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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Palestinians for Israel

The article from the Guardian (of all places) speaks for itself, or rather, the people do:
"I'm very happy that I helped the state of Israel. Here everything is straightforward, not like with the Arabs. Here there is a law and there are rights."
"When the Israelis ruled Gaza people lived like kings,"
But the people are living in Sderot, and we know the suffering of Sderot....
Ami Isseroff
A secret fresh start: former Palestinian collaborators forge new life in Israel
Eighty informants and their families enjoy relative safety in frontline town
Rory McCarthy in Sderot
The Guardian,
Friday June 13 2008

From a plastic chair on his front porch Samir looked out over a garden neatly planted with rose bushes. In this house Samir, his wife, and five of their children are living a new life, surrounded by Jewish Israeli neighbours and, like them, in the firing line of the makeshift Palestinian rockets that target the Israeli town of Sderot. Last year one of these Qassam rockets fired only a couple of miles away in Gaza crashed into his garden, sending shrapnel up the front of the house.
Samir is not his real name, for this heavy-set, 52-year-old Palestinian is scared to reveal his true identity. This is his fresh start, his reward after working for more than 20 years in secret in his native Gaza as a collaborator with the Israeli security forces. "I don't regret any of my story," he said. "I'm very happy that I helped the state of Israel. Here everything is straightforward, not like with the Arabs. Here there is a law and there are rights."
Many of Sderot's residents are trying to sell their houses and move to safer towns beyond the reach of the rockets. But Palestinians such as Samir are moving in, in part because property is cheaper but also because there are others like them here, a community of perhaps 80 collaborators - they prefer to use a Hebrew word that translates as "assistants" - and their close relatives.
Most arrived before the rockets, when Sderot was simply an inexpensive Israeli town close to the Gaza border and convenient for occasional family visits. Those visits are now too dangerous and most of the Palestinians in Sderot now acknowledge they can never go home.
Samir was caught in 1994, the year that Yasser Arafat returned to Gaza in the wake of the Oslo peace accords. A friend and distant relative had given up Samir's name during a brutal interrogation. Samir had spent years giving the Israelis whatever information he could find about the armed groups and their planned attacks, work he kept secret even from his wife. But Palestinian collaborators risk death if they are caught by their own people.
Lucky escape
Samir was lucky: he was held in jail for four years, tortured and then forced to give up his savings, sell his land and his wife's jewellery to buy his way out of jail. Eventually one morning in 2000 he escaped into Israel and asked his handlers for help. He was given an Israeli residency permit, which he must renew every two years, and was allowed to bring out his wife and five youngest children. The five older children, who were all married, had to stay behind.
At first the family lived in Haifa and then they moved to Sderot about seven years ago. The Israeli security forces paid for the house and left Samir to restart his life.
Today his children study at the local Hebrew-language school, speak the language fluently, dress more like Israelis than Palestinians and count Jewish Israelis among their friends. One of his sons spent nearly four years working as an interrogator with the Israeli security forces at a nearby prison, questioning Palestinian detainees.
Most of those in Sderot were recruited during the years of Israel's full military occupation of Gaza, before the Oslo accords and long before the settlers were withdrawn in 2005. Some were arrested for drug-trafficking or other criminal offences and were offered work as informants as a way to escape jail time, others were uniformed policemen working for the Israeli occupation. Few seem to have started for the money.
Samir began after his brother was wrongly accused of being a collaborator and killed in the early 70s. By giving information on the groups who killed his brother he sought revenge. "Because of what they did to my brother I decided to work for the Israelis. He was so strong, so beautiful and they killed him for something he hadn't done." He hid documents in his roof and speaks proudly of how for years he operated in complete secrecy.
On the other side of town is another collaborator, who used the pseudonym Subhi. He arrived in Sderot in 1996 and now runs a successful business, drives a BMW and boasts of his contacts with the "dignified people of Sderot". He wears gold jewellery, including a bracelet engraved with Hebrew lettering.
He left eight children in Gaza. The eldest son was jailed for being a collaborator, until he escaped during the factional fighting last year, and the second son was shot in the shoulder and nearly killed, again because of his father's work over 20 years for the Israeli security forces. "I don't regret what I've done but I want my children to come out and be with me," said Subhi, 54.
He gave little away about how he started as an informant, saying only he did not work for the money and that he believed it was the right thing to do. His experience has left him believing there can never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "The only choice is an Israeli military occupation to clean the area of weapons," he said. "But I don't believe there can be real peace."
Some of the Israelis of Sderot, a poor town built on Jewish immigrants from Morocco and the Soviet Union, accept the Palestinians as neighbours and acknowledge their work. Many others, however, have few good words to say about them. "I don't know how to accept them. We're afraid that Sderot will be filled with Palestinians from Gaza," said Sara Peretz, 58. Several Palestinian families have moved into her street. "It's complicated. Their people are also trying to kill us."
Several of the Palestinians are represented by Natan Shrayber, a lawyer who used to work in the Israeli security forces and is trying to bring the rest of their families out of Gaza. "Their contribution is considerable but the problem is we can't make public what they have done so often they are seen as a burden on society," he said. "But they have made an enormous contribution to state security: they are one of the main means of getting intelligence ... no state can manage without people on the other side but the difference is that in Israel people know about it."
Not far from Samir's house is another Palestinian who spent years working for the Israeli security forces before he too fled Gaza in 1993. He was granted Israeli citizenship, and claims that he not only informed on Palestinian militants but also killed several members of Hamas.
"When the Israelis ruled Gaza people lived like kings," said the man, who is aged 58. Like other Palestinians here he takes a hard line on Gaza, saying only a major Israeli invasion will halt the rockets. "Only when the army go into Gaza can they finish it," he said. He accepts now his life is in Israel, where he boasts of his children's good school grades and his large Mercedes car. He too understands he can never go back to Gaza. "They would make a kebab out of me," he said. "They'd chop me into pieces."

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Hagee sorry about Hitler hunter comments

Actually, Hagee didn't apologize for voicing the idea that the Holocaust was the work of God. He's just sorry if it offends Jews.
By Haaretz Service
A prominent American televangelist and outspoken supporter of Israel publicly apologized Friday for remarking that the Holocaust was the work of divine providence, and that "God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land."
"In a sermon in 1999, I grappled with the vexing question of why a loving God would allow the evil of the Holocaust to occur," John Hagee, the Texas-based preacher wrote in a letter to Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman. "I know how sensitive the issue of the Holocaust is and should be to the Jewish community and I regret if my Jewish friends felt any pain as a result."
Last month, audio of Hagee's remarks surfaced on the internet, prompting Republican presidential hopeful John McCain to disavow the pastor's prior endorsement of his candidacy.

Foxman issued a statement welcoming the pastor's apology. "Pastor Hagee has devoted his life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the State of Israel," Foxman said. "We are grateful for his efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism and to rally so many in the Christian community to stand with Israel."
Labor Party MK Colette Avital, a former consul general in Israel's mission in New York, penned an op-ed piece for Haaretz earlier this month in which she called on the Israeli government to follow McCain's example and disassociate itself from Hagee.
"As someone familiar with the evangelicals' views and beliefs on the second coming of Jesus, there is nothing surprising to me about his statements," Avital wrote. "It only causes me to sigh in relief because the truth is coming out."

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Iran won't bargain on nuclear program

 Last update - 11:30 14/06/2008       
Iran: We'll refuse EU incentives if they mean halting nuke work
By Reuters
Iran rejected on Saturday any suspension of its nuclear enrichment program, after the EU's top diplomat handed Tehran a world powers' offer of economic benefits to try and persuade it to stop such work.
"If the package [from six major powers] includes suspension it is not debatable at all," Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told reporters.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Saturday handed Iran an offer of trade and other benefits from world powers if it suspends nuclear enrichment, which the Islamic Republic has repeatedly refused to do.
Solana arrived in Tehran late on Friday to present an incentives package agreed by the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany in the latest bid to end a deepening dispute over Tehran's atomic ambitions.
Solana's spokeswoman said he presented the offer to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Tehran and that talks were under way.
The offer, including civilian nuclear cooperation, is a revised version of one rejected by Iran two years ago.
The world's fourth-largest oil producer has ruled out halting a nuclear program it says is for generating electricity but which Western powers suspect is aimed at making bombs.
Seeking to step up the pressure, the United States and the 27-nation EU have threatened more sanctions if Tehran does not stop enriching uranium, which has both civilian and military uses.
Solana says he hopes the incentives package will start a new process for resolving the long-running standoff, which has helped push up crude prices to record highs, but has also played down the prospect for a breakthrough.
Solana, who has said he expects no "miracles", said the proposals would support Iran in developing a modern nuclear energy program and also covered political and economic ties.
"I am traveling to Tehran to present a generous and comprehensive offer," he said in a statement.
"I am convinced that it is possible to change the present state of affairs," Solana said. "Our proposal is good for the future of Iran and for the future of the Iranian people."
The United States, which is leading efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions, says it wants to resolve the dispute diplomatically but has not ruled out military action.
The incentives package, hammered out by the six major powers in May, is an updated and enhanced version of an offer spurned by Iran in 2006, which also included wider trade in civil aircraft, energy, high technology and agriculture.
Iran's refusal to stop enrichment, which can provide fuel for power plants or material for bombs if refined much more, has drawn three rounds of UN sanctions against the country since 2006.
Solana was accompanied by senior officials from the major powers with the exception of the United States, which cut ties with Iran after its 1979 Islamic revolution.
On a farewell tour of Europe this week, U.S. President George W. Bush said a nuclear-armed Iran would be "incredibly dangerous for world peace" and that "all options are on the table", alluding to military action as a last resort.
Concern in the oil market that Tehran's nuclear dispute with the West may lead to a disruption in its crude exports have helped drive oil to record levels near $140 a barrel, hurting the United States and other consumer nations.

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Guilty until proven innocent

The report states:
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem released a video on Friday which it said showed the start of an assault on Palestinian farmers by masked, stick-wielding Israeli settlers.
How do they know they were settlers?
Ami Isseroff

By Reuters
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem released a video on Friday which it said showed the start of an assault on Palestinian farmers by masked, stick-wielding Israeli settlers.
The footage shows four people with faces swathed in scarves and holding sticks, approaching the farmers near Susya settlement outside Hebron in the West Bank. One strikes a blow before the camera is dropped.
B'Tselem said the woman who was filming ran for help.

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Report: Shalit release not a condition for Gaza truce

  By Haaertz Service 
An Egyptian source said that Israel has agreed not to condition a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip on the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Saturday.
According to the London-based Arabic newspaper, the source said that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman promised Israel that the release of Shalit, who has been held captive since his abduction from the Gaza border in June 2006, would top the agenda following the declaration of a cease-fire.

Egypt has been working for the last two months to secure a deal between Hamas and Israel that would guarantee calm in the coastal territory. Israel decided this week to put off a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip in order to give the talks a chance to succeed.
The Israeli envoy to the talks with Egypt, Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad, met Suleiman earlier this week to discuss the cease-fire initiative.
In an interview with Israel radio on Saturday, Gilad refused to verify or deny the report, but said Shalit remained a central issue in the Egyptian-brokered talks.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Inside Gaza under Hamas

 Last update - 13:01 13/06/2008       
A year after Gaza takeover, Hamas shows no sign of ending violence
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent
"For many of us, the coup in Gaza meant the end of the Palestinian dream of a single Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with a connection between them," said P., a resident of Gaza City's Sajiyeh neighborhood, on the one-year anniversary of the coup in which Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip.
"Israel will not agree to a Palestinian state in Gaza as long as it is under Hamas control, and the coup divided the Palestinian people in two," he continued. "Even in the Diaspora, Palestinians are divided between Hamas and Fatah supporters."
Beyond the coup's negative implications for Palestinian politics, its negative implications for the personal lives of Gaza residents have been enormous. Yet no small number of Gazans also mentioned positive changes that have taken place in the Strip in the past year.
"The age of the armed gangs has ended," explained B., a former Fatah member. "I remember getting in a dispute with a member of a large family. I went to the police to file an assault complaint. The police advised me to drop it so I wouldn't get hurt.
'Today, you will not encounter anything like that. Family connections are no longer of any importance, and anyone who violates the law is punished. The chaos, the stolen cars, the extortion and threats are all gone."
A., a resident of Beit Hanun, also reported a substantial improvement in personal security. According to him, there are fewer internal conflicts and gang wars. "I no longer feel the need to be constantly armed for fear of encountering someone else armed."
But A. is not unequivocal statement about the improvement in the situation. "When Hamas took power, it brought about a dramatic improvement in the enforcement of traffic laws," he said. "There was no order in that sphere in the past, but now, drivers must even get car registrations. But now, there are almost no cars on the road because of the gas shortage. So what did we gain?"
It seems that even the improvement in personal safety is relative. From the June 2007 coup until the beginning of this month, human rights groups say, 118 Palestinians have been killed in internecine fighting. Hundreds of Fatah members populate the jails as the result of political persecution, and arrests are carried out almost every day.
"We live better from the personal safety perspective," said S. "But what is it all worth on an empty stomach and an empty pocket? There was a dream of making Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East, but we have become Afghanistan."
On the list of pros and cons for Gaza under Hamas rule, poverty is the most significant con. About 50% of Gaza residents are unemployed. Two thirds live below the poverty line and need international aid to survive. Close to 90% of factories have been shuttered by lack of raw materials due to Israel's blockade. The construction sector is paralyzed. Most staples can be purchased only at sky-high prices. A. says tahini prices have doubled this year. So have fruit prices.
"Hamas gives out gas coupons every week," he said. "It's like living in the old Soviet Union. There is electricity three to four hours a day. It's impossible to go abroad, and impossible to travel with the children inside Gaza because of the gas shortage."
Poverty inevitably brings religious radicalization. According to B., not all Gazans have suddenly become religious, but many are growing beards and going to mosques to prove to Hamas that they are drawing closer to religion, and to the organization itself.
"Once, there were mostly older people at morning prayers," he said. "Now, more than ever, young people attend those prayers, too."

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Hamas admits it caused Gaza blast that killed seven

Last update - 13:40 13/06/2008    
By The Associated Press
Hamas on Friday claimed responsibility for an explosion a day earlier in a house in northern Gaza that killed seven Palestinians, one of them an infant girl.
An announcement Friday on the official Web site of Hamas' military wing says the group's martyrs died while putting the final touches on a plan to carry out a special holy war mission.
Five militants were among those who died in the explosion that flattened the house Thursday.
Immediately after the blast, Hamas blamed Israel, and militants in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets and mortar shells at the western Negev in apparent response. But Israel denied involvement and said explosion was caused while militants were making bombs.
The militant group later suggested the explosion was accidental. Friday's
statement was the first explicit acknowledgment that the blast was caused by explosives in the house.
Hamas has controlled Gaza for one year and its militants regularly clash with Israel Defense Forces troops.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Syrian Paper: Israel may free Lebanon terrorist Samir Kuntar

Last update - 11:58 12/06/2008    
Report: Israel may free Lebanon terrorist Samir Kuntar this month
By Haaretz Service
Jailed Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar has been told to pack up his belongings and prepare to return to Beirut in the near future, the pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper a-Diar reported Thursday.
The report said that Kuntar, who has been jailed in Israel since killing a family during a terror attack in the northern town of Nahariyah in 1979, would be returned to Lebanon as part of a prisoner swap between Israel and the Hezbollah guerilla group.
According to the report, a number of other Lebanese militants would also be included in the deal, which could take place by the end of the month.
Kuntar has refused interviews on Israeli ground, according to the report, and has said he would respond to media inquiries only upon return to Beirut.
Kuntar was convicted in 1979 for killing four people, including a father, his child and two policemen.

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Obama's Muslim half-brother: Obama will be good for the Jews

With such a recommendation, what is there to worry about?
 Last update - 14:17 12/06/2008       
Malik Obama: As president, my brother would be good for Jews
By Haaretz Service
The half-brother of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Malik Obama, told Army Radio on Thursday that Obama would make a good president for Jews.
Malik Obama, a Muslim who resides in a small village in western Kenya, also requested to send a special blessing to the Jewish people around the world from the Obama family in Kenya.
The Obama brothers' father, a senior economist for the Kenyan government who studied at Harvard University, died in car crash in 1982. He left six sons and a daughter. All of his children - except Malik - live in Britain or the United States.
Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii with his American mother after his parents divorced and did not meet his brother Malik until 1985.

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First Arab-Muslim kibbutznik

This is hardly a trend, but perhaps it might start one.
Qalansawe's Amal Carmiya accepted as new member of Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu. Kibbutz residents say she is 'exceptional person'
Arnon Lapid
Published:  06.11.08, 22:36 / Israel News
On the eve of Shavuot, Amal Carmiya, an Arab Muslim from Qalansawe, along with four additional families, was accepted as members of Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu. This is the first time ever that the Kibbutz Movement has accepted an Arab Muslim as a member.

Neta Be'eri, the movement's demographic growth team coordinator refused to refer to this as an historical occurrence. "This is not a symbolic or demonstrative act and this is also not part of some credo of ours. This is a process that matured naturally."
The ties between Carmiya and the Sharon-region kibbutz started 18 years ago when she sent her two children Aya and Adam to the kibbutz kindergarten, just like some other families from nearby Arab communities do. Eventually, when the kibbutz looked for a hired nurse, Carmiya was chosen for the position. In 1997 Carmiya temporarily moved to the kibbutz and a few years later, turned into a resident.

Last September when the kibbutz became privatized, it opened its doors after many years to absorbing new members. New residents must become members of the kibbutz union and build their homes on their own.

"The idea to accept Amal evolved simultaneously in her mind and in ours and became clear last year after the option of accepting new members at the kibbutz arose," said Be'eri.
 "After years of acquaintanceship we are very satisfied with her and love her. We do not believe that she represents something, she is simply an exceptional person who adapted wonderfully to kibbutz life; she is a part of us and so are her two children. Aya and Adam are in the youth class. Adam, who is a sought after soccer player, is loved and accepted."
According to Be'eri, the fact that Carmiya was chosen has no connection to her background. "The kibbutz members voted for Amal the person, not Amal the Arab."
Carmiya herself feels entirely like a member of the kibbutz. "With the complicated situation in Israel, I feel that this is the place, these are the people and this is the way that fits me best," she said. According to Carmiya, her family has mixed feelings regarding her way of life.
"They have already learned to accept the way I am. They comment about my children's education here and there, and think that maybe my daughter needs to return to the village to find a husband, but all of this won't change my decision to live on the kibbutz," she said.
What about Carmiya's children? "When the day comes, they will make a decision about their path in life," said Carmiya. "We do not deny the fact that we are Muslim. We fast during Ramadan and celebrate all the holidays and the children end up more rewarded and enriched by this. They enjoy both worlds. My children are universal," she added.
According to Be'eri, Carmiya's membership in the kibbutz is likely to turn into the beginning of a new phenomenon. "Maybe when people realize that the demon is not so bad, and that Arabs don't have horns, there will be more of these cases."

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Settlers fake kidnapping incident

This speaks for itself. A lot of money was wasted and a lot of resources were diverted because of this "prank."
IDF, police, Shin Bet forces launch massive search for two settlers who reported their own kidnapping. After being found, settlers change story to say a third friend was abducted. Only 90 minutes later did they confess to lying
Efrat Weiss
Published:  06.12.08, 08:36 / Israel News
Two settlers are suspected of having given a false report of their own kidnapping, resulting in the launching of a large-scale manhunt that included the participation of IDF, police and Shin Bet forces.
The two men began by entering the village of Ein Abus near Nablus. At around 4:00 am they called in a report and alleged that they were bound and trapped inside a car.
IDF troops carrying out an arrest operating in Nablus were dispatched to the neighboring village and located the two settlers, though they were found to be unrestrained.
When confronted by the soldiers, the settlers fabricated yet another story – they reported that there had been a third member of their party and that he had been abducted by the Palestinians. At this point reinforcement troops were summoned. An hour and a half into the search, the two finally confessed to have made up the claims.
The IDF handed the two over to the Ariel police and filed a formal complaint against them.
The army views the incident with grave severity, particularly in light of the efforts and funds invested in the launching the search.
"This is a very serious incident," military officials told Ynet. "By entering a Palestinian village in such an irresponsible manner and falsifying that report – they not only risked their own lives but also put the troops in harm's way, troopers that would otherwise have been operating against terrorists."

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Alternative narrative: Israel assassinated John F. Kennedy

A new chapter in alternative history is opened. No doubt it will soon appear in authoritative books by learned professors. Reuters did not give the customary background - Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, who had nothing to do with Israel of course. In the 80s, Obama's ex-preacher Jeremiah Wright visited Gaddafi with Louis Farakhan. Was he the  source of the "information" that the Mossad assassinated Kenndy?
Ami Isseroff  
Last update - 09:35 12/06/2008       
Gaddafi: Obama fears Israel will assassinate him like it did JFK
By Reuters
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Wednesday that U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's expressed support for Israel stems from his fear that the Mossad would assassinate him, just as it did President John F. Kennedy.
While the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons is widely assumed, Israeli officials have never admitted their existence and U.S. officials have stuck to that line in public.
Gaddafi saw a dark motive behind a recent speech by Obama in support of Israel. "Obama offered $300 billion in aid to Israel and more military support. He avoided talking about Israel's nuclear weapons," he said.
Gaddafi said Obama would have an "inferiority complex" because he is black and if elected he might "behave worse than whites."
"We fear that Obama will feel that, because he is black with an inferiority complex, this will make him behave worse than the whites," Gaddafi told a rally at a former U.S. military base on the outskirts of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
"This will be a tragedy," Gaddafi said. "We tell him to be proud of himself as a black and feel that all Africa is behind him because if he sticks to this inferiority complex he will have a worse foreign policy than the whites had in the past."
He was speaking before thousands of cheering supporters at a ceremony to celebrate the 38th anniversary of the departure of U.S. troops from Libya.
Gaddafi, known for his controversial statements, took power in 1969 in a military coup in his oil- and gas-rich North African state. He was shunned for decades by the West, which accused him of supporting terrorism.
His ties with Western countries have improved since Libya announced it was scrapping weapons of mass destruction programs in 2003 and agreed to pay compensation for families of victims of bombings of U.S. and French airliners.
Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, would be the first African American elected U.S. president. In his campaign he has largely eschewed the rhetoric of racial struggle and drawn support among blacks and whites.
Gaddafi said Obama should adopt a policy of supporting poor and weak peoples such as the Palestinians and be a friend of what he called free Arab peoples rather than U.S. "agents" in the Arab world who, he said, were hated by their own people.
"We still hope he will be proud of Africa and change America and free America of its past policy, namely with the Arabs," said Gaddafi.

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Truce without illusions

 Last update - 09:14 12/06/2008       
Official: Israel has no illusions on truce, expects Gaza flare-up
By Barak Ravid ,Haaretz Correspondent
A senior political official said Wednesday that Israel has no illusions regarding a cease-fire with the Gaza Strip and even expects that a conflict with Gaza is inevitable.
The official said that the security cabinet has instructed the military to prepare for military action in the Gaza Strip according to a rapid timetable, even as the state has decided to hold off on a major raid to give truce talks a chance.
"We want to check if this cease-fire can hold up," the official said, "but it is clear that a conflict with Gaza is inevitable in the end."
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad will head to Cairo on Thursday in attempt to reignite the Egyptian-brokered truce talks.
During his trip to Cairo, Gilad is expected to push for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, even if it does not take place in the first stage of the cease-fire.
Gilad will also demand Egypt explain its plans to prevent further weapons-smuggling into Gaza.
Egypt has been trying to broker a truce for months, mediating between Hamas and Israel, which refuse to deal directly with each other. Hamas demands that Israel must release its blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas overran the territory a year ago.
The security cabinet deflected pressure Wednesday to order the army into Gaza immediately and instead authorized Defense Minister Ehud Barak to exhaust the dialogue with Egypt in order to achieve all of Israel's conditions for a calm or a truce.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev announced the decision in an official statement on Wednesday afternoon.
Regev warned that although there will be no broad military action for the time being, the Israel Defense Forces will continue its preparations in case the truce talks fail. The announcement came after a meeting of the diplomatic-security cabinet on the issue of the proposed truce with Hamas in Gaza.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Virgins and the honor of Islam

An aspect that has not been considered: A Muslim man generally pays good money for his bride. Isn't he entitled to his money back?
Ami Isseroff
June 11, 2008
In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity 

PARIS — The operation in the private clinic off the Champs-Élysées involved one semicircular cut, 10 dissolving stitches and a discounted fee of $2,900.
But for the patient, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent from Montpellier, the 30-minute procedure represented the key to a new life: the illusion of virginity.
Like an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe, she had a hymenoplasty, a restoration of her hymen, the vaginal membrane that normally breaks in the first act of intercourse.
"In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt," said the student, perched on a hospital bed as she awaited surgery on Thursday. "Right now, virginity is more important to me than life."
As Europe's Muslim population grows, many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents' and grandparents' generations.
Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.
"If you're a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage," said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. "So if you're looking to marry a Muslim and don't want to have problems, you'll try to recapture your virginity."
No reliable statistics are available, because the procedure is mostly done in private clinics and in most cases not covered by tax-financed insurance plans.
But hymen repair is talked about so much that it is the subject of a film comedy that opens in Italy this week. "Women's Hearts," as the film's title is translated in English, tells the story of a Moroccan-born woman living in Italy who goes to Casablanca for the operation.
One character jokes that she wants to bring her odometer count back down to "zero."
"We realized that what we thought was a sporadic practice was actually pretty common," said Davide Sordella, the film's director. "These women can live in Italy, adopt our mentality and wear jeans. But in the moments that matter, they don't always have the strength to go against their culture."
The issue has been particularly charged in France, where a renewed and fierce debate has occurred about a prejudice that was supposed to have been buried with the country's sexual revolution 40 years ago: the importance of a woman's virginity.
The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom found his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.
The domestic drama has gripped France. The groom, an unidentified engineer in his 30s, left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied. She was delivered that night to her parents' doorstep.
The next day, he approached a lawyer about annulling the marriage. The bride, then a nursing student in her 20s, confessed and agreed to an annulment.
The court ruling did not mention religion. Rather, it cited breach of contract, concluding that the engineer had married her after "she was presented to him as single and chaste." In secular, republican France, the case touches on several delicate subjects: the intrusion of religion into daily life; the grounds for dissolution of a marriage; and the equality of the sexes.
There were calls in Parliament this week for the resignation of Rachida Dati, France's justice minister, after she initially upheld the ruling. Ms. Dati, who is a Muslim, backed down and ordered an appeal.
Some feminists, lawyers and doctors warned that the court's acceptance of the centrality of virginity in marriage would encourage more Frenchwomen from Arab and African Muslim backgrounds to have their hymens restored. But there is much debate about whether the procedure is an act of liberation or repression.
"The judgment was a betrayal of France's Muslim women," said Elisabeth Badinter, the feminist writer. "It sends these women a message of despair by saying that virginity is important in the eyes of the law. More women are going to say to themselves, 'My God, I'm not going to take that risk. I'll recreate my virginity.' "
The plight of the rejected bride persuaded the Montpellier student to have the operation.
She insisted that she had never had intercourse and only discovered her hymen was torn when she tried to obtain a certificate of virginity to present to her boyfriend and his family. She says she bled after an accident on a horse when she was 10.
The trauma from realizing that she could not prove her virginity was so intense, she said, that she quietly borrowed money to pay for the procedure.
"All of a sudden, virginity is important in France," she said. "I realized that I could be seen like that woman everyone is talking about on television."
Those who perform the procedure say they are empowering patients by giving them a viable future and preventing them from being abused — or even killed — by their fathers or brothers.
"Who am I to judge?" asked Dr. Marc Abecassis, who restored the Montpellier student's hymen. "I have colleagues in the United States whose patients do this as a Valentine's present to their husbands. What I do is different. This is not for amusement. My patients don't have a choice if they want to find serenity — and husbands."
A specialist in what he calls "intimate" surgery, including penile enhancement, Dr. Abecassis says he performs two to four hymen restorations per week.
The French College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians opposes the procedure on moral, cultural and health grounds.
"We had a revolution in France to win equality; we had a sexual revolution in 1968 when women fought for contraception and abortion," said Dr. Jacques Lansac, the group's leader. "Attaching so much importance to the hymen is regression, submission to the intolerance of the past."
But the stories of the women who have had the surgery convey the complexity and raw emotion behind their decisions.
One Muslim born in Macedonia said she opted for the operation to avoid being punished by her father after an eight-year relationship with her boyfriend.
"I was afraid that my father would take me to a doctor and see whether I was still a virgin," said the woman, 32, who owns a small business and lives on her own in Frankfurt. "He told me, 'I will forgive everything but not if you have thrown dirt on my honor.' I wasn't afraid he would kill me, but I was sure he would have beaten me."
In other cases, the woman and her partner decide for her to have the operation. A 26-year-old French woman of Moroccan descent said she lost her virginity four years ago when she fell in love with the man she now plans to marry. But she and her fiancé decided to share the cost of her $3,400 operation in Paris.
She said his conservative extended family in Morocco was requiring that a gynecologist — and family friend — there examine her for proof of virginity before the wedding.
"It doesn't matter for my fiancé that I am not a virgin — but it would pose a huge problem for his family," she said. "They know that you can pour blood on the sheets on the wedding night, so I have to have better proof."
The lives of the French couple whose marriage was annulled are on hold. The Justice Ministry has sought an appeal, arguing that the decision has "provoked a heated social debate" that "touched all citizens of our country and especially women."
At the Islamic Center of Roubaix, the Lille suburb where the wedding took place, there is sympathy for the woman.
"The man is the biggest of all the donkeys," said Abdelkibir Errami, the center's vice president. "Even if the woman was no longer a virgin, he had no right to expose her honor. This is not what Islam teaches. It teaches forgiveness."
Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting from Paris, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome.

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Pro-Israel NGO in UN Lion's Den

You thought you had seen it all...   

UNRWA and NGOs: the Real U.N. `Insult'

By Jonathan S. Tobin
June 12, 2008
Reprimand as a badge of honor
Last week, the United Nations Committee on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) met in New York to consider what was for them an important issue: redeeming the tarnished honor of their organization from the "insults" of its critics.
The object of their concern was the World Union of Progressive Judaism, the Reform movement's international arm, which has had observer NGO status at the world body since 1972.  It now stands liable to lose its U. N. status for "insulting" the world body.
This committee is comprised of such exemplary democracies as China, Cuba, Pakistan and Egypt as well as other countries.  The current chair of the group is Sudan.  Despite the fact that its government is responsible for genocide in Darfur, Sudan still parades around international forums as if it were not a pariah regime.
What did the Reform movement do to put itself in such hot water?  At a recent meeting of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in Geneva, David Littman, a representative of Reform attempted to read from the Hamas charter calling for Israel's destruction.
The meeting was being used as a forum by countries hostile to Israel to indict it for "military incursions" whose purpose is to defend the Jewish State against Palestinian terrorists.  By reading the Hamas document, the hope was that the world might see what it was that Israel was up against.  But instead of allowing this information to be heard, Littman was silenced.  In response, Littman replied that "something is rotten in the state of this council."
Never have truer words been spoken.
This incident and the attempted retribution against the Reform movement sums up in a nutshell the insanity that is the U.N.
The real insult is not Littman's truth-telling but the record of calumnies that have been heaped upon Israel and the Jewish State at U. N. forums such as the Human Rights Council.  To this council, murder of Jewish civilians by terrorists whose goal is to eradicate a U. N.-member state is treated as inconsequential.  Instead, it uses its resources to delegitimize Israel's right of self-defense.
At the same time that this was going on, the U.N. continues to fund an entire organization whose purpose is to perpetuate the Arab war against Israel: the United Nations Relief Works Agency or UNRWA.
The U.N. has two organizations, one which aids all refugees around the world, and a second which is devoted solely to the cause of those Palestinians who fled the State of Israel during its War of Independence, as a result of the Arab war launched to eradicate the state at birth.  But rather than seeking to resettle these refugees,UNRWA is an impediment to any hope for peace.
As a recent report issued by the Herzliya-based Global Research in International Affairs details, UNRWA's scandalous policies include doing everything to prevent resettlement of the refugees out of the "refugee camps." UNRWA's schools are places where anti-American and anti-Semitic indoctrination is business as usual and virtual recruiting offices for terror groups.  Its facilities are virtual military bases for those groups.
That all this goes on not only under the authority of the U.N. but at the expense of U.S. taxpayers (who fund much of the U.N.'s activities) is outrageous.
It is the U.N. as a whole and UNRWA in particular that is the insult to the honor of the organization.  Reform can only begin with UNRWA's dissolution, which is a course of action that should be at the top of Washington's Middle East priority list.
But pending that outcome, we will have to content ourselves with saluting Littman for speaking the truth.  His "insult" may earn this group a U.N. reprimand but, if so, it is one that should be worn as a badge of honor.
Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.  He can be contacted via e-mail at:

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The oracle of Jerusalem: Seek peace, prepare for war

Make of this what you will...
Senior ministers convene in Jerusalem for five-hours discussion on escalation in south; decide to give Egyptian mediation efforts a chance while preparing for possibility of wide-scale military operation in Gaza Strip
Roni Sofer
Published:  06.11.08, 13:39 / Israel News
Following Wednesday's five-hour Jerusalem meeting on the situation in Gaza, which took place in the midst of another mortar barrage on the western Negev, the political-security cabinet issued a statement saying Israel would give Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian terror groups a chance but at the same time gear up for a possible wide-scale operation in the Strip.

Ministers who took part in the meeting were asked not to comment on it. Most cabinet members who were asked for their opinion prior to Wednesday's meeting said they were in favor of a broad operation, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "it is the cabinet members' responsibility to pay close attention to what the IDF chief of staff (Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi) and the General Staff have to say regarding what can or cannot be achieved through military action in Gaza".
Palestinian sources told Ynet that despite the increased attacks on the Negev, a ceasefire agreement was imminent.
During the session some 100 residents of Israel's battered southern region urged the cabinet to decide on Israel's response to the incessant rocket and mortar fire.
Earlier Wednesday a spokesman for Hamas warned that should Israel decide to invade Gaza, the coastal enclave would become a "graveyard for IDF soldiers".

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Is religious ZIonism becoming a cult?

Othniel Schneller is generally more than sympathetic to the cause of the settlers. He is not Yossi Sarid or Uri Avnery. If he says religious Zionism is becoming a cult, religious Zionists ought to listen up.
Otniel Schneller speaks at Religious Zionism conference on education, economy society, says sector has lost its way and is demonstrating cult-like characteristics. 'Religious Zionism cannot stay closed up within itself, it will suffocate,' he says
Kobi Nahshoni
Published:  06.11.08, 12:53 / Israel Jewish Scene
"Religious Zionism has lost its true substance and has become a cult," said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) Wednesday at the Religious Zionism conference on education, the economy and society.
Dozens of rabbis, educators and public figures took part in the conference, which marked 60 years of Religious Zionism. The conference held various panels on subjects such as the breakdown of the educational system, the conversions crisis, the growing use of internet services among the religious sector, military prep-schools and the challenges the religious sector may face in view of the coming elections.

Speaking at one of the conference's panels, Schneller, a religions Jew, slammed the religious and political leadership of the national-religious public, saying "I grow up in an environment which perceived the rabbi as the 'whole'. The leaders of Religious Zionism have taken this whole and pulled it apart, supporting only one of its parts.
"The fight for the Land of Israel is important, but hailing it as the sole theme makes Religious Zionism a cult. I know many of you will resent this definition, but this wasn't the way taught by the Religious Zionism I grew up on."
Schneller went on to criticize the Religious Zionism rabbis' involvement in politics, saying that every decision religious politicians want to make must be clear by the rabbis first. "We've become nothing but a small group of kippah wearers," he said.
The lawmaker went on to say he does not like to use the term "Religious Zionism" as the title of his public sector, seeing how "it is a leaden term which constricts instead of expands."

MK Schneller then went on to describe his "10 Commandments" for saving Religious Zionism from oblivion, citing keeping the integrity of the people of Israel, making sure all religious sectors work together, accepting various conceptions on a variety of issues and developing a political leadership independent from rabbinical influence, as several possible courses of action.
"Religious Zionism cannot stay closed up within itself. If it does it will suffocate," he concluded.

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Gaza: Israel decides not to decide for now

Security cabinet rules out Gaza operation for time being
Herb Keinon , THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 10, 2008

The long-delayed decision whether to accept an Egyptian-brokered cease fire with Hamas or step up military operations against the Gaza Strip came before the security cabinet on Wednesday, and despite reports that a majority of ministers favored tough military action, the decision was to give the cease fire talks more time.

The meeting was preceded by a Tuesday discussion between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in which the various scenarios were reportedly discussed.

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin also took part in that meeting, from which no details were provided.

One government source said that while Olmert and Livni favor stepped-up military action before agreeing to a cease fire, Barak wants to send his top adviser Amos Gilad back to Egypt one more time for additional clarifications before taking action.

Although technically Olmert, Barak and Livni could take action on their own without seeking approval from the security cabinet, the source said that in the current political climate, where whatever decision Olmert takes would be criticized as having been influenced by his legal and political problems, he wanted the decision to have the backing of the security cabinet.

A number of cabinet ministers came out in favor of a widespread action before Tuesday's weekly cabinet meeting, with Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, a close Olmert ally, saying "Israel must launch an operation against Hamas," adding that the country could not risk letting the Islamic group rearm itself "before the next round."

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann advised the ministers at the cabinet meeting (held on Tuesday rather than Sunday because of the Shavuot holiday) against talking publicly about whether or not there would be an operation, saying that the constant discussion on the matter reminded him of how Hassidim "wait for the messiah."

Barak also advocated taking a much lower public profile on the matter.

"When the moment comes, we will act," he said.

"The defense establishment is dealing with it, and the ministers should listen to what is being said about what can, and cannot, be accomplished through the various actions."

Speaking to government ministers about the status of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Olmert said that progress in the area was critically important now given the proximity of the US presidential elections.

"One thing is certain: This administration is especially friendly," the prime minister said.

"We cannot miss taking advantage of this opportunity. Therefore the element of time holds special importance. We must not lose this. [Things won't necessarily be the same] with the next government."

"We are working with the aim of advancement," Olmert told his ministers. "We don't yet have formal, written documents, but we're working with the intent of making progress towards building a foundation for a solution, within the framework of the time-frame we presented.

"Of course there are arguments, long discussions, but this issue is important for me."

Olmert and US President George W. Bush have both said they hoped that a framework agreement could be reached by the end of 2008.

"We don't know what will happen with the next US government," Olmert told the ministers.

"I am operating on the assumption that every American president will preserve the special friendship with Israel that is built on mutual values and interests."

Olmert said, without elaborating, that there are various mutual commitments with the current administration that may not "roll over" to the next administration.

Turning to the Syrian track, which is expected to resume with indirect talks in Turkey this week, Olmert told the cabinet he would have been happy had the announcement last month of indirect talks with the Syrians been accompanied by an expression of readiness on Lebanon's part to enter into bilateral talks with Israel as well.

"I see much advantage in that." Olmert said.

During the meeting, Olmert also took Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to task for his comments that Israel might attack Iran if it carried on with its nuclear weapons program, saying that in these matters there is need for a great deal of diplomatic action, "and as little talk as possible."

Olmert said that Iran featured prominently in his talks with Bush last week in Washington, and that there was "understanding, agreement and coordination" on this matter between Jerusalem and Washington.

"Every day that passes we are moving another step forward," Olmert said. "That doesn't mean that in a very short time it will be possible to overcome all the problems, but there are efforts, common thinking, determination, readiness, and agreement on the ways we need to act."

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Israeli sonar system sees through walls

Last update - 11:00 11/06/2008    

 By Guy Grimland, TheMarker Correspondent 

It's not easy to locate Camero's offices in the Kfar Neter industrial zone, but it may have just gotten easier. The startup has developed a system that allows users to see through walls.
It sounds just like a comic book fantasy come true - after all, who hasn't dreamt of getting to peek into the boss's office or the spouse's doings in the other room? Not so fast, budding Poirots: Camero's product is designed not for the entertainment of our inner child, but for use primarily in military and search and rescue operations.
And such technology could indeed be beneficial for special unit soldiers, for instance, or for locating people trapped in burning buildings.
"The idea of seeing through walls has been around since the 1960s, but modern technology is now ripe enough to enable it to happen," explains Camero's technology director, Amir Beeri. "When we established the company in 2004, we intended to develop sufficiently high vision resolution to allow an untrained user to see through a wall."
Camero's unique radar utilizes Ultra Wide Band (UWB), a technology that has only come of age in recent years, and with the use of special algorithms can process data picked up by the detector to give a reasonable image of anything behind that wall. Lacking imaging algorithms, the system made by its competitor, Time Domain is able to reveal only whether there is someone on the other side of the wall.
Although the first version developed by Camero, the Xaver 800, which includes a 82cm by 82cm screen on a tripod and weighs about 10 kg, making the system too clumsy for use in battle conditions, the Xaver 400 and Xaver 300 are both lighter weight and smaller sized, meant for use as a quick-to-use tactical tool.
The systems are capable of penetrating various types of walls, but not solid metal ones, like the walls of shipping containers.
Camero CEO Aharon Aharon says that the company has already sold the system to various armies and police forces around the world, and is optimistic about the future of the technology.
"Like the Israeli army's night vision system, which was once an expensive product and eventually came into broad, general use, we hope that our radar too will become standard issue for all military units," Aharon said.

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Syria talks look worse and worse - no direct talks until withdrawal

After the announcement of indirect talks between Syria and Israel, the dream has begun to turn into a nightmare. Assad claimed Israel up to Tiberias, made deals with Iran, and now this...
Syria plays down chances for cutting out Turkish middleman until Israel 'ends occupation of Palestine, restores Syrian Golan, pulls out of remaining occupied Lebanese territory'
Published:  06.10.08, 21:19 / Israel News
A senior Syrian official said on Tuesday no direct negotiations will be held with Israel until it recognizes what Damascus regards as requirements for a deal.

"I think it is too early to resume direct talks. There are conditions," Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad told reporters. "I hope Israel responds to the requirements of peace, which are the end of the occupation of Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state, restoration of the Syrian Golan and pull out of remaining occupied Lebanese territory," he added.

Mekdad declined to confirm whether the talks will resume next week. He said the talks in Turkey "were in their infancy" and Syria hoped that Israel was serious about reaching an agreement that would help stabilize the Middle East.

Syrian officials are wary that Israel's interest in deal may be short-lived, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert facing a corruption investigation that could force him out of office. "Our goal is an Israeli withdrawal from all the lands of the Syrian Republic. This is the basis for launching direct talks," said Mekdad, a main player in Syrian foreign policy.

Olmert said last month that Israel had made no commitment to Syria to pull out of the Golan Heights in the indirect talks that started in 2007. Israeli officials have said Israel favored moving to direct talks but it was unknown when that would happen.

"When talks move to direct talks that would be a sign of significant progress," said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.

Syrian President Bashar Assad recently dismissed Israeli demands that Syria abandon its alliance with Iran as a requirement for a peace deal. Assad said Syria intended to maintain "normal relations" with Iran while it conducts the indirect talks.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Congress to support aid increase for Israel

 Last update - 09:41 10/06/2008       
Congress gets behind Israel's aid request
By Amos Harel
A year after U.S. President George W. Bush agreed to increase military aid to Israel by 25 percent, it now seems that all political obstacles that had prevented Democrats in Congress from coming on board and supporting the extra aid have been lifted.
Last June, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convinced Bush of the need for additional military support in view of the growing strategic threats faced by Israel in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, in 2006.
Nonetheless, despite the president's commitment to an increase, an agreement was not finalized.
Political and defense sources in Israel had said that the main reason for the delay stemmed from concerns among Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, that the additional defense aid would be credited to the Republicans during a major election year. Not only is the White House up for grabs in 2008, but also the House of Representatives and a third of all Senate seats.
In Israel, it had been hoped that the increased assistance would begin flowing as early as October 2008. The delay, however, is likely to defer certain plans in Israel by as much as two years, since the Bush administration is unable to find the time to deal with the issue during its final year in office.
Both Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni joined Olmert in trying to convince the Democrats to support increasing military assistance to Israel.
An agreement was finalized during Olmert's meeting last Thursday in Washington with the majority Democratic leadership and the minority Republicans in the Senate.
Among the systems Israel is keen to acquire with the extra assistance is the F-35 stealth attack fighter, the cost of which is estimated at $100 million each. Israel is also planning to spend at least $1 billion, partly with U.S. military assistance, in upgraded missile defense systems.

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Israel Ambassador: UK is radical anti-Israel center

 Last update - 09:50 10/06/2008       
Israeli envoy to London: U.K. has become hotbed of radical anti-Israeli views
By The Associated Press
Britain has become a hotbed of radical anti-Israeli views, Israel's ambassador to the country said in an article for a British newspaper.
Ron Prosor said in an opinion piece in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph that his country has been demonized.
"Israel faces an intensified campaign of delegitimization, demonization and double standards," he said.
"Britain has become a hotbed for radical anti-Israeli views and a haven for disingenuous calls for a one-state solution, a euphemistic name for a movement advocating Israel's destruction," he added.
Prosor, who took up his post in November, said Britain was once admired for fairness and decency but the debate on Israel has now been hijacked by extremists.
He criticized attempts by the University and College Union to sever links with Israeli universities in 2007 because of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. That proposal was later dropped but the academic union recently passed a motion that condemns Israel's actions in Gaza.
Prosor said: "Academics, supposedly society's guardians of knowledge, objectivity and informed debate, have seen their union held hostage by radical factions, armed with political agendas and personal interests."
He said the British public's perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was affected by biased coverage.
"Israel's military reaction to the attacks it faces is given in depth, microscopic coverage. Yet the attacks to which Israel is responding are often ignored. The average British citizen is painfully unaware that since Hamas seized control of Gaza last year, 1,400 rockets and 1,500 mortar bombs have landed on Israeli soil," he said.

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Corruption among Iranian Mullahs

What is not generally appreciated is that being an Ayatollah is a very profitable business. This is illustrated in this article from Rooz, but it is obviously only the tip of the iceberg. Drug trade and prostitution could not exist in a police state like Iran without tacit official cooperation - yet both evils are rampant.

Unprecedented Revelations against Senior Iranian Clerics
A Member of the Majlis Investigative Committee - 2008.06.10
Mahbubeh Niknahad
A film and the speech of Abbas Palizar, a member of Iran's Majlis Investigative ‎Committee are now available on the Internet for the public, whose contents expose the ‎country's judiciary and senior clerics. Palizar made his speech at Hamedan University in ‎western Iran and named leading politicians and clerics from the conservative camp and ‎accused them of engaging in corrupt economic practices. He also revealed that the plane ‎crash that carried, and killed, Iran's former minister of transportation during Khatami's ‎presidency was the work of sabotage by insiders, and also that another air crash that ‎killed a former army commander at the Passdaran, Ahmad Kazemi, was at the least ‎‎"suspicious".‎
Who is this new exposer?‎
The person whose revelations at Hamedan University have now attained sensational ‎quality was for some time the "operational secretary" of the research unit of the seventh ‎Majlis where his key responsibility was to head the (Infrastructure Research Bureau) ‎Daftare Motaleat Zirbanai. He was the leading figure to draw up a plan to punish those ‎who committed economic disruption and prior to being the head the Majlis research unit, ‎he was the advisor to the Majlis Economic Committee and the Chairman and ‎spokesperson of the Board of Trustees of the House of Industrialists of Iran (Khane ‎Sanatgaran'e Iran). He had made an unsuccessful bid for Tehran's provincial council ‎while running on the list that supported president Ahmadinejad.‎
The End of the Conservatists' Grouping and the Repetition of Old Accusations
Palizar called the country's judiciary "the center of economic corruption" and forcefully ‎asserted that neither the judiciary branch nor the State Inspectorate Organization would ‎cooperate with the Majlis in its investigations over corruption. "The State Inspectorate ‎Organization strived to prevent the investigative committee of the Majlis from gaining ‎access to the existing corruption cases and to accomplish this provided forced leave to its ‎members, while with the passage of a year, we eventually gained access to the data on ‎this", he said.‎
In detailing the corruption, he said, "One day a one of these cleric came to me and said ‎that he had a disabled son and wanted to build a physical therapy center to be run under ‎his management. We registered the center. Then he came and said that he desired to have ‎a financial passport (license) and asked us to give him the license to operate the Dehbid ‎stone mining company in Fars province, a company that has the best stones in the world. ‎After that, he came and asked for the license to operate yet another mine in Zanjan ‎province. Today, he operates four mines and owns the license to a physical therapy ‎center." Students at Hamedan University asked for more details and the name of the ‎cleric and he told them that it was ayatollah Imami Kashani (member of the Guardians ‎Council and one of the 4 temporary Friday prayer leaders of Tehran).‎
In another part of his speech at Hamedan, Palizar said, "Another ayatollah once went to ‎the leader and said that they wanted to build a law university for women in Qom. He got ‎the license to do that. Immediately after that however he requested a financial passport ‎‎(license) for Dena Tire Company. The then minister of industries Mr. Nematzadeh told ‎him that he would give him the company at the price of 126 billion Toman (about $126 ‎million). The real market value of the company was 600 billion Toman ($600 million). ‎Soon, these gentlemen were asking for discounts on the price of the tire company and ‎eventually settled for 10 billion Toman (about $10 million). But then they said that they ‎did not have the money and so would pay 80 percent of the price in installments. ‎Nematzadeh accepted that. But they returned and said that they did not even have the 20 ‎percent in cash but would pay it by selling some assets of the company. This is how ‎easily he acquired the company, and then sold it in the market soon after." Students again ‎asked for the name of the cleric and Palizar burst it out: ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi ‎‎(current member of the Guardians Council and Experts Assembly, former head of the ‎judiciary and the new leader of the Teachers of Qom Theological Center, which is the ‎most important grouping of the conservative clerics in Iran). ‎
Palizar continued with his story: "Ayatollah Yazdi continued his drive and wrote a letter ‎to Mr. Foruzesh, the then minister of industries arguing that his son, Hamid was jobless ‎and requested that arrangements be made so he could export wood from the forests of ‎northern Iran. It is interesting that Hamid Yazdi was a director general at the judiciary. ‎But soon the forests of the north were looted. At the same time, a group of local residents ‎were arrested for cutting down trees (which they did in amounts sufficient for their ‎personal needs) and imprisoned, which led to riots in front of the prison where they were ‎detained."‎
Palizar mentioned another case of fraud to belong to Iran Khodro car manufacturing ‎plant. "Iran Khodro company was transferred to judges who owned Persia Machine plant ‎at half the market price, while the rest was supposed to have been paid in installments by ‎buyers of the vehicles, most of which were never paid. But this state of affairs did lead to ‎protests. For example, a group calling itself members of the Nahjol-Balaghe foundation ‎came and said that they wanted 500 cars with the same terms. And who do you think are ‎the members of this foundation? None other than Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri (former head ‎of the Special Investigative Unit of the Leaders Office), Mohsen Refighdoost (former ‎head of the Mostazafin Foundation), Asqar Oladi (the former secretary of the ‎conservative 'Jamiate Motalef Islami' i.e. Islamic Coalition Association) Moezi (deputy ‎director of the Leader's office), etc. After this episode came another foundation, ‎Hamgaraie Andishe belonging to cleric Falahian (former minister of intelligence) and ‎ayatollah Elm Alhoda (the radical cleric of Mashhad)."‎
Adding to the list, Palizar continued his drive by adding that the Tabas Stone Mining ‎Company and twelve other large mines in the country in Khorasan province (the largest ‎province in the country) in eastern Iran were handed over to ayatollah Vaezi Tabasi, the ‎representative of the leader of Iran in that province.‎
Moving to a different area, Majlis deputy Palizar revealed that the cause for the crash of ‎two aircraft that carried senior officials of the Islamic regime (Rahman Dadman the ‎minister of transportation during Khatami's administration in 2002 who lost his life in the ‎crash and Ahmad Kazemi, the former commander of the Passdaran ground forces who ‎was killed in the helicopter crash of 2006) could be attributed to intentional planning in ‎which one of the then leaders of the Passdaran had a hand in (no details are provided). ‎The Dadman incident was pre-planned. The 1000-page dossier regarding this air crash ‎demonstrates this (again no details are provided)."‎
As the list got longer, Palizar mentioned the importation of contraband through one of the ‎airports called Payam and said, "The grand smuggler of Payam airport has 1,500 court ‎cases for smuggling, but nobody has arrested him yet because he is under the protection ‎of cleric Nategh Nouri."‎
The sugar industry in Iran was not left out of these revelations, and Palizar said in this ‎regard, "Mr. Modalal, the son in law of one of the senior clerics in Iran (this is a ‎reference to ayatollah Makarem Shiraz, who is also a source of emulation) was the king ‎of sugar and of the sugar mafia. Modalal worked with a person named Mohammad Reza ‎Yusefi both of whom were willing to pay 700 billion Toman ($700 million) in hush ‎money when the case was exposed."‎
Palizar ended his expose by naming Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family members to be ‎economically corrupt and said, "Their economic corruption is so wide that it is not ‎possible to list them. But one of them is in their lack of payment of taxes to the ‎government."‎
Copyright for

Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The real strength of Israel

June 8, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist

People vs. Dinosaurs


Tefen Industrial Park, Israel

Question: What do America's premier investor, Warren Buffett, and Iran's toxic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have in common? Answer: They've both made a bet about Israel's future.

Ahmadinejad declared on Monday that Israel "has reached its final phase and will soon be wiped out from the geographic scene."

By coincidence, I heard the Iranian leader's statement on Israel Radio just as I was leaving the headquarters of Iscar, Israel's famous precision tool company, headquartered in the Western Galilee, near the Lebanon border. Iscar is known for many things, most of all for being the first enterprise that Buffett bought overseas for his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett paid $4 billion for 80 percent of Iscar and the deal just happened to close a few days before Hezbollah, a key part of Iran's holding company, attacked Israel in July 2006, triggering a monthlong war. I asked Iscar's chairman, Eitan Wertheimer, what was Buffett's reaction when he found out that he had just paid $4 billion for an Israeli company and a few days later Hezbollah rockets were landing outside its parking lot.

Buffett just brushed it off with a wave, recalled Wertheimer: "He said, 'I'm not interested in the next quarter. I'm interested in the next 20 years.' " Wertheimer repaid that confidence by telling half his employees to stay home during the war and using the other half to keep the factory from not missing a day of work and setting a production record for the month. It helps when many of your "employees" are robots that move around the buildings, beeping humans out of the way.

So who would you put your money on? Buffett or Ahmadinejad? I'd short Ahmadinejad and go long Warren Buffett.

Why? From outside, Israel looks as if it's in turmoil, largely because the entire political leadership seems to be under investigation. But Israel is a weak state with a strong civil society. The economy is exploding from the bottom up. Israel's currency, the shekel, has appreciated nearly 30 percent against the dollar since the start of 2007.

The reason? Israel is a country that is hard-wired to compete in a flat world. It has a population drawn from 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages, with a business culture that strongly encourages individual imagination and adaptation and where being a nonconformist is the norm. While you were sleeping, Israel has gone from oranges to software, or as they say around here, from Jaffa to Java.

The day I visited the Iscar campus, one of its theaters was filled with industrialists from the Czech Republic, who were getting a lecture — in Czech — from Iscar experts. The Czechs came all the way to the Israel-Lebanon border region to learn about the latest innovations in precision tool-making. Wertheimer is famous for staying close to his customers and the latest technologies. "If you sleep on the floor," he likes to say, "you never have to worry about falling out of bed."

That kind of hunger explains why, in the first quarter of 2008, the top four economies after America in attracting venture capital for start-ups were: Europe $1.53 billion, China $719 million, Israel $572 million and India $99 million, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Israel, with 7 million people, attracted almost as much as China, with 1.3 billion.

Boaz Golany, who heads engineering at the Technion, Israel's M.I.T., told me: "In the last eight months, we have had delegations from I.B.M., General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart visiting our campus. They are all looking to develop R & D centers in Israel."

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.

Of course, oil wealth can buy all the software and nuclear technology you want, or can't develop yourself. This is not an argument that we shouldn't worry about Iran. Ahmadinejad should, though.

Iran's economic and military clout today is largely dependent on extracting oil from the ground. Israel's economic and military power today is entirely dependent on extracting intelligence from its people. Israel's economic power is endlessly renewable. Iran's is a dwindling resource based on fossil fuels made from dead dinosaurs.

So who will be here in 20 years? I'm with Buffett: I'll bet on the people who bet on their people — not the people who bet on dead dinosaurs.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Who Threatens the Mecca Interfaith Conference?

Who Threatens the Mecca Interfaith Conference?


The serious situation in Islamic groups and sects within the Islamic body and the looming clashes between some of the followers of Islam and the followers of other religions do not require a lot of explaining. The caricatures [of Prophet Muhammad] were only a small drill for a much bigger crisis. This exercise has shown how an unrenowned newspaper and an unknown caricaturist in a country like Denmark, which is far from crises, were able to create a large clash. The other crisis drill was manifest in Al-Qaeda's release of several video recordings that showed horrifying details of beheadings of non-Muslims and in which Al-Qaeda called for fighting the followers of other religions. These recordings have caused popular tension, thus putting the blame on all 1 billion Muslims.

As among Muslims themselves, we see how the relationship between Shiites and Sunnis has never been worse in contemporary history and portend collective wars. The exchange of verbal attacks between Islam and Christianity has not stopped since the emergence of Al-Qaeda, which has relied on the anti-Crusader discourse in an effort to instigate the public against Western regimes, despite the fact that Al-Qaeda's primary enmity is against Arab regimes, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Modern technology has played a role in spreading the disease of hatred between both sides. In the past, there was no major means for conveying rhetoric without going through official channels. Today, Al-Qaeda -- this renegade and internationally wanted organization -- has hundreds of empathetic online websites that ensure that Al-Qaeda's video and audio messages reach the entire world and are viewed by millions of people on both sides of this world. Moreover, satellite television channels have become open platforms for Muslim, Christian, and Hindu extremists, who are fomenting resentment among their supporters and inciting them to take revenge.

Accordingly, we are facing an urgent problem that differs immensely from all the old religious clashes that involved battles between all parties. Today's wars are spontaneous. An unknown caricaturist draws some defaming cartoons and others publish them for their followers to see. One party foments resentment and the other views this act as sacred freedom, the objectors to which must be punished. Hence, how could a caricaturist ignite a war if it was not for the new technological situation, the continued tension, and the officials' avoidance of dealing with this problem? Although some people have called this problem "the clash between the ignorant" or "the clash between extremists," the problem is a general rather than a specific problem. This means that the victims of such clashes are the billions of people who belong to the nations that are facing division because of their extremist minority.

Therefore, the Mecca [interfaith] dialogue conference, for which King Abdullah, the custodian of the two holy mosques, has called, is being held at its usual time and place. This conference has brought together Islamic figures from all over the world, each of whom has his own status, influence, and experience. Also, it is the first step toward identifying the 21stcentury crisis. Regardless of how hard non-Muslims try to insult Islam, it is Muslim extremists who are threatening Islam today and not the followers of other religions. The same holds true for the followers of other religions, who are forced into the cycle of tension and confrontation by their extremists. Unless each party curbs extremism from it own position and within its own circle of influence, the crisis will continue to grow and will be difficult to contain. It is extremists who jeopardize the Mecca conference and who should be the goal of our study, follow up, and encirclement too.


Continued (Permanent Link)

Palestinians: Tora Bora over Statehood

Palestinians: Tora Bora over Statehood


In an article published April 21, 2008 in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, well-known researcher, writer, author, and columnist Dr. Mamoun Fandy wrote that the Palestinians must proceed from revolution to state-building, demonstrating that they are capable of building a prosperous state which will contribute to the stability of the region.(1)
The following are excerpts from the article:    
"When Will the Palestinians Advance From the 'Adolescence' of Revolution to the 'Maturity' of Statehood?... [Will the] Palestinian State... Strengthen, Rather Than Weaken, Regional Security?"

"Sixty years have passed since the Palestinian Nakba [catastrophe]… and I would like to pose two questions to the divided Palestinian leadership, [i.e.] to the Palestinian Authority, represented by President Mahmoud 'Abbas, and to the Hamas leadership, represented by Ismail Haniyya and Khaled Mash'al.
"The first question is: When will the Palestinians advance from the 'adolescence' of revolution to the 'maturity' of statehood? The second question is: Given that there is an intent to establish a Palestinian state in the region, can the Palestinians assure the international community, and in particular their neighbors, that the Palestinian state will strengthen, rather than weaken, regional security?...
"The object of the first question is to give the international community an idea to what extent the Palestinians are capable of managing their affairs independently; to what extent the Palestinian leadership is committed to its people, their aspirations and demands; and whether, like most governments around the world, it can ensure that its people live in dignity.
"Gaza Is a Seaport of Diminutive Proportions, Akin to Singapore Or Bahrain... Yet the Palestinians Have Chosen the Model of Tora Bora!"

Today, the international community has great doubts regarding the Palestinians' ability to advance from the 'adolescence' of revolution to the 'maturity' of state. The most clear-cut example of this is Gaza, which has presented a complicated and steadily growing problem. I am not speaking of the Hamas's coup or even of the futile killing, but only of the appalling mismanagement of its affairs.
"Gaza is a seaport of diminutive proportions, akin to Singapore or Bahrain. Small though it is, Singapore has become one of the most important [states] in Asia – owing to a wise government, which runs its affairs with perspicacity. Similarly, Bahrain has ties and alliances with the most prominent world powers…
"Yet, instead of adopting Singapore as a model, the Palestinians have chosen the model of Tora Bora! They have transformed Gaza into part of Afghanistan, with its extremist Islamists, weapons, and missiles.
"The main reason that the Palestinian leadership in Gaza has failed is that it is still in the 'adolescent' revolutionary stage, and is not acting as someone faced with the task of [establishing] a state capable of managing its people's affairs. It is this adolescence [of revolution] that accounts for [Hamas's] attempt to breach the Egyptian border and drives it to fire rockets [at Israel] every now and then. [And] it is the ordinary people who are paying the price – [i.e.] Gaza residents, who are fed up with the siege and with hunger.
"Israel should be condemned for imposing a siege on Gaza. [To be sure,] no one thinks of absolving Israel of responsibility. But considering that Israel has a well-equipped army – did Hamas really anticipate that Israel would send it flowers in return for rockets?
"Egypt must be condemned for closing its borders, as is the custom of all other countries. However, Hamas leadership expects to avoid all condemnation; the important thing [in their eyes] is that Ismail Haniyya remain the leader in Gaza, even if all its residents are exterminated…"

In the Arab World, "Human Life is Not Important; What Counts Is That the Leaders Survive"

"As long as Haniyya is in charge – Gaza is on a winning streak. [Indeed,] presenting defeat as victory is not unique to the Palestinians. In this way, the June 1967 fiasco was not conceived of as defeat, since Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser remained president [of Egypt] after the war; Saddam [Hussein's] setbacks were not regarded as defeat either, since Saddam remained president of Iraq; nor was Lebanon's downfall regarded as defeat – [despite] the complete destruction of its infrastructure  – since Hassan Nasrallah continued as leader of the uprising. [It seems that] human life is not important; what counts is that the leaders survive.
"The second question is whether the new Palestinian state is capable of strengthening regional security or whether it will become a source of threat and disrupt the security equilibrium. This is another criterion for assessing the Palestinian leadership's ability to assure its Arab and non-Arab neighbors that the new state will be the basis for reconstruction rather than destruction, stability rather than [disruption], economic welfare rather than poverty.
"One could say that, from 1996 until the beginning of the 2000 intifada, the PA had begun acting as a state, although it did make a few mistakes. Those in Fatah who made the revolutionary step of moving towards the 'maturity' of the Palestinian Authority have made an important qualitative leap, which history will count in their favor. [Indeed,] they initiated the PA into the rites of maturity, and took part in the negotiations in Oslo, Washington, Taba etc."

In 2000, "Instead Of Declaring A State, [The Palestinian Leadership] Decided to Declare A Revolution... the Palestinian Security Apparatuses Joined the Resistance as Factions... [Thus]... Relinquish[ing] Their Role in Building the State [And] Undermining the Trust of the International Community"

"The Palestinian leadership committed a major error in the beginning of 2000, when it refused to accept the outcome of the negotiations with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who nearly gave them a state in return for certain concessions. At the time, the Palestinian leadership refused to agree to these concessions out of fear that, otherwise, it might find itself up against the [Palestinian] people.
"Instead of declaring a state, it decided to declare a revolution. The Palestinian security apparatuses joined the resistance as factions – in other words, they reverted to the 'adolescence' of revolution. By joining the resistance, the security apparatuses relinquished their role in building the state, thereby undermining the trust of the international community, and the trust of its patron countries. Never again would the Egyptians, Americans, Europeans, and Israelis believe that the Palestinian leadership was truly capable of advancing from the 'adolescence' of revolution to the 'maturity' of state…
"The only solution left to the Palestinians, including Hamas, is to rebuild their institutions in accordance with the maturity of state rather than with the adolescence of revolution, thereby contributing to the stability of the region, rather than to its destruction.
"This is [how they should proceed]:
"First – [they must] search for new leaders, who are trusted both inside and outside the country, and in doing so they must apply as criteria, not the ideology of revolution, but that of statehood. [Moreover,] Hamas must come to terms with the fact that it is a political party, and act accordingly. [So far] Hamas's radical conduct has indicated that it is incapable of acting as a party – rather, it has been behaving like a militia...
"Fatah [C]ould Be Like the U.S. Democrats, and Hamas Like the Republicans; Alternatively, Fatah and Hamas [C]ould Be Like the Conservatives and Labor in Great Britain"
"If Hamas is incapable of acting maturely, as befits a [ruling] political party, the Palestinian political process could be modeled after the veteran democracies. Thus, Fatah would be like the U.S. Democrats, and Hamas like the Republicans; alternatively, Fatah and Hamas would be like the Conservatives and Labor in Great Britain. Furthermore, the Palestinians should hold new elections in order to form a new leadership. These elections must be free and unhampered by fear – since freedom of choice is the foundation of a free society.
"If the Palestinians cannot elect new leaders who can demonstrate to the international community that they believe in the maturity of state rather than in the adolescence of revolution, and, moreover, [that they believe] in a Palestinian state that can strengthen the stability of the region instead of contributing to its decline and destruction… if the Palestinians cannot rise up to this great challenge, we may be facing another 60 years of Nakba."
(1) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 21, 2008.


Continued (Permanent Link)

Amazing proposal: Saudi Interfaith dialogue

If this proposed dialogue really takes place, it can be more important for inter-faith relations than Vatican II. It would also, at one stroke, put Saudi Arabia and Sunni Islam squarely in the forefront of the Muslim world, just as Vatican II restored much of the leadership of the Catholic Church.
A master stroke. But it will also invite fierce and violent opposition from radical Mujahedin  groups that insist that Saudi Arabia is "poisoned" by the presence of non-Muslims. King Abdullah has taken quite a risk.
This initiative should be welcomed and encouraged by all persons of good will.
Ami Isseroff
Saudi king prepares ground for interfaith meeting
Jordan Times Sunday, June 8th, 2008

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has won backing from Muslim clerics from around the world for an interfaith dialogue with Christians and Jews, state media reported on Saturday.

Some 500 religious scholars and academics gathered for a 3-day conference in Mecca which ended on Friday as the first step of a plan announced by the Saudi king this year to create a dialogue with other faiths.

The king's call, which followed a meeting with Pope Benedict at the Vatican last year, sparked much interest from Jewish and Christian groups around the world.

The Mecca meeting recommended "conferences, forums and discussion groups between the followers of the prophetic messages, and relevant civilisations, cultures and philosophies to which academics, media and religious leaders will be invited", according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

It said the participants, who included Egypt's Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar Mohammad Sayed Tantawi and former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, established that a dialogue with other faiths was legitimate in Islam.

SPA gave no more details, but a gathering of Jewish and Christian clerics in Saudi Arabia would be ground-breaking.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, sees itself as the leader of Sunni Islam. It promotes a hardline school of Islam called Wahhabism which has traditionally seen some other Muslims and non-Muslims as "infidels".

But Riyadh has been making efforts to build better ties with Washington and improve its international image after the September 11 attacks of 2001, in which 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudi.

Saudi Islamist militants also launched a violent campaign to overthrow the monarchy in 2003, denouncing the rulers as un-Islamic.

Although the official religious establishment is on board for the king's interfaith effort, many Wahhabi clerics remain opposed even to talking to Shiite Muslims.

A group of independent clerics issued a statement last week saying Shiites, including Lebanese group Hizbollah, were posturing against Israel to hide an anti-Sunni agenda.

Some Shiites said that, despite the presence of Iran's Rafsanjani, few of their number were invited to the Mecca meeting. None came from Europe or North America and one from Saudi Arabia's own Shiite minority, which complains that it is given second class status.

The final statement said the conference called for "communication between Islamic sects in an effort to unite the Islamic nation and lighten the effects of fanaticism".

Continued (Permanent Link)

IAEA report highlights weapons as well as nuclear development

The Belated Message from the IAEA on Iran, INSS Insight No. 59, June 8, 2008
Asculai, Ephraim and Landau, Emily B.
On May 26, 2008 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) circulated a technical and factual report on Iran, devoid almost entirely of political overtones. The IAEA report gives prominence to the major issue of the day – Iran's unrelenting progress in its uranium enrichment program – but also highlights an additional serious issue of concern: Iran's secret weapons development activities. The unprecedented level of concern included in the report reflects and furthers tendencies that first emerged last February, when new material was handed over to the IAEA regarding Iran's involvement in weaponization studies. On the basis of briefings at the IAEA in this regard, suspicions have increased within the organization that Iran is proceeding with its nuclear development program, and the program could eventually yield nuclear weapons. True, the signs were there long ago; unfortunately, their recognition by the IAEA has come quite late in the day.
According to the IAEA report, Iran fed into its 3000 gas centrifuge uranium enrichment unit some 2.3 tons of natural uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas during the December 2007-May 2008 period. According to the New York Times the amount produced was about 150 kilograms of UF6, at about 4 percent enrichment. This is much less than the amount that could be expected had the unit been operated at full efficiency, but is still an impressive result. Iran would need about ten times this amount in order to be able to further enrich it so as to produce some 25 kilograms of enriched uranium at about 90 percent grade. This amount at this grade is defined by the IAEA as a "significant quantity," i.e., the quantity sufficient for one nuclear explosive device. This is, therefore, an important milestone for Iran.       
However, the present rate of production, probably caused by the inefficiency of the P-1 centrifuge machines, may not be up to speed as far as Iranian aspirations go. The IAEA reported that they are rapidly building additional units to expand their enrichment capabilities. In addition, the IAEA reports that Iran has developed two advanced types of centrifuges – IR2 and IR3 – and is testing them. Once these machines are mass produced, installed, and running, the rate of production would increase dramatically.
A major portion of the IAEA report comes under the section "Possible Military Dimensions." Significantly, the IAEA draws attention to aspects that "remain a matter of serious concern," including the development and testing of firing equipment and exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators, an underground testing system, and other testing of at least one full scale hemispherical system that may be pertinent to an implosion-type nuclear device. Another development relates to alleged changes of the Shehab-3 missile re-entry vehicle, to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
The cumulative effect of the different pieces of evidence included in the IAEA report creates a picture of a country seriously engaged in developing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. The essence of a closed briefing conducted by Olli Heinonen (IAEA Deputy Director General in charge of safeguards) on May 29 appeared in the press; he reportedly reviewed the "alarming" document, which describes the process of machining uranium metal into two hemispheres of the kind used in nuclear weapons. He added that "there was no reason why a country would need to possess such a document unless they wanted to produce uranium hemispheres for a nuclear weapon."
Where does this leave international efforts to confront Iran's nuclear activities? A positive aspect is that this new report contains a severe message of concern, unprecedented in its content and tone. Moreover, it seems to have been accepted by many states, with the exception of Russia, where Prime Minister Putin stated: "I don't think the Iranians are looking to make a nuclear bomb. We have no reason to believe this."
The bad news is that the new and important level of concern expressed by the report is unlikely to be translated into determined and effective action anytime soon, not only because of Russia's stance in particular, but rather because the dynamic will inevitably be a slow one. There is little chance that it will engender the necessary momentum for action soon enough to deal effectively with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Recent dynamics with regard to Syria underscore the less than desirable pace of IAEA-led processes. The US turned to the IAEA with a request that it check new information regarding additional nuclear facilities in Syria. The IAEA contacted Syria about this, but Syria took its time in scheduling a date for IAEA inspections. They are now set for late June, although it is not yet clear which sites Syria will permit inspectors to visit. CIA director Michael Hayden predicted that Syria would most likely "attempt to delay and deceive" the IAEA.
Iran's initial reaction to the report itself – as expressed by its ambassador to the IAEA, Soltaniya – was to claim that it is yet another document that shows that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful. Iran continues to try to sell this message internally and on the public opinion front. However, within days of that statement, a different message emerged, underscoring Iran's recognition of the more severe assessments that the report actually contains. Both the new speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, as well as the spokesman for the foreign ministry, Hosseini, have criticized the IAEA for this report, going so far as to say that Iran may have to reconsider the nature of its cooperation with the agency, perhaps setting new limits.
Iran's pattern of behavior over the past six years has been to engage the international element that it viewed as most amenable to its case and least likely to seriously impede its nuclear activities. Thus Iran sought to work with the IAEA until late 2003, when it appeared that the IAEA might refer the case to the UN Security Council. At that stage, Iran was quick to pick up the offer of the EU-3 to negotiate, which it did for two years, and signed two agreements for the suspension of uranium enrichment that were subsequently abrogated. When Iran tired of that process and the demand that it suspend uranium enrichment activities, and when the issue was transferred to the Security Council, Iran again maintained that it would deal only with the IAEA. Now that the IAEA has disappointed it a second time, Iran is very likely to run back into the arms of Solana, with his new offer of incentives for Iran to halt nuclear enrichment. The new incentive package is a revised version of one presented to the Iranians in 2006. In parallel, on May 13, 2008, Iran's foreign minister submitted to the UN secretary general a document detailing Iran's proposal for dealing with the nuclear issue, which seems to be no more than an attempt to stall for time. One can only hope that if Iran does show new interest in considering Solana's offer of negotiations, it will not blind the international community to Iran's game of playing for time.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Mofaz's threats on Iran: for internal consumption

Comments about the Gaza invasion may likewise be "for internal use" only.
 Last update - 08:32 08/06/2008       
ANALYSIS / Mofaz's Iran comments too high a price for party politics
By Yossi Verter, Haaretz Correspondent
Since Kadima's leadership contest has not officially begun, and no date for the primary has even been set, it is hard not to be impressed with the activity of candidate Shaul Mofaz: In a single week, he moved to the Golan Heights, set up a new cabinet and bombed Iran - all with his mouth. The latter move single-handedly caused the sharpest one-day increase in history in the price of a barrel of crude: $11.
On one hand, that is impressive productivity; on the other, it is scary. What is he planning for us during the real campaign, or the second round, if there is one? A world war? A clash of Titans?
The world's most important newspapers paid serious attention to the statements Mofaz made in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday and linked them to the rise in the price of petroleum. The Financial Times noted that Mofaz was born in Iran - which evidently makes him some sort of authority.
But the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry were less impressed. Senior officials in both saw the statements as "a reflection of outrageous irresponsibility." When Mofaz, who is responsible for the strategic dialogue between Israel and the United States, announces that Israel will attack Iran with support from Washington, he is supposedly hinting that during last week's meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George Bush, they agreed on some sort of operational plan.
If Mofaz knows what he is talking about, he has revealed the two countries' greatest and most highly classified secret and has potentially seriously damaged a military operation. That is a bit too high a price for a party primary.
When Mofaz defected to Kadima from Likud in winter 2005, he was at the height of his race for the Likud leadership. Today, while vying for Kadima's leadership, he is conducting a Likud-style campaign. As Likud-like as possible- drenched in militarist and rightist declarations.
If we thought before that Mofaz wanted to turn Kadima into Likud B, it seems that we were naive. He wants to turn it into Likud A, and perhaps even merge the two parties and, once Benjamin Netanyahu quits the scene, run for the Likud leadership. Mofaz does not say things haphazardly. He apparently reached the conclusion that most of Kadima's members (as opposed to most of its voters) are increasingly leaning to the right, and he is making a bid for their support.
This may also be Tzipi Livni's calculation. Several days ago, the foreign minister told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the "military option is on the table" in relation to Iran. This was a less dramatic and bombastic declaration than the one made by Mofaz, but it also reflected a verbal escalation.
This is the twilight of Olmert's government, and its slow death, along with the start of the primary campaign, bode only ill. In one breath, there is talk of an attack on Iran, a peace accord with the Palestinians, the resumption of talks with Syria and an operation in the Gaza Strip. Nothing seems clear or obvious.
Mofaz is the person who may replace Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry if Labor leaves the coalition. But on Saturday, some in Labor sounded reluctant to leave. "If everyone is losing their mind," a senior Labor figure said, "it might be best for the only mature party" - Labor, of course - "not to rush to leave this government."

Continued (Permanent Link)

US wants to hold three-way summit with PA

 Last update - 07:18 08/06/2008       
U.S. proposes trilateral talks with Israel and PA
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
The United States has proposed holding trilateral talks with Israel and the Palestinians in order to accelerate negotiations on the core issues and bridge the major gaps that still exist.
But both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have expressed reservations about this idea, in light of their commitment to the principle of direct bilateral negotiations.
Meanwhile, chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to start drafting sections of a proposed peace accord that will lay out each side's positions on the core issues of borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.
The American proposal for a tripartite effort appears to have been raised by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington last Tuesday. The idea had been making the rounds of the State Department for several weeks.
Rice will fly here Saturday night to try to push negotiations forward, and is likely to visit the region again later this month.
The general feeling in the U.S. administration is that to date, neither side has shown maximum flexibility on the issues in dispute.
The American proposal calls for a meeting lasting several hours at which Rice or one of her senior aides would sit with the heads of the respective negotiating teams, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Qureia, or their representatives.
The Americans have also suggested not holding the meeting in Jerusalem; Europe and Washington are both possible venues.
At this stage, the Americans do not plan to present a "bridging document" to the parties; rather, they want to discuss various possible formulations verbally.
A senior Israeli source told Haaretz that the American proposal may be a way of pressuring the two sides to produce something that the Bush administration can point to as progress.
Israeli sources involved in the talks between Israel and the PA said there are still significant differences between the two sides, especially concerning borders, security arrangements and the refugees.
The sources confirmed that the parties have agreed to begin drafting their respective positions.
But "the fact that the parties' positions are being written down does not solve the disputes," noted one, adding: "Thus far, the main points that have been written down deal with peripheral issues, not the core issues of refugees, borders and security arrangements."
Qureia also stressed that the decision to begin drafting an agreement did not necessarily reflect accord on the major issues. However, this will the first time since negotiations resumed more than six months ago that anything on these divisive issues has been put to paper.
"We agreed with the Israelis to begin writing these positions down," Qureia said late Friday. "Should negotiators reach agreement on an issue, they will then draft a single provision. If not, they will lay their divergent views out on paper."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Zionism - Remembering our cause

The fighters of 1948 have not forgotten the heart of Zionism and the reason for our struggle. Haim Gouri, who wrote the song Bab El Wad among many others, said:
"I still hear David Ben-Gurion declaring before the British authorities in 1945: 'There are three things for which we are ready to die and which we won't compromise on - the freedom to absorb Jewish immigration, our right to build on the barren lands of our country, and the political independence of our people in our land.' I'm still waiting to hear the voice of an elected, national leader who can define with such succinctness, with such forcefulness, our war aims, in an Israeli society which today is fractured and divided, struggling to both fight or to make peace."
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 05:52 08/06/2008       
Remembering when our cause was just
By Yossi Melman
The shareholders arrived at the board meeting. They arrived from every corner of the land. They came from the cities and the villages. They walked slowly, their backs slightly hunched. Some used a walking stick, some leaned on their companions. Some were even spotted in wheelchairs. But there were also many who marched proudly, spines erect.
They hailed from different political camps: left, right, center, religious, and secular. There were the native-born Israelis (sabras), there were immigrants, there were women and men. There were not there to collect profits or dividends. They came for one reason only - to hear someone say thank you.
The youngest are now 77 years old, while the older ones are 90. They are the warriors of the generation of 1948, the "original shareholders of the defense establishment," as Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it.
This wasn't just any nostalgic meeting of fair-haired, handsome Palmachniks we are accustomed to seeing. For this gathering included fighters from all the underground organizations that fought for Israel's independence, including the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang), men and women who in the first few decades of the state were pushed to the periphery of the national memory and the official historiography. It happened last Sunday, a moving ceremony on the lawn of Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The population of the yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community, numbered 600,000 when the United Nations approved the partition plan dividing Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. When the War of Independence broke out, on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar (May 15), there were 110,000 men and women serving in the newly created Israel Defense Forces.
The soldier-civilian ratio, which gave new meaning to the concept of "a mobilized society," was unprecedented. If one takes into account the fact that between one-third and one-half of the population was youth and children, it would be reasonable to conclude that, in practice, every third able-bodied adult fought in the 18-month war.
"This was one of the most difficult tasks I've ever had," said Raya Biran, an aide in the Defense Minister's Bureau and one of the key organizers of the event. "We wanted to invite everyone who took part in the battle against the British, and those who later on donned the IDF uniform in the war. But it was tremendously difficult to find them. The lists in the IDF Archives were not up to date. As a result, we asked dozens of associations, like Beit Palmach and veterans groups affiliated with Etzel and Lehi, brigades and battalions. We expected 10,000 people to come. We got 12,000. There weren't enough chairs for everyone."
The IDF orchestra provided the music; letters by soldiers on the front lines were read aloud, and songs from that period blared on the loudspeakers. Here and there an Etzel veteran wondered aloud to his Lehi comrade why they were playing "their" songs, and not the Betar anthem and Lehi's "Unknown Soldier." "Their" songs, however, are now a staple of Israeli culture, much like the poems of Haim Gouri, whose more noted works include "Poem of Friendship" and "Here Our Dead Bodies Lie." They are no longer identified solely with the Palmach, whose fighters inspired the poems. Gouri's works speak for all the generation's fighters.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Gouri reminded those present - though he perhaps meant to remind those not present - how many axioms have been forgotten on Israel's 60th anniversary.
"I still hear David Ben-Gurion declaring before the British authorities in 1945: 'There are three things for which we are ready to die and which we won't compromise on - the freedom to absorb Jewish immigration, our right to build on the barren lands of our country, and the political independence of our people in our land.' I'm still waiting to hear the voice of an elected, national leader who can define with such succinctness, with such forcefulness, our war aims, in an Israeli society which today is fractured and divided, struggling to both fight or to make peace."
Geula Cohen, who was an announcer on Lehi's underground radio broadcasts, concurred with most of Gouri's observations. For Cohen, the ceremony was a singular event, an emphatic statement of unity.
"There were ceremonies in the past where we, the underground fighters, were given official state medal and decorations," Cohen said. "But these were separate ceremonies, because the Palmach and Haganah veterans refused to appear with us. There has never been an event like this, where all the underground groups were represented together."
Cohen said one of her foremost regrets is missing out on IDF service. Though she did, like most Lehi members, complete the full enlistment process when the state was declared, she was once again forced underground after Lehi gunmen assassinated UN envoy Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem in September 1948. On a radio broadcast, it was Cohen who announced the news of Lehi's death sentence for the Swedish diplomat.
The most senior of the speakers at the event, perhaps the oldest person there, was 94-year-old General Shlomo Shamir. Clear, lucid and still straight-backed, Shamir is the last remaining member of the 1948 war's General Staff. He was also the sole speaker who did not have a prepared speech.
"This event is proof that we haven't been forgotten," said the commander of the 7th Brigade, who led his troops onto the blood-soaked fields of Latrun in an effort to break the Arab siege on Jerusalem.
Shamir also holds the distinction of being the only commander to have led two separate branches of the IDF. He was the second commander of the Israel Navy and the third chief of the Israel Air Force.
Gouri cited a column by Davar editor Moshe Beilinson, from 1936, the year the Arab Revolt broke out.
"Until when, goes the question, until when? Until the strength of the nation of Israel in its land spells defeat for any enemy attack."
Gouri acknowledged that this statement can apply today, too. He does not doubt for a second that Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi did not come to the ceremony just to say a polite thank you. "They had a psychological need to make this gesture to the generation of '48 in order to remind themselves, for today's generation, of an era when our cause was just," he said.
Thus, Barak's statements reverberated in their sharpness and clarity. "To our sorrow, in the 60-year-old State of Israel, whose revival and existence you defended with your self-sacrifice, the values you have instilled can no longer be taken for granted. Tonight, however, let us behold the state's abundance of light, its achievements in science and culture, its advanced economy, and we will see its prosperity. We have seen its population grow tenfold, and we behold our IDF in all its might and impenetrability."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Gaza-area kibbutz Kfar Aza spends Shavuot at Degania

 Last update - 08:39 08/06/2008       
Battered by rockets, Gaza-area kibbutz heads north for Shavuot
By Eli Ashkenazi
Two hundred members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, on the border of the Gaza Strip, have been invited to spend the Shavuot holiday in Kibbutz Degania Alef in the northern Jordan Valley. This is the second consecutive year in which the northern kibbutz has hosted Kfar Aza, which lost member Jimmy Kedoshim to mortar fire last month.
"If the option of celebrating at Degania did not exist, I suppose most people would leave here to be with family or friends, or would look for some other solution outside this area," said Kfar Aza member Varda Goldstein. "But we are looking for a solution that will keep people together. That way it's easier to overcome the situation."
Degania Alef, near the Sea of Galilee, spent yesterday preparing to receive their southern guests for the holiday, which starts this evening, including by cleaning and turning every possible space into rooms for the guests to sleep in.
"It's a connection that unfortunately has become a tradition," said Degania Alef secretary Shai Shoshani. "The situation is very difficult. We have the feeling we have already passed a certain point. On one hand, it's heartwarming to help friends from the south, but on the other hand, we would like it to have been under other circumstances. It's painful that right when the wheat is ready to harvest, they are being fired on and threatened. Residents of the Jordan Valley are showing solidarity out of an understanding of the situation that residents of the south are in."
Shoshani said the guests will be fully involved in the local celebration, taking part in the ceremony of the first fruits, the holiday meal and the kibbutz's traditional basketball tournament.
Funding to host the guests came from the Kibbutz Movement, which Goldstein said proves that "there is solidarity in the Kibbutz Movement. In contrast, I feel that the state has abandoned us."
On Friday - after Amnon Rosenberg, also killed in a mortar attack, was buried in Kibbutz Nirim - Kibbutz Movement Secretary General Gavri Bargil urged the government to do something to change the sorry security situation in communities near Gaza. "The mortar shells being fired at the border communities are destroying these communities, which have been left without protection," he said.
Bargil demanded that the cabinet make an immediate decision to either to launch a major military operation in Gaza or agree to a cease-fire with Hamas, whichever would best bring peace and quiet to the area.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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