-endorse 2002 peace initiative
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said on Thursday that Israel must show a commitment to the peace process if Damascus were to re-evaluate its support of a 2002 Saudi peace initiative.
Moallem's comments came just hours before Arab foreign ministers meeting in Damascus ahead of an Arab League summit this weekend agreed to re-endorse the initiative, which promises recognition of Israel should it withdraw in full from territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
During talks with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney earlier this week, President Shimon Peres dismissed recent Syrian calls for peace talks, saying Israel would not consider ceding the Golan Heights to Syria only to have Damascus and Tehran increase their dominance in Lebanon.
The president added that while Israel is always ready to negotiate toward peace with Syria, the duplicitous game that Assad is playing in Syria cannot be ignored.
He noted that a tremendous amount of Iranian-funded weapons are transferred to Hezbollah every day through Syria.
Olmert had told visting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week that Israel was "ready to begin a diplomatic process with Syria only if they distance themselves from the axis of evil and stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah."
He made in the comments after Lavrov inquired whether Israel would be willing to hold talks with Damascus if Moscow were to mediate.
Lavrov had announced during his visit that a Moscow summit would aim to relaunch peace talks between Israel and Syria, and that the issue of the Golan Heights would definitely be on the summit's agenda.
Last update - 00:35 30/03/2008
Rice arrives in Israel, urges improvements in West Bank life
By Haaretz Service and Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on Saturday for a three-day visit to the Middle East, saying she would focus on ways to improve Palestinians' quality of life in the West Bank.
"The improvement of life on the ground is the piece that I think really has to be pushed forward pretty hard," Rice told reporters en route to Israel. Her first meeting was with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.
Rice said she would look at the issue of removing West Bank checkpoints - something Israel has been reluctant to do, citing security concerns.
"Obviously there are security issues but we do have to find ways to improve movement," she said.
The secretary of state said her visit is not intended to introduce any new American proposals for the peace talks, saying the negotiations have been "pretty fruitful" thus far and that introducing new ideas would not be "useful."
"I am not coming to insert American ideas into this process," Rice said.
Addressing the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip, Rice said the continued Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities and the humanitarian situation in the Strip must be resolved.
"Obviously we are continuing to try to find an answer for Gaza, where there needs to be an end to the rocket attacks on Israel and where we need to find solutions - sustainable solutions - for the humanitarian situation," Rice said.
But when asked if she was more amenable to a formal Gaza cease-fire agreement, Rice said: "No".
Rice plans to hold two trilateral meetings during her visit. One American-Israeli-Palestinian conclave will deal with the final-status negotiations, while the other will address the situation on the ground in the West Bank and what both sides are doing, or not doing, to fulfill their obligations under the road map peace plan.
She will hold meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman - the latter with King Abdullah of Jordan. The visit is intended to signal growing American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to prod both sides to make significant progress before U.S. President George Bush visits the region in May.
Rice is interested in raising the profile of the final-status talks and demonstrating real progress on the core issues. To this end, she plans one three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, who head the respective negotiating teams. A joint declaration about progress in the negotiations might be issued at the end of it.
The last time Arab armies invaded the West Bank, it was an occassion for a war. One of the eventualities that Israel wishes to guard against is the presence of Arab armies in any Palestinian entity. Yet the moderate Palestinian President of the moderate Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, elected to negotiate peace with Israel, has called for Arab "peace keeping" forces in the West Bank and Gaza.
At the Syria summit, Abbas called for Arab troops:
So we face the delicious prospect of Libyan and Syrian artillery in Qalqilia, well within range of Tel Aviv. Of course, when the Arab states invaded Israel in 1948, the Arab League issued a declaration insisting that they were only coming to restore order and keep the peace.
According to Abbas, the peace talks are not going well. That is hardly surprising, if an invasion of Arab League countries is his idea of peace.
Geert Wilders' movie Fitna was removed from Liveleak because of death threats. Wilders is a racist. His conclusions that all Muslims are Islamists and intolerant are unwarranted, but he is entitled to his opinion.
Is Wilders' critique totally unwarranted? The fact is, Liveleak removed his movie. What else will fanatics censor? An Islamist wrote:
"The correct Sharia (Islamic law) response is to cut (off) his head and let him follow his predecessor, van Gogh, to hell,"
Where are the Muslims who will speak out for free speech?
If you want to see it, it's at YouTube in two parts:
And here is part II:
Muslims are furious over the film by Dutch racist Geert Wilders, which slanders Islam. As everyone knows, Islam is a tolerant and kindly religion, and no law is more just than Islamic Sharia law. A Muslim commented (tolerantly):
The film was removed from the Internet owing to death threats.
By Niclas Mika
AMSTERDAM, March 28 (Reuters) - Muslim nations on Friday condemned a film by a Dutch lawmaker that accuses the Koran of inciting violence, and Dutch Muslim leaders urged restraint.
Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched his short video on the Internet on Thursday evening, prompting an al Qaeda-linked website to call for his death and increased attacks on Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan.
"The correct Sharia (Islamic law) response is to cut (off) his head and let him follow his predecessor, van Gogh, to hell," a member of Al-Ekhlaas wrote on the al-Qaeda affiliated forum, according to the SITE Institute, a U.S.-based terrorism monitoring service.
Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who made a film accusing Islam of condoning violence against women, was murdered by a militant Islamist in 2004.
Wilders' film "Fitna" -- an Arabic term sometimes translated as "strife" -- intersperses images of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and Islamist bombings with quotations from the Koran, Islam's holy book.
The film urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran and starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by the sound of ticking.
The cartoon, first published in Danish newspapers, ignited violent protests around the world and a boycott of Danish products in 2006. Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet as offensive.
"The film is solely intended to incite and provoke unrest and intolerance among people of different religious beliefs and to jeopardise world peace and stability," the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the film as "offensively anti-Islamic" and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said it was "hateful".
Iran called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic, and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a former Dutch colony, said it was an "insult to Islam, hidden under the cover of freedom of expression".
The Saudi Arabian embassy in The Hague said the film was provocative and full of errors and incorrect allegations that could lead to hate towards Muslims, news agency ANP reported.
Dutch Muslim leaders appealed for calm and called on Muslims worldwide not to target Dutch interests. The Netherlands is home to about 1 million Muslims out of a population of 16 million.
"Our call to Muslims abroad is follow our strategy and don't frustrate it with any violent incidents," Mohammed Rabbae, a Dutch Moroccan community leader, told journalists in an Amsterdam mosque.
The Dutch Islamic Federation went to court on Friday to try to stop Wilders from comparing Islam to fascism.
Pollster Maurice de Hond found that only 12 percent of those questioned thought the film represented Islam accurately, but 43 percent agreed Islam was a serious threat to the Netherlands over the long term.
Wilders has been under guard because of death threats since the murder of van Gogh and Freedom Party support rose in anticipation of the film to about 10 percent of the vote.
The Dutch government has distanced itself from Wilders and tried to prevent the kind of backlash Denmark suffered over the Prophet cartoons.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was proud of how Dutch Muslim organisations responded to the film but that it was too early to draw conclusions about the international consequences: "There are reasons for continued alertness."
NATO has expressed concern the film could worsen security for foreign forces in Afghanistan, including 1,650 Dutch troops. A Belgian government spokesman said security had been stepped up at Dutch diplomatic missions in the country.
Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard objected to the use of his drawing of the Prophet Mohammad, saying it was shown out of context and that he had taken legal action to have it removed.
SITE said responses to the Wilders film on al Ekhlaas and another al-Qaeda affiliated website, al Hesbah, were significantly lower in volume compared to the cartoons uproar.
(Additional reporting by Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Jakarta, Tehran, Islamabad, Aarhus and Brussels bureaux; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Jon Boyle)
Last update - 10:20 29/03/2008
Hamas chiefs tout Israel truce, call for internal reconciliation
By News Agencies
Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Meshal wants reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' rival group Fatah and is interested in a conditional truce with Israel, a pro-Hamas Web site quoted him as saying Friday.
Meshal urged Arab leaders to support the group's fight against Israel and to protest against an Israeli-led blockade of Gaza, defending daily cross-border Qassam attacks as self-defense, according to the Web site.
But he also reiterated Hamas was ready to discuss a "comprehensive" cease-fire with Israel.
"All Palestinian factions of resistance have expressed full readiness to deal with the issue of calm, on condition that it be comprehensive, reciprocal and simultaneous," Meshal was quoted as saying.
The Gaza-based Web site also said Meshal wrote to Arab leaders requesting support for Hamas-Fatah dialogue, after a Yemen-brokered agreement to revive talks between the rival factions appeared to falter this week.
Meshal, along with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, urged Arab leaders to back the Yemen proposal for Palestinian reconciliation.
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since the breakdown of a unity Palestinian government last year, culminating in Hamas seizing control of the Gaza Strip after days of bloody internecine violence.
Members of the Arab world are meeting this weekend in Damascus, although many Arab leaders are skipping the event, sending instead lower ranking officials and highlighting the rift between pro-U.S. states and Iran and Syria.
Meshal called on Arab leaders to "shoulder your national and brotherly responsibility to foster a Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue", according to the report, which was also carried by London-based pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.
In a televised speech to the Arab summit, Haniyeh urged Arab leaders to endorse the Yemeni initiative, despite what he said were American and Israeli objections.
"We hope you don't allow any external interference in the way of reconciliation," he said. "Our people would judge the success or failure of the summit in Damascus on how seriously it deals with the lifting of the siege on Gaza."
Hamas has said any cease-fire would depend on an end to Israeli acts of "aggression" in Gaza and the West Bank and the reopening of Gaza border crossings.
Egypt, with U.S. blessing, has been trying to broker a cessation of hostilities between Israel and militants in Gaza.
Israel, denying it is involved in cease-fire negotiations says it would have no reason to strike Hamas if rocket salvoes ceased.
Meanwhile, Hamas members in the Gaza Strip on Friday called on Arab states to drop their proposal for a comprehensive peace deal with Israel, and support the militant group's policy of violence.
On Thursday, Arab foreign ministers re-endorsed the Saudi plan for peace with Israel originally launched in 2002.
About 2,000 people gathered at a Hamas-organized rally in Gaza, as delegates convened in Damascus ahead of the annual Arab summit. Hamas was not invited to the summit hosted by its closest ally in the region.
Hamas official Khalil al-Haya said Israel would only respond to violence, and encouraged others to join it.
"Cut all ties with Israel, withdraw the Arab initiative," he shouted. "The Zionist enemy doesn't have a vision of peace. Only force ... fighting and holy war works with [Israel.]"
The Saudi-sponsored peace initiative offers Israel peace with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal from all the lands it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, the creation of a Palestinian state with a Jerusalem as its capital and a solution to the refugee issue.
Mushir al-Masri, another Hamas official, said the Arab initiative was a burden on Palestinians. "Hamas is defending the honor and dignity of this nation on the [Arabs'] behalf," he said.
The rally was peppered with pleas from children for a lifting of the closure imposed on Gaza after Hamas violently seized the territory. "Your summit will be useless if you don't lift the siege on Gaza," a young boy screamed into a microphone.
Jordan, Iraq and Yemen, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, announced that their top leaders would not attend this weekend's summit. The annual summit is frequently plagued by no-shows. But this year, pro-U.S. nations are deeply embittered with hard-line Syria, over its meddling in Lebanese affairs and support of Palestinian Islamic militant groups.
There is no explanation for human behavior sometimes.
The gospel according to Allam By Adi Schwartz,
Magdi Allam, the most famous Muslim in Italy, and one of the leading and most courageous intellectuals in Europe today, converted to Christianity last Saturday night. The fact that the baptism was held at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome during Easter midnight Mass - the so-called "mother of all masses" - and was performed by Pope Benedict XVI himself, has made huge waves in Italy and throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds. The exalted occasion also transformed Allam's conversion from a private act of faith into a public political event.
"It was the most beautiful day of my life," Allam told Haaretz this week, in a phone conversation from Rome. "I was reborn. This was a radical choice, which has changed my entire past and has begun a new life. On that day, the Magdi Allam inside me, who believes unambiguously and unquestionably in the principles of liberty and choice, was reborn in the framework of religion. For me it was both Easter and the Feast of the Nativity."
Since the beginning of the decade Allam, 56, has been writing pieces in Corriere della Sera, Italy's most influential newspaper, in which he has sharply condemned radical Islam and warned of the danger from within it constitutes, which he sees as lying in wait for democratic and liberal Europe. In 2003, Hamas declared a death sentence on him because of his criticism of terror attacks in Israel; since then the Italian government has assigned him a round-the-clock bodyguard. Together with his late countrywoman Oriana Fallaci and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch writer and politician of Somali origin, Allam has been one of the few intellectuals in Europe who have dared to challenge the prevailing belief in multiculturalism as the cure for the social rift between Muslims and Christians on the Continent.
However, Allam did all this as a Muslim. He was born in Egypt and in the 1960s he was an enthusiastic admirer of Gamal Abdel Nasser. For many years he also perceived Israel as an aggressive, racist, colonialist and immoral entity. Even after he emigrated to Italy in 1972, he continued being active on behalf of the Palestinian cause - writing, lecturing and taking part in demonstrations by the Italian left against Israel and in support of what he then called "the Palestinian resistance."
After a long and agonizing path, he says, he came to the conclusion that the Arab states' refusal to recognize Israel in the 1950s and '60s was to the Palestinians' detriment, and that the Muslim culture in which he was raised nurtured falsehood, tyranny, hatred, violence and death. In recent years, he concluded that the universal defense of the value of the sanctity of life goes hand in hand with the defense of Israel's right to exist.
Last year, Allam, winner of the 2006 Dan David Prize (for outstanding scientific, technological, cultural or social achievement), published the book "Long Live Israel: From the Ideology of Death to the Civilization of Life, My Story," which is forthcoming in Hebrew.
"After the book was published, I was severely attacked," he says. "They called me a traitor, a Zionist and an agent of the Mossad. They sentenced me to death again. This fact made me wonder why many Muslims lose the ability to conduct a conversation when Israel's right to exist is brought up for discussion." That, Allam explains, is one of the reasons for his conversion to Christianity.
In his columns for Corriere della Sera, where he also serves as deputy editor, Allam expresses sweeping and unstinting support for Israel. In his March 1 column, he compared Hamas to the Kurdish PKK resistance movement: "If a comparison is made between the way the media have covered the battle Turkey has conducted against the PKK in Iraq, on the one hand, and the battle that Israel has conducted against Hamas in Gaza, on the other, one can see the clear discrimination against the Jewish state. At a time when phrases like 'slaughter of children' and 'murder of civilians' appear only when describing the activity of the Israeli army, neutral or even sympathetic descriptions are reserved for the Turkish army - such as '77 Kurdish rebels were killed.' When the bombs are Israeli, they inform us in detail about the number, and sometimes also the names, of those killed. However, the Turkish bombs always kill only adults, of the male sex, who consciously chose the path of violence."
In "Long Live Israel," he wrote that the culture of hatred and death the West today attributes to Muslims is not stamped in the DNA of Islam. But this week he sounded even more decisive, declaring that it is no longer possible to talk about moderate Islam, but only about moderate Muslims. "It is necessary to continue to try to hold a dialogue," he says, "but only with those who acknowledge the supremacy of certain values, such as the sanctity of life and free choice."
In a letter he published this week in his paper, in which he explained his conversion, Allam wrote: "I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a 'moderate Islam,' assuming the responsibility for exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Koran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive."
Similar things were said about two years ago by the person who baptized him, Pope Benedict XVI. In a speech he delivered at Ratisbonne University in Germany in September 2006, the Pontiff aroused a great deal of anger in the Muslim world when he spoke about the violent nature of Islam. This week Allam said this was a crucial event for him on the way to becoming a Christian. "I was one of the few people in Italy who defended the Pope's remarks, not only in the name of freedom of speech, but also with respect to the contents. What the Pope said was correct historically. The Pope's speech showed me more than anything else that there is someone who combines faith and reason, and that Benedict XVI precisely embodies my thinking. For me, Christianity is a religion of goodness and wisdom, so very different from Islam."
Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno, apparently, could have expressed a different opinion of the extent of the free will and wisdom endorsed by the Catholic Church over the years. But for Allam, at this moment in time, 2008, the Church is identified with the culture of the West, which reveres the values of liberty and the sanctity of life, in supposed contradistinction to the culture of narrow- mindedness and hatred in Islam.
'Religion of goodness'
Asked how he reconciles with the fact that during the course of history, many people, Jews and non-Jews, were murdered in the name of that same "religion of goodness," Allam replies that he deplores those deeds in the most vociferous way. These were "atrocities and historical errors that were committed in the name of religion. The last Pope, John Paul II, apologized for some of them at least. In any case, I will continue to be a person who defends the truth, no matter what it is, even if it concerns mistakes the Church has made."
This week Allam was describing his baptism in almost mystical terms. "I have discovered the one true God," he wrote in Corriere. He called the fact that his baptism was conducted by the Pope "the most beautiful gift I could have received." Easter Mass is customarily a time when the Pope performs the rite of baptism, and Allam is not the first Muslim to undergo conversion. Nevertheless, the exalted public ceremony transformed the event into a clear political statement.
In order to head off in advance the anticipated angry reactions to the ceremony, the Vatican published an unusual statement on Sunday, in which it noted that "for the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it." The statement noted that the Pontiff conducted the ritual without making any personal distinctions regarding the identity of the convert, and said all newcomers to the faith were "equally important before God's love and welcome in the community of the Church."
The president of the Grand Mosque of Rome, Mario Scialoja, said, "It is necessary to respect the personal choice that Magdi Allam has made," but the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi wrote on its front page: "The Pope is arousing the anger of Muslims because of the baptism of a former Muslim who supports Israel." The Arab television networks and Internet sites related to the timing of the rite, on the most important day in the Christian calendar, as a crude provocation. After all, they wrote, the baptism could also have been held in a small church in Rome, by a minor priest.
But as far as Allam is concerned, this is the crux of the story. He is the one whose life is being threatened, he is the one who has to go around with bodyguards - something that has never been condemned in the Arab press - but his decision to convert is suddenly an intolerable blow to Muslim feelings. Just as in the affair of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, he explains, what is perceived in the West as an individual's basic right is a harsh insult to Islam.
"When a Westerner decides to convert to Islam, that's fine," he says, "but when a Muslim converts to Christianity, it is suddenly the end of the world. Everyone condemns him, as though he has done something of which he should be ashamed."
The reason for this, Allam suggests, is Europe's weakness and flaccidity, and above all the multicultural model, in the name of which everyone is equal and no one can be criticized or let their feelings be hurt. In Italy, every Muslim can go to a mosque, but in the Arab world there is ongoing and long-standing discrimination against religious minorities. Nevertheless, he asks, who complains about the situation of the Christians in Saudi Arabia?
This week Allam decided to stop sitting on the fence and to change his religion and even his name. Henceforth call him "Magdi Cristiano Allam."
Friday, March 28, 2008
Nobody should scoff at this interesting development.
Saudi Newspaper Editorial: Arab-Israeli Peace Is Possible
An editorial in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan stated that the peace between Israel and Egypt proves that peace between the Arabs and Israel is possible.
It added that any peace agreement must include all aspects of the Palestinian issue, so that the peace agreement will be able to develop from ink on paper to actual normalization.
Source: Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2008
In 1945 there were up to one million Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa outside the Palestine Mandate - many living in communities dating back more than three millennia. Today, there are several thousand. Who are these Jews? What precipitated their mass-exodus in the 20th century? Where did they go? And why don't we know their stories?
Good old school eyewitness journalism isn't exactly everywhere these days. So allow me to plug a superb piece by my good friend and AJC colleague, Kenneth Bandler, on the situation in the Israeli town of Sderot.
Ken ends the piece with some important historical detail about Sderot:
Sderot was established in the 1950s, near the border with Egyptian-occupied Gaza, mainly by Jews from Morocco, Mayor [Eli] Moyal's family among them. In the '90s, they were joined by more Jews from the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. All came with a common purpose - to live securely in the democratic Jewish state.
"We are not running away from here," says Moyal. "We are staying here because this time we are right. Sderot is not a settlement. Sderot is in the Green Line. The international community, the UN, recognized in 1948 that this is our place."
Time certain media outlets recognized that too.
Geert Wilders film Fitna can be viewed here.
While the identity of the terrorists of 9-11, Madrid, Bombay, London, Bali, Mosul, Karachi, Istanbul and other such attacks needs to be frankly and consistently recognised - they, like Hizb-ALLAH truck-bombers in Beirut, or Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide-bombers or rocket-launchers from Gaza, were not terrorists who just happened to be Muslim, or engaging in acts of terror for no reason or for its own sake, but commited such atrocities precisely because of their reading of their Quran - and while the Quran indeed contains several passages which have been used to incite atrocity - demanding a determined and global campaign to challenge such Jihadi ideology as much as we need to intercept the weapons, finances, training and operations of such terrorists - and demanding also the accurate and consistent naming of such Jihadi terrorists as precisely what they are - as Jihadi terrorists - three other crucial realities also need to be equally recognised, and also acted on. The enemy is not simply **terror**, which is merely a tactic, but the fanatical Jihadi campaign and its toxic ideology.
The enemy target must be precisely identified. in order to be resolutely defeated.
1. Many of the victims of such Jihadi atrocities are themselves Muslim - Bali, Amman, Casablanca, Darfur, Sinai, Istanbul, and Israel have all seen many innocent Muslims slaughtered and maimed. The real divide, the one that matters, is thus NOT between all Muslims and the rest of humanity, but between the true defenders of humanity, from all faiths or none, against fanatical Jihadis.
2. We all need to honor and fully support and actively co-operate with those brave and decent Muslims who resist our COMMON ENEMY - and in both word and deed. The brave and skilful Beduin in the Royal Jordanian Army do not differ from their cousins in the IDF **Shaked** Recon Battalion, or the martyred Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, as among our common defenders.
Those, including many Muslims, who have the vision and courage to explore a path of peaceful co-operation risk the fate of Jordan's King Abdullah I in Jerusalem on July 20, 1951, Lebanon's first PM, the Sunni Riad al-Solh, assassinated in Amman on July 17, 1951, Egyptian PM, Mahmoud Fahmi al-Nokrashi, on Dec 19, 1948, or President Anwar Sadat in Cairo on Oct 6, 1981, the President-elect, a Maronite Bashir Gemayel on Sept 14, 1982, Minister Pierre Amine Gemayel Gemayel on Nov 21, 2006, ex-PM and a Sunni, Rafiq Hariri on Feb 14, 2005, all in Lebanon, and many others assassinated for their decency.
In 1939-1945, some Muslims volunteered for the 2 Nazi SS Divisions in the Balkans, recruited by the genocidal Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, but 10,000 others in Palestine volunteered for the British Army, alongside 30,000 Jewish neighbors, while the pro-Nazi **Golden Square** revolt in Iraq in April, 1941, was successfully resisted by a multi-faith alliance, with Muslim freedom-fighters in the Jordanian **Arab Legion**, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in the Indian Army, Christians in the UK Royal Air Force at Habbaniyah Air Base, and a Jewish fighter, David Raziel, 30, Commander of Irgun since 1938, lost his life along with a British officer, when bombed by a Nazi aircraft on May 20, 1941, while Moshe Dayan of the Haganah lost an eye during the 1941 liberation of Syria from the pro-Nazi Vichy French regime.
A similar multi-faith, multi-ethnic alliance liberated Kuwait when invaded by Saddam in 1991, and saw French, US and UK Forces, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian, serve alongside Muslims from Syria, Egypt, the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, in a common cause, and against a comon enemy, Saddam.
3. There is today the latest episode in an ancient battle for the very soul of Islam, not just a recent struggle. The absurdity will breed the atrocity. The ancient and honorable rational stream within Muslim thinking must be recognised and celebrated and re-invigorated, that stream which preserved the Hellenic heritage of humanity and transmittted, in Arabic, the glories of Greek philosophy as it did many other treasures, the outstanding tradition of Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina [ Avicenna] and Ibn Rushd [Averroes], and which was drawn on by both Jewish and Christian leading thinkers, like Rabbi Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. Neither Hikmat [ wisdom - Sofia ], nor Islam, nor freedom, should be surrendered to our common Jihadi enemy.
Wilders brief film, FITNA, is a vital opportunity badly squandered, more by what it totally omits, or virtually denies, than what it actually covers. The enemy is not, and never was, all Muslims, nor all versions of Islam, but only the toxic version, and its ruthless Jihadi followers. Wilders touches on the problem, a threat which challenges Muslims as much as anyone else, but is completely blind to the comprehensive solution needed, which must include the central and vital presence of not a de-formed but a re-formed Islam - drawing on the best of its own history and present - whether his blindness is due to ignorance of history, or malice, or bigotry, matters little. We need a strong, principled unity against the common enemy, not to be further divided. All who resist that real Jihadi treat are my brothers, whatever their own faith or ethnic background.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
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A new organization seeking to promote accurate and responsible media coverage of Israel in the UK is to be launched in London on Friday.
By holding journalists accountable to the principles created by the industry, Just Journalism says it is aiming to promote responsible journalism and fairness in reporting on Israel.
Founded by a group of young professionals with backgrounds in the media, law, public relations and academia who are concerned with the influence of the media and their lack of accountability, the new organization will analyze and monitor press and broadcast coverage of Israel to ensure it adheres to core journalistic principles. Just Journalism is an independent organization funded by private individuals and led by Egyptian-born journalist and Middle East commentator Adel Darwish. "We are aware of the huge impact the media have on public opinion and policy making, as well as the consequences of some of the media reporting of Israel," Darwish told The Jerusalem Post. "Just Journalism aims to increase awareness of the fundamental journalistic principles underlying the media's responsibility to society." Darwish brings over 40 years of reporting experience on the region to the group. He was a senior reporter at the Independent for over 10 years and has worked on an array of other newspapers including The Daily Telegraph and The Times. The author of four books, he is a frequent commentator on BBC and Sky News, as well as major Arabic-language, American and Canadian television networks. "Much of the current coverage of Israel makes it harder for people to develop an educated and informed opinion of Israel and the Middle East," Darwish said. Just Journalism will rigorously and systematically monitor and analyze UK press and broadcast coverage of Israel on a daily basis. Using publicly available regulatory frameworks that include BBC editorial guidelines, OFCOM [the independent regulator authority for the UK communications industries] guidelines and the Press Complaints Commission code of practice, it will seek to highlight infringements of principles such as factual accuracy, impartiality, use of sources, balance and language. "We believe that core journalistic principles are regularly being compromised and reporting is often far from impartial, accurate or balanced," Darwish said. "Adhering to core standards of journalistic integrity is critical if we are to maintain a balanced and informed view of the conflict and what is going on in the world." Just Journalism will also publish quantitative analysis of lengthy periods of coverage and engage in a series of high profile activities designed to highlight the importance of journalistic integrity. Darwish said the new organization will in no way be a lobby group to push Israel's political agenda. "We have no issues with critical analysis of Israel's policies but want to ensure that journalistic principles are upheld when reporting this complex area. Thus all we ask is that journalists stay true to their own principles," he said. The organization will publish its findings on its Web site and will be producing its first in-depth report in May.
Just Journalism is an independent organization funded by private individuals and led by Egyptian-born journalist and Middle East commentator Adel Darwish.
"We are aware of the huge impact the media have on public opinion and policy making, as well as the consequences of some of the media reporting of Israel," Darwish told The Jerusalem Post. "Just Journalism aims to increase awareness of the fundamental journalistic principles underlying the media's responsibility to society."
Darwish brings over 40 years of reporting experience on the region to the group. He was a senior reporter at the Independent for over 10 years and has worked on an array of other newspapers including The Daily Telegraph and The Times. The author of four books, he is a frequent commentator on BBC and Sky News, as well as major Arabic-language, American and Canadian television networks.
"Much of the current coverage of Israel makes it harder for people to develop an educated and informed opinion of Israel and the Middle East," Darwish said.
Just Journalism will rigorously and systematically monitor and analyze UK press and broadcast coverage of Israel on a daily basis. Using publicly available regulatory frameworks that include BBC editorial guidelines, OFCOM [the independent regulator authority for the UK communications industries] guidelines and the Press Complaints Commission code of practice, it will seek to highlight infringements of principles such as factual accuracy, impartiality, use of sources, balance and language.
"We believe that core journalistic principles are regularly being compromised and reporting is often far from impartial, accurate or balanced," Darwish said. "Adhering to core standards of journalistic integrity is critical if we are to maintain a balanced and informed view of the conflict and what is going on in the world."
Just Journalism will also publish quantitative analysis of lengthy periods of coverage and engage in a series of high profile activities designed to highlight the importance of journalistic integrity.
Darwish said the new organization will in no way be a lobby group to push Israel's political agenda.
"We have no issues with critical analysis of Israel's policies but want to ensure that journalistic principles are upheld when reporting this complex area. Thus all we ask is that journalists stay true to their own principles," he said.
The organization will publish its findings on its Web site and will be producing its first in-depth report in May.
Are Israel and Syria talking?
Israel hinted at secret talks with Syria.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that he wants to resume peace talks with Syria that stalled in 2000, though Jerusalem has balked at preconditions by Damascus such as the complete return of the Golan Heights.
"I hope that the Syrians are prepared to make peace with Israel, and I hope that the circumstances will allow us to sit together," Olmert told foreign reporters on Wednesday. "That doesn't mean that when we sit together you have to see us."
The suggestion that secret contacts already are under way followed media reports that Turkey has been trying to bring together senior Israeli and Syrian officials for discreet and preliminary exchanges of ideas.
Olmert's comments were echoed Thursday by Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who told Army Radio: "I know that the Israeli government, and he who is empowered by it, are doing everything possible to create a dialogue with Syria."
Expanding on the unidentified emissary, Ben-Eliezer said that "anyone who meets him, and there are such people, is told in spoken Hebrew that the State of Israel is prepared to sit down tomorrow and talk."
Saudi King Calls for Interfaith Dialogue
The message from King Abdullah, which was welcomed by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, comes at a time of stalled peace initiatives and escalating tensions in the region.
Muslims have been angered by cartoons published in European papers seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad and by the pope's baptizing on Easter of a Muslim journalist who had converted to Catholicism.
"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates Monday night at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."
The specifics of Abdullah's initiative and who would participate remained unclear, in particular whether Israeli religious leaders would be invited to a Saudi-brokered dialogue. The kingdom and all other Arab nations except Egypt and Jordan do not have diplomatic relations with Israel and generally shun unofficial contacts.
The call the first of its kind by an Arab leader was significant. The Saudi monarch is the custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, a position that lends his words special importance and influence. Abdullah said Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light crucial backing in a society that expects decisions taken by its rulers to adhere to Islam's tenets.
It also raises the possibility that a religious dialogue could have a political impact in the Middle East, easing tensions between Arabs and Israelis in a way that years of off-and-on negotiations and political conferences have failed to do.
The White House welcomed the king's gesture.
"We think increased dialogue is a really good thing," presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday. "And, of course, when you have someone like the king of Saudi Arabia, and all of his stature, that is recommending such a dialogue, it can only give us hope that there would be further recognition of everyone's right to freedom and freedom of expression and religion. So we are encouraged by it."
Abdullah said he planned to hold conferences to get the opinion of Muslims from other parts of the world, and then meetings with "our brothers" in Christianity and Judaism "so we can agree on something that guarantees the preservation of humanity against those who tamper with ethics, family systems and honesty."
Abdullah, who said he discussed the idea with Pope Benedict XVI when they met at the Vatican in November, framed his appeal in strictly religious and ethical terms, aimed at addressing the weakening of the family, increasing atheism and "a lack of ethics, loyalty, and sincerity for our religions and humanity."
A Saudi official with knowledge of the proposal said it was not intended to have a regional political angle, saying "the initiative is not aimed at the Middle East but at the whole world. It's a global initiative." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
But Abdullah, considered a reformer in Saudi politics, has in the past proposed peace deals with Israel, saying his country and other Arab nations are willing to recognize the Jewish state as long as it gives up land to Palestinians.
Prominent Saudi cleric, Sheik Muhammad al-Nujaimi, said he saw no reason why any Saudi official, including Abdullah, cannot meet with Jewish religious leaders. "The only condition is for the rabbi not to be supportive of the massacres against the Palestinian people," he said.
In Israel, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger welcomed Abdullah's call.
"Our hand is outstretched to any peace initiative and any dialogue that is aimed at bringing an end to terror and violence," he said in a statement.
Rabbi David Rosen, head of inter-religious relations at the American Jewish Committee and a former chief rabbi of Ireland, said framing the dialogue in religious terms was key.
"Religion is all too often the problem, so it has to also be the solution, or at least part of the solution and I think that the tragedy of the political initiatives to bring peace has been the failure to include the religious dimension," he said.
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said a Saudi-backed dialogue between Muslims and Jews "could be a balancing factor" against extremists but cannot replace diplomacy.
"Negotiations need to be negotiations and you don't mix religion into a diplomatic conflict, because then there is a danger of turning it into a religious war," he said.
Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious freedom globally and makes policy recommendations, called the proposed dialogue long overdue.
"I don't care who you put in the room the fact they're having the conversation can only help," he said. "It's a courageous thing for the king to do. One should not expect Utopia, but it's a start to have an open and free dialogue in a country with a reputation for religious oppression."
Saudi Arabia follows a severe interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism, and it was not clear whether Abdullah's call would be followed by steps in the kingdom to relax the ban on non-Muslim worship services, as well as symbols from other religions, such as crosses and Bibles.
Abdullah's contacts with Benedict are also significant.
Benedict angered many Muslims with a 2006 speech in which he cited a medieval text that described some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly the command to spread the faith "by the sword." He later expressed regret that his remarks angered Muslims and stressed that the text didn't reflect his own opinion.
In an audiotape released last week, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden accused Benedict of playing a "large and lengthy role" in what he called a "new Crusade" against Islam. Bin Laden also warned of a "severe" reaction for Europe's publication of the Muhammad cartoons.
Muhammad al-Zulfa, a member of the Saudi Consultative Council an appointed body that acts like a parliament said Abdullah's conciliatory remarks were "a message to all extremists: Stop using religion."
Antonios Kireopoulos, head of Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, agreed, noting: "Despite recent years of hostilities, usually by extremists, ... there have been generations of peace between Muslims, Christians and Jews."
"This is a way to reclaim some of that neighborliness," he said.
Donna Abu-Nasr reported on this story from Beirut, Lebanon, and Abdullah al-Shihri reported from Riyadh. AP Religion Writer Eric Gorski in Denver and Lily Hindy in New York contributed to this report.
New PAC To Offer Pols A Dovish Mideast View
Aim of 'J-Street Project' is to counteract AIPAC lobbying on Capitol Hill.
While the structure of the new group is still in flux, sources say it is expected to raise money for congressional candidates who advocate a stronger U.S. role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
by James D. Besser
Almost a year after reports of an "alternative AIPAC" emerged in the middle of the Jewish political world, many of the same players are on the verge of announcing a revised initiative intended to get the message to politicians that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is not the only pro-Israel voice in town, The Jewish Week has learned.
Dubbed the J-Street Project "K Street" has become a cipher for Washington's lobbying establishment and "J Street," missing from Washington's downtown grid, has become a local "in" joke the new project kicks off with a hush-hush fundraiser next Monday hosted by former Clinton administration official Jeremy Ben Ami and Daniel Levy, director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative of the Century Foundation. The group will be publicly launched around the middle of April; organizers said they will not speak publicly about the group until then.
"For too long, the loudest American voices in political and policy debates have been those on the far right often Republican neoconservatives or extreme Christian Zionists," according to the invitation. "J Street aims to change that. We are the first and only lobby and PAC (political action committee) dedicated to ensuring Israel's security, changing the direction of American policy in the Middle East and opening up American political debate about Israel and the Middle East."
While sources say the structure and initial goals of the new group are still in flux, it is expected to raise money for congressional candidates who advocate a stronger U.S. leadership role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and multilateral solutions to the region's problems.
The group will be headed by Ben-Ami, who served as deputy domestic policy adviser in the Clinton administration and later as a media consultant. Ben-Ami has worked with several Jewish peace groups, including the Center for Middle East Peace and the Geneva Initiative-North America.
The J-Street board of advisers includes a number of lay and professional leaders of Americans for Peace Now (APN), including CEO Debra DeLee, as well as Marcia Freedman, founder and former president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.
Several activists with ties to Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama are on the panel, as well. They include Robert Malley, whose involvement in Obama's broad foreign policy advisory team has generated criticism from Republicans and some pro-Israel groups, and Alan Solomont, a top Obama fundraiser and major player in Democratic politics.
Also on board: David Kimche, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and a member of the advisory council of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) another pro-peace process group that was connected with last year's efforts but which, several source say, is not directly involved in the current project.
Several activists associated with the project say the goal is to offer lawmakers an alternative perspective that they say is closer to the consensus positions of American Jews than that offered by major pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, which they say have not supported aggressive U.S. peacemaking in the region.
"I signed on because I think this is a worthwhile endeavor," said Samuel Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. "I'm very sympathetic with the core principles: to provide a voice in favor of an active U.S. role in promoting negotiations and peacemaking, and a somewhat more balanced approach to the parties than some other Jewish organizations."
Like several other supporters of the new project, Lewis stressed that J-Street is "not meant as an alternative to AIPAC, or anything on that scale. But I see it as a useful addition to the debate; it may offer more energetic efforts in terms of lobbying on the Hill, where a lot of education has to be done."
He said the new group will be more "politically purposeful" than IPF or other pro-peace process groups.
Turf issues among the various pro-peace process groups have slowed the creation of the new organization, according to several activists involved in discussions about the new group, but they expressed the view that Ben-Ami has largely finessed that by creating a group that will serve to broaden political activism by peace process advocates without stepping on the feet of individual groups that have their own lobbying operations and agendas.
"It will be separate from the dovish organizations and not competitive with them," said a source familiar with the discussions that created the new group. "The goal is to add another, more political layer to support for peace negotiations."
Organizers refuse to talk to the media until the official launch, but activists close to the process say it will focus initially on political fundraising aimed at helping incumbents and candidates who support a more active U.S. peacemaking role.
The project is the result of a lengthy process to "figure out what to do to help organizations that are dovish within the American Zionist fold," said a knowledgeable source. "It is very ambitious, but it is starting modestly."
This source said an initial goal was to raise $1.5 million presumably with the intention of having an impact in the current election cycle.
Planners remain secretive in large part to avoid a repetition of last year's controversy. Early reports about an AIPAC competitor that would amalgamate the efforts of the major pro-peace process groups, with possible funding by mega-philanthropist and progressive activist George Soros, produced a storm of unwanted publicity and scared off some potential participants.
In fact, Soros had never committed to the original project, and the current iteration includes no Soros involvement, according to several players.
New Group Faces Big Obstacles
The idea of creating an alternative lobbying voice on Mideast issues goes back at least 20 years.
In 1988, leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League signed a letter criticizing AIPAC as not reflecting the consensus views of the Jewish community on Mideast peace issues. In the privately circulated letter, the groups specifically objected to AIPAC's efforts to deny Yasir Arafat a visa allowing him to address the United Nations.
But that initiative went nowhere. AIPAC established closer working ties to the other major Jewish organizations and during the Oslo years it was the Jewish left that argued AIPAC was out of step because of what activists charged was lukewarm support for the peace process, a political focus that emphasized building political opposition to the Palestinians and resistance to any U.S. pressure on Israel.
AIPAC's preeminence on Capitol Hill and the vital role played by networks of pro-Israel campaign givers who take cues from the lobby group "misleads a lot of people into thinking there is only one 'Jewish' position on the Middle East," said University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald. "So it makes sense for those who don't like that particular voice to do something more systematic than just talk about it. And the theory is that dollars are the currency of doing that."
But the new group faces big obstacles, he said, including a limited fundraising pool and the view by many community leaders that "Jews must present a united front" on Israel-related matters to government bodies.
It also faces a political challenge because "AIPAC has been recognized by non-Jewish politicians as the voice of the Jewish community," he said. An alternative voice "may be hard to sell to non-Jewish politicians who don't want to be tarred as anti-Israel."
Jews on the left, he said, are less likely to put Israel-related politics at the top of their list of giving priorities something AIPAC supporters and supports of pro-Israel political action committees have traditionally done.
And the new group will face aggressive attacks from the Jewish right.
"I'm a realist; these people will get hammered and accused of being anti-Israel," Wald said. "A lot will have to do with the way they actually frame their arguments."
Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn said the new group is part of a broader trend: the effort by groups with different Mideast perspectives to be heard despite the dominance of a handful of big groups like AIPAC.
"The most important point here is that there are significant portions of the Jewish community that feel dissatisfied with the way their views are being represented," Kahn said. "The same is true on the other side, with the Orthodox Union and its decision to challenge the policies of the Israeli government. It's the outgrowth of the growing awareness that there is legitimacy to differences in advocacy."
The idea has less to do with creating "alternate" AIPACs, some say, than ending the view in the political world that the Jewish community speaks as one on controversial Mideast policy issues.
Editor at Large Larry Cohler-Esses contributed to this report.
Durban 2009: will the NGOs join Canada?
Canadian Jewish News, 20 March 2008
As the first country to pull-out of the United Nations' planned 2009 Durban Review Conference, Canada has re-established its leadership in the field of human rights.
Ministers Maxime Bernier and Jason Kenney have boldly declared that the 2001 UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) "degenerated into open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations." And the backing provided by both the Liberals and NDP shows that there's broad national support for their position.
This statement provided moral clarity, as well as belated recognition of the mistakes made in 2001, when Canada naively funded many of the participants in the NGO (non-governmental organization) forum at Durban. More than 4000 "delegates" adopted a declaration accusing Israel of "apartheid" and perpetrating a "holocaust." To prevent a repetition, Canada has pledged that any funding that it provides to NGOs can't be used to help them take part in the second Durban conference in 2009.
Following Canada's lead, French President Nikolas Sarkozy also declared that his government would stay away if the 2009 conference was likely to repeat the hatred of 2001. Other European governments are expected to follow, and U.S. officials have made similar statements, although they stopped short of a formal withdrawal. Israel which pulled its delegation from the 2001 meeting predictably announced that it would boycott a conference that promoted anti-Semitism.
In contrast, the silence and in some cases active complicity of the NGO community has been disturbing. Predictably, pro-Palestinian groups such as the Canadian Arab Federation attacked the decision for Canada not to participate, absurdly claiming that denunciation of anti-Semitism was a blow to "tolerance and multiculturalism in Canada."
Officials of wealthy and powerful groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which claim to support universal human rights, are hiding behind vague formulations. Both organizations were active in the 2001 forum and failed to speak out against this travesty, and they've been active promoting the Durban strategy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Their recent statements condemned Israeli attempts to end the rocket attacks from Gaza, with false accusations of "collective punishment" and ""war crimes."
And the leaders of the radical Montreal-based group Alternatives, which is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, absurdly said in a press release that "Canada should ask Israel to pay for damages caused by its army," immorally promoting the Palestinian strategy of terror.
Amnesty and HRW have also abstained from adding their names to a mild statement written by the Magenta group in Holland and the Jacob Blaustein Institute. More than 20 groups, including Human Rights First and Rabbis for Human Rights, declared that the 2001 conference included "violations of procedure in the preparatory and drafting processes racist treatment including violence, exclusion and intimidation against Jewish participants, and the misuse of human rights terminology With a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of groups was silent or refused to speak out."
The signatories pledged to reject hatred and incitement in all its forms, including anti-Semitism, to learn from the shortcomings of the 2001 WCAR, and to work together in a spirit of mutual respect. The members of the Canadian branches of Amnesty International and the donors to Human Rights Watch should demand that the heads of their organizations adopt this pledge.
They can point to the Ford Foundation, whose funds were also used by many anti-Israel NGOs to participate in Durban 2001, but which has since adopted a policy like Canada's to prevent a repetition in 2009. While some gaps in implementation have been uncovered by NGO Monitor (of which I am the Executive Director), Ford officials have said that they will examine each case. In contrast, the New Israel Fund has yet to adopt a position, which is disturbing, particularly for a group whose members are strong Zionists. The NIF has received $40 million (US) from the Ford Foundation in recent years, of which a considerable amount goes to radical Arab groups such as Adalah, which also played a major role in the NGO forum in 2001.
Adalah and other recipients of NIF "civil rights" donations are at the forefront of the anti-Israel delegimization campaigns, often using terms such as "apartheid" and "racist" in documents submitted to UN groups. An NIF pledge to prevent its funds from being used for the 2009 Durban Review Conference would be of particular importance in preventing a rerun.
Obama on Wright:
Obama and the Jews
Published: 03.25.08, 16:29 / Israel Opinion
The paralysis that overcame American Jewry in the face of the Barack Obama phenomenon is pitiful and prompts sad thoughts. Obama himself is clear of any trace of anti-Semitism and has been voicing very pro-Israeli positions throughout his campaign. Yet he grew up, was educated, and internalized values in an environment that is hostile to the Jews and to Israel and also to America, as it turns out.
About two months ago already, starting with political blogs, stories were published that detailed the hateful anti-Israel sermons delivered by Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor in Chicago. And he is not just a pastor: Wright is the closest person to Obama, as the candidate himself admitted in his books. He is his spiritual father, his guide, his model.
Wright's extreme anti-Semitic words have been well documented, yet the vast majority of Jews preferred to ignore them. Obama supporters in the Jewish business community did not demand that he sever his ties with Wright. Here and there we saw weak articles of reservations that were nonetheless filled with words of flattery. American Jewish intellectuals continued to keep their sense of criticism paralyzed.
Then someone uploaded a video clip to YouTube that shows Pastor Wright cursing not only the Jews, but also America itself, calling on God to destroy it, and with a theatrical voice and hand gestures charging that the American government spread the AIDS virus in order to kill blacks and planned the September 11 attacks itself.
Obama rushed to respond only after these horrifying sermons became publicly available. In a lengthy speech that was already designated as one of history's greatest speeches by some American journalists (mostly Jews,) Obama presented his defense of, or at least a sophisticated understanding to, Pastor Wright.
To that end, Obama used three infamous demagogical arguments, starting with the reasoning of victimization and discrimination. Wright's "comments were not only wrong but divisive" and "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country "Obama said, yet at the same time they also reflected the honest fury of blacks in America, who have been the victims of discrimination for hundreds of years.
Authentic representative of black minority
The second line of reasoning was about character: Pastor Wright, Obama said, is a man of noble character, warm, embracing, and people-loving. He has some opinions that are wrong (Obama did not detail which opinions those are) yet Wright himself should not be disqualified. Actually, he is one of us.
In his third and decisive line of reasoning, Obama admitted that "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street." That is, the grandmother who is secretly scared of black men was presented by Obama as the moral equivalent of the pastor who openly preaches hatred for Israel and America's destruction, and both "these people are a part of me they are a part of America, this country that I love."
To Obama's credit, in his speech he did not bluff or beat around the bush. He did not try to make things look pretty, but rather, he drew on his persuasion skills in order to respond to the question of why he did not disown and is not disowning Pastor Wright: Because he views the pastor as an authentic representative of the black minority in America and a moral pillar of fire. He's a little flawed, a little wrong, a little extreme, yet he is still a model.
Barack Obama is a smart, deep man who understands the soul of his voters, and he may become a president who surprises us for the better, even though his political inexperience is very worrying. However, I am much more concerned about his enthused fans, ranging from screaming college girls to the self-depreciating Jewish intellectuals. Their eyes have been blinded to see their new hero, the "sun of the nations," as he is: Filled with stains.
Falahmura are Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity. Many want to come to Israel. Skeptics question their sincerity and claim they have been infiltrated by many people who were never Jewish, and who don't intend to be Jewish. The Israeli government is stopping a program to bring them to Israel, ostensibly because of expense, but others believe this to be a mistake. This is the highlight:
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
A public committee for the remnant of Jews in Ethiopia announced during an emergency meeting in Jerusalem Wednesday the initiation of a widespread public campaign protesting the government's planned termination of state programs aimed at bringing the members of Ethiopia's Falash Mura community to Israel.
At the Jerusalem meeting, the committee's chairman - Former Supreme Court president, Justice Meir Shamgar said, in a rare public statement, that it is "the state's duty to bring the remaining Jews from Ethiopia to Israel. It is not a question of economics but a question of Zionist and Jewish vision. In 1948 they brought half a million Jews to Israel, hundreds and thousands of them from underdeveloped countries, and now seven million Jews cannot absorb a few thousand? The state is not the property of those who live in it today; they are just the beginning of the gospel of the redemption of the children of Israel."
Government programs for the Aliyah of the Falash Mura are scheduled to end three months from now with the immigration of 800 of the community's members. Organizations working to bring the remaining Falash Mura to Israel report that there are at least another 8000 Falash Mura that meet the Interior Ministry's immigration criteria, in the former Ethiopian capital of Gondar.
The meeting was also attended by former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Kotler, American attorney Alan Dershowitz, and the chief rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear-Yashuv HaCohen. Among the countermeasures decided on at the meeting are the organization of protests against ending the efforts to bring the Falsh Mura to Israel, petitioning the high court on behalf of the Falash Mura awaiting Aliyah, and enlisting the aid of Jewish communities around the world in pressuring the government over the issue.
In addition, the committee plans to act through political channels. On Tuesday, MK Michael Eitan (Likud) submitted a legislation proposal, signed by 46 Knesset members from spanning the political spectrum, that would obligate the state to bring Falash Mura with family members in Israel to the country
Last update - 13:19 27/03/2008
Defense officials: Hezbollah rockets can reach almost all of Israel
By The Associated Press
JERUSALEM - With Iranian backing, Hezbollah guerrillas have dramatically increased their rocket range and now threaten most of Israel, according to senior Israeli defense officials.
The Lebanon-based militant group has acquired new Iranian rockets with a range of around 300 kilometers (185 miles), the officials said. That means the guerrillas can strike anywhere in Israel's heavily populated center and reach as far south as Dimona, where Israel's nuclear reactor is located.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the confidential intelligence assessment to the media.
When Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel. The longest-range rockets fired during the war, which Israel said were Iranian-made, hit some 70 kilometers (45 miles) inside Israel.
While Israel's air force managed to take out most of the group's long-range rockets during the first days of the conflict, the military failed throughout the war to halt the short range rocket fire that paralyzed northern Israel and killed 40 Israeli civilians.
After the war, the United Nations dispatched a peacekeeping force meant to distance Hezbollah from the border and prevent the group from rearming.
Israel says that since the war Hezbollah's Iranian and Syrian patrons have steadily provided the group with large amounts of rockets, many of them capable of hitting central Israel. However, it has not provided any of the evidence for its claims.
Hezbollah and UN peacekeeping officials were not immediately available for comment on the latest Israeli claims Thursday.
Hezbollah declined comment Thursday. Yasmina Bouzian, a spokeswoman for the UN peacekeepers, said the international forces had seen no sign or had any report of movement of weapons in south Lebanon. "We have no reports of new weapons," she said.
Iranian officials were not available for comment. Iran has never admitted arming Hezbollah, saying its support for the group is limited to civil and humanitarian aid.
The defense officials did not say how many of the new rockets Hezbollah has obtained. But Israeli officials have said that overall, Hezbollah now has many more rockets in its arsenal than the 14,000 it had before the conflict - likely more than double that number.
In early March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported Israeli claims that Hezbollah's arsenal includes 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in southern Lebanon.
Poll: Likud 26, Labor 19, Kadima 16
Dr. Aaron Lerner Date: 27 March 2008
Telephone poll of a representative sample of 508 adult Israelis (including Arab Israelis) carried out by Shvakim Panorama for Israel Radio's Hakol Diburim (It's All Talk) on 26 March 2008.
If elections were held today how would you vote (expressed in mandates - no indication how many were undecided)
Actual Knesset today in [brackets]
16  Kadima
19  Labor
26  Likud
11  Shas
11  Yisrael Beteinu
08  Nat'l Union/NRP
06  Yahadut Hatorah
06  Meretz
04  Green Party
03  Social Justice (Gaydamak Party)
**  Tafnit - headed by Uzi Dayan
**  Retirees Party
10  Arab parties
** does not reach minimum for Knesset
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
The attack on Messianic Jews ("Jews for Jesus") is despicable. Blowing people up is against our religion, isn't it? Don't we insist that only Muslims do that?
Israelis who target Messianic Jews apparently unsure of Judaism's strength
Published: 03.26.08, 11:58 / Israel Opinion
An undertone of acceptance, or at least a sense of understanding, found their way into reports on the assassination attempt that took place in Ariel earlier this week. A boy whose parents belong to the Messianic Jews movement opened a package that was placed near his door because he thought it was a Purim basket. An explosive device blew up and gravely wounded him.
The police discounted the possibility of a Palestinian attack or the settling of scores between criminals. It tied the assassination attempt to the religious beliefs of family members. Neighbors noted that the family has been holding odd ceremonies at home and the mayor was quick to clear his town of the terrible suspicion that a missionary sect got a foothold there.
News reports showed that the neighbors were more curious than they were shocked. It was clear that they sensed that harassing missionaries is a normal act. It should be condemned, but there is no reason to be surprised about it. One correspondent noted that a place with the presence of missionaries also has people who try to hurt them.
Indeed, acts of violence and hateful publications against missionaries or those suspected of preaching conversion to Christianity are common phenomena around here and stem from our historical memories. Missionaries, and particularly converted Jews, did terrible things to us.
Yet I am much more concerned by people who persecute those who present a hybrid of Judaism and Christianity and whose lifestyle and personal appearance have nothing that marks them as "others." We can turn to Nazi texts in order to understand why "others" who are very similar to us are perceived as more dangerous to the national entity than clearly marked enemies.
I recalled the shock that overcomes us every time we discover a gang of wild and neglected Jewish boys who identify themselves as Nazis. Aren't those who targeted the Messianic Jewish family also of this ilk?
Open market of ideas to competition
I also recalled an incident that happened in France. About two years ago, a young Jewish man called Ilan Halimi was tortured and murdered by criminals who hoped to blackmail his family. When they were captured, it turned out that they were also motivated by primitive anti-Semitism. They were led by a son of African immigrants who accepted the common belief that all Jews are rich and should be robbed.
France was shocked and all government ministers, headed by the president at the time, proceeded to pay a visit of condolences to the synagogue where the victim was eulogized. The Israeli press was impressed by the gesture, but at the same time its reports hinted to the common perception that anti-Semitism is a deeply rooted affliction in France and that such murders are a sort of cost paid by Jews living in the Diaspora.
In order to be sure that we are no less sensitive than the French, our internal security minister would do well to visit the injured boy.
I don't know who the would-be assassin was in this case, but we know that zealous ultra-Orthodox stand out among those who persecute missionaries. These people fail to understand that their violence is a sign of Judaism's weakness, rather than its strength. In a country where the life of gentiles is much tougher than the life of Jews and where a Jew cannot be forced to convert and cannot be tempted by promise that the gates of society will be opened to him if he does so, the market of ideas should be open to all competitors.
Jews who fear competition and resort to gangster-like tricks in order to deter their competition are apparently unsure of the quality of their merchandise. We thought that the Jewish State will free us of this fear, yet again it turns out that a prisoner cannot free himself; the prison is within the soul.
Arab leaders' objection to civil service fails to acknowledge how well it can serve sector
Published: 03.26.08, 22:19 / Israel Opinion
The issue of national service for Israel's Arabs has recently turned into a hot topic in the political arena. As expected, all Israeli Arab organizations presented a unified front on the subject: Leftists and rightists, seculars and religious eagerly competed with one another over who would come up with the most ardent slogans against the notion of national service, while childishly and dangerously inciting against those who volunteer to serve.
Some even equated civil service with military service, which many claim distorts national identity, and others vehemently slammed youth who volunteered for civil service.
I perceive civil service not as part of the duties, but as part of the rights we have been struggling to obtain for 60 years. There is, of course, no justification for the government's policy against the Arab minority in Israel. There is no justification for the national discrimination and racism, and the inequality regarding land development.
But do these reasons warrant a policy of self-punishment? A policy of separatism and isolationism?
The Arab parties' stance regarding national service reflects a political discourse, prevalent in the Arab sector, that is disconnected from reality. The only reason for this blind opposition emanates from a crisis of leadership; a partisan, organizational and ideological crisis; and the political groups' detachment from Arab society's true problems.
More and more choose to serve
A poll conducted by Prof. Sammy Smooha and Dr. Nahed Ali from Haifa University recently revealed that 75% of the Arab population support civil service in some form. Ignoring Prof. Smooha's Arab colleague, the opponents to civil service automatically labeled the survey as "Jewish" and confused, saying it failed to accurately reflect reality.
Another piece of data serves as further indication that the willingness to serve in the sector is stronger than the objection of the public's representatives: The number of Arab volunteers for national service has doubled in the last year, reaching 560 (another source cites about 900), compared to 280 last year.
Most of the Arab volunteers serve in Arab schools, hospitals and homes for the aged.
In the meantime, only 270 people attended a conference against national service in Haifa. Some were paid party activists; others have already passed the service age.
Despite claims by those who oppose it, civil service in no way resembles military service. It is a service founded on volunteering, not duty. For years I have been involved in civil service activities in some of the schools and hospitals in Nazareth, and I have never found volunteering to be a sign of weakness or national treason, or alternately an activity that involves conceding one's national identity.
Some of the young volunteers come from communist or nationalistic homes, and their volunteer work at a school or a hospital can in no way be described as serving the interest of the "occupation army" or Israeli military operations. Every society needs volunteer services in its social, health, educational and municipal institutions.
Step out of the bubble
It would be good for the Arab leadership to thoroughly look into the national service program, in order to understand its scope and help turn it into a leverage that can serve our society. Irrational objection would only widen the rift between the public and those who are considered its leaders.
Unfortunately, any proposal by the government, even when it contains positive elements for instance, the decision to instate affirmative action in the state service prompts an attack by the Arab parties, and not an effort to make sure those decisions are indeed implemented.
What role should we, as Palestinian Arabs and citizens of the State of Israel, play in order to best serve our interests and prove that we are an integral part of the political reality in the country? Will this policy of isolationism eventually serve us and our needs? Will it strengthen the national struggle we have initiated for the right of our Palestinian nation to establish a sovereign state alongside Israel?
Civil service is a cultural tool for changing the individual, a tool that teaches us to give and support the underprivileged. In other words: A tool to deepen the social bond within Arab society, experiment in social and education work, a means to develop personal and collective consciousness to the various problems of society, especially to the ills of violence and drugs. The term of service heightens the sensitivity for social problems and provides the volunteers with a general awareness and a broad worldview, generates motivation and empowers the volunteers themselves.
Should our reality, as a governed minority, be allowed to turn into a permanent situation? Or should we strive to step out of our bubble, place our societal, parliamentarian and legal struggle at the top of our priorities and become partners in the decision-making process instead of continuing to be governed?
Nabil Oudeh, an author and journalist, is a member of the Civil Service Administration's advising committee
Amnesty International better get on this right away - Here's another way in which the Jewish state abridges the rights of its non-Jewish citizens. They even arrest righteous martyrs for wife beating. So much for Democracy.
Last update - 05:10 27/03/2008
State program to tackle problem of polygamy in Bedouin community
By Ruth Sinai, Haaretz Correspondent
Together with leading figures in the Bedouin community, the state will initiate a program to address the problem of polygamy, which Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog described as an "epidemic."
"The phenomenon [of polygamy] has become an epidemic whose emotional, economic and social implications on women and their children are unbearable," Herzog said.
"Unfortunately the State of Israel is not dealing with the issue because it fears confrontation with Bedouin society, even though polygamy is illegal," said Farouk Amrur, chairman of the Beit Berl Jewish-Arab Institute.
The initial stage of the effort will focus on a pilot program for short-term assistance for adults and children of polygamous families. Later, the focus will turn to group assistance.
The program will also include seminars for rehabilitating families, therapy sessions, greater focus on education on child rearing, couples therapy, assistance in managing household finances, etc.
According to initial estimates, the cost of the program for 150 families stands at NIS 500,000. After a year, the pilot will be evaluated, probing whether it contributed to better family functioning. At that stage, a decision will be made on whether to expand the program.
The main aim of the program is to elevate the awareness in the Bedouin community of the severe implications of polygamy, and to rally religious and educational figures to the cause. Another aim is to provide Bedouin women with educational and professional tools, and to educate youths in schools.
The program will be introduced publicly at a conference scheduled for next month at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where social workers, mayors, educators, health officials and religious leaders are expected to participate.
According to studies carried out by Prof. Elian al-Karinawi, head of the Social Work Department at Ben-Gurion University, children in polygamous families often suffer more psychological problems than children in monogamous households. Among the dominant manifestations of such problems are higher rates of criminal activity and dropouts.
Research on a broad sampling of polygamous and monogamous families clearly showed that women in the former suffer from low self-esteem and are more susceptible to depression, especially if they are the first wives in the marriage.
Children also bear the burden of the conflict within the polygamous family, with those of one wife being hostile to the children of another wife, according to Karinawi.
The steering committee of the program includes intellectuals, educators, and law enforcement officials, are aware of the need to take moderate steps and avoid preaching directly to the men against polygamy.
"Marrying another woman is an opportunity for renewal. To strip them of this option in one step is impossible," Amrur said.
Karinawi feels encouraged by interviews with men who married more than one woman and who expressed their dissatisfaction with their family lives. Amrur is also encouraged by the fact that in Arab countries, including Egypt and the Gulf states, the phenomenon of polygamy has declined dramatically in the past decade.
Though there is no clear data on the numbers of polygamous families in Israel, Karinawi estimates that a quarter of Bedouin men have more than one wife.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Ever since the first Zionist Congress in 1897, people have been predicting and complaining that no more Jewish immigrants will come to the land. Supposedly, more people were always leaving than were arriving, except for brief periods in 1936-9, and 1948-1961 and 1990-2000.
Nonetheless, there are many more Jews here than there were in the 1880s when my grandmothers were born. People complained that no more immigrants would come. There are many more Jews in Israel than there were in 1905 when my grandfathers arrived. In 1921 hard times came on the Palestine mandate. Many left, including my grandfather and his family. People complained that no more immigrants would come. In 1966 there was a cartoon showing a sign at Lod Airport, "Will the last one to leave please shut off the electricity." In 1969, when I came on aliya, people complained that there were no more immigrants coming. There were about 2 million Jews in Israel then. Now again, people are worried that no more immigrants will come to Israel.
With Israel facing the end of the era of mass aliyah of need, can aliyah of choice sustain the idea of Diaspora Jewish immigration to the Jewish state?
TEL AVIV (JTA) -- Founded with the express purpose of "ingathering of the exiles" -- but with no more large groups of Jews to save -- Israel is facing the end of the era of mass aliyah.
Recent reports that the Jewish Agency for Israel was considering shutting down its flagship aliyah department have prompted discussion about the future of immigration to Israel even as agency officials quickly denied the department was closing.
"Israel cannot throw away the idea of aliyah because it is one of basics of the ideology of having a Jewish state," said David Raz, a former Jewish Agency emissary abroad. "You have to create a situation that people will want to come, from the element of being together with Jews. But it's not simple. There is a trickle, but basically from the free world the majority does not want to come."
The crux of the matter is that immigration of necessity -- also called "push aliyah" -- is largely at its end, with few Jews left in the Diaspora who need the Jewish state as a haven from persecution or dire economic straits. The Jews of the Arab world fled to Israel in the 1950s, Russian-speaking Jews flocked here in the 1990s and Ethiopians came over the course of the past 25 years.
With nothing pushing mass immigration of Jews today, all that remains are the few immigrants of choice -- also known as "pull" immigrants. Officials involved with aliyah say they expect no more than 15,000 or so new immigrants to Israel this year.
"You have Jews in the West who live very comfortably under pluralistic governments that give them unprecedented social and economic opportunities and let them live Jewish lives," said Uzi Rebhun, a demographer at Hebrew University's Institute of Contemporary Jewry. "In turn, aliyah to Israel has gone down."
With the pool of potential push immigrants drying up, officials like Oded Salomon, the director-general of aliyah and absorption for the Jewish Agency, are thinking about how to pull Jews to Israel in new and different ways.
Salomon says the focus now is on educational programs that bring young Jews to Israel in the hope of fostering lifelong connections to the Jewish state and creating new immigrants.
The Jewish Agency wants to create a special visa for visiting Diaspora Jews who want to explore the idea of aliyah by living in Israel for a few months. Such arrivals would be assisted with finding volunteer or work positions and Hebrew study.
Aliyah officials also are embracing the notion of "flexible aliyah" in which immigrants split their time between Israel and the Diaspora. About 10 percent of immigrants who have made aliyah with the assistance of Nefesh B'Nefesh, which facilitates aliyah from North America and Britain with cash grants and assistance, divide their time between Israel and jobs abroad.
Other ideas to attract a new kind of aliyah being discussed include retirement communities near Eilat for American Jewish retirees to the creation of an all-French-speaking town.
Israel has experienced other periods of sluggish immigration, such as the 1970s and 1980s, but in those eras there were large communities of Jews unable to emigrate and come to the Jewish state, such as those in the Soviet Union.
Today, however, the Jews who remain in the former Soviet Union are either too old to immigrate or prefer to stay put in countries where improved economies and more democratic freedoms have made life in the Diaspora more attractive.
Mass immigration from Ethiopia -- where politics, economics and religious ideology sent tens of thousands of Jews to Israel over the past quarter century -- is expected to end some time this summer. The Jewish Agency plans to shut its Ethiopian offices and bring home its staff when the last arrivals come.
Yuli Edelstein, the former Soviet refusnik and prisoner of Zion who later served as Israel's absorption minister, said Israel must make sure it can provide both meaningful professional opportunities and meaningful Jewish life if it wants to see significant immigration to the country.
"This is a real period of rethinking," Edelstein told JTA, noting the economic and professional opportunities Jews have in the West. "Without a Jewish motivation for being here, it will be much more difficult to attract people."
Among Israelis, too, the ethos of aliyah has dampened in recent years, a far cry from when it was described by the drafters of Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948 as the part of the vision of "the prophets of Israel."
"I don't think aliyah is on the agenda of Israeli society," Rebhun said.
Despite the country's founding mission, he said, "Sixty years after the State of Israel was established, most Jews still live outside of Israel."
Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer from Hebrew University who also is associated with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, says many potential immigrants are put off by the bureaucracy and difficulties of Israeli life, not to mention Israel's security situation.
DellaPergola says major reforms are needed to help ease the path of immigrants, especially when it comes to accepting degrees and professional credentials earned abroad.
Despite plans for a new set of tax breaks for new immigrants and other ideas to help pave the way for potential immigrants, at the end of the day immigrants will come to Israel only if they see in the Jewish state the promise of a fulfilling Jewish life, DellaPergola said.
"If it's a country just like any other," he said, "then why come here?"
The Hudna continues 7 Qassam rockets and gunfire.
Last update - 14:46 26/03/2008
Israeli lightly hurt by Palestinian gunfire on Negev kibbutz
By Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondent
An Israeli man was lightly wounded on Wednesday morning when Palestinian militants opened fire on the fields of a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip border.
The man sustained light wounds near his eye while working in the farmlands of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, after one of the bullets struck a water tank, causing shrapnel to spray.
Gunfire on the fields of Ein Hashlosha has become a regular occurrence of light, though casualties are rarely reported.
Some two months ago, a 20-year-old Ecuadorian kibbutz volunteer, Carlos Chavez, was killed when shot in the back by a Palestinian sniper.
Also on Wednesday, seven Qassam rockets hit the western Negev, two of them striking a kibbutz in Sha'ar Hanegev regional council.
One of the rockets struck directly into the yard of a house on the kibbutz. There were no injuries reported in either incident, but the rockets caused damaged to some nearby structures.
Also on Wednesday, Palestinian rescue crews have dug up the bodies of two smugglers killed in a tunnel collapse in the southern Gaza Strip.
It took rescuers six days to reach the bodies. They say a lack of equipment and a strong smell in the tunnel hampered their efforts.
Palestinians use a network of tunnels along the Egyptian border to smuggle weapons, cigarettes and other items into Gaza. The tunnels are built into the sand and sometimes collapse.
Attention faithful of the Obama campaign:
Obama adviser and national campaign co-chairman Merill McPeak blamed the Jews for the Iraq war and the failure of the Israeli-Palestine peace process in a 2003 interview:
Sure. The Hamas are not a problem, and Arafat is not a problem, and Ahmedinejad is not a problem. The only problem preventing peace between Israel and the Palestinians are those rich, fat, greasy (don't forget greasy) New York and Miami Jews. Right? The Jews in Los Angeles are OK presumably. And here is the same genius on Iraq:
And let's say you don't care about the future of Israel or other Middle East allies, and believe in "God Damn America." Then it makes sense to withdraw from Iraq right now, no matter what, right?
Rapid Action Battalion [RAB], the most notorious Para military forces in Bangladesh, which is known for its atrocities through extra judicial killing, abduction, rape and collecting ransom, has finally shown its nasty fang with Weekly Blitz editor, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.
Almost after an hour and a half, members of the armed men took Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and another senior member of the newspaper, Mahboob Ar Rahman with them while they looted cash and other valuables from the newspaper office. On arriving at the ground floor of the building, where Weekly Blitz office is located, RAB men blindfolded Mr. Choudhury. Before leaving Weekly Blitz office with the editor and other journalist, RAB's officer reportedly known to be Major Swapan, who is the Deputy Director of RAB-3 passed extremely offensive remarks on journalists and newspapers. Captain Shafiq also abused and humiliated Weekly Blitz editor and other members of the newspaper.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and Mahboob Ar Rahman were taken to RAB-3 office and were detained there for hours. RAB men verbally abused Choudhury during these hours, repeatedly calling him a "Zionist spy and agent of the Jews". They used expletives to refer to journalists against whom RAB has a record of harassing, and the United States Congress, which passed a resolution in Shoaib's support. The verbal assault, which included numerous threats, continued for another three hours until someone RAB described as a "high government official" telephoned and ordered them to release him."
It is also learnt from the Weekly Blitz editor that RAB men demanded heavy ransom from him while Captain Shafiq told him [the editor] that he [Shafiq] is a notorious man, who has killed 29 people in the name of 'encounter', a regular practice of RAB for killing people. Shafiq and Shaidul Islam alias Swapan asked Mr. Choudhury to work as 'source' for RAB. When Weekly Blitz editor said, it is not his job to work as any source or spy for any organization, RAB men threatened that, they would do the same thing with him in future.
By a correspondent in Dhaka
The National Executive (NEC) committee of the UCU has passed a motion which will blow oxygen onto the embers of the boycott debate, re-igniting a fire which may still engulf our union. The union's own legal advice tells it that the plan to exclude Israelis and nobody else - from the international academic community would set us on a collision course with the law. A boycott would be, in effect though not intent, discriminatory against Jews; it would violate the Aims and Objectives of the union; it would violate the norms of academic freedom; it would constitute a restraint of trade for union members who do academic work with Israeli colleagues.
The politics behind the boycott campaign is one-sided and simplistic. Nobody serious believes that the tragic situation of Palestine and Israel is just a morality tale of good Palestinians and bad Israelis or of 'the oppressed' against 'their oppressors'. Rather than embrace one nationalist narrative or the other, internationalist trade unionists should be supporting those who are for peace and those who stand against demonization within both nations.
Rather than ganging up on Israeli trade unionists, scientists, philosophers and artists, we should be supporting those who are fighting bravely and doggedly for peace.
Those who are willing to sacrifice our unity and our integrity to a campaign against Israeli scholars are a small clique in our union. They are capable of winning votes on the NEC and at Congress but they don't have a hope of winning a ballot of the membership - and they know it. Sally Hunt and Linda Newman were elected as General Secretary and President of UCU on anti-boycott platforms in ballots of the whole membership. In recent NEC elections there was a swing against the boycotters with the new election of Engage's Jon Pike.
Last summer the boycotters knew they couldn't bring a majority of the union with them and they watched, horrified, as a groundswell of support emerged amongst the membership for a democratic vote on the question of the boycott.
This momentum was dissipated when the union leadership acted decisively to kill the boycott debate. But in a stark U-turn, the NEC has now reversed that decision.
Engage campaigned for a ballot because we believed that 120,000 academics and librarians, college lecturers and administrators should make such an important decision themselves. But when the leadership of the union ended the damaging 'debate' we accepted that move in good faith as an end to the matter. It turns out we were naive to trust in the ability of the union leadership to protect the vital interests of its own union.
It is now time to publish the legal advice that the union has been given so that we can all judge what it means for ourselves.
The boycott campaign divides the union, imports antisemitism into the union and puts the union in serious legal jeopardy; it makes UK academics look absurd around the world and it aids those university managements who seek to benefit out of the toxic disarray endemic in union.
The union should be discussing what we can do to help Palestinians who are suffering under Israeli occupation and who are also under threat from Iranian-backed Islamist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. We should be discussing what we can do to help the Israeli peace movement, for which the universities constitute an important base. We should be discussing what we can do to support people in Israel who oppose anti-Arab racism and people in Palestine who oppose antisemitism.
The boycotters don't want to discuss Palestine and Israel, they only want to discuss their proposal to exclude Israelis from British campuses. They present themselves as the most serious supporters of Palestinians but they split and poison the Palestine solidarity movement around the world.
The boycott campaign tries to define people who support an independent Palestinian state but who oppose making our campuses Israeli-free, as enemies of Palestine. But Engage wholeheartedly supports the Palestinians in their struggle against occupation and for independence while also opposing the boycott campaign.
We propose that instead of the union moving against Israelis in Britain it should focus on doing what it can to move towards an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory and to support those who fight for peace in the Middle East.
The situation in our union is more serious now than it has been before. Now it is not some obsessive Israel-boycotter or some SWP dominated branch bringing the proposal to Congress. It is the NEC of the union.
Now we know that it would violate anti-discrimination law to attempt to exclude Israelis and nobody else from UK campuses. To move ahead in violation of the law is wrong.
Anti-discrimination law is not anti-trade union law. This is our law, which unions fought for and won. Unions rely on anti-discrimination law as one element in the fight against racism in the workplace and beyond. We support anti-discrimination law. It is wrong for us ourselves to violate it.
It is inevitable that some UCU members will look to take the union to court if it insists on resurrecting this 'debate' on how to exclude Israelis from UK campuses, journals and conferences. It is good that UCU members have legal rights and it is legitimate for them to argue these in court. The boycotters will again hide behind the rhetoric of free speech. 'It is only a debate that we call for,' they will say, 'we only want to be allowed to listen to our Palestinian colleagues'. To cloak a campaign against Israeli scholars in the rhetoric of free speech is disingenuous. It is not free speech that we oppose, it is not a discussion of Palestinian rights that we oppose, it is not international solidarity that we oppose: it is the campaign to silence Israeli scholars that we oppose.
It is inevitable that legal challenges to the union's bad decisions will be presented by the boycott campaign as the actions of a super-powerful, alien and illegitimate 'Israel lobby'. We should reject this way of thinking. It is legitimate for Jews to organize politically against antisemitism.
It is legitimate for Jews to take legal action against antisemitism. We should clearly reject the idea that Jews who oppose antisemitism are acting in bad faith in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israel. It is not 'criticism of Israel' which is illegitimate; it is the campaign to make our campuses Israeli-free which is illegitimate.
The NEC motion shows how little it has learned by including the following clause: 'Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic'. We live in a world where very much hostility to Israel is antisemitic. Given the history of antisemitism it would be very strange if some 'criticism of Israel' was not antisemitic, wouldn't it? Why would our union insist on defining so much antisemitism in the world as 'not antisemitic'? It is just shameful that our own NEC should have attempted to do this.
We need to organize effectively, again, against this new boycott proposal.
For the text of the resolution, click here.
For Linda Newman's pre-election promises, click here.
For arguments against the boycott campaign, click here.
March 21, 2008
Jewish Chronicle, 21 March 2008
Asymmetric warfare is normally defined as the weak pitting themselves against forces equipped with infinitely superior military power.
But in fact, unlike conventional warfare between states, asymmetric warfare conceals the real drivers of the aggression those regimes which finance, recruit, arm and train those who fire rockets at civilians or turn themselves into human bombs.
Such concealment paralyses countries which need to protect their citizens against such terror. Their military might becomes a boomerang when, as happened during Israel's recent action in Gaza, the terrorists place women and children on the rooftops during air-raids in order to maximise civilian casualties.
The credulous West accordingly sees an inhuman Israel killing unarmed innocents. The regimes whose strategic aim is the death of such innocents as well as the slaughter of Israelis are totally absent from the false picture imprinted upon the West's collective retina.
Since asymmetric warfare thus limits the capacity of armies to bring about a military solution, defenders of civilisation have to start thinking outside the box.
In Israel a law centre, Shurat Ha'din, is doing just that. It is forcing the terror-masters onto a different battleground altogether the courtrooms of America, Europe and Israel.
Inspired by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the US, which used civil litigation to cripple the Ku Klux Klan, the lawyers of Shurat Ha'din have helped hundreds of Israeli terror victims file civil suits against Palestinian terror groups and their financial patrons.
As leading lights in the organisation told a conference in Rome last week, such achievements have an important strategic value. In suing Iran, Syria and the EU for bankrolling terrorists and in bringing cases against the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for actual attacks, they shrink the global space in which the sponsors of terrorism otherwise enjoy virtually free rein to run their infernal funding networks.
In an American court, for example, Shurat Ha'din won a $200 million judgment against the PA on behalf of the family of an American Jew, who was in the band at a batmitzvah party in Israel which was blown up in a human-bomb attack by a PA policeman.
While the PA fights this judgment on the eye-popping grounds that the attack on the batmitzvah party was a 'legitimate act of war' its funds are frozen. This is causing it so much damage that it asked the State Department to intervene; two weeks ago, State finally refused.
Other lawsuits brought by Shurat Ha'din are similarly disrupting the flow of terrorist funds. The Jordan-based Arab Bank has paid families of human-bomb terrorists 'rewards' for murdering Jews. Since the Arab Bank's NY branch brought it under US jurisdiction, Shurat Ha'din launched a lawsuit against it there for $50 million. The bank promptly announced it would shut its NY branch to avoid liability which it has not been allowed to do.
When Hamas came to power, the US and EU froze all PA funding that would go to Hamas which in response raised $40 million from terror regimes.
The Arab League told Hamas that it would open a bank account in Cairo from which it would transfer this money to Gaza. Since the Arab League had an office in Washington DC, Shurat Ha'din filed a suit in that city to freeze the money in the Cairo bank account on the grounds that it should be paid instead to the Jewish families whose lives Hamas had destroyed.
Even though diplomatic cravenness in America, Israel and Europe creates problems in enforcing such judgments, the very fact they are made forces the terror-masters onto the back foot. Banks think twice before giving money to terror groups. Even a case in Italy which Shurat Ha'din lost against Iran's national oil company forced Iran to shift funds from Rome to Thailand. As the Palestinian banks only deal in euros and dollars, terror finding was once again disrupted.
Since London is arguably the most important centre of all for the funding of global terror, one might think that the British courts would play a key role in this strategy of bankrupting the Islamists. Think again. For this to happen, such lawsuits need to be filed by British lawyers (on a pro bono basis). But every British lawyer and for that, read Jewish lawyer asked to do so by Shurat Ha'din has refused.
Is this not shameful? On the battlefield of the mind, the Islamists are winning. But on the battlefield of the courts, they are losing.
British Jews are hardly conspicuous by their absence in Britain's legal circles. Surely they of all people should be queuing up to use the law to cut the terror-funding networks and defeat the devious godfathers of the vile and manipulative war against the Jews?
Progressives who support Hamas and similar groups should be aware of the following, written by an Arab Palestinian. His own argument is difficult and shows the contradictions between anti-Zionism and "progressive" ideology:
Anti-Zionism of course, is based on the idea that Jews are "different" from other people, so, as Martin Luther King pointed out, it is a basically anti-Semitic position, even if it is held by people who do not think of themselves as Jews.
There is, in the end, no place for anti-Zionism to go except to anti-Semitism, but in 2001, Asma Agbarieh got a glimpse of the problem and was horrified.
Incidentally, this is the best argument I can find for showing why Islamism is inherently fascist. And it features one of my favorite Israeli Arabs, Azmi Bishara.
by Asma Agbarieh
Mussolini's fascism glorified the state as the ultimate human being, for whose sake individual citizens - the parts - would heroically sacrifice their resources and their lives. Hitler's version combined this notion of the state with that of the Aryan race. Both saw warfare and imperialism as "an essential manifestation of vitality" (Mussolini's phrase), through which the state or race would constantly exercise and re-establish its superiority. The driving force of economic development, on the fascist view, was to be neither the egalitarian motive of socialism nor the free-market competition of capitalism, but rather the bloody competition of perpetual warfare, in which alone humanity could realize its full heroic potential.
Parts of the Arab world have begun to show tolerance for bearers of fascist ideology. One hears clear indications of anti-Semitism*, in which Jews are singled out for hatred merely on account of their being Jews.
What a happy coincidence! It seems that the great American poet, Ezra Pound, had a son named Omar, who is a poet in his own right. Omar has written poems about the Palestinian intifada under the title, "The Sacred Earth".** Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was known for his "anti-Semitic" tendencies. These led him to oppose the Allies in World War II and migrate to Fascist Italy, escaping from Roosevelt and his Jewish "advisers" (the bankers, as he calls them). Omar Pound demonstrates his pro-Palestinian tendencies when he adopts the issue of the intifada, seeing it through the eyes of its fighters.
Thus the article begins, and one reads on, expecting some qualification, some "putting-of-distance" between the position of the father and that of the son - but none such follows. The "coincidence" remains a "happy" one. We go from Ezra's "anti-Semitism" (whatever the quotation marks may mean) to Omar's pro-Palestinian tendencies in a single breath, in the spirit of, "A chip off the old block! The apple does not fall far from the tree!"
As for Al Hayat, it is not merely the most influential Arab organ - it is also the one most frequently cited and emulated by local papers such as al-Ittihad (the journal of the Communist Party in Israel) and Fassel al-Makal (the paper of Azmi Bishara and his party, "Balad" - the National Democratic Alliance). When the highly respected Al Hayat glorifies a fascist anti-Semite - without a word of qualification - linking him via his son to the Intifada, it sends a confirming message of legitimacy to such anti-Semitic impulses as may lurk within Arab public opinion.
On April 10, the local Communist paper al-Ittihad reprinted (with credit) the Al Hayat article on Neruda. On April 13, Fassel al-Makal, Bishara's paper - nationalist and anti-communist - re-printed the Al Hayat piece on the Pounds without a word of qualification. Bishara's paper neglected to credit the source and author, thus giving the impression that the item was its own. Yet the same Azmi Bishara was one of fourteen Arab intellectuals who signed a petition asking the government of Lebanon to cancel a scheduled conference of Holocaust deniers. (See below.) In sending such contradictory messages, intellectuals like Bishara only increase the lack of clarity surrounding the question: Who is the enemy?
Beirut was scheduled to host a conference of "revisionist historians" - that is, Holocaust deniers - on March 30. It was no "happy coincidence" that an Arab capital was chosen: here the existing anti-Israel sentiment could easily be translated into anti-Semitic feeling. Under pressure from the West, Lebanon cancelled the conference. Protest followed, notably from groups opposing normalization with Israel. In this affair too, the Palestinian struggle lost some of its progressive, revolutionary content. One figure in these proceedings was Ibrahim Alloush, editor of a website called Free Arab Voice (www.fav.com) and a leading member of the Association against Zionism and Racism, located in Jordan. Here is the chain of events, summarized from Alloush's communications:
Opposition to the conference came not only from the West and the Zionist movement, but also from fourteen Arab intellectuals, among them Edward Said, who petitioned the Lebanese government to cancel it. Alloush and his colleagues attacked the intellectuals, especially Said. How is it possible, they asked, that Arab intellectuals, knowing the severe limits on freedom of expression in the Arab states, would lend their voices to banning a conference? Under this pressure, Said withdrew his signature.
Alloush and several other Jordanian intellectuals then took a counter-initiative, proposing to hold a conference in Amman on April 9 on the topic: "What happened to the revisionist historians' conference in Beirut?" As an appendix to the invitation, Alloush included a piece of his own, called "Revisionist Historians for the Arabs: A Preview." In it he surveys the views of the Holocaust deniers with approval. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the second point of his article:
"Do revisionist historians deny that Jews died in WWII?
Alloush's conference about the cancelled conference never took place. Four days short of the event, the Jordanian police banned it.
Given their lack of political clarity, the Jordanian opponents of normalization have adopted an anti-Semitic Arab chauvinism. The fact that Israel exploits the Holocaust in order to justify the Zionist project has led them to take a counter-position, downplaying the extent of German fascist crimes. It is as if they acknowledged that the Holocaust would justify the existence of Israel - and so they must show it didn't happen!
The escape into extreme nationalism is dangerous. In the Marxist view, nationalism is a vessel whose character alters depending on what you pour into it. Filled with socialism, it can be progressive - part of a liberation movement. If it exchanges this content for capitalism, it becomes reactionary. When the Palestinian and pan-Arab causes lost their progressive backer, the Soviet Union, the romance with capitalism began.
The Arab leaders, and above all Yasser Arafat, promised their peoples economic prosperity, provided they submit to American domination and the capitalist ideology. Today they find themselves at a dead end. Not only has Oslo collapsed, but capitalism itself has entered a deep economic crisis. In the absence of progressive socialist support, Arab nationalism is in danger of falling into the waiting arms of fascism. The Arab world is not ready to confront the US and capitalism, because until now no true opposition-movement has arisen from within it. Given the vacuum, nothing is easier than to blame everything on the Jews while supporting fascist forces in the US and in Europe, looking to the latter to "purify" the Arab world of the Jewish "parasite".
For the Arab regimes, above all the Saudi funders of Al Hayat, anti-Semitism is preferable to a confrontation with the real enemy: American capitalism and its agent, Israel. As long as the latter are strong, after all, they guarantee the survival of the dictators. These prefer to see the people going after Jews rather than attacking their own corrupt regimes.
When Holocaust deniers convene in Arab capitals, they are not adopting the Palestinian cause for its own sake, but rather exploiting it as fertile ground for their ideas. In this way they degrade the struggle - originally political, ideological, and conscious - to a more nefarious level. When Arab leaders join hands with them - as did the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who sought support from Hitler - they betray their cause.
*Editor's note: We are aware that the word "anti-Semitism" seems doubly problematic in this context: first, because Arabs too are Semites, although the usage applies only to Jews, and second, because Arab anti-Jewish feelings - as distinct from the European example - began with experiences of Zionist colonization. Whatever the causes, however, the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism must be maintained. We shall abide by ordinary usage, meaning by anti-Semitism the hatred of Jews as Jews.
** Translated from the Arabic of Al Hayat. We have not been able to find the precise English title of the collection.
[This article originally appeared in Challenge's sister-publication in Arabic, al-Sabar.]
Time to tell the truth abbout the Nakba
The Arab Refugees
and the Missing Israeli Narrative
A response to Gerard Michaud's "A matter of choice", 'Up Front', Jerusalem Post. Feb 8, 2008.
Updated March15, 2008
Gerard Michaud's op-ed on the Palestinian's claim to the "right of return" is interesting and easy to read because the anecdotes he presented put a human face on the Arab side of the problem. (Jerusalem Post, "A matter of choice", Front Lines, Feb. 8, 2008.)
Clearly however, Michaud was already of the opinion that the refugees had been hard done by, and that the Israelis were to blame. Thus his odyssey was a journey to seek evidence to support his view.
So while Michaud accounts for the Arab narrative well enough he completely overlooks the Israeli claim that the majority of the refugees exited the Jewish areas voluntarily. They were motivated by Arab leaders to get out and allow the Arab armies in - to annihilate the Jews. For extermination and obliteration of the state was the Arab war aim. Nothing less.
Here are 17 unimpeachable references from Arab sources which overwhelmingly support the Israeli narrative - that the Arab exodus was virtually entirely voluntary:
In addition to above quotes from Arab sources, the writer lists a number of evidential quotes from non-Jewish and Jewish sources in his blog, supporting the Israeli narrative: Palestine Refugees
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The anatomy of a typical Israeli "Human Rights Violation..."
Amnesty International is sending out letters to the faithful asking them to protest an Israeli crime: Israel is denying water and electricity to Arab Palestinians, destroying their villages that have existed since time immemorial and driving them off their land - another Nakba. If it were true it would be truly frightening and shameful. From what I can learn, this circular letter ought to be listed in Snopes and Urban legends.
The letter reads:
This supposed humanitarian protest has included a number of political demands that add up to "end the occupation now, unconditionally." The letter is not intended to really influence PM Olmert, who is no doubt informed about the actual nature of activities in the Jordan valley. However it does influence the Amnesty International recipients and donors who get the letter. Any reasonable person would infer from the letter, that Israel is uprooting thousands of Arab Palestinians from a verdant paradise where they have lived since the time of Goliath, tending their flocks like the patriarchs of old. Evil Zionists driving Caterpillar bulldozers demolished the picturesque stone houses of the Palestinian Arabs, which have stood for hundreds, maybe thousands of years in Filastin. Fat Nazi-like IDF officers cutting the electric wires and settler fanatics poisoning the wells. Veritably a second Nakba. Worse than the Holocaust without a doubt.
A picture is worth 10,000 words. The light brown stuff is called sand. This type of region is generally called "desert.
One has to see Asanka Derba, an Ethiopian immigrant in his 50s, gently stroking the leaves of the celery and basil plants in his Gedera garden to understand that although he left behind his plot of land in Ethiopia when he moved to Israel, he remains a farmer at heart.
"Who else could pick up a handful of earth, and by smelling it, know what can be planted in the garden?" asked Yuvi Tashome, a member of an urban kibbutz in Gedera that is involved in Derba's nurturing of the plot.
After immigrating from Ethiopia, Derba worked for the Gedera municipality, first as a janitor and then as a gardener in public gardens. But it is only now that he is unemployed, that he has, for the first time, his own piece of land to work in Israel - and it's not hard to see that he is proud of it.
Derba earns money for working the garden, and he also gets to keep all the produce, but that's only part of the plan advocated by Tashome, himself an Ethiopian immigrant. She wants to transfer all authority over the garden to Derba and use gardening to bring him and other older Ethiopian immigrants closer to the vocation that used to be an inseparable part of their identity.
"It's no secret that agriculture was the primary occupation of the Ethiopians" in their former home, said Tashome. "In Israel, the neighborhoods where the Ethiopians live stand out for their lack of greenery. We thought that if they could grow vegetables in a community garden, it would generate a lot of joy. If we had come and offered ready-made gardens, they would likely be neglected. Our approach is to motivate people to take responsibility and get them to work in a garden themselves."
Derba's organic garden was planted in early September in the yard of a house rented by Haverim Bateva, a non-profit organization operated by the urban kibbutz. Now that the rock-hard earth has been cleared of rubble and given way to eggplant, tomatoes, beets and peppers, Derba is beginning to miss the tastes and smells of the plants he once grew in Ethiopia.
The success of Asanka Derba's garden has already attracted the attention of his neighbors. Derba invited friends and neighbors to gaze in wonder at his garden about a month ago. He gave them some of the vegetables he had grown, and now they want gardens of their own.
The garden project is just one initiative of the urban kibbutz, whose members are themselves mainly young Ethiopian immigrants, that is aimed at benefiting members of the Ethiopian community in Israel.
The 12-family urban kibbutz - which forms a collective in the sense of having a shared ideological mission rather than a shared economy - runs various educational and social projects, including a youth club that runs out of a Gedera apartment.
"The intention is to return a feeling of belonging to alienated youth by strengthening their Jewish Ethiopian identity," said
Tashome, a co-founder of the group.
She said she realized it was necessary to operate from within the neighborhood, "so that there will be continuity and connection to the residents and so that it will be possible to introduce genuine change." Gedera is home to some 1,700 families from Ethiopia.
Tashome, who is 31 and moved to Israel when she was 6, has personal experience with the identity crisis facing Ethiopian immigrants. She said she underwent culture shock when she went from living solely among other Ethiopian families to attending a religious boarding school in Hadera, and later a high school at a religious kibbutz near Ashkelon.
"That black period in which I was a second-class citizen compared to the kibbutzniks and the Israelis caused identity confusion," she said. She said she managed to forget she was Ethiopian while she was serving in the army, but was handed a harsh reminder when she was rejected for jobs because, she maintains, of her ethnicity.
The members of the urban kibbutz serve as positive role models for the other residents of Gedera. Most of the Ethiopian members have university degrees, and are assertive and self-confident.
"When my parents came to Israel, they lost their independence, their dignity. They were made passive in their absorption process," said Tashome. "We are planning to be active and to serve members of our community, not from the outside, but as part of them.
The kibbutzim were once the backbone of Israeli society and its ideological and moral inspiration. But times and politics change and the old kibbutz movement was left behind. There seems to be a brand new one growing up in its place.
Over the past decade, this sense gathered momentum in public opinion and was reinforced by various reports in the media to the effect that the kibbutz had reached the end of its path, another steep cost of the global village in which we live.
Nevertheless, this turns out not to be the case. Very far from the public eye and from the press that follows it, a dramatic revolution has taken place over the last decade, during which the kibbutz idea recreated itself and was adapted for the 21st century.
Today, as the end of the first decade of the 21st century approaches, the kibbutz is once again becoming a key and influential factor in Israeli society and in shaping the State of Israel.
Over the last year the turnover of kibbutz industries totaled $8 billion, around 11 percent of the total industrial manufacturing turnover in Israel. Kibbutz agriculture, which represents 35 percent of all agricultural endeavors in Israel, generated an annual sales turnover of $1.5 billion. Kibbutzim's share of Israel's gross national product (GNP) is currently six percent, and this is case given that the kibbutz population represents 1.7 percent of the total population of Israel.
If in 2000 half of the kibbutzim faced the threat of closure, today only 30 kibbutzim still face financial insecurity and all the rest are on the road to stability and growth.
Along with the financial stability, demographic stability has also come and over the last three years more the number of new members accepted in the kibbutzim has exceeded the number of those leaving. If over the years, most kibbutzim did not gain new members and the only changes registered were the number of people leaving, in the last year, there were many kibbutzim that accepted dozens of new members.
When taking into account that 75 percent of the kibbutzim in Israel are located in the periphery and are along the state's southern and northern borders, this signifies a dramatic recovery with major implications for the State of Israel's most important interests.
How did this happen? What happened within the kibbutzim that enabled this dramatic turnaround?
Over the last decade the kibbutzim underwent a series of structural changes that together generated this revolution and prompted the dramatic recovery. The basic values upon which the kibbutz was built were preserved but their implementation has changed and has been adapted to the changing times. The reinvigorated thinking and the attempt to build the kibbutz in such a way that will lead to economic improvements and again attract young people led a more suitable balance of the values on which the kibbutz was built.
Firstly, the management culture was changed. In the past, the kibbutz social and commercial decisions were all made with the full participation of the entire membership, an expression of the equality, which was perceived as a supreme value of the kibbutz, but today there is a complete separation between business dealings and community affairs.
The community continues to be run in full partnership with the entire membership when making decisions; but the business aspects are determined according to standard professional criteria in the world at large.
The job market has changed as well. In the past all kibbutz members worked in the kibbutz framework and based on the
kibbutz's needs, but today, kibbutz members learn a profession and 35 percent of them work in free professions outside the kibbutz. This change is part of the balance attained between the value of work and the value of a livelihood and the desire for self-fulfillment, in contrast to the past, when everything was done in accordance with the needs of the collective.
Another change was the acquisition of personal security for kibbutz members. In the past it was common practice for a kibbutz member not to have personal possessions because everything belonged to the collective. In the wake of the shifts in the kibbutz, there is now a practice of guaranteeing an individual pension for every one and in some kibbutzim member's home have also been registered in their names.
The primary change that affected the kibbutz was the switch from full equality to basic equality. In the past, the kibbutz strived for all equality among members, but today there is a connection between livelihood and a kibbutz member's ability to earn, and the budget he receives at the end of each month. This process was embarked on by levying higher internal communal taxes on those with large salaries and in order to prevent the creation of gaps within the community. All of this was done while creating a security net that guarantees that no member of the community will fall and that even someone who cannot earn an adequate living for whatever reason will be able to receive a supplement from the communal funds collected from the internal taxation of members.
The new kibbutz has preserved the basic values that built the kibbutz almost 100 years ago, but it achieved a more appropriate balance among those values. If in the past, there was little room for the individual's will versus the will of the collective, today there is more space for the individual and the family alongside the communal space.
The kibbutz of the 21st century is not the same kibbutz of 100 and 50 years ago, but it still is way of life that can serve as an example of a just society with equality and solidarity, more than other society in the Western world.
Is this something to cheer about? Here is a private group that is going to guard Israeli farms. The Hashomer guardians were really needed in 1909. There was no Israel government and no Israel, and the Turks didn't care about Jewish property. But now we have a state and an army. If the state is not providing security we need to complain to the state. The Israeli government is not the same as the Ottoman Porte after all.
Caroline Glick , THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 24, 2008
Moshav Tzipori, in the Lower Galilee, is a microcosm of the history of the Land of Israel. A regional capital under King Herod, Tzipori was the seat of Jewish learning and the preservation of the Torah through some of the most tumultuous periods of Jewish history.
After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, refugees from Jerusalem fled to the Galilean town. Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, who presided over the writing of the Mishna, or oral law, moved to Tzipori from Beit Shearim, and it was there that he codified the six books of the Mishna and died.
The Jews of Tzipori revolted against the Roman Emperor Constantine, refusing to accept Christianity and the city was destroyed. The Jews later returned during the Islamic period. On and off, for the next millennia, Jews settled, were forcibly removed and resettled the city several times under various conquerors of Israel.
During the 1948 War of Independence, the ancient city was the site of a major battle between the new Israel Defense Force and the neighboring Arab villages assisted by invading forces from Syria and Lebanon. The Arabs were routed. In 1949, Moshav Tzipori was founded.
LAST FRIDAY afternoon, the struggle for Jewish control of Tzipori, the Galilee and the Land of Israel as a whole continued on the ancient ground. On that quiet afternoon of Purim, under the blistering sun, three horses stood happily grazing in a field of shrubs and grasses. The only problem with the otherwise pastoral scene was that the horses belong to Arab squatters from the Kablawi clan. In recent years, the Kablawis have built themselves an illegal village of some 20 houses masquerading as storage containers on stolen Jewish National Fund land adjacent to Tzipori's fields. The horses, who entered through a hole cut into the field's fence, pranced about and ate, destroying the field that was painstakingly cultivated for the moshav's cattle herds.
The farmers and ranchers of the Galilee, like their counterparts in the Negev are at wits' end. Fearing Arab riots or political condemnation by the Israeli Left, Arab leaders, the Islamic Movement and their allies abroad, the police and the state prosecutors have simply stopped enforcing the laws against the Galilee and Negev Arabs. Surrounded by increasingly hostile and lawless Arab and Beduin villages, local Jews' livestock and crops are continuously plundered.
They are faced with three equally unacceptable options for contending with this state of affairs. They can do nothing and let their livelihood and lives' work be destroyed. They can pay protection money to Arab criminal gangs, who in exchange agree not to rob them. Or they can try to sell off their lands and abandon agriculture altogether.
The obvious recourse - filing a complaint with the police - is an exercise in futility. Thousands of complaints are filed each year. Almost none of them end in indictments or trials. Most of the files are closed by the police due to "lack of public interest."
ON FRIDAY, the field in question belonged to a cattle rancher named Haim Z. Over the past few years, Haim has filed more than 250 complaints against local Arabs from the Kablawi family and from neighboring Arab villages like the Islamist stronghold Mashad with the police. None have ever gone anywhere. Last year, a helpful police officer recommended that Haim simply start paying protection money.
Last year Haim told his son that he had had it. The son of the moshav's founding generation, Haim said that he just couldn't go on anymore. The state's refusal to protect Jewish property rights had forced him to devote all of his energies to playing cat and mouse games with Arab poachers. He couldn't invest in his herd. He couldn't develop his land. All he could do was sit by and watch as year in and year out, his lands were plundered, his cattle stolen and the work of his life and his father's life was destroyed.
HIS SON, a 23 year old soldier in one of the IDF's elite commando units decided that it was up to him not only to save his father's farm, but to stem the tide of Arab infringement on Jewish land and property rights. Due to his position in the IDF, his name is classified. We'll call him J - for Jew.
In response to his father's desperation, J. took a storage container to a hilltop that overlooks Tzipori's fields, the surrounding Arab villages and the access routes to the moshav's fields. He placed a sofa, a bookshelf full of Jewish history books, religious texts and philosophy classics, and canned food inside and moved in during his furloughs from the army. Rather than hang out with his friends, he began standing guard. He confronted every Arab he caught infiltrating the moshav's fields, and both filed complaints with the police and chased them away.
Given his impossible schedule, J. enlisted his friends to help out. The sons of other desperate farmers, who also serve in combat units, they joined him enthusiastically. Within months, J. had set up an organization of more than a hundred young volunteers - soldiers, college students, and high school students from his moshav, other moshavim in the lower Galilee and surrounding non-agricultural communities.
He called the organization, Hashomer Hayisraeli Hahadash - or the New Israeli Guardsmen. The original Hashomer, or Guardsmen was established in the Galilee in 1909 for the same purpose - protecting Jewish farming communities from Arab marauders who demanded protection money from the farmers. It was the progenitor of the Haganah, which in turn, became the Israel Defense Force.
As J. puts it, "We're not simply a security service. We see ourselves as a new movement. Our activities rest on three foundations: securing the land, expanding our operations throughout the Galilee and the Negev, and teaching Zionist and Jewish values to our members, our communities and the general public."
TZIPORI, ONE of the stops of the Cross Israel Hiking Trail, is a popular destination for school groups, youth groups and just regular hikers. J. has organized visits to his guard post for thousands of hikers over the past year. During their visits the hikers listen to lectures about the New Guardsmen, about the Jewish history of the Galilee and the development of agriculture in the area, and topics of general interest provided by local residents, politicians and professors.
Friday afternoon, after noticing another encroachment on his father's field, J. called the police at the Nazareth police station. Joined by two of his fellow guardsmen, who are also sons of farmers and soldiers in commando units, they waited in the sun for over an hour for the police to arrive and planned their moves. They approached the horses with reins and bits.
"We will seize the horses and bring them back to our stable. If the Kablawis pay the damages, then I'll give them back, if not, I'll sell them," J. explained.
As the young men approached the horses, Yasser Kablawi, the head of the clan appeared. According to Haim, over the past year, the Kablawis have trampled his fields with their animals on more than 20 occasions.
Haim, who arrived at the scene some 10 minutes before the police made their grand appearance turned toward Kablawi and said, "Why are you doing this?"
"This land belongs to the JNF, not to you," Kablawi said.
"Why are you lying? I sat in your home with the JNF inspector months ago, and he told you straight that this is my land. You know you are stealing from me, and you're doing it while you're illegally squatting on JNF land. You've caused me tens of thousands of shekels in damages by trampling my fields today alone, and you know it."
By the time the police arrived, J. and his friends had roped one of the horses. Kablawi was joined by three grandsons and four sons. J. was joined by another seven Guardsmen. It was a standoff.
THE POLICE, who were informed of the presence of a journalist at the scene, acted with some resolution. After speaking with the JNF inspector, they explained to Kablawi that he could either sign a statement acknowledging that the land belongs to Haim and that he would be arrested if he trespassed again, or they would allow Haim to seize his horses. Kablawi signed.
J.'s activism is not just a personal quest to save his father from economic ruin. "If it were just about me and my family, my brother and I could take care of the thieves. They'd leave us alone. But then they'd just move on to our neighbors. It isn't about one family. This is a question of control over the land of Israel. The state is weak. We need to be strong if we want to remain here."
Last month, J. registered the Guardsman as a non-profit organization. He has a grand vision for the future.
"In the space of just a few months, I have brought in thousands of people, exposed them to our mission. I have more than a 100 volunteer guards. We have reduced theft by 80 percent.
"I want to raise money to buy night vision goggles and some all terrain vehicles to do proper patrols. I'd like to be able to give students scholarships so that they can guard and study at the same time. I've been in touch with farmers and ranchers in the Negev and they are anxious for us to expand to the south. I believe that within five years, the Guardsmen can end the protection rackets."
BACK IN June 2005, then vice premier Ehud Olmert gave an American audience his opinion of the Israeli people. "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies," he whined.
Young people like J. and his colleagues, secular, yet deeply rooted Jewish sons and daughters of Galilee and Negev farmers, like their religious friends prove everyday that Olmert was not speaking for his countrymen. Whatever messes Olmert and his colleagues in the government still manage to make before they are finally thrown from office, it is absolutely clear that these young people and millions like them are willing and able to clean them up for themselves, their countrymen, and for the next generation of Jews in the land of Israel.
After the appetizer of the first chapter [Russian anti-Semitism Part I] , it will be easier for you to digest what is coming now. I am almost sure, that is. Time to introduce another participant.Professor Oleg Karatayev, doctor of jurisprudence, chair of law faculty, St. Petersburg State University of Water Communications. Besides being a law expert, Mr Karatayev has some history lessons to convey.
Control of the power fell into Jewish hands a year or two before the February revolution, Jewish banks funded the revolutionary groups aiming for destruction of monarchy and full control of Russia.Mr Karatayev concludes this part of historical review:
So, we either have to confess that Russians are imperfect in anthropological sense [whatever that means] or to admit that Jews are taking over the positions of power due to their [mumbling for search of words here] penetrative ability [whatever it means again]...
The next speaker is no more and no less than the great Russian writer, Nobel prize winner, the one and only Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn:
In defense of this speaker it should be said that his anti-Semitic tendencies are somewhat watered down - both in his books and in his speeches. He mumbled something about people who tend to go into business and politics instead of working the soil - but his heart clearly wasn't in it. However, he willingly gave a hand to this carnival of hate...
Click for more about Russian Anti-Semitism Revived-II
Apparently, the plan is for Israel to allow gradual takeover of Palestinian areas by the PA, but the timing coincides with the visit of Condoleeza Rice. We know that Israeli hawks will decry the danger, and that the Hamas and their supporters will say it is a meaningless sop by the US and Israel to the "puppet regime" of Mahmoud Abbas.
Last update - 11:47 25/03/2008
Israel to allow PA security forces to deploy in Jenin
By The Associated Press
Israel will let Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deploy hundreds of his security forces in the West Bank city of Jenin after they complete U.S.-funded training in Jordan, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will inform Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the decision when they meet on Wednesday, the officials said.
Israeli officials said the planned deployment in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, could include up to 500 to 600 men. Palestinian forces took up positions in the larger West Bank city of Nablus in November as part of a law-and-order campaign.
Nearly 700 members of Abbas's National Security Forces crossed into Jordan in January to begin the four-month-long,
U.S.-funding training course. A separate group from Abbas's Presidential Guard has also gone to Jordan for advanced training.
Fayyad and some U.S. officials have accused Israel of undermining Palestinian Authority security efforts in Nablus by refusing to curtail army raids into the city. Both Jenin and Nablus have long been seen by Israel as bastions for anti-Israeli militant activity, although in recent months the cities have been relatively calm.
Israeli troops clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians in a Nablus refugee camp on Tuesday, but no injuries were reported.
Israel has been under increasing U.S. pressure to take steps to bolster Abbas, whose authority has been restricted to the occupied West Bank since Hamas Islamists routed his more secular Fatah forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.
U.S.-sponsored peace talks, launched at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland last November with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next January, have shown little sign of progress so far.
News of the planned deployment came after Barak on Monday said that Israel will soon begin making life easier for West Bank Palestinians, but that it would not remove checkpoints in the immediate future.
The defense minister said that Israel would facilitate the construction of several industrial zones meant to provide thousands of jobs and boost the Palestinian economy. Many of the projects, funded by foreign governments, have been held up because of Israeli security concerns.
"It is clear we need to exhaust every possible option - if it does not conflict with Israel's security needs - to help the chances of improving the atmosphere in the talks with the Palestinians," Barak told reporters.
Speaking ahead of a weekend visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Barak voiced a willingness to take "a calculated risk" by easing restrictions on Palestinians. Rice says neither Israel nor the Palestinians have done enough to fulfil their obligations under a long-stalled, U.S.-backed peace "road map".
Under the plan, Israel is required to halt all settlement activities and the Palestinians are to rein in militants.
The Devaluation of the National Intelligence Estimate of the Iranian Threat
INSS Insight No. 49, March 20, 2008.
In December 2007, the American intelligence community published a new assessment of Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities. The report stressed two new findings:
Doubts about Iran's intention and determination to develop nuclear weapons, which figured prominently in the NIE, are absent from McConnell's report. He stresses that the American intelligence community continues to be concerned about Iran's nuclear intentions and that Iran continues to develop a range of technical capabilities that are applicable to the production of nuclear weapons. Nor does he condition the possibility of nuclear weapons production with the phrase "If Iran decides to do so ", as did the December report.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Israel joins the OECD Development Centre
"Israel's joining the Development Centre reinforces its important contribution to international efforts to improve living conditions in developing countries."
(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Finance Spokespersons)
The Council of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) has approved Israel's membership in the Development Centre, an arm of the OECD. The Development Centre, which was set up in 1962 as a semi-independent body, comprises OECD member states as well as non-member states. Israel will be represented in the Centre by delegates from the Foreign Affairs and Finance Ministries.
The purpose of the Development Centre is to develop economic and social ties between the OECD and developing countries. The Centre was established to aid decision-makers in stimulating growth and improving the living conditions in developing countries. The Centre also serves as a common platform through which member states can share their experience in economic and social development.
One of the Centre's goals is to create a network of working ties between research institutes and universities in member states. Another goal is policy research, which would be carried out in different areas by participating member states and an OECD professional team.
There are currently 32 member states in the Development Centre, of which 23 are members of the OECD and nine are candidates for the OECD or represent emerging economies. In its recent expansion, three states joined the Development Centre: Israel, which is a candidate for membership in the OECD and has 50 years experience in international cooperation; Vietnam, which is an emerging economy in Asia; and Egypt, which holds an important place in the Arab world as well as among the African nations.
Mr. Oded Brook, Head of the International Affairs Department in the Finance Ministry, stated, "Israel's joining the Development Centre is another step towards joining the OECD, and reinforces Israel's standing as a state that makes an important contribution to joint international efforts to improve living conditions in developing countries and [to promote] cooperation with these countries."
Mr. Haim Divon, Deputy Director General for International Cooperation, who attended his first Governing Board meeting in Paris on March 18, said, "We view with great importance our participation in the Development Centre, an arm of the OECD. On the one hand, Israel brings the rich experience it has gained in 50 years of activity through the Center for International Cooperation (MASHAV) throughout the world, and, on the other hand, feels obligated to fit in with the policy, goals and operation patterns being formulated in the context of the Development Centre."
Actually, there is almost no hope the soldiers are alive whatever, and the fact that Hezbollah are unwilling to produce proof they are alive makes it a virtual certainty they are dead.
Last update - 08:56 24/03/2008
Israel shifts stance on reaching agreement with Hezbollah
By Yossi Melman and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents
Israel has lifted its opposition to a deal with Hezbollah involving the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for signs of life from captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, a source in the defense establishment recently told Haaretz.
This source and other officials told Haaretz that indirect negotiations for the release of the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers that the Shi'ite organization abducted in July 2006 did not bog down after the assassination of Hezbollah senior official Imad Mughniyah last month in Damascus.
Hezbollah has announced since then that it regarded Israel responsible for Mughniyah's death.
On Friday, Hezbollah deputy secretary general Naim Qassem again accused Israel of culpability for Mughniyah's assassination in a speech to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. "We have clear proof, 100 percent, that cannot be doubted, that Israel is the head of the assassination," said Qassem.
On Monday, Hezbollah is scheduled to hold a formal service to commemorate 40 days since Mughniyah's death to be attended by the organization's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who is expected to make a speech at the service.
The talks regarding Regev and Goldwasser, these sources said, are conducted by a German secret service official under United Nations auspices, but are yielding little progress.
Negotiations with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, another IDF soldier captured in 2006, are not progressing, the sources added, citing internal differences within Hamas.
So far, Israel has said that it was categorically opposed to Hezbollah's demand to include Palestinian prisoners in any deal.
Official assessments allege that the two soldiers were "severely wounded" during the attack that ended with their abduction and the slaying of three other IDF troops. The official working assumption, however, is that the two soldiers are alive.
Hezbollah is refusing to release any sign of life from the two soldiers, preconditioning such a move on the release of Palestinian prisoners. Both sides are reportedly exchanging ideas for the deal, but the transaction is allegedly stuck because of intransigence on the part of Hezbollah's men vis-a-vis the demand to release Palestinians from Israeli prisons.
Turning to the negotiations for Shalit's release, the sources said the talks are being held up by exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. They said Israel has for the past 30 days been expecting to receive a list of prisoners whose release the organization said it is seeking.
Until earlier this month, the proposed agreement with Hamas for Shalit'srelease was supposed to contain three main phases. During the first, Shalit was to be transferred to Egyptian custody, after which Israel was supposed to release 100 so-called "prominent prisoners," a group of Palestinian legislators from Hamas, as well as minors and women imprisoned in Israel.
In the second phase, Shalit was to be handed over to Israel and, at the same time, 350 Hamas prisoners were to be freed from prison. During the third part, which had no exact timeframe, Israel was to release 500 additional prisoners.
But the exact makeup of the list of prisoners whose release Hamas is demanding is, in the opinion of Israeli experts, the subject of an internal conflict within the organization.
The two sides in the conflict are reportedly Meshal and the exiled leadership in Syria on one hand, and the internal leadership within the Strip, headed by Ahmed Jabri from the organization's military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam. Talks with Hamas over the exchange are also conducted indirectly, through the mediation of Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman. Representing the Israeli side is Ofer Dekel.
The sources allege that the Egyptian agenda also serves to slow the talks down. Egypt, they explain, favors focusing on reaching a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, and only then addressing the deal for Shalit's release.
This story seems to contradict a story in Haaretz that had a more optimistic evaluation of the Nautilus system.
Gizmo fails: Nautilus test in USA rules it out as defense against rockets
Dr. Aaron Lerner Date: 21 March, 2008
Israel Television Channel Two correspondent Ronnie Daniel reported lastnight that Director General of the Ministry of Defense, Brig.Gen.(ret)Pinchas Buchris recently observed the testing of the Nautilus laser anti-aircraft system in New Mexico.
The system was only operational 30% of the time of the tests and when it was operational it was only able to shoot down 8 out of 36 Qassam rockets fired. It was expected to shoot down at least 21.
In light of these results, Israel will not reconsider the Nautilus system.
For the Hebrew video report
It so happened that soon after finishing the Russian parents, beware post, I have received a link to a Russian-made movie made sometime in 2005. Seeing its first few frames, I was inclined to quit immediately. After all, the title of the movie is "Russia stubbed in the back" (precise translation is "Russia with a knife in the back"), its subtitle is "Jewish Fascism and the genocide of the Russian people".
More here: The labor of hate - part I
Shinui, the Gold Standard and the Groush with the hole are not coming back.
Shinui is coming back
Ultra-Orthodox arrogance, financial extortion to prompt return of secular party
Published: 03.23.08, 16:55 / Israel Opinion
Listen to an expert: Shinui is coming back. It will be called by another name, and it may take a few months before you hear about it. The party's makeup will be different, and my father, former Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid, will only watch it from the sidelines this time around with a small grin, but it's coming back. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai is bringing it back.
I saw the establishment of Shinui from up close. How close? I was there with the chicken soup at my parents' kitchen. My mother and I would sit there together and listen to the people yelling in the living room.
It was a fascinating process. There I learned that the only thing that prompts a group of people to unite around an idea is anger. Hope and love are noble feelings, but they serve to establish youth groups. Only angry people are willing to go out in the middle of the night to post stickers. Only angry people are willing to waste their time, money, and best years in order to fight for an idea. In a deeper sense, only angry people can face the fact that other people will be angry at them in return.
I am familiar with all the learned explanations about Shinui falling apart because of managerial problems or lack of attention to smalltime politics, but I was there, and excuse me if I say that those are only the small details that make up a much larger truth: Shinui fell apart because it succeeded too much.
Just like immigrant parties like the one led by Natan Sharansky, Shinui's success made it needless. The ultra-Orthodox learned their lesson. They realized that it is possible to form governments around here without them, that the secular public is fed up with their endless financial extortion, and that those who do not serve in the army have no right to scream that we mustn't leave Gaza. More then anything, they learned a lesson in modesty.
The moment the Orthodox signaled to us that they got the hint, we were happy to put away our banners. The secular public in Israel and I know you won't believe me, but Shinui's founders are included in this group does not hate the Orthodox. Our Jewish instinct does not allow us to hate people with white beards who study the Torah. If they don't live at our expense, there is no reason to give them a tough time.
Getting angry at ourselves
In the two years that passed since Shas returned to the government's warm embrace it appeared that they got the message. They treated the feelings of the seculars cautiously, almost with anxiety. Even their attempts to regain control of the budget were made with great silence. Yet then came the last few months:
* The Ministry of Religious Affairs was reestablished.
* A total of NIS 475 million (roughly $150 million) that was not part of the budget was earmarked for yeshivas.
* Before that, NIS 290 million (roughly $80 million) within the budget were earmarked for yeshivas.
* A total of NIS 8.6 million (roughly $2.5 million) was transferred for the purpose of covering the debts of religious councils, without a monitoring process.
* Shas' Benizri charged gays were at fault for earthquakes, while fellow party member Nissim Zeev said they should be taken care of "like we take care of bird flu."
* An attempt was undertaken to expand the powers of rabbinical courts.
* The "Internet censorship bill" passed its first reading.
* The regulations for appointing city rabbis were changed in order to appoint Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's son as Jerusalem's chief rabbi.
* Shas announced that it plans to reintroduce the law that provides larger child allowances starting with the 5th child. Here we are talking about billions, not millions.
Should I continue? Because there is plenty more. Not only the money is starting to flow back into Orthodox pocked, but also the arrogance. They overcame the trauma. We again look to them like a bunch of fools who would always do what they are told if they are just pressed a little.
Are you already starting to get annoyed?
The only reason we didn't notice immediately what was going on is that we are still blinking a little because of the Qassam smoke and tears in the wake of the funerals. In any other junction, one that would be less packed with security incidents, the amazing series of actions noted above would already prompt angry people to gather at crowded living rooms. "We need to do something," one person would say after the third coffee. "So why aren't we doing it?" another one will ask, just like the last time.
It will start off small, just like it did last time. At first we will get angry at them. Then we will get angry at ourselves, which is a much more dangerous kind of anger: We'll be angry at Olmert for transferring the money, at Labor's Isaac Herzog for initiating the rabbinical courts' legislation, at Tzipi Livni who voted in favor of reestablishing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and at Danny Yatom, who backed the censorship bill.
Because this is what is most infuriating: The speed with which Israeli politics has gone back to suck up to the Orthodox. So listen to a man with experience: The new Shinui will not be established it has already been established. Just like the last time, nobody noticed it until it made it to the Knesset. Only this time around, my mom won't have to make chicken soup for them.
Don't pay them to return
Plan to lure former Israelis back on 60th Independence Day could backfire
Published: 03.23.08, 10:15 / Israel Opinion
Our ministers have an urge to come up with ideas that would make us overjoyed on the occasion of Israel's 60th Independence Day. The result is annoying and needless plans, including the last one launched by Ministers Ronnie Bar-On and Jacob Edery under the banner: "Coming back home on Israel's 60th."
We are talking about significant tax breaks for Israelis who lived abroad for a particularly long period of time. Those who lived overseas for at least 10 years will be granted the status of "returning citizen classified as a new oleh for income tax purposes."
The finance minister is elated: "The reform was formulated in the aims of boosting dwindling immigration to Israel and prompting the return of some of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living abroad." Meanwhile, the immigration absorption minister offers some self-praise: "The reform constitutes a genuine revolution that for the first time combines moral worthiness and Aliyah based on Zionistic motives with economic feasibility."
A wise immigration policy results in a positive selection of immigrants. For example, Israeli society's secret in the pre-independence era was that the immigrants who arrived in Israel through self sacrifice and for ideological reasons were the good guys (by the way, those are the parents of many of us.)
The immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1970s upgraded Israeli society by bringing here brave Jews who truly believed in the Zionist idea. Israeli society needs people with commitment and positive qualities. I find it difficult to believe that those who will come to Israel because tax breaks made their arrival "economically feasible" are what we need around here.
Some of my good friends are former Israelis living abroad. I do not hold a grudge against them and they are my friends even though they left Israel. They have the right to leave, just like it's my right to stay in Israel. None of them will be returning to Israel because of these benefits. Yet I know a few people who will be encouraged to leave Israel because of this plan.
Why not help Israelis who live here?
What will a young Israeli who rejected tempting offers overseas feel in the face of the preferential treatment accorded to former Israelis? If he is a saintly person, he will feel like a serial sucker. If he is still debating, here is something that would enable him to overcome the hesitations: Try the international option. If you don't like it, come to visit us on holidays. And if not, then on the State's 70th Independence Day (which is exactly 10 years from now) you will be granted even greater benefits in the face of "growing emigration and dwindling immigration figures."
The immigration absorption minister says that the plan will "prompt a significant increase in the scope of immigration and double the number of returning Israelis." I wonder what he bases these claims on. In any case, even he admits that at least half of those returning this year (and I allow myself to guess that many more beyond this figure) would do it regardless of the plan.
Therefore, the main implication of the "reform" is the provision of a gift for former Israelis who intended to return in any case.
A government enjoying budget surplus has reason to hand out gifts. Yet we can come up with people who are more deserving of gifts than returning former Israelis. For example, why don't we finally pay minimum wage to soldiers performing their mandatory service for nothing? Instead of assisting former Israelis whose Brooklyn business failed, wouldn't it make sense to assist small businesses that are facing survival difficulties here?
It is a good thing that the government wishes to encourage academicians, yet instead of rewarding elderly professors, who completed most of their careers in the United States, why not offer benefits to young academicians who built their academic home here? And what's wrong with tax breaks to "regular" Israelis who have lived in Israel for 10 consecutive years?
We should remind ourselves that there are millions of citizens here who are filled with good intentions and face a daily struggle while helping the weak, volunteering, producing original Israeli creations, and giving birth to Israeli citizens in the full sense of the word.
The effective way to handle emigration is to make Israel fair, pleasant, and cultured enough so that our young people won't leave. As to those who already left, the State of Israel needs only the best of them, who are willing to pay us for the right to be received here.
Gilad Sharon is right that Al-Qaeda won't stop hating Israel if the occupation is ended. But it will be a lot harder for them to get recruits...
It's all about hatred
Anti-Jewish animosity, rather than economic distress, is terror's root cause
Published: 03.24.08, 01:33 / Israel Opinion
Many people around the world, including some Israelis, believe that the moment the conflict between us and the Palestinians would be resolved, the reason for the Arab and Muslim world's hostility towards us will disappear. Peace will prevail among Israel and all Arab states, tensions between Islam and the West will fade, and the terror threat against Western nations will be lifted.
This conviction is naïve and false the Palestinian issue is the pretext; a means used to slam Israel. It is not the problem.
The Arab world never reconciled itself to our existence as a Jewish state in the Mideastern space. The only Arab maps where the State of Israel appears are military maps. When it comes to the maps used in geography classes at schools, we do not exist.
Arab states have no interest whatsoever in the fate of the Palestinians. Syria's defense minister referred to Arafat as the "son of 60,000 whores," while Egypt's president once urged the Palestinian leader to do something by telling him: "Come on already, you dog." We must understand the meaning of such insult in the Arab world, and this is nothing compared to the declarations that were not uttered in public.
If the Palestinian issue bothered Arab states so much, what stopped them from establishing a Palestinian state before 1967 and the Six-Day War?
The argument that the suffering and distress experienced by the Palestinians are the reason for terror against Israel and the West is also unfounded. Terrorism against Jews in Israel started more than 120 years ago, much before the Six-Day War and the War of Independence; before we were accused of expulsion or occupation. Just as it was then, today too the hatred for Jews and rejection of our existence here are the reason for terrorism.
Let's examine, for example, the despicable terrorist who carried out the attack at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem. We are talking about the son of a wealthy family who lived in a nice house and made a nice living through those he murdered via the family's transportation company. He did not act because of distress, but rather, because of hatred.
Aggressor can't be appeased
If we look back at the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks in the United States, we would discover that most of them were Saudis and that the funding and assistance they received is also related to the Saudis. It is difficult to claim that the Saudis suffer from any kind of distress, at least not in financial terms. Perhaps life is a bit boring for them, or the weather is too hot, but there is no shortage of money there.
The reason for that and other offensives is radical Islamic fanaticism that is unwilling to accept the West and its way of life and culture, and seeks to enforce its dark and zealous beliefs on all global residents through any means available. Live in line with our ways, or die this is what they say.
It would be good for the US and Europe to realize that pressing Israel to make concessions would not bring them the calm they so covet and would not allow them to go back to a life of hedonistic euphoria. Giving in to terrorism and violence does not serve to appease the aggressor, as was proven by Hitler, but rather, only encourages it.
It would be good if people around the world and around here too would realize that the zealot demon that came out of the bottle cannot be compromised with. We can only push it back into the bottle with strength and determination and bury it deeply in the sands of the Arabian Peninsula.
Religious violence is never acceptable.
Last update - 04:22 24/03/2008
Loving Jesus, fearing the neighbors in Ariel
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondent
Police and sappers were once again dispatched to Ariel?s IDF Street during the Purim holiday Friday morning. A few minutes earlier, a man had knocked on the door of the Leibovitz family home and left a cardboard box with the boy who answered the door. "It's mishloach manot, a Purim gift basket," explained the visitor before disappearing.
The boy and his older brother trembled with fear. Their parents, who were out of town, ordered the boys by phone to get away from the package and call the police. In another residential building, 50 meters away, a bomb planted in a Purim gift basket had exploded the day before.
"This is not hysteria; it is alertness," police told the two boys after they finally opened the box to reveal candy and other treats from the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement in honor of the holiday.
This is only one example of the tension that has gripped city residents after the booby-trapped gift basket injured a boy on Thursday. Those who were most frightened were members of a tiny, almost secretive community that operates in that Ariel building, among other sites in Israel; the "Messianic Jews." The group had experienced occasional harassment in the form of hostile fliers and demonstrations against Christian missionary groups. But the police investigation into the explosion indicates that they now must also fear religious-based terror.
While sappers dismantled the Chabad package in the neighboring building, several members of the Messianic Jewish community were cleaning up the apartment where the bomb had gone off a day earlier: shattered windows, a splintered dining room table, holes in the walls and the ceiling, and dried blood stains. They refused to speak to the press, and only one person agreed, despite his friends' protests, to permit Haaretz to enter the scene of a crime motivated by untold loathing.
"The same people who hounded that family might find me tomorrow," one man said, describing his fear and reluctance to be identified. He comes to this home weekly to meet and pray with about 20 other men and women. Most are from the United States, but some are from the former Soviet Union and others, like the man who spoke to us, are native Israelis. He said he was a member of several religious cults before he "saw the light" while reading the New Testament seven years ago.
Only half of the local community is from Ariel, he said, adding that there are a few thousand Messianic Jews in Israel who "believe in the Torah of Israel and the God of Israel, and that Jesus, who was a Jew, had no intention of creating a new religion. We accept Jesus as the Messiah. We accept the Old Testament and the New Testament as its continuation."
The parents of the boy who was wounded in the explosion immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return; as Jews; before they founded the congregation in Ariel. The congregation meets weekly on the two upper floors of a typical residential building. But surveillance cameras, installed two years ago after antagonistic fliers were distributed in the area, bear witness to the threat the members feel. The family that received the bomb in a gift basket lives in one wing of the complex. Another wing, which has a wooden floor, plastic chairs and tables, and locked shutters, is dedicated to the group's weekly meetings. A wall hanging embroidered with the phrase "Peace in Israel" is flanked by a bulletin board and a schedule of events.
"The events that take place here are not underground; it's an open thing," the speaker explained.
Is it a mission?
"That depends on the nature of the people involved. Some tend to tell others about their beliefs, and others don't. I think it's very positive to tell, but I can't persuade you to accept our belief. This is an intimate, family place."
"As a congregation, it was nice to remain anonymous until now. But here you can see how many people hate and fear us," he said. "We are not a cult. We see ourselves as law-observing Jews and Israelis. One of our most important values is loyalty to the state of Israel, obeying the law and serving in the army. Many congregation members, including the brother of the boy who was hurt, serve in elite combat units."
The Ariel congregation had intended to celebrate Purim on Saturday, the day of their weekly meeting. Instead, they held a prayer service at the Schneider Children's Medical Center, where the wounded boy is hospitalized. "People from other congregations came and brought food. We sang and prayed together. While this is very difficult and unpleasant, hardships strengthen and unite people. It strengthens the parents to continue fearlessly. We told them that hate is vanquished by love."
Last update - 05:40 24/03/2008
Jewish Agency turns to Haredi donors as budget dwindles
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
As Jewish Agency funds dwindle, the immigration-oriented governmental body is turning to ultra-Orthodox philanthropists for donations to bring thousands of young Jews to Israel on organized trips, Haaretz has learned.
Sources involved in the talks between the Jewish Agency and the philanthropists said that next year, a Jewish Agency subsidiary called The Israel Experience will participate in the Moreshet program, which is funded by ultra-Orthodox donors. The agency has not worked with such donors in the past.
The program is meant to bring thousands of Jews from the Diaspora to visit Israel, while placing a special emphasis on Jewish studies and religious matters.
"There is an attempt here to bring a new kind of donor to the agency, because of the financial problems the organization is experiencing," a senior JA official said. Last week, Haaretz reported that the Jewish Agency is planning to close one of its most historically important branches, the Immigration and Absorption Department, as part of a radical restructuring plan.
"We are doing it via a subsidiary because in the past, ultra-Orthodox philanthropists and parties refrained from participating because of the organization's Zionist character," the official added.
Amos Hermon, director of The Israel Experience and head of the Jewish Agency task force on anti-Semitism, told Haaretz he was "pleased with every sort of [Jewish] group arriving for a visit in Israel." He noted the need to show visitors heritage sites as well as academic institutions and high-tech companies.
Haredi philanthropists already fund a program called Moreshet ("heritage"). Over the past several months, Moreshet has facilitated the arrival of some 900 Jewish students from all over the world. Unlike the more secular 10-day Taglit-birthright Israel program - which is partly funded by the Jewish Agency - Moreshet brings its participants for three-week visits that include more religious content, such as visits to yeshivas and Torah studies.
"The Moreshet program is a partnership between various parties seeking to instill young Jews with knowledge about Judaism - and the Agency sees great importance in connecting them to the state of Israel," a spokesman for the Jewish Agency said.
The new Jewish Agency program will be one of a series of programs funded by religious and ultra-Orthodox magnates.
Africa Israel chief Lev Leviev, for example, is funding a program that offers a $150-a-month scholarship for Russian Jews who agree to attend Judaism classes several days a week. Ze'ev and Aaron Wolfson are funding similar programs in the U.S., and Eli Horn is funding one in Brazil.
Ultra-Orthodox donors have in the past sought to get on board the Taglit-birthright program, and some have contributed. However, their involvement remained limited after they realized the plan's architects were reluctant to accept their requests to introduce more Jewish, rather than Zionist, content into the program.
Last update - 04:27 24/03/2008
Laser is future of anti-missile technology, despite doubts
By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent
For the past two years, the defense industry has been working on an order commissioned by the Ministry of Defense to develop a system that can intercept rockets, the kind that Gazan militants for years or Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War have showered on Israel.
The industry is endeavoring to produce an operational system based on a so-called solid laser beam, produced by electrical current, as opposed to the chemically-based laser beam, currently in use by the U.S. Nautilus interceptor system.
Technology using solid lasers has not been developed, which is why Rafael is lowering expectations by saying its system will not be available for at least eight years.
In theory, using such technology would allow the system to lock on to a rocket as it is fired at Israel and send a beam traveling at the speed of light that will cause the warhead to heat up and explode within two seconds.
Meanwhile, the security establishment has tested the Nautilus system a number of times in its operative version, and a smaller version, the Sky Guard, finding it to be inadequate for its needs. Intense pressure by arms giant Northrop Grumman caused Defense Minister Director-General Pinchas Buchris to fly to New Mexico to reexamine the system. Upon his return last weekend, the official said the system he was shown cannot shoot down Qassam rockets.
Northrop Grumman sources claim, however, that he was not shown the system in action and that such a display will be given only if it receives an official request from Israel.
Meanwhile, Rafael is continuing to develop its Iron Dome system aimed at shooting down rockets from close range. Yet another system called the Magic Wand is being developed in cooperation with a U.S. firm. It is aimed at intercepting medium-range rockets by using existing Stunner missiles. Such systems will complement the Arrow system that intercepts long-range ballistic missiles. Still in the pipeline is an upgrade to the Arrow missile, the Arrow Mark-3, which will allow Israel to shoot down missiles from further away and at greater heights in a bid to provide Israel with a defense against missiles with a nuclear warhead.
The defense establishment says that despite such developments, the future lay in laser beams. Should such a system be functional, it would be a keystone in Israel's missile defenses. Once available, the Iron Dome will be costly; it will use expensive Tamir missiles that cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit to intercept cheap Qassam rockets assembled in garages. Using laser beams, however, would be exponentially cheaper. However, such a system is still a long way off.
"No such system currently exists anywhere in the world," an official said. "Therefore, development is expected to continue and we have a lot of work ahead of us. The ministry has submitted its requests and we are trying to respond to them."
Doctor Oded Amichai, a world-renowned expert on laser beams and an associate of Northrop Grumman that is developing the Nautilus, says its Sky Guard system will use a chemical-produced laser that will be able to be refitted for the solid lasers when they are developed. He argues that Nautilus systems should be purchased without delay. A source in the security forces said yesterday that the laser beam-based systems will, in any case, be complementary to the missile-based interceptors.
"Neither the missile interceptors nor the lasers will provide 100-percent coverage, which is why they will have to both be in use," the source said."
Last update - 08:42 24/03/2008
Al-Qaida deputy calls for attacks on Jews 'everywhere' over Gaza
By The Associated Press
Al-Qaida's deputy leader called on Muslims in a new audiotape released Monday to strike Israeli, Jewish and American interests in revenge for Israel's ground incursion in the Gaza Strip earlier this month.
The recording by Ayman al-Zawahri came on the heels of a message from Osama bin Laden calling a holy war to liberate Palestinian lands - a new push by the terror network's leadership to use widespread anger over the Gaza violence to whip up support.
The authenticity of the 4 minute, 44-second audiotape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice on it resembled that of al-Zawahri on previous audio and videotapes confirmed to be his.
It was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where Al-Qaida usually releases its statements, and a banner advertising the tape had the logo of Al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab.
"Muslims, today is your day. Strike the interests of the Jews, the Americans, and all those who participated in the attack on Muslims," the Al-Qaida leader said.
Al-Zawahri continued: "Monitor the targets, collect money, prepare the equipment, plan with precision, and then - while relying on God - assault, seeking martyrdom and paradise."
Israel launched the IDF operation in early March to combat Gaza militants' rocket attacks on communities bordering the coastal strip. Two IDF soldiers were killed and eight were wounded, one moderately. The Palestinians reported 70 dead, and another 50 killed in other incidents since the operation began.
Al-Zawahri said attacks should not be limited to places in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
"Today there is no room for he who says that we should only fight the Jews in Palestine," he said. "Let us strike their interests everywhere, just like they gathered against us from everywhere."
"Let them know that they will get blood for every dollar they spend in the killing of the Muslims, and for every bullet they fire at us, a volcano will turn back on them," he said. "They cannot expect to support Israel, then live in peace while the Jews are killing our fugitive and besieged people."
AL-Zawahri also referred to the publishing of a cartoon seen as insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad in Danish papers. The cartoons, which were first printed in 2006 and reprinted this month, angered many Muslims.
"They will never be able to insult and make a mockery out of our Prophet, peace and prayers of Allah upon him," al-Zawahri said.
Al-Zawahri also accused Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of colluding with Israel in the siege of Gaza. Egypt has sealed its border with the Gaza Strip since the Palestinian militant group Hamas took over the territory last year.
He said Mubarak repeats "the same dirty role as the Lebanese Phalangists" - a Christian militia that was allied with Israel in Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and was blamed in the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Beirut camps of Sabra and Shatila. "The roles are the same, even if the faces change - the same betrayal even if the names have changed," said al-Zawahri.
In an audio recording aired by Al-Jazeera last week, Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden called on Palestinians to use "iron and fire" to end an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and liberate their country.
The pan-Arab television network described the tape as a new recording.
We're a bit slow around here...
PM aide planning Website 'to connect all Jews around the world'
Internet entrepreneurs have often wondered why there was no central portal on the Web for Jews and Judaism, especially given the large number of Jews who occupy key positions within the high-tech and computer industry. In addition, Web surfers have at their disposal a large amount of sites devoted to Judaism and Israel, and Hebrew-language sites enjoy high global rankings despite the tiny percentage of Hebrew speakers around the world.
It appears that the enormous scope of material, areas of interest, opinions, and perspectives do not enable the inclusion of all sites under one roof, or even a group of roofs. Even if it were possible, the budget necessary for such a venture - whose potential profitability remains unclear - is enormous. Nonetheless, at least one person is willing to roll the dice.
Last week, the Prime Minister's Office held a meeting chaired by cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel. Representatives of Jewish organizations from around the world were also in attendance at the session, which sought to tackle the issue of creating an internet platform that would serve the Jewish people and represent a bridge between Diaspora Jews and Israel.
The initiative is part of a comprehensive plan prepared by Yehezkel which would seek to redefine the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people. Currently, the proposed site is to be presented in both Hebrew and English, but a number of issues remain unresolved: the design of the site, its content, and who will operate it.
As such, some of the participants can hardly conceal their enthusiasm.
"This will be a global site to which all Jews around the world will connect," Yehezkel said. "They will receive content about Jewish history, education, tradition, and an explanation of official Israeli government policy. People can search for relatives and utilize all the tools that the internet has to offer."
Irrespective of whether the site will be operated by the Israeli government or a Jewish organization, it is clear that the venture will be viewed as a platform for "soft hasbara," or explaining Israeli policy through the back door. To this end, the new public relations department established by the PMO is involved in the initiative.
"There's no chance that this project gets off the ground," said one of the participants in the meeting who wished to remain anonymous. "This idea is too pretentious and it goes against the entire nature of the internet. If this will be a site devoted to government hasbara, people will treat it as such and it won't be popular. If this will be a site that provides surfers with the freedom to exchange opinions and publish material, there will be a lot of things that the government and the Jewish organizations won't be able to live with, and they will need to use a censor."
Moti Friedman, the director of the Herzl Museum who also developed Web sites for the Jewish Agency and was one of the officials who sat in on the meeting, said he believes the project is practical.
"It fulfills a need that is there," Friedman said. "People want a place on the internet that they can interact with Jews from around the world and where they can find "high quality" work by Jewish artists, instantly. [They want a] place where it would be possible to read articles by A.B. Yehoshua, Elie Wiesel, and Bernard-Henri Levy."
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Israel had a warm Muslim friend, which is rare. Now he has converted to Catholicism...
Prominent Italian Muslim Converts To Catholicism
CBS News Interactive: Eye On Religion
VATICAN CITY (AP) ― Italy's most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.
An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book "Long Live Israel."
As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam's head and said a brief prayer in Latin.
"We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another," Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. "Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close."
Vatican Television zoomed in on Allam, who sat in the front row of the basilica along with six other candidates for baptism. He later received his first Communion.
Allam, 55, told the newspaper Il Giornale in a December interview that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombing provoked threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizable security detail.
The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy-which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas-said the baptism was his own decision.
"He is an adult, free to make his personal choice," the Apcom news agency quoted the group's spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying.
Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Islamic religious community in Italy, said he respected Allam's choice but said he was "perplexed" by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert.
"If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives," the ANSA news agency quoted Pallavicini as saying.
The nighttime Easter vigil service at St. Peter's Basilica marked the period between Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus' crucifixion, and Easter Sunday, which marks his resurrection.
Benedict opened by blessing a white candle, which he then carried down the main aisle of the darkened basilica. Slowly, the pews began to light up as his flame was shared with candles carried by the faithful, until the whole basilica twinkled and the main lights came on.
The pope administers baptism "without making any 'difference of people,' that is, considering all equally important before the love of God and welcoming all in the community of the Church," said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Allam, who has a young son with his Catholic wife and two adult children from a previous relationship, indicated in the Il Giornale interview that he would have no problem converting to Christianity. He said he had even received Communion once-when he was 13 or 14 - "even though I knew it was an act of blasphemy, not having been baptized."
He did not speak to the press Saturday and his newspaper said it had no information about his conversion.
Allam said in the interview that he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, as is required of all Muslims, with his deeply religious mother in 1991, although he was not otherwise observant.
"I was never practicing," he was quoted as saying. "I never prayed five times a day, facing Mecca. I never fasted during Ramadan."
Allam also explained his decision to title a recent book "Viva Israele" by saying he wrote it after he received death threats from Hamas.
"Having been condemned to death, I have reflected a long time on the value of life. And I discovered that behind the origin of the ideology of hatred, violence and death is the discrimination against Israel. Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants," he said. "Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life."
In 2006, Allam was a co-winner, with three other journalists, of the $1 million Dan David prize, named for an Israeli entrepreneur. Allam was cited for "his ceaseless work in fostering understanding and tolerance between cultures."
There is no overarching Muslim law on conversion. But under a widespread interpretation of Islamic legal doctrine, converting from Islam is apostasy and punishable by death-though killings are rare.
Egypt's highest Islamic cleric, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, wrote last year against the killing of apostates, saying there is no worldly retribution for Muslims who abandon their religion and that punishment would come in the afterlife.
On Wednesday, a new audio message from Osama bin Laden accused the pope of playing a "large and lengthy role" in a "new Crusade" against Islam that included the publication of drawings of the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims found insulting.
Lombardi said Thursday that bin Laden's accusation was baseless. He said Benedict repeatedly criticized the Muhammad cartoons, first published in some European newspapers in 2006 and republished by Danish papers in February.
(© 2008 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
Geert Wilders's film about Islam has stirred up a controversy. Network solutions has decided they would not host a Web site advertising the film.
About Fitna, the Netherlands and Wilders
Very rarely has a film sparked off as much pre-release controversy as Dutch MP Geert Wilder's 'Fitna,the movie'. Even without knowing what's in it, 'Fitna' has got the world asking questions. Questions about the man who made it and his motives, about the country he lives in where his film is allowed. Questions about that country's government which issues warnings about the film but does nothing to stop it. And questions about the position of Muslims in The Netherlands. The central character in this film is also struggling with these questions, and decides to travel to The Netherlands in search of answers.
Here's a film about Wilders' film, from Netherlands Radio.
And here is a selection of recent articles about Geert Wilders.
Prior to WWII, there was a controversy between Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews about whether the best option for Jewish survival lay in the Diaspora or the creation of a Jewish state. One would think that the experience of European Jewry would have settled that question for once and for all, but apparently it did not.
In today's atmosphere of resurgent antisemitism, and particularly that expression of it which I've called extreme anti-Zionism, we have a new phenomenon, that of Jews who are not simply philosophically opposed to the Jewish state but who are doing their best to destroy it.
Continued at Jewish suicide bombers
This small victory is deceptive in a way. It allows the BBC to pretend that the remainder of its coverage of the Middle East reflects reality, and that these obvious deceptions were the exception to the rule.
BBC admits inaccuracies in coverage
jonny paul, jerusalem post correspondent, London , THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 22, 2008
The BBC has apologized for significant errors in two recent news reports on Israel.
In a news item on March 7, following the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva attack, the BBC showed a bulldozer demolishing a house, while correspondent Nick Miles told viewers: "Hours after the attack, Israeli bulldozers destroyed his family home. Later, mourners set up Hamas and Islamic Jihad banners nearby."
The house, however, was not demolished; the BBC was embarrassed when news reports from other broadcasters showed the east Jerusalem home intact and the family commemorating their son's actions.
Last week, the BBC apologized live on its news program, admitting it had used footage of another house being demolished.
News anchor Geeta Guru-Murthy said: "Now, we would like to clarify a report we heard at this hour last Friday about the attack by a Palestinian gunman on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem. In the report, the day after the attack, BBC World said that the gunman's home in east Jerusalem had been demolished by the Israeli authorities. That was not correct, and the images broadcast were of another demolition."
The fabrication was exposed by Boston-based media monitor CAMERA, which revealed that the images used by the BBC were similar to photos taken by the Palestinian news agency Maan from the demolition of the house belonging to Islamic Jihad leader Muhammad Shehadeh in Bethlehem on March 7.
In a second incident, in a news item entitled "Israel jets strike northern Gaza" on March 14 on their News Web site, the BBC reported that Israel was deliberately targeting civilians in an operation targeting Kassam rocket launch sites in Gaza, and claiming that the United Nations secretary-general had described it as an attack on civilians.
"The Israeli air force said it was targeting a rocket firing team... UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians, calling them inappropriate and disproportionate," the report said.
In a letter to the BBC, Manchester Jewish community member Jonathan Hantman wrote,
"It is one-sided for the report to describe Israel's operations as 'attacks on civilians' while not describing the Palestinian rocket attacks, to which Israel was responding, as 'attacks on civilians' or 'acts of terrorism.'"
Hantman also pointed out that Ban's attributed comments were made weeks earlier to the UN Security Council and not in reference to that particular attack. He added that it was also wrong to mention the UN secretary-general's condemnation of Israel without mentioning his condemnation of Palestinian rocket attacks in the same statement.
"Ban's statement, made some two weeks ago, did not refer to yesterday's attack and did not describe Israel's operations on Gaza as 'attacks on civilians,'" Hantman noted. "He did, however, describe Palestinian rocket attacks as 'acts of terrorism.'"
In his statement to the UN Security Council on March 1, Ban said: "While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children... I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism."
Apologizing for the error, the BBC said in its response, regarding the speech: "We accept we should have made reference to what [Ban] said about Palestinian rocket attacks as well as to the 'excessive use of force' by Israel. We have amended the report, also removing the reference to Israeli 'attacks on civilians.'"
Please watch the video
Jamal Al-Durrah presents: Scars from the past
New testimonies in the death of -- 12 year old Palestinian child -- Muhammad Al-Durrah affair. The father, Jamal Al-Durrah, of the "martyrdom" icon from 2000, presented scars from bullets he was supposedly hit from on the day his son was killed but an Israeli doctor claims that they are actually from an old injury he had treated in 1994.
In 2000, the IDF was accused by the local Palestinian cameraman who took the heavily contested pictures, Talal Abu Rahmeh, of shooting directly at the child and father for 45 minutes and of killing the boy; A statement that has been put under heavy scrutiny with the cameraman's images of the boy and father lasting only approx. 50 seconds and numerous staged 'fight' scenes being reported that day.
( see also: Pallywood, Three bullets and a dead child )
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