A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
A collection of the week's news from Israel
Kislev 4, 5761
December 1, 2000
Issue number 302
Wednesday Dec 6, 9:00pm
The public is invited to a joint meeting of the Shul's Israel Action and Bet El Twinning Committees at the Shul to discuss the Shul's response to the current situation in Israel.
Picking a Date For Elections
Following Tuesday night's dramatic announcement by Prime Minister Ehud Barak that he would agree to new elections - "If you want new elections, I am ready," he told the Knesset in mid-debate - the parliamentarians are trying to agree upon a date and an election method. Likud leader Ariel Sharon suspects that Barak is attempting to reach an agreement with the Palestinians in the coming months, and that the new elections should therefore be held as early as possible. "Barak is making every effort to sign any type of agreement with Arafat, so that he can wave the piece of paper at the public during the elections," Sharon said that his party should conduct primaries very soon; a likely challenger for the top party spot currently held by Sharon is front-runner Binyamin Netanyahu, and MKs Silvan Shalom and Limor Livnat may also run. Meretz leader Yossi Sarid said, "I am in favor of giving Ehud Barak, who was chosen by the public for a four-year term, more time to be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians." (A7 Nov 29)
The Rush to Conclude - or Head off - an Agreement
A bill forbidding the head of a minority government from signing diplomatic agreements will be voted on in the Knesset Law Committee next Monday. This would preclude Ehud Barak, who currently heads a government representing two parties and only 32 seats in the Knesset, from signing an agreement with the Palestinians before the next elections. The bill's sponsor, MK Benny Elon (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu), told Arutz-7's Yosef Zalmanson today that although Shas voted against an early presentation of the bill last month, its MKs will vote in favor of it this time. Elon expressed confidence that even if the bill's passage into law takes some time - it must pass three readings after Monday's committee vote - any agreement that Barak signs in the interim will not be approved by the Supreme Court, in light of the ongoing process of legislation. Signs are increasing showing that Barak is in fact striving to reach an agreement. Contacts between Barak's and Arafat's offices are continuing seriously, and PA senior figures say that Barak has hinted that he is willing to make more concessions - including allowing international observers in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shachak, currently serving as Transportation and Tourism Minister, and ex-GSS head Ami Ayalon met Saturday night in Gaza with Yasser Arafat. (arutzsheva.org Nov 29)
PA Refuses to Be Dragged in to Compromise
Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee Mahmoud Abbas, (Abu Mazen), recently made clear - yet again - the Palestinian position on Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the refugees. Following are excerpts of an article he wrote in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, in which he boasts to having rejected one Israeli proposal after another: "In Camp David... [the Israelis] spoke of annexing [not only the Jewish quarter of the Old City, but also the Armenian quarter]. We categorically rejected all of these proposals, and so they dropped the bomb of their demand for sovereignty over the Al-Haram [the Temple Mount]... They also demanded praying privileges [there] for a set number of people per day or per week. We rejected this as well, but we agreed that they could pray next to the [Wailing] Wall... as long as they do not use a Shofar. After the summit they demanded, through mediators, to establish a small synagogue [on the Mount]...
When their proposal was rejected [by us], they proposed that a Muslim state establish an installation on Temple Mount, part of which would be used by the Jews as a synagogue. However, we rejected this proposal as well. Afterwards, they proposed that the sovereignty [over the Temple Mount] be [given] to God and that neither side demand proprietorship. We rejected this proposal... " Regarding the refugees, Abu Mazen makes it clear that the Palestinians will settle for nothing less than the fulfillment of the UN resolution calling for 'achieving a just settlement for the refugee problem;' Israel may and must offer compensation, but only to those who do not wish to return to Israel. Abu Mazen quotes "Israeli new historians" who "prove that the main reason for the exile of the refugees was the premeditated massacres committed by the Zionist organizations in order to empty the land of its inhabitants..." (arutzsheva.org/MEMRI Nov 28)
Knesset Protects Jerusalem
The Knesset voted in favor of the final reading of the Jerusalem Bill Monday. The bill stipulates that a majority of 61 MKs is required to approve any change to the borders of Jerusalem. Likud MK Yehoshua Matza, who sponsored the bill, said that it would head off any attempts by the government to implement the "unprecedented concessions" made by Prime Minister Barak in Jerusalem. (arutzsheva.org Nov 27)
Fund for Kfar Darom
Two of the eight children who were wounded in the Kfar Darom bus bombing last week were officially released from the hospital today - but one of them, Matania Daifani, chose to remain in the hospital with his mother, who was also wounded in the attack. Rachel Hadad returned home. The Boneh family, which lost their daughter/sister Mira Amitai - mother of 4 - in the bombing, visited the wounded in the hospital Monday on their way to an end-of -shiva memorial service in Kfar Darom this afternoon. Doctors at Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva reported that Tehilla Cohen, who lost both her legs (below the knee) in the bombing, is recuperating; her two siblings, Orit and Yisrael, each lost part of their right leg. Communications Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer visited Kfar Darom in Gaza last Friday. He promised to fulfill several of their requests necessary for the continued existence of the town. Education Ministry Director-General Shlomit Amichai also visited, and said she would help to establish a school there, so that the children would not have to travel the dangerous roads to Gush Katif.
The town of Kfar Darom has set up a fund for the families of the victims - including the family of 34-year-old father-of-six Gabi Biton, the Amitai family, the Cohen family, and those of the other wounded children. Donations can be deposited in Bank MaMizrachi, branch #491, account #103681, or written out to "Terror-Victims' Families Fund in Kfar Darom" and mailed to Kfar Darom, M.P. Hof Aza, 79720 Israel. (A7 Nov 23,24,27)
More Violence Expected in North
Sgt. Halil Taher, a Moslem IDF tracker from Acre, was killed Sunday when a heavy roadside bomb, planted by Hizbullah, exploded early this morning in the Mt. Dov region as an IDF patrol jeep passed. Two other soldiers were evacuated to the hospital in moderate condition.Brig.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, Commander of the IDF's Galilee Forces, said that the double bomb was placed, and exploded, between 800 and 900 meters south of the U.N.-approved international border - inside Israeli territory. He said that Israel's retaliatory raid was directed at every place where it was estimated that Hizbullah terrorist activity occurred. Health Minister Roni Milo said that hospitals and health services in the north must prepare themselves for the increased violence that is expected in the near future in the north. (arutzsheva.org Nov 26,27)
IDF General: Palestinians Likely Killed 12-yr.-old Boy
O.C. Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samiyeh said today that it is very likely that Palestinian bullets were those that killed 12-year-old Muhammed Al-Dura almost eight weeks ago. A video clip of his killing - filmed by a French journalist who happened to be there at the time - was broadcast all over the world, and Israel admitted then that its shots may have inadvertently killed the boy. Samiyeh, however, said that an in-depth investigation, including a re-enactment of the scene and computer simulations, show that the boy - who, for an as-yet unexplained reason, was caught in a crossfire - was most likely shot in the back by Palestinians. An earlier investigation by former IDF sniper Yosef Doriel found that the guilty Palestinians most likely stood behind the cameraman. (arutzsheva.org Nov 27)
Israeli Citizen Murdered in Shomron Terrorist Attack
An Israeli citizen was killed last Friday afternoon when Palestinian terrorists, waiting in ambush, shot at his car, east of the Tapuach Junction, between central Shomron and the Jordan Valley. The driver continued driving until the nearest army checkpoint, where he reported what happened and then collapsed. He was treated on the scene, but died shortly afterwards. Minister Dalia Itzik, a defender of the government's policy of restraint, said today, "We must understand that we are in a state of war. However, I think that the motto of the recent days should not be, 'Let the IDF win,' but rather, 'Let common sense win.' MK Rehavam Ze'evi (National Union), however, said yesterday, "Of course in the end we will have to negotiate - but the question is in what position will we be for these negotiations - a position of weakness and defeat, or a position of victory and strength?" The government's security cabinet has rejected, over the past two months, many plans submitted by the IDF General Staff for military actions against the Palestinians. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz met with Yesha Council leaders in Alon Shvut (Gush Etzion) last week, and repeated three times that the army submits plans, but the cabinet rejects them. Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, while visiting the wounded victims of the Hadera bombing, said that there is no point to "hit back" at the Palestinians, and that only solution lies in conducting dialogue with them. (arutzsheva.org Nov 24)
Israel Issues "White Paper" on PA Violations
The Israeli government released last week, as part of its retaliatory actions against the Palestinian Authority for Monday's fatal terrorist bombing of a Kfar Darom school bus, a "White Paper" detailing 60 pages of PA/PLO non-compliance with the Oslo agreements. Excerpts from the document:
"The present wave of violence - led by the Fatah "Tanzim" - is essentially an attempt by Arafat to achieve, through violence, his maximal political goals: and avoid the choices necessary to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion... Instead of responsibility for the welfare of the governed we see him willing to use Palestinian suffering, including the death of children on the frontline (shamelessly exploited)...Ambivalent attitudes towards terrorism, and at times - outright complicity… In the current crisis, P.A. Preventive Security [and] the "Tanzim" (militia) of Arafat's Fatah movement are actively involved in terrorist attacks…Incitement to Hatred - a key element in the current crisis has been the relentless effort to mobilize "the Arab masses and destabilize the region... This comes against the background of a broader pattern of education and public messages, which denigrate the Jews, and reject the possibility of compromise solutions....Criminal activities on a large scale - from car theft to excise tax fraud - take place under P.A. auspices...It should be recalled that the P.L.O. was not an "unknown quantity" when it came into the Peace Process: its institutional record - of terrorism, breach of agreements (with Arab governments - Jordan, Lebanon), and abuse of the "governed" in areas under its control - meant that extensive formal commitments were required - beginning with the pledges given to Prime Minister Rabin prior to the signing of the Declaration of Principles. These, however were often interpreted in a slippery way, or honored only when it was expedient for Arafat and the P.A. to do so...As early as Arafat's own speech on the White House lawn, on September13, 1993, there were indications that for him, the Declaration of Principles [signed that day] did not necessarily signify an end to the conflict… The map of "Palestine" remained as it has always been for him, the entire territory of pre-1948 mandatory Palestine…On various occasions, Arafat continued to use the language of "Jihad"… a clear reference to the violent option. In a eulogy to a Palestinian official on June 15 1995 (at the height of the Oslo Process) he paid homage, among others, to two women terrorists and spoke of the children throwing stones as "the Palestinian Generals."… Of special interest, in this context, are Arafat's repeated references to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, signed by the Prophet Muhammad with his Meccan enemies when they were still stronger than him, and then abandoned (as he conquered the city) within a much shorter time than the Treaty itself warranted. The first such reference made public came shortly after the signing of the Interim agreement, in the "Jihad" speech he made at the Mosque in Johannesburg (obtained by the Jewish community, and broadcast in Israel in May 1994)… The reference to the Hudaybiyyah treaty re-surfaced in 1998, coupled with the warning that "all the options are open to the Palestinian people". (Orbit television, April 18, 1998). In essence, here was a rationale for accepting Oslo and the place at the negotiations, and the various commitments involved, not as the building blocks of trust and cooperation but as temporary measures, to be shed off when circumstances allow...In a speech (documented on video) to a forum in Nablus in January 1996 - again, at a time when the negotiations were going forward - Nabil Sha'ath described the strategy in terms which then sounded unrealistic, but now ring familiar: "We decided to liberate our homeland step-by-step... Should Israel continue - no problem. And so, we honor the peace treaties and non-violence... if and when Israel says "enough"... in that case it is saying that we will return to violence. But this time it will be with 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers and in a land with elements of freedom... If we reach a dead end we will go back to our war and struggle like we did forty years ago"....[There is now within the PA] the collapse of all existing commitments, and the systematic creation - day by day, week by week - of an atmosphere of raw emotions, fear and hatred, in pursuit of a general Palestinian and Pan-Arab mobilization. All of this is not only in breach of the clearly stated commitments offered at the beginning of the Oslo process, but also in obvious, at times blatant, rejection of the understandings reached at the recent Sharm al-Sheikh Summit."
The document lists specific examples of Palestinian non-compliance in the areas of incitement and the perpetuation of hatred, violence against Israel, complicity in terrorism, the size of the Palestinian police, foreign relations, economic breaches (such as not paying debts to Israeli companies), invading and building in area C, where it has no legal jurisdiction, criminal activity under PA auspices, failure to protect holy places, and more. (A7/IMRA Nov 24)
IDF Officer and Soldier Killed by Palestinians
Two fatal terrorist attacks claimed Israeli lives last Thursday. The first attack involved a grenade thrown from a Palestinian area into the N'vei Dekalim DCO (District Coordinating Office), at which Israeli and Palestinian security personnel are supposed to work together. Lt. Eduard Mechnik of Be'er Sheva, was killed, and two soldiers were lightly injured. Two hours later, at the Erez Checkpoint, also in Gaza, a bomb explosion killed one soldier, Corp. Samr Hussein of the northern Druze village of Hurfeish, and critically injured another. (arutzsheva.org Nov 23)
Golan Drivers Volunteer in Gaza
Twenty bus drivers from the Golan have volunteered to replace their colleagues in Gush Katif for a week, in light of the difficult security situation there. Five drivers at a time will spend a week in Katif, while their colleagues from the south - and their families - will be hosted as guests of the Golan Regional Council, with a full program planned for them. Uzi Mordechai, one of the drivers and the head of the Golan Council Labor Union, told Arutz-7, "We wish in this way to show our solidarity with the drivers of Katif, and Yesha as well, during these difficult times." (arutzsheva.org Nov 23)
Mass Rally Demands: "Let the IDF Win!"
Over 100,000 people gathered at Zion Square in Jerusalem last Wednesday night to protest the government's policy of restraint. "Let the IDF Win!" the protestors repeatedly chanted. Rabbi Moti Elon told the cheering throngs, "The People of Israel are strong! If its leaders are weak, then they should go home - because the people have more strength than they do! ... We are often asked, 'What is the alternative?' The answer is that the alternative is right here - all these people all around here. Am Yisrael Chai! ... Some people want us to evacuate our children from these places. But I just spoke to Nogah Cohen, whose three children are hospitalized in Be'er Sheva after the school bus bombing, and she asked me to relay this message: We will not leave here!" (arutzsheva.org Nov 23)
Our Strength Is Being Sapped from Within By Israel Harel
All the wars forced on us since we achieved independence have taken place, for the most part, far from the main centers of population. Then came the Oslo prophets of peace, who gave PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat about 40,000 weapons, bringing the war to our doorstep - and it's not impossible that at least some of them foresaw what was coming. The enemy has returned to within bullet range of Jerusalem, and doesn't hesitate to shoot; and to within the range of mortar shells or Katyushas - which will also be launched eventually - of Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.Israel, which is in thrall to the concept of the "partner," does not have the emotional fortitude to end the war which every day ignites, in addition to buses carrying Jewish schoolchildren, the bonfire of Arab solidarity with the Palestinians. Arafat today, like the Mufti of Jerusalem in 1948, has succeeded in galvanizing the masses, as well as demanding of Arab rulers that they wage a holy war against Israel. And if the war of attrition continues, we are likely to find ourselves, as the chief of staff has warned, in a regional war, exactly like the one which broke out when we declared our independence in 1948.
But this time, even though Israel has overwhelming military superiority, certainly over the Palestinians, the fact is that victory is not within reach. One of the reasons is that there are powers, most of which are internal, that are making us scared and confused, and are boosting, in some cases deliberately, the motivation and the determination of the Palestinians. These powers, which in the past, especially in the pre-state period, were negligible and had little influence, have with time acquired, through diligence and perseverance, positions of considerable influence.
And today, even when confronted with the price in blood, they don't tire of explaining, unfortunately with success, the aims, and especially the just demands, of the Palestinian side. They are of course "sorry" about the casualties and about the children who have lost limbs, and "send condolences to the families." But if the children had not been there, preached author A.B. Yehoshua, they would not have been hurt. The voices of such people of authority and influence are convincing Fatah military leader Mohammed Dahlan to continue exploding mines. There will come a time when the voice of Yehoshua, as happened with the Four Mothers, who advocated withdrawal from Lebanon, becomes the dominant voice and dictates to Prime Minister Ehud Barak which way to run.
Seven years ago, in a widely publicized campaign, A.B. Yehoshua tried to convince the settlers to stay where they were. Someone who loves his country, he then preached, does not leave it just because there has been a change in sovereignty.
If, God forbid, this war should end in defeat, as did the first Intifada and the Lebanon war, it won't be because of the power or the righteousness of those who launch mortar shells at buses carrying schoolchildren. It will be because of the delusion of A.B. Yehoshua and others of his ilk, who cannot give up the fundamentalist, messianic belief that peace is within reach (the only thing left to do is to remove the few remaining obstacles, the settlements). And a defeat this time would perhaps be more fateful than the previous ones. This delusion tests, on an hourly basis, like some foolish and blinded lover, the intentions of the exploitative and evasive "partner." In the morning, after some "positive" disinformation, usually home-grown, it becomes euphoric, and in the evening, after an attack, it goes into depression. And it blames the victims - that, if you will, is the new Jewish morality - for their own deaths.
It is a delusion which will not, for example, accept the fact that the Mohammed Dahlan on whose orders women and children are murdered is the real Dahlan, rather than the man it embraced for the past seven years, and invited to join the debates in its strategic research institutes. And as long as there is no mental change on the part of those who harbor this delusion (and it is doubtful whether such a change can take place in someone who believes, as a religious person believes in God, that concessions to Arafat and his cronies will bring peace), Jewish children will continue to be killed and their parents, rather than their killers, will be held responsible for their deaths.
The Israelis, like their Palestinian "partners," are adopting the doctrine of stages, backward. The Arabs, in order to get back their rights and identity, are fighting in order to annex Jewish territory, in stages; to damage the components of Jewish independence and justice - and as a result to weaken Israeli objections (there are already some initial successes) to inundating the country with hundreds of thousands of returning Arab refugees.
And in order to accommodate the Arabs, some of the Jews have adopted an opposite doctrine of stages: To give up, piece by piece, parts of the homeland and the remainder of our heritage, of Jewish identity and of Zionism. We should not be surprised, therefore, that an influential movement like Peace Now has stooped to the low of publishing an ad in the Palestinian press blaming the settlements for all the present problems of the Palestinians. And this is an inevitable outcome of the present period of eclipse and of the loss of any feeling of solidarity, especially since the time we started to be idol worshipers and to worship the imaginary peace (Haaretz Nov 23)
A lot of readers don't seem to warm to me. My last column on the Middle East ("Peace never had a chance," Oct. 30) occasioned a slightly woebegone e-mail from one of my editors saying rather a lot of people had taken offence. Only one, he wrote, had shown support. Most negative comments were from Muslims or Arabs.
After 23 years as a Maclean's columnist, a series of editors has suffered my views and permitted me freedom to voice them within normal boundaries of taste, libel and defamation. Boundaries, incidentally, which are less rigorously observed by some others. Ms. Shashina Siddiqui, co-ordinator of community relations, Manitoba Islamic Association, Winnipeg, wrote to Maclean's that I had "demonstrated yet again [my] blatant contempt and seething hatred for the Palestinian and Arab people, in particular, and Muslims in general." Mr. Bahija Reghai of Ottawa felt that Maclean's should be reminded that "freedom of expression is not a licence [for me] to promote hatred or dehumanize." I felt like the Grinch who had stolen Christmas -- or Ramadan.
It's true I don't know very many Muslims, though just to rub it in I must point out that I shall be spending American Thanksgiving this week as a guest at what promises to be a terrific party in Paris thrown by a very prominent Muslim family together with a number of other people who pray facing Mecca and who actually know my views on the Middle East. Little as I know about Islam, I not only respect it, but probably know more about it than Talmud & Torah.
Meanwhile, I've decided to take Mr. Reghai seriously. "If this is not bigotry and incitement to hatred and racism," he asked, "what is?" I could feel the hot and heavy breathing of a human rights commission at my neck. But he asked a question; let's answer him. What is racism? Herewith, some excerpts from the Muslim and Arabic press, courtesy of translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington. They will illustrate my original point, that peace in the Middle East is profoundly difficult to achieve given the present climate in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Also, for Canadians who unthinkingly use phrases such as "hate literature," here is a typical sampling of the "moderate" Arab press. I found some of these newspapers in culturally sensitized Toronto -- not sealed in cellophane or even on the top shelves:
Al-Akhbar (an official Egyptian government paper), Aug. 9. In an op-ed piece titled the "Judaisation of America," its editor, Jalal Duweidar, wrote about the selection of Joe Lieberman as the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket: "The United States is now passing from the stage of indirect Judaisation of America to the stage of direct and open Judaisation. . . . In this decision, Al Gore revealed his ugly face, closing the circle of submission begun by Clinton when he gave all the important strategic positions in his administration to American Jews."
Al-Quds Al-Arabi (a London-based daily), Aug. 14: Lieberman is "the only person who can collect from the Jews the donations needed for Gore's campaign and influence the media, which is controlled by the Jews, in Gore's favour."
Al-Wafd (an Egyptian opposition newspaper), Aug. 9. Editor Abbas Al-Tarabili writes: "The goal of international Zionism is to rule the world. Therefore, if Gore and Lieberman succeed, the road will be paved for the realization of the Zionist dream . . . then after a longer or shorter period, through 'the Angel of Death' or otherwise, Gore will die or be removed and suddenly America will find itself with his Zionist deputy Lieberman as master of the White House."
Meanwhile in Syria, myths about the Jews appear on a regular basis. In the English language daily Syria Times, on Sept. 6, the well-known author Mohammad Daoud wrote: "History has not witnessed a people who have mastered lying, dodgery and mythmaking such as the Israelis," and "Their most famous myth is that of the so-called Holocaust." The Syrian Arab Writers' Association weekly Al-'Usbu' Al-Adabi has a dandy list starting with the one about the Israeli HIV-positive girls spreading AIDS deliberately in Egypt. Then there's the Zionist gifts for Arab children -- animal-shaped chewing gum that causes sterility.
My own favourite is an op-ed article in Al-Ahram, Egypt's leading official paper, which claims that the Talmud forbids Jews to go into holy cities without first eating a matzo made with the blood of Palestinians. "The bestial drive to knead Passover matzos with the blood of non-Jews," wrote widely respected columnist 'Adel Hamooda last Oct. 28, "is confirmed in the records of the Palestinian police where there are many recorded cases of the bodies of Arab children who had disappeared being found torn to pieces without a single drop of blood."
I would never recommend prosecuting Canadian shops that carry Mr.Hamooda's wretched drivel. But those people who think that this is mere rhetoric and that it is just written for effect should stop and ask themselves, to what effect? If Maclean's were to run pictures of naked girls to increase its readership, the fact that the editors of Maclean's didn't really approve of this would make scant difference in describing the tastes and values of the readers they were catering to. So, go on, give me your best argument, but if this is just heated rhetoric for regional consumption, then send me your best recipes for blood matzos and we'll all march to the ovens together. (Maclean's Nov 27)
By Aluf Benn
Prime Minister Ehud Barak unveiled a sharp turnaround in his peace policy yesterday. Throughout his political career, Barak has advocated an end to the method of interim agreements. His goal was a permanent settlement with the Palestinians that would declare "an end to the conflict." Anything less, he said, would force Israel to cede precious territorial assets without receiving anything of value in exchange. Yesterday, his tone changed. At a One Israel Knesset faction meeting, Barak called for either a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians or a gradual permanent settlement that would leave the hard issues for the future. The demand for "an end to the conflict," without which Barak had previously said he would not make a deal, has been shelved.
Barak has consistently opposed the "salami tactics" of the Oslo accords. He abstained in the vote on the interim agreement signed by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and he called prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "fool" for signing the Wye Agreement, which gave the Palestinians 13 percent of the West Bank. As prime minister, he ignored the warnings of Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon and Yossi Sarid, who all said the gaps were too wide for a permanent settlement, and he should therefore set more modest goals. Even after he returned from the Camp David summit empty-handed, he continued to speak of a comprehensive agreement.
Barak explained his latest zigzag by saying that Yasser Arafat is "not ripe" for a permanent settlement. This statement is an admission that his policy has failed. Two months into the Al Aqsa Intifada, Arafat has racked up two important achievements. He has frustrated the Camp David plan, in which Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton tried to force him to sign a permanent agreement with no right of return and no Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount. The interim agreement Barak is now proposing will give him his state, plus a stronger basis for future claims on Jerusalem and the right of return. Second, Israel has signaled that in exchange for quiet in the territories, it would accept international observers. (Ha'aretz Nov 28)
Israel's political left wing is down but not out. The most fervent adherents of the peace process have been reeling since Palestinian Authority leader -- and would-be "peace partner" -- Yasser Arafat spiked Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's incredibly generous offer at Camp David this past July. Arafat compounded their discomfort by launching a war of attrition in September.
The hurt and humiliation felt by longtime Israeli peace-now advocates at this turn of events is palpable. Leading politicians, activists and writers have all played the spurned lover as Arafat steadfastly continues to refuse to reciprocate their desire for a New Middle East.
But rather than focus its anger on the bloody policies of Arafat or on the consensus within Palestinian society that coexistence with Israel is impossible, the Jewish left has returned to a favorite target: Jewish settlers.
Though the original founders of the Land of Israel movement in the aftermath of the Six-Day War were just as likely to be kibbutzniks as right-wingers, that has changed. The face of the settlement movement is now virtually interchangeable with that of the right-wing, nationalist, Orthodox, knitted-kippah wearers.
In the 1970s and '80s, the settlers were much admired in Israeli society; they were seen as evoking the pioneer spirit and selfless courage of the early Zionists who built Israel. But in the years since Oslo, the settlers have become more and more a target of resentment as their stubborn refusal to give up their belief that the land belongs to the Jewish people was seen as an obstacle to peace.
Though their numbers have grown to more than 200,000 Jews living in communities, large and small, throughout Judea and Samaria, and most of their homes are in strategic blocs adjacent to pre-1967 Israel, the settlers are now an unpopular minority. Considered out of step with the consumerist spirit of Israeli culture, they were seen as relics of a conflict that was soon to be officially over.
But Arafat's new war has placed these people on the front lines of Israel's latest war of survival. The men, women and children of the settlements are now the No. 1 targets of Arafat's legion of gun-toting Tanzim and other armed Palestinian groups who hope to turn a siege of these Israeli towns and villages into the next great triumph of Palestinian nationalism.
That point has been made clearly in the last two weeks with a series of bloody terrorist attacks on the Jews of the settlements. A mother of five was shot down in cold blood in a terrorist ambush while driving to her home in Samaria from Jerusalem. Two Israelis were killed and nine others, including five children, were wounded in a bomb attack against a school bus carrying children, parents and teachers to an elementary school in a settlement in Gaza. Three of the wounded Jewish youngsters (all siblings) had their arms or legs partially amputated.
Ironically, the Palestinian decision to turn their guns on the settlers has also made them the No. 1 political targets for Israel's left. The new tactic adopted by the pro-Oslo forces in Israeli politics is to change the topic from Arafat's betrayal of Israel's hopes for peace to a discussion of the theory that uprooting the settlers would revive the negotiations.
Their hope is to create enough political momentum for this idea to keep Barak from giving up on his plans to evacuate the settlements, a plan of action that has been rendered virtually moot by Arafat's decision for war instead of peace.
This theme was sounded in a New York Times article last week by Deborah Sontag called "Should Israel Sacrifice Its Hopes for Peace for Settlers?"(Oct. 15). That article set a new record for bias in a headline, but it was echoed by a similar piece heard the same week on National Public Radio, whose reporters' antipathy for settlers outdid even that of the Times.
Yet rather than Israel sacrificing its hopes for the settlers, what is happening now is that it is the settlers themselves who are being sacrificed. In fact, sources in Israel have told me that many of these towns are being left without the defensive equipment -- such as night-vision goggles and flak vests -- that their reservist inhabitants need to defend their families.
Instead of waiting for the Israel Defense Forces to give them the equipment, some American Jews are stepping into the breach and privately paying for it. It is true that some of the settlements, especially in Gaza, appear to be militarily indefensible, making them a danger to both to their inhabitants and their IDF protectors. But most are not. Though some settlements, like the enclave in the middle of Hebron, are hot spots where the Jews are sometimes blamed for violence, the notion of the settlers as the source of violence is just plain wrong. Most of the settlements actually get along with their Arab neighbors.
Yet, even if every Jewish settlement magically disappeared tomorrow, does anyone really believe that would mark the end of Palestinian demands? Remember, Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which are home to tens of thousands of ordinary Jews, are also considered "settlements" by the Palestinians. Israel's "hopes for peace"aren't being sacrificed by the settlers. They have already been destroyed by Arafat. But that has not prevented a wave of anti-settler propaganda from being unleashed by the Jewish left. That is unfortunate, because even a left-wing pundit like the Jerusalem Report's Hirsch Goodman has admitted that giving up even the Gaza settlements in the face of Arafat's war would be a disaster. It would, Goodman told CBS'"Sixty Minutes"show, only whet Arafat's appetite for further retreats that Israel's people would regret.
As long as Arafat's forces and their allies are targeting Jewish children for death, verbal assaults on the settlers should be off-limits. Even the label "settler"sometimes seems as if it is just a label used by journalists and others to dehumanize the Jews who live there. It's as if saying that a "settler" was killed in a terrorist attack makes it easier to take than saying an Israeli or a Jew was murdered, for we have been trained by the left and much of the media to believe that somehow the "settler"deserved that fate. Indeed, the animus directed towards the settlers seems at times to be a case of Israel internalizing the hatred directed at it by the Arabs.
And even though the settlers'Land of Israel ideology has run out of steam, surely, most Israeli and Diaspora Jews must also still be reluctant to ethnically cleanse Jews from biblical sites like Shilo, where Jewish history began.
For Israel to get through this latest episode, it must be made clear to the Palestinians that the blood of the Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as Jerusalem, should be considered no less dear to us than our own. Making the settlers into the scapegoats for Oslo's failure is playing right into Arafat's hand. That's a mistake both Israel and American Jewry should avoid at all (JewishWorldReview.com Nov 28)
The writer is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.
The Western Oleh living in Israel faces a myriad of challenges in his absorption adventure: Culture Gap, Language Gap, the Employment Shuffle, Sticker Shock (especially on new cars!), the Rudeness Factor. Not to mention semi-regular strikes, power outages and traffic snarls, as well as the ever-popular Disappearing Shekel Trick.
Add to this list the Phone Call From Home. You know the one I mean: Family or friends calling - with true desperation in their voices - trying to cajole, convince or coerce us to give up this "madness" and return "home." There, they trumpet, we will reclaim our well-paying jobs, embrace lovesick relatives, raise our children in safety and security, and lead the normal lives human beings were meant to lead.
In times of stress or crisis, these calls take on an exaggerated urgency. Some callers dangle the carrot, offering to set us up in business, or even to buy us a home if we come back. Others prefer to wield the stick, skewering us with guilt for driving them mad with worry, or expressing anger at us for having deserted family or community, endangering ourselves and our unsuspecting children. One parent I know went so far as to threaten to take his children out of his will unless they returned "his" grandchildren to the bosom of American life and leisure.
To be sure, much of this concern is well intentioned and quite understandable. After all, our family loves us and wants the best for us, and genuinely fears for our safety. And considering that America and Europe gets much of its news of the Middle East from CNN and its ilk, who would NOT be a basket case? These malicious media manipulators - willing to accept Palestinian lies at face value and feed them whole to the public - delight in portraying Israel and the Jews in the worst possible light, magnifying the situation and making it seem as if the entire country is under siege; that we cannot walk out of our homes for fear of being brutally murdered. More than once, I have been awakened in the middle of the night by an hysterical call from abroad asking if we are OK, the caller scared half to death by something he had just seen on the news. More often than not, that is the first I've heard of the event.
But - beyond being woken up! - I find these calls, and the message they send, very troubling. For one thing, they imply that, for a Western Oleh, Israel is not really "home." This implication plays directly into the hands of our Palestinian adversaries, who insist that the Jews are a foreign, alien unnatural body in the midst of the Middle East, who must be purged and sent packing - dead or alive - to wherever they came from. The Palestinians like to compare us Jews to the Crusaders - hostile invaders from afar, who hung around for a few centuries until they were finally expelled by the "true" inhabitants of the land. To support this position, the Palestinians deny our historical heritage in Eretz Yisrael, going so far as to accuse us of "planting" falsified archeological evidence of our unbroken, four-thousand year presence here. At the same time, they are busy inventing their own historical data, fabricating claims of an ancient "Palestinian" presence in the region, complete with dress, language and culture. Any unbiased student of history knows that our claim to Israel is a reality, grounded in fact and verifiable proof, while their claims are absolute hogwash made up of equal parts propaganda and poppycock. But every time a well-meaning loved one bids us to come "home," the lie is reinforced and the propaganda strengthened.
The truth, of course, is that a Jew in Israel IS home: If history has proven anything, it is that Jewish life in the DIASPORA is unnatural, and unalterably doomed to failure, sooner or later.
But I bristle at another, more subtle assumption of the Midnight Caller. It suggests that we Jews living here are the NEBUCHS of the family, pioneering but poor souls under the gun who are to be pitied by those "more fortunate" Jews living in the West. In this mindset, we are the "sad sisters" across the ocean, in need of constant succor and support, driven by some unfathomable idealism to lead lives of hardship in a hardscrabble land. And, apparently, it is the God-given duty of every caring Jew to ease our lot by trying to save us from our fate.
So let's clear this up once and for all: We are neither misguided, misinformed nor masochistic; we know exactly what we are doing. WE are the ones in the forefront of Jewish history, no one else; WE are the culmination of all the struggles and wanderings of a People destined to one day reclaim a Land and a Destiny. We who live here fulfill the Torah with a fullness unattainable in the Diaspora - a fact accentuated in this Shmita year. Our sons who serve in the IDF - particularly those religious boys who carry the sword AND sefer - are the TZADIKEI HADOR, the righteous elite of the generation. We have nothing to apologize for nor to be ashamed of. Quite the opposite: We walk tall, with a merit that should be worn like the shiniest medal; for we have been blessed to realize the Impossible Dream that fueled our nation's survival throughout the millennia: A Jewish People on Jewish soil living a Jewish way of life.
So, dear friends, accept these words, which reflect no recrimination or rancor. Call us, visit us, care about us - please. But do not patronize or pity us; do not deprecate our life-choice, or cast aspersions on our sagacity or savvy. Rather, encourage us and help us in our determination to wage our noble struggle. For, in the final analysis, we do not stand alone; we represent you, and every Jew who lives, or has ever lived. (Jerusalem Post Nov 29)
The writer is the Director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.