Israel News

A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

February 2, 2001   -   9 Shvat 5761
Issue number 311

News...

Barak Compares Yesha to Lebanon

Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday night, "Peace is within our grasp... Just like we knew how to withdraw from and draw a line in Lebanon, we will know how to bring our boys back from Judea and Samaria!" He had planned to visit Shomron [Samaria] Wednesday, for the first time in a long while, but local residents refused to meet with him and pressured him not to come. The plan was for Barak to meet with and promise residents in Ofrah that their town would not be dismantled, and then, further north in the small community of Kadim, stoically break the news that there was no choice but to give away the residents' homes for the sake of peace. Yesha Council head Benny Kashriel stated in response that the nation would not permit Barak to "sell out Jews as he did the Christians in Lebanon." Shlomo Filber, General Secretary of the Yesha Council, explained to Arutz-7 why he objected to Barak's plan: "When they start working in such secrecy and trickiness, it starts turning on alarm bells. There was a series of signals: First Barak's aides called [the people of] Kadim, in a very secret and mysterious manner, and said that they would like to meet with them, and then they added that they shouldn't tell anyone but possibly Ehud would come too... Then they called the Hershkovitz family [in the midst of the traditional week of mourning for their father and husband Aryeh, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on Monday], and asked if they could come¼ Then we saw that some reporters knew about a visit by Barak. We realized that Barak needs some kind of major 'bomb' for the weekend polls to be taken tonight, and we saw that he is talking about 'returning the boys home from Yesha' - so we decided that if this is his campaign gimmick, we don't work for him and we don't want to be involved in his campaign¼ If Barak really wanted to meet with us, he could have come any time in the last four months during which we have been in mortal danger¼ Barak's campaign managers decided that they need an authentic background against which he can tell the nation that we have to run away from here - he wants to come and stand on a Shomron hilltop and tell the nation how we have to run away just like we did from Lebanon. And if he wants to come to Ofrah and promise the nation again that Ofrah will remain ours forever, then it's worth about as much as if he would promise not to divide Jerusalem¼" (arutzsheva.org Jan 31)

Palestinians Continue to Shoot and Bomb

If during the Taba talks there was relative quiet, it can now be said that the Palestinian war is most definitely back - and it may yet get worse. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz told a group of soldiers Tuesday that he foresees an escalation in Palestinian aggression in Judea and Samaria, and particularly in Gaza, over the coming weeks. He said that the Jewish towns Netzarim, Morag, and Kfar Darom in Gaza have become a symbol for the Palestinians, who will make every effort to strike at them. The events of Tuesday night and Wednesday seemed to underline his warning: The Arabs detonated a bomb near the Kisufim crossing on the Gaza Strip border early this morning; IDF soldiers nearby were not hurt... Also Wednesday, near the village of Silwad north of Ofrah, Palestinians shot and hit a passing Israeli car; the lone passenger - a N'vei Tzuf resident - was not hurt. This was the 5th attempted terrorist attack in that spot in the past weeks... For the first time, Arabs shot a mortar shell into Netzarim Tuesday night; it hit and damaged a house, but no one was hurt... Shots were fired at IDF outposts in Gaza; no one was hurt, and IDF soldiers returned fire... Palestinians fired twice in Shomron Tuesday night, once at N'vei Tzuf, and once towards Bezek Camp; no one was hurt... Also Tuesday night, a three-month-old baby was hurt when rocks were thrown at her family's car on the Trans-Samaria Highway east of Ariel; she was taken to Beilinson Hospital for treatment. (arutzsheva.org Jan 31)

Taba Talks End, Abu Ala Threatens War

Six days of intensive talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Taba came to an end last Saturday night with a short joint declaration by the sides. At a press conference featuring Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and PA official Abu Ala (PA Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei), Ben-Ami said that Israel and the PLO are now "closer than ever before" to signing a final peace agreement, but that more could not be done so soon before the Prime Ministerial election. Abu Ala said he felt good about the talks, but that major gaps still exist on the issue of pre-1948 Arab refugees and the question of their right to return to homes they abandoned during the Arab-initiated War of Independence. When asked how the Palestinians would take a victory by Ariel Sharon, he said, "If Sharon wishes to continue the negotiations, this will be fine, but if not, we will continue the struggle for our goals using all means." Barak told the Cabinet Sunday that the main achievement of the Taba talks was that for the first time, the Palestinians had agreed to allow Yesha settlement blocs to remain in place. He said that an agreement could not be achieved because the PA agreed only that 50-60% of the Jewish residents would remain, while Barak has always insisted on at least 80%. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman, however, said that the Palestinians made a similar "concession" at Camp David last July. "In any event," added Huberman, "the Palestinians do not agree to settlement 'blocs,' as promised by Barak, but rather settlement 'enclaves,' connected to mainland Israel only by a strip as wide as the highway leading to them." (arutzsheva.org Jan 28)

In Taba Ehud Barak's negotiators agreed to compensate the Arab refugees not only for their loss of property, but also for what was termed "the years of suffering of the Palestinian refugees." The Barak team also agreed to cede Bet El and Ofrah to the Palestinians, contrary to Barak's specific promises of last year. Another aspect of the Taba talks involves the construction of a new Palestinian city in the sands of Halutza, southeast of Gaza. Ma'ariv reports today that the Palestinians had agreed that refugees would only be allowed into the Palestinian state-to-be-created, and that Israel would help build them a new city or two in Halutza. Ramat HaNegev Council Head Shmuel Rifman, a Labor party member, wrote to Prime Minister Barak that he "cannot support a Prime Minister who has led me astray for the last several months." Rifman said he wrote the letter after learning that Barak has in fact made an offer of a Halutza city to the Palestinians. Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian negotiating team denied the reports, however, and said that the PA had rejected all Israeli plans regarding Halutza. "Only minor issues were agreed upon in this matter, nothing worth relating to," Erekat said. (arutzsheva.org Jan 31)

Editorials in both Ma'ariv and Ha'aretz Monday aver that the joint declaration following the Taba talks showed that the Palestinians understood too late that Ariel Sharon is likely to become Israel's Prime Minister next week. Regarding the optimism expressed by Barak and Ben-Ami to the effect that "we have never been closer to a final agreement," Ma'ariv writes, "When someone 1,000 kilometers away from you moves one centimeter in your direction, it is possible to say that he has never been closer to you..." Ha'aretz ridicules Justice Minister Yossi Beilin's comment that negotiators would need only another two weeks of work after the elections to complete the agreement, and writes, " A more sober and honest assessment of the last week of negotiations would yield a simple, sad truth: the last minute, pre-election effort to reach an agreement¼ failed because the differences over the core issues - right of return, Jerusalem, borders and security arrangements - were not settled." (arutzsheva.org Jan 29)

Sharon's Lead Remains Steady

The gap remains. A Dachaf-Yediot Acharonot poll shows that Ariel Sharon continues to lead Ehud Barak by the same margin by which he has been leading for the past ten days: 16%. The survey shows that 50% support Sharon, compared to 34% for Barak; both of them have gained 4% in the past ten days at the expense of the "undecideds." A Smith-Jerusalem Post poll shows the margin to be 49 to 27, or a 22% lead for Sharon. An editorial in Ma'ariv today states that the wide and steady gap in the polls show that, "from Barak's point-of-view, only a miracle or a desperate maneuver ? like replacing Barak with Peres ? could, perhaps, prevent Ariel Sharon's victory... The size and durability of the gap attests that something very fundamental is taking place in Israeli society: the shattering of the Oslo dream... Those voting for Sharon include not only those who have been disappointed by Barak, but also - and mainly - those who are disillusioned with Oslo. They have understood that the great concessions Barak made to the Palestinians are actually only the introduction to new uncompromising demands." A group of Labor party members calling for Barak to step down from the race in favor of Shimon Peres is renewing its activities. A spokesman said that it suspended its operations last week in order to enable Barak to improve in the polls, but since this did not happen, it has no choice but to work again for the switch. The group plans a "surprise" for tomorrow evening. The deadline for Peres to switch Barak is Friday morning, 7 AM. (arutzsheva.org Jan 31)

Ofrah Victim of Terror

Aryeh Hershkovitz of Ofrah was murdered Monday night by Palestinian terrorists on the Ramallah by-pass highway, near the A-Ram junction in northern Jerusalem. He is survived by his wife, five children, and four grandchildren. Mateh Binyamin Regional Council head Pinchas Wallerstein said Tuesday, "Based on the information we currently have, the murderers are members of Yasser Arafat's personal Force 17." Yonatan Ben-Ami of Beit El, who was in the car with Hershkovitz, recounted that about 150 meters east of the A-Ram turnoff to Binyamin, a car overtook them and fired the fatal shots. "I was hurt by shrapnel," he told Arutz-7, "but miraculously nothing more than that - even though the car swerved off the road into a ditch. I tried to call for help, but there was no cell-phone reception there. Several Arabs stopped and helped me remove him from the car, and one of them tried to revive him, but it was too late." Ofrah's Rabbi Avi Gisser was first to speak at his funeral, and said, "Again we are gathered here for yet another funeral, and we no longer have strength for more eulogies¼ He was a family man, a man of action, a man who served in the IDF for many years, a man who believed in G-d, in his people, who awaited Redemption¼" The victim's daughter and 11-year-old son also spoke. (arutzsheva.org Jan 30)

Father of Five, Murdered Returning From Work

Akiva Pachkoz, 45, of Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem was shot and murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the Atarot industrial zone in northern Jerusalem last Thursday evening, minutes after having dropped off some of his Arab workers at a nearby intersection. Pachkoz is survived by his wife Bilhah and five children, aged 3 to 21; one son will be Bar Mitzvah two months from now. (A7 Jan 26)

Barak Claims to Still Have Red Lines

Barak, meeting with his Cabinet Sunday, underscored his government's remaining red lines: "We cannot allow the return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel, period¼ I will not sign any document that transfers sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians¼ The Western Wall, the Mt. of Olives, the City of David (to the east of the Temple Mount), [the area newly known as] the Holy Crescent [around the Old City to the north and east], and the Archaeological Park [adjacent to the Western Wall] will all be under Israeli sovereignty." (A7 Jan 28)

Scare-Tactics in Barak Campaign

Another dramatic campaign gimmick by the Barak team may have backfired. It sent out 600,000 envelopes very similar to those in which emergency military orders are usually sent; before the recipients could recover from the shock at ostensibly being "called up" for unlimited army service, they opened the envelope to find campaign literature explaining that Sharon's election would increase the chances of war - and their reception of emergency orders. However, Arutz-7 has learned that secret army databases were apparently used for the mailing; Capt. (res.) Ya'ir Perchik said that his "orders" were sent to a secondary address that he supplied only to the army. Elections Committee Chairman Hon. Mishael Heshin issued a restraining order on Tuesday forbidding One Israel to continue sending the mock "orders." Likud Prime Ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon will be busy with something in addition to the election next week. He will be attending the brit milah - ritual circumcision ceremony - of his twin grandsons who were born to his son Gilad on Tuesday. If all goes well, the ceremony will take place on their eighth day of life, namely, next Tuesday, Election Day. (arutzsheva.org Jan 30)

New Jewish Commercial Presence in Moslem Quarter

Another Jewish presence was launched in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City Monday: a store. A small group of Peace Now demonstrators attempted, unsuccessfully, to disrupt the dedication ceremony. The store is to be a small grocery and snack stop for the benefit of soldiers and visitors on their way to the Western Wall. It is being sponsored by the "Life (Chaim) in Jerusalem" organization, which was founded in memory of Chaim Kerman, a student of the Quarter's Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim and a local resident who was murdered there two years ago. Jewish tenants are also scheduled to take up residence in a nearby apartment soon. (arutzsheva.org Jan 30)

Meimad: No Position on Barak

The left-wing religious Zionist party Meimad - a partner in the One Israel coalition - decided last night to refrain from a public endorsement of Ehud Barak. The compromise decision may have prevented a split in the party; Rabbi Yehuda Gilad had threatened to join the National Religious Party if Barak had received Meimad's endorsement. Party leader Rabbi Yehuda Amital said, "The partnership between Meimad and One Israel is dead;" the final straw was apparently Barak's recent campaign ad in which he promised public transportation on Sabbath, civil marriages, and the like. Government Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, on the other hand, said that Meimad must not make a decision that would help Sharon get elected. (arutzsheva.org Jan 30)

Sharon Meets with Americans

Ariel Sharon, if elected Prime Minister next week, will not allow the Palestinian Authority to take over more territory in Judea and Samaria than it now controls. In a meeting with the members of the U.S. House Foreign Relations subcommittee yesterday, Sharon predicted that Arafat intends to wage an extended war of attrition against Israel. "The meeting was called by the Americans," Zalman Shoval - who also participated - told Arutz-7 today. In a memorandum submitted by Sharon outlining some of his positions, Sharon wrote, "In the event of a unilateral declaration of a state by Arafat, we will view this as the nullification of the Oslo, Wye, and Camp David understandings." Sharon also emphasized that no Yesha settlements will be uprooted. Shoval, a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and currently serving as the manager of Sharon's international campaign, was asked how the Americans reacted to this declaration, and answered, "I'll tell you how they reacted when he told them that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish People, under Israeli sovereignty. The Chairman [Rep. Benjamin Gilman] said, 'And it will be that way forever.'" Sharon met today with residential leaders of the Golan Heights, promising them that he would preserve the Golan, and that he would continue to make every effort to strengthen the area. He was not asked, nor did he volunteer to say, whether he would agree to any sort of compromise on the Golan with the Syrians. The residents expressed satisfaction with the meeting and with Sharon's candidacy. (A7 Jan 29)

Left Leans Toward No-Unity

A national-unity government was the talk of the political arena this week: Who will or will not establish or join such a government after the upcoming election? Prime Minister Barak said Monday that he will neither form nor join such a government, saying that such talk "camouflages the extremist nature" of a government led by Ariel Sharon. At least one of his party colleagues, however - Communications Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer - said that if Barak wins, he will invite the Likud to join the government. Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg (Labor) also said today that no party can afford to rule out a unity government in advance. Meretz leader MK Yossi Sarid demands, however, that Barak make it patently clear that he will neither form nor join a unity government after the election. Talk from the Likud is more conciliatory; MKs Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, and Meir Shetreet have all come out in favor of a unity-government headed by Sharon after the election. (A7 Jan 29)

Leading Hareidi Rabbis Call to Vote for Sharon

A second leading hareidi rabbi has called upon his followers to vote for Ariel Sharon. In an ad in today's Hamodia, the Grand Rabbi of Sadigura writes that abstention in the coming election "strengthens the hand of the enemy fighting against the faith of Israel and Sabbath... We must do what we can to ensure that Ariel Sharon is elected." The Gerrer Rebbe also backed the ad; the Rebbe of Erloi had previously made a similar call. (arutzsheva.org Jan 29)

Arafat's Men Responsible for Seven Murders

GSS head Avi Dichter met with family members of the late Binyamin and Talia Kahane today, and informed them that the murderers of the couple - parents of six orphans under the age of 11 - have been apprehended. Dichter confirmed that the terrorist murderers were members of Yasser Arafat's Presidential Guard. The cell, most of whose members are also part of Arafat's Force 17, murdered seven Jews over the past three months: Sarah Lisha and the soldiers Elad Veinshtein and Amit Zana - all in a two-pronged attack between Ofrah and Shilo; Ariel Jerafi east of Tapuach; and Eliyahu Cohen on the Modi'in highway. This cell is apparently also responsible for the murder of Binyamin and Talya Kahane outside Ofrah and many of the recent shooting attacks in northern Jerusalem. Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the attacks were apparently not planned by Force 17 as such, but by people from the organization. Former deputy GSS chief Gideon Ezra, currently a Likud MK, told IMRA today that he is "convinced that Arafat or their commanders knew about their activities... There is no doubt that Arafat should be blamed for the activities of this cell... It is the force that is closest to Arafat." (A7 Jan 28)

Rabbi Melchior, Diaspora Jews, and the Kotel

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, strongly criticized United Kingdom's Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, for asserting that the governments of Israel have no right to decide on the sovereignty of the Temple Mount. Rabbi Melchior told The Jewish Chronicle that "if someone wants to make political decisions which impact on Israel, it is appropriate that he move to Israel, become a citizen and vote in the elections. Only those who really care about Israel have the right to intervene on the fundamental issues of the state." On the other hand, according to Friday's Makor Rishon, Melchior is in favor of joint Palestinian-Israeli ownership of the Western Wall. "This is the only way we will be able to pray there," Melchior was quoted as saying. (arutzsheva.org Jan 28)

European Union Supporting Peace Now

The European Union contributed several tens of thousands of dollars to Peace Now, helping the organization translate and print literature regarding the value of peace and the peace process for new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. (arutzsheva.org Jan 28)

Moslems Agreed: Temple Stood on Temple Mount

Although the most recent Moslem "spin" is that there is no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the Supreme Moslem Council in Jerusalem wrote in 1930 that the site's identification with the First Temple is "beyond dispute." Etgar Lefkovits wrote in The Jerusalem Post recently that the Council - the supreme Moslem body appointed by the British to administer Moslem and Waqf affairs in mandatory Palestine - published an English-language tourist guide that states, "The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings." A footnote refers the reader to Samuel II 26, 25. Lefkovits notes that PA Mufti Ikrima Sabri told the German Die Welt this week, "There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history." (arutzsheva.org Jan 26)

Italian Supreme Court: Dolberg Sisters to Remain in Italy

The Dolberg sisters, who were forcibly removed from their mother in Israel, will remain in Italy in the custody of their father - a convert to Christianity. So decided the Italian Supreme Court this month. The Yated Ne'eman newspaper reports that the Court granted the father the prerogative to decide when their mother - who became religious after her divorce from their father and married a rabbi - can see her daughters. The girls, aged 12 and 10, were born in Venice to the Israeli couple, Moshe and Tali Dolberg, who divorced nine years ago. When Moshe, who remained in Italy and converted to Christianity, realized his daughters were receiving a Jewish religious upbringing from Tali in Israel, he demanded their custody, claiming that her new religious lifestyle rendered her unfit to raise the children. The Israeli Supreme Court in fact ordered the girls returned to Italian courts for a custody decision, expressing its "confidence" that the latter would consider the welfare of the girls. The reality, however, was quite different, and custody was granted to the father; the court stated, "It is true that the girls expressed their wish to return to Israel with the mother. This allegedly free wish is nothing but a personal wish which is relinquished and no longer exists..." Several appeals followed, and this month's final decision in favor of the father was greeted with shock in Israel and the U.S. The father plans to raise them as Christians - despite their previous wishes to return to Israel, their mother, and their Jewishness. The newspaper reports that American Jewish activists are planning to have the U.N. submit a petition against the Supreme Court in Rome demanding that the Jewish girls be allowed to retain their Judaism. (arutzsheva.org Jan 31)

Quote for the Week...

"The current Government of Israel is waging, for the last four months, a savage and barbaric war, as well as, a blatant and fascist military aggression against our Palestinian people. In this aggression it is using internationally prohibited weapons and ammunitions that include in their construction depleted uranium. In addition, Israel is laying against us total siege, indeed, worse than that, it is imposing this siege against every village and town. It is prohibiting the freedom of movement and travel of our people. It is jeopardizing the basic human rights of our Palestinian citizens, dismissing our workers, closing our factories, destroying a number of these, so much so that 90% of our workers are forcibly unemployed, destroying our farms and fruit trees and prohibiting export and import, indeed it is forbidding us to receive, from brothers and friends, donated provisions. All this is in violation of all resolutions of international legality, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Human Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War. Have you seen a more ugly policy than this policy of collective punishment or more destruction in the contemporary age? Israel is putting all of our people in confrontation with this dangerous military escalation, and its occupational, settlement, aggressive and armed expansionism as well as in confrontation with its dreams of achieving territorial and regional gains at the expense of our people, in a manner, which is in contravention of international legality and the rights of our Palestinian people to their land, Christian and Islamic holy places and to their natural resources. Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, leaders and members of the delegations, Whoever wants really to achieve peace and seeks it with belief and sincerity, does not resort to killing, persecution, assassination, destruction and devastation as the Government of Israel and its army of occupation are doing to our people these days and since four continuous months."
- President Arafat addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos. (WAFA Jan 28)

Commentary...

The Taba Delusion

Jerusalem Post Editorial

Though there are many today who say "I told you so," in retrospect it is clear that the vision of Oslo as a gentle glide path to peace was mistaken. But if the premise of Oslo proved overly optimistic, the conclusion of the Taba talks was harmfully deceptive.

The joint Taba declaration seeks to sell Israelis a bill of goods: peace is at your fingertips, all you have to do is make the right choice at the ballot box. According to the declaration, "The two sides are convinced that in a short period of time É it will be possible to bridge the differences remaining and attain a permanent settlement of peace between them." Justice Minister Yossi Beilin was even more explicit - two weeks after the elections an agreement can be reached.

That such statements are being made for election purposes is transparent to the point of banality, but the harm is not so much in the drafting of the peace talks into an election campaign, as serious as that is. The harm is in continuing a national delusion that prevents Israel, both psychologically and diplomatically, from returning to some semblance of reality.

The phrase, "never been closer to reaching an agreement," used to characterize the result of the Taba talks, is emblematic of the attempt to prolong the delusion. The idea that Israel has "never been closer" to real peace with the Palestinians recalls the story of a man falling off a tall building who reports on the way down, "so far so good." In the summertime, our part of the earth is "never closer" to the sun, but that does not change the fact that the two bodies remain light years apart, and not about to move closer any time soon.

According to the Taba declaration, "The political timetable prevented reaching an agreement on all the issues." By this we are to understand that, by cruel coincidence, the election happened to fall just two weeks before an agreement would be in hand. But if an agreement was so close, why did it not happen at Camp David, during Bill Clinton's marathon push over his last few months in office, or at Taba? The reason is not because it took the Palestinians this long to realize that Ariel Sharon might be Israel's next prime minister. The reason is that the parties are genuinely far apart and, each for its own purposes, chose to minimize those differences until February 6. .

For the Barak campaign (for now it is more a campaign than a government), presenting the parties as tantalizingly close is part of portraying the choice to the electorate between war and peace. For the Palestinians, the Taba talks served to neatly erase the stain of rejectionism that was left from Camp David, without having to modify their rejection of both Camp David and the subsequent Clinton parameters. Post-Taba, the Palestinians have an Israeli stamp of approval on the notion that it was not their extremism that scuttled a deal, but the changing of the guard in Israel.

The reality papered-over by election-driven deception remains the same reality: The problem is not Israel's unwillingness to accept a contiguous, viable, Palestinian state, but the Palestinian unwillingness to give up destroying Israel.

In a January 23 op-ed in Yediot Aharonot, Amos Oz described the situation cogently: "Peace will arise only when the two peoples face the reality: There is your house and your garden and here is my house and my garden. Now, however, the Palestinians are saying to us: You get up and leave my house (evacuate settlements) and I will also come and live in your house (the right of return)." In other words, the Palestinians have not yet come to the point that they supposedly came to when Yasser Arafat renounced terrorism in 1988 and again when he signed Oslo in 1993 - the fundamental acceptance of a "two-state solution." Not only are we not "close" to a settlement, we are further than we thought we were 12 years ago and certainly seven years ago.

As if to clarify matters further, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi helpfully suggested that Palestinians and Israelis "unify and establish a common state." Even Gaddafi has caught on to the new, almost politically-correct way to call for Israel's destruction: not by missiles and poison gas, but by demographic homogenization. Once the Palestinians finally do accept the Jewish nation's right to independence in part of what they call Palestine, the road to peace will still be a long one. A "two-state solution" must still pass the test of reducing the potential for conflict rather than increasing it. But as long as the Palestinians do not truly accept, and have not prepared themselves for, a "two-state solution," we have never been further from a lasting peace. (Jerusalem Post Jan 29)

Reconstructing the ruins

By Nadav Shragai

Many Israelis will long remember the last five months of Ehud Barak's term in office as a living nightmare.Although the daily routine and sense of security of the country's citizens has been seriously prejudiced, Israelis have learned how to adjust to such "novelties" as the need to travel in bullet-proof vehicles, to avoid going to the neighborhood shopping mall or even to give up the idea of traveling on buses altogether. Even the heavy price in human lives has had many, much more painful precedents.

The fact that the Israel Defense Forces was not always able to effectively deal with the Palestinians, despite their military inferiority, has not been as demoralizing as the message of total powerlessness that this government has consistently conveyed with every fiber of its being. This powerlessness has been a contagion that has generated a mood of despair and a feeling that Israel has reached the end of the road.

Many Israelis have started to feel as if they are living in a state that is only a paper tiger and is run by a make-believe government. This feeling has been heightened by the empty threats and the arrogance of the verbal responses in the wake of terrorist incidents; by the self-congratulatory attitude over the adoption of a principle of restraint that has almost become an ideology in itself; and by the knowledge that the IDF, although a highly-trained army and although aware of and longing to do what has to be done, has been hamstrung by Israel's political leaders.

The outcome of next week's prime ministerial election has nothing to do with real or imaginary disputes over borders or over the Jewish settlements in the territories, but has everything to do with feelings that go right to the core of the human soul, with the frightening sense of being paralyzed, of bearing witness to wholesale destruction and calamity. All of these feelings have been churning inside the souls of Israelis for several months.

Barak and his advisers are still inside the bubble of their concept of "peace" and they simply do not realize the intensity of the anxiety felt by the Israeli public. Over the past few months, it has been difficult to escape the impression that in many respects, Israel under Barak's leadership has regressed to the terrible period before the creation of the state, when Jews were attacked time and time again by Arabs.

The fact that public figures, intellectuals and columnists from both the right and the Zionist left have, for the last few months, frequently quoted the poetry, prose and quasi-prophetic writings of poets and intellectuals who lived during that pre-state era has reinforced the feeling that the present period is a throwback to an earlier one that was fraught with terror and that very few Israelis believed would ever return.

In addition to their day-to-day existential fears, many Israelis sense that during the course of Barak's term in office, Israel has degenerated to an unprecedent low in terms of the realization of the Zionist vision of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland.

After Barak agreed to a partitioning of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, the mayor of the nation's capital, accused the prime minister of planning to dismantle the entire country, while Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein has declared that the excavations being conducted by the Waqf (Muslim religious trust) on the Temple Mount constitute a gross affront to Jewish history. The statements by these two officials indicate that in addition to the foundations of our physical existence in this country, the spiritual foundations of the Jewish state have been seriously undermined over the past year.

For all the above reasons, the expectations of nationalistically-minded Israeli Jews from the only prime ministerial candidate they regard as a real alternative, namely Likud leader Ariel Sharon, are not focused on the survival of this or that Jewish settlement in the territories; nor are they the expression of a fervent desire to maintain the present borders. Their expectations from Sharon go much, much further.

The real question here is whether, after the "Oslo approach" (the total implementation of which was Barak's goal, which he failed to attain) almost led to the death of Zionism, Sharon can successfully usher in a new perspective that will relegitimize the Zionist enterprise.

Many rightists, as well as a large number of leftists, will be voting Sharon on February 6 not because they really believe that he will bring peace or that he will keep every Jewish settlement intact or that he will retain the Golan Heights. The Jewish settlers in the territories know Sharon extremely well and they are already expressing the view that like his rightist predecessors in the Prime Minister's Office, Sharon will break or will be forced to break some of the promises he is making now. The question that the settlers are asking themselves is which promises will he fail to keep.

In this election campaign, the expectations of the voters from one of the candidates go well beyond the agenda and "historic importance" of all previous elections in Israel. This time, the expectations are emerging from the very depths of the emotional and spiritual debacle Barak has wrought in the souls of many Israelis, after breaking every vow and pledge he ever made and after shattering every taboo in his pursuit of an illusory, abstract concept of peace.

The task awaiting Sharon entails the reconstruction of a ruined building, namely, the resuscitation of the national consensus on Jerusalem and the reestablishment of Israel's national pride, which has been trampled into the dust. "Reconstruction" is not some empty campaign slogan, but rather an urgent need to banish the dark mood that has pervaded Israeli society, a mood that also has many grave implications.

Sharon will have to "rehabilitate" both Zionist-Jewish education and the IDF's deterrent force, which has been ground to a fine powder during the Barak regime. He will also have to restore the feeling that was once prevalent in Israel: the belief that the foundations of the Jewish state in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people are just. In other words, nationalistically-minded Israeli Jews are expecting Sharon to mend Zionism's broken tools, or totally reconstruct them, so that Zionism can take root once more, not only in the soil of this land, but also in the hearts of Israelis.

Barak, the arch-destroyer of these tools, sought to build his dream atop the ruins of the dream of many Israelis and he will almost certainly lose the election because in the way he performed his duties as prime minister, he has conveyed the impression that Zionism is already a lost cause (Ha'aretz.Jan 30)

Back to the 'Wailing Wall'

By Uri Dan

Channel 2 managed a great and unique scoop in its interview with Palestinian Authority ChairmanYasser Arafat last Monday: Arafat brought the good news to the Jews that he would permit them to pray at the Western Wall according to the rules made by the Shaw Committee. In other words, in accordance with the decrees of the British mandatory rule over the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael 70 years ago.

You didn't notice Arafat's sensational announcement? This isn't your fault: the Channel 2 reporter, Emmanuel Rosen, either because of his ignorance of history or because of his desire to present Arafat as a moderate, charming person, didn't question the PA chairman further about this matter.

After all, this interview was designed to serve Arafat's interests.

On Sunday Arafat made a terrifying appearance in Davos, where he spat in Israel's face and vilified Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz by saying that "Israel is conducting a fascist and barbaric war against the Palestinians," and lied that Israel was firing low-uranium-content shells.

Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres made no attempt to deny Arafat's accusations. Even Yediot Aharonot economic columnist Sever Plotzker, a strong supporter of the Peres-Arafat alliance, felt insulted: "Nothing like this has ever taken place in Davos," he lamented.

When Arafat's advisers discovered the extent of the damage caused to the Palestinians (and also to Barak) by the exposure of their leader's real face, they hurriedly recommended that he give an interview to Channel 2 and sing a lullaby to the Israelis so that they would fall asleep again on the way to disaster.

Rosen, the interviewer, did indeed act like a good boy and conducted a friendly interview with Arafat, as if with "one of the boys."

Arafat naturally boasted about how the Temple Mount ("Haram-a-Sharif" as he called it) belongs solely to the Moslems. The Jews would be permitted to pray there in accordance with the rules of the Shaw Committee. The Israeli media, which oscillates between ignorance and Leftism, naturally failed to notice Arafat's code words, that meant that Arafat is prepared to allow the Jews to return to the Wailing Wall, as the Western Wall was once called, and pray according to the decrees of the British Mandate.

According to the 1930 regulations, the Jews were permitted to come to the Western Wall in small groups only and were forbidden to pray there on Moslem festivals and on Fridays. On page 358 of the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences there appear the other decrees of the British mandatory authorities regarding worshipers at the Wailing Wall: "They are forbidden to bring Sifrei Torah to the place, they may not place chairs in the open space and they are not permitted to blow a Shofar there."

The British Government appointed a committee of inquiry, headed by Sir Walter Shaw, in order to investigate the causes of the acts of violence perpetrated by the Arabs against the Jews, after the Jews made a quiet procession to the Western Wall. The Hebrew Encyclopedia describes how, in the 1929 Arab riots, 133 Jews were killed and 339 were injured by armed Arabs in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and other places. The Shaw Committee caused the imposition of regulations regarding prayers by Jews at the Wailing Wall that outraged the Yishuv, until young Jews came and blew the shofar at the Wall, even though they were subsequently arrested by the British police. If Rosen did not understand what Arafat was telling the Jews through him, this is not surprising. But when Barak hurriedly canceled his previous decision, and once again requested to meet with Arafat saying that the interview seemed to him to be satisfactory, this proves once again that Barak is living in a virtual world. Or perhaps it doesn't worry him in the least. Since he is willing to hand over the Temple Mount to foreigners, he is also ready to return the Western Wall to its former status as the Wailing Wall.

And so next Tuesday Barak will finally go home.(Jerusalem Post Feb 1)

The writer is an author of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israel Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.

Why the Rabbi Blowtorched the Kremlin Kitchen

By Michael Wines It was on the last day of Passover 51 years ago that the K.G.B. seized Yitzhak Kogan's grandfather for the high crime of baking kosher matzo.

"It was impossible to bake matzo in Leningrad," the grandson said. "It was the law of city. And he had made it for all the Jews.

"They took him and my mother. But my mother had small children, me and my brother. So they just kept him. They called him in every day for interrogations, then gave him a pass to go home."

After three weeks of that, he collapsed on the street and died. "My grandfather was killed for baking matzo," Mr. Kogan said.

So it is all the more amazing that Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan spent Sunday in a slaughterhouse here, knife in hand, making sure that the meat and fowl served tonight to the president of Russia, himself a former K.G.B. agent, were killed in accordance with Jewish dietary law.

President Vladimir V. Putin dined this evening with the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and the meal was kosher, making the occasion no doubt a first for a Russian leader in a thousand years of history. The vegetable-stuffed veal was kosher. The roast turkey with fruits was kosher. The mushroom soup was kosher. The caviar was kosher — red salmon caviar, because black caviar comes from sturgeon, which have no scales, which is not kosher.

Nor is that the most amazing part. The Kremlin created an entire kosher kitchen for the occasion, an undertaking that required, among other things, an army of rabbis, all-new cooking utensils and a blowtorch.

For a place that branded Israel a pariah state not two decades ago, this is no small gesture. Even the White House, which has embraced Israel for half a century, still has to order kosher takeout when an Israeli dignitary visits. "This is evidence of the great respect which we have toward Jewish culture and Judaism," Anton A. Ignatenko, who heads the Kremlin department responsible for relations with religious organizations, said in an interview. "Judaism and Jewish culture are an inseparable part of the common cultural heritage of the people of the Russian Federation." They also appear to be of special interest to Mr. Putin, who has gone out of his way since becoming president to publicize Russia's Jewish heritage and to preach acceptance of Judaism and other religions that were persecuted in Soviet times.

Mr. Putin attended the dedication of a Jewish community center last fall and delivered a brief and eloquent speech on ethnic and religious tolerance. Not long afterward, he lunched with Natan Sharansky, the onetime Soviet dissident who now heads an Israeli political faction that represents Russian immigrants.

Today, at a news conference with Mr. Katsav, Mr. Putin said Russia was disgusted by the terrorist attacks that have been waged against Israeli civilians, saying the toll of injured and dead children was "hard to take in for any Russian." Skeptics question Mr. Putin's consistency. The Kremlin has brushed aside compelling reports of atrocities by its own troops, in the case of its civilians in Chechnya, and the Russian police and militia regularly harass Chechens and other ethnic Caucasians.

That said, Mr. Putin's endorsement of Russia's Jews and his repudiation of their persecution in Soviet times seems heartfelt. And leaders of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, who appear to have the closest relations of any Jewish group with the Kremlin, have credited his statements with helping to spark a renaissance in Jewish culture in Moscow in the year that he has been in power. (New York Times Jan 24)


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