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
March 2, 2001 - 7 Adar 5761
Issue number 315
“Next Year in Jerusalem?” Symposium at Chabad @ Flamingo, 8001 Bathurst.
"We have long ceased to listen to the public - both in the diplomatic arena, and in the economic-social sphere. Do you think that the public was ready to uproot tens of thousands of settlers from their homes? It was not, but we didn't listen..."- Labor MK Chaim Ramon.
With the ongoing Palestinian terror of the past five months, it almost seems trivial to focus attention on the seemingly mundane issue of incitement against Israel. In the past few days alone, the Palestinians have fired mortar rounds at the Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai, directed gunfire at Israelis in Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, Hebron, Neveh Tzuf, Netzarim and Neveh Dekalim, tossed grenades at IDF soldiers in Rafah, and stoned Israeli vehicles throughout the territories. There is no sign of a letup in the violence, and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority seems unwilling to give Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon a grace period in which to try to salvage the now-defunct peace process.
But to focus entirely on the violence while ignoring the incitement that generates it would be a grave mistake. For it is the hateful daily regimen of anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric in the PA-controlled media that creates an environment conducive to violence. As with other despotic regimes throughout the region, the PA invests a great deal of time and energy in deflecting domestic criticism by redirecting the common man's fury against an external enemy, in this case Israel. As Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, has pointed out, the average Palestinian is saturated daily with loathsome anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric via PA- controlled television, radio, newspapers, and cultural events. In such an atmosphere, it is not surprising that terrorists are hailed as heroes, with their heinous actions held up as a role model worthy of replication. Incitement, then, is the fuel which keeps the flames of the intifada burning brightly.
Examples abound. On February 15, the official PA daily Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda ran portions of a dialogue from a new Palestinian play, which portrays Jews as deserving of divine punishment for killing Palestinians and stealing their land. The play's protagonist bemoans his fate, declaring, "Allah will take revenge against the cursed Jews. Allah should take them and destroy them." In recent weeks, the PA has invoked a modern-day equivalent of the medieval blood libel against the Jews, alleging that Israel is using poison gas against innocent Palestinian civilians. The PA-run daily Al-Ayyam, on February 13, reported that 40 Palestinians were injured "as a result of their inhaling poison gas that for the first time was fired by the Israeli occupation forces against defenseless residents." A recent political cartoon in Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda portrayed Ariel Sharon with two bloody daggers as fangs protruding from his mouth.
The incitement in the Palestinian media is continuously reinforced by the highest echelons of the PA leadership, as did Chairman Yasser Arafat in his recent remarks in Davos, when he labeled Israel as "fascist." Just last week, PA Jerusalem Mufti Ikrama Sabri issued a religious ruling stating that, "No stone of the Western Wall has any connection to Jewish history." This follows his January 17 assertion in an interview with the German daily Die Welt that, "It is the art of the Jews to deceive the world" (translation courtesy of the Middle East Media & Research Institute).
In view of such utterances, Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon is right to insist that negotiations with the Palestinians cannot resume until the violence and the incitement come to an end. For too long, Israel has downplayed the importance of Palestinian incitement, pursuing agreements with the PA even as the odious rhetoric continued. It must be made amply clear to Yasser Arafat that the winds of hate must cease to blow in the Palestinian territories before Israel will consider resuming talks. Israel should also consider taking a firmer hand against Palestinian leaders who engage in incitement.
It is to be hoped that in his meeting today with Arafat, US Secretary of State Colin Powell will place the issue of Palestinian incitement high on the agenda. Powell may also wish to question the chairman about the PA's pro-Iraq slant. After American and British forces recently bombed sites near Baghdad, the PA's Voice of Palestine radio on February 18 called for "two days of rage" to protest against "American-British aggression against Iraq." The PA also permitted massive pro-Iraqi rallies in Gaza and Nablus last week, at which Palestinian protesters burned an effigy of Powell. And last month, a senior PA delegation, including four cabinet ministers, visited Baghdad. If the Bush administration is serious about isolating and containing Saddam Hussein, it would do well to begin by taming his comrade-in-arms in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post Feb 25)
The election results have well-intentioned peaceniks remonstrating over the increased likelihood of war. But, in fact, two out of every three Israeli voters believe that if war is to be prevented, it is precisely because of the Likud's realistic approach to foreign policy and not the wide-eyed, yet shortsighted, idealism of the Left. By recklessly eroding Israel's diplomatic stance and strategic position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, the Barak government brought us closer to confrontation rather than distancing us from it. By accepting the 100 percent peace-paradigm (97% of Judea and Samaria, 3% in the Negev) and the division of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Barak endorsed the PLO's interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, an interpretation that mistakenly negates Israel's right to secure borders and demands a 100% reversal of the Six Day War.
A second dose of diplomatic damage left by the Barak legacy is what the PLO learned from the "Aksa intifada." Though the Barak government admitted in the white paper it published in November 2000, that the PLO had systematically violated the Oslo accords since their signature in 1993, it did not take any retaliatory measures against these violations. The government should have made it clear that an agreement, when violated, becomes null and void. Instead, it continued to negotiate on the basis of Oslo while the PLO was using violence, freeing Hamas terrorists, importing illegal weapons, tolerating the destruction of Jewish holy sites, conducting a campaign of anti-Israel and antisemitic incitement in its controlled media and schools, and bombing and shooting in Israel's cities. Finally, Barak hurt Israel's diplomatic stance by endorsing the naive, Wilsonian-like "peace-making" diplomacy of former president Bill Clinton. For praiseworthy as they were, Clinton's good intentions for the Middle East were as unrealistic as Wilson's "14 points" plan for post-War Europe.
Not every conflict has a solution, an instant "alternative," and at times lowering the risks of escalation is more realistic than trying to impose unworkable formal peace deals upon the parties. As Abba Eban has said, "Problems of war and international rivalry may never be solved, but there is a rational hope that they can be kept in restraint. War prevented is a kind of peace, perhaps the only kind of peace that nations will ever know."
It is hard to see how a western European type of peace is reachable in a Middle East where war-prone Iraq is building an unconventional military arsenal without UN supervision; where Iran, with Russian and Chinese support, is developing long-range missiles and providing military and financial assistance to Hizbullah in Lebanon and in PLO-controlled areas; and where US interests are openly challenged by Russia. In such a Middle East, realism and prudence are the keys to survival, and peace is achieved through deterrence, not detente.
The new government under Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon will have to repair the damage of the Barak legacy by conducting a realistic foreign policy. It will have to make it clear that the PLO cannot enjoy the best of both worlds, i.e. violate the Oslo accords and then demand concessions in the name of these agreements. It will have to explain to its strategic allies that the West can not, on the one hand, demand further concessions from Israel, and on the other hand, be permissive with Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority. Most importantly, it will have to once again stand uncompromisingly by its right to defensible borders in what is its historic homeland. Political realism consists of looking at reality as it is and not as we wish it to be. Every Israeli wishes the Middle East were a friendlier region, but fundamentalism, autocracy, and terrorism are still the political staples of our region. Trying to escape reality can only endanger the only possible peace under those circumstances - the prevention of war.
The near simultaneous election of new leaders in Washington and Jerusalem should open the way to a restored sober view of war and peace in the Middle East. President George W. Bush's nimble actions against the Iraqi menace testify that such change is already under way. Like Bush's administration, the Sharon government will apply to the Middle East the simple rule articulated so well by former president Ronald Reagan: "We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent." The writer is a Likud MK. (Jerusalem Post Feb 25)
Yesterday, America's new secretary of state and Israel's prime minister-elect met for the first time in their new capacities. Though Israelis and Palestinians listened closely for a change in tone from the new Bush administration, the more relevant reality-check had already been provided by the people of Israel, through their landslide election of Ariel Sharon.
At yesterday's press conference with Colin Powell, Sharon made it clear that the era of negotiations under fire is over. In saying so, Sharon was less attempting to shape reality than he was stating the obvious: "As prime minister, I will conduct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority following the cessation of hostilities." It was equally obvious that, despite the US failure to overtly support a linkage between easing the PA's economic plight and ending the attacks against Israel, such linkage is unavoidable. As Powell put it, "We all agreed... that once calm is restored, once there is economic activity again, once security coordination has begun again, [Sharon] is committed to negotiation."
Due to his mistaken refusal to break with Clintonian "evenhandedness," Powell could not bring himself to say more explicitly that the Palestinians cannot continue their attacks on Israel and expect Israel to bail them out financially. In Ramallah after meeting with Yasser Arafat, Powell called on Israel to "lift the siege [on the Palestinians] as soon as possible." Powell's empty attempt to play to Palestinian sensibilities will serve no one, least of all the Palestinians themselves. The longer it takes the Palestinians to get the message that their economic situation depends on ending their attack on Israel, the longer both Palestinians and Israelis will suffer, and the greater the risks of escalation. With respect to Iraq, it is refreshing that President Bush and Secretary Powell are ending the "see no evil" approach that characterized their predecessors. While in Israel, Powell expressed concern regarding a German intelligence report indicating that Saddam Hussein could have nuclear weapons within three years and missiles that could reach Europe by 2005. In reality, Iraq could probably build a bomb even sooner, if it could buy or steal the necessary nuclear fuel, thereby avoiding the lengthy enrichment process.
Turning up the rhetorical heat, however, does not a policy make. In his first press conference as president last week, George W. Bush stated, "We expect [Saddam] not to develop weapons of mass destruction; and if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence." This may sound tough, but it is essentially a continuation of the drastic deterioration in Iraq policy that occurred under Bill Clinton. Under Clinton, the US (and UN Security Council) goal shifted from squashing Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs to claiming that action would be taken if Saddam actually started producing such weapons. Under Clinton, the international community simply lost the will to enforce the line in the sand it had drawn, so it simply drew another, even less convincing, line.
For there to be a change in the Clinton policy, Bush would have to restore the original allied goal: preventing Saddam from obtaining nuclear weapons, not threatening to act when it is already too late. Yet so far, the Bush team is still speaking only of tools that are woefully inadequate to the task - sanctions and inspections. As Powell inspects the remnants of the Gulf War coalition as he swings through the region, it should become clear that it was one thing to galvanize nations behind evicting Saddam from Kuwait, and quite another to enforce sanctions that everyone knows will neither topple Saddam nor shut down his weapons programs.
"Under Clinton," explains journalist Jim Hoagland, "coalition members concluded they gained little and potentially risked much by forcefully opposing a dictator whom Washington jabbed but would not oust. In the absence of clear US leadership, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey let opportunism and inertia be their guide and pursue their own short-term interests." Bush and Powell will find that this dynamic will not change until the US commits to the only means of preventing Saddam's rearmament: ousting his regime. If US policy amounts to accommodating Saddam, his neighbors will accommodate him as well, and US influence will continue to deteriorate accordingly. (Jerusalem Post Feb 26)
As Americans discover unseemly surprises left behind by their former president, another scandal should be added to the list: a State Department report that reads like the United Nations indictment of Israel that the United States said it opposed.
The State Department's annual tome "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," released this week, claims that Israel "often used excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators." Last October, US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke blasted a Security Council resolution saying the same thing, calling it "unbalanced, biased, and really a lousy piece of work." The Clinton administration decided to abstain rather than veto that UN resolution with the usual claim that it had blocked a much worse one.
Aside from maintaining "credibility," many observers at the time assumed that the real reason the US did not veto was out of concern that its embassies throughout the region would come under attack. Now we know the situation was even worse: The State Department was not just forced into taking a stance it found unpleasant, but actually agreed with the "get Israel" crowd.
What is particularly galling is that the standard applied to Israel has no relation to that adopted by the UN and the US in a similar situation not long ago. As Alex Safian pointed out in this newspaper (December 12), on September 9, 1993 UN soldiers manning a combat bulldozer were attacked by a crowd of Somali militiamen and civilians. The forces of peace and enlightenment quickly responded with Cobra helicopters, which fired anti-tank missiles and 20 mm cannons into the crowd below. Within minutes, almost 100 of the attackers, most of them civilians, were dead. US Army Maj. David Stockwell, acting as spokesman for the UN force, explained the high civilian casualties thus: "Everyone on the ground in the vicinity was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm." The silence from the international community was deafening.
Weeks later, following clashes in which US troops killed hundreds more Somali civilians and militiamen, a US Army spokesman explained: "It has been our experience that the Somali gunmen who have opposed us have frequently used women and children... to protect them from attack. These gunmen... are not subject to military discipline and they do not comply with international law. It is they who initiated the firefight and who bear ultimate responsibility for this tragic loss of life."
The point here is not that "everybody does it" and therefore any atrocity can be justified. The point is that the fundamental responsibility of the aggressor for casualties on both sides that was self-evident to the UN and the US in Somalia is completely absent in the case of the Palestinian attacks against Israel.
This particular round of the conflict began when the Palestinians responded to an Israeli offer that even the international community recognized as far-reaching by opening fire. In case there are some who still believe that Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was the reason to stop negotiating and start shooting, Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the shooters, has helpfully explained: "It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. Sharon provided a good excuse." Once the fundamental Palestinian responsibility for choosing violence is established, it is entirely appropriate and legitimate to question whether Israel could have defended itself at a lesser cost to the attacking side. The value of "purity of arms," which we daresay Israel takes at least as seriously as most democracies, should never fall from our minds, despite the gross disregard for the civilian-military distinction by the other side.
Unbalanced broadsides like the State Department report hurt the cause they claim to promote in two ways. First, by ignoring the Palestinians' responsibility for their aggression, the US participates in shifting the blame on Israel, which in turn rewards the attacks and encourages their continuation. Secondly, by refusing to put the conflict in a proper prospective, the US ensures that whatever legitimate criticisms it might have are overwhelmed by the fundamental unfairness of its report. At the time, Ambassador Holbrooke downplayed the nasty UN resolution that the US failed to veto, claiming it was mere "rhetoric," as opposed to an "operational" move against Israel. What the Bush administration should understand that is precisely such "rhetoric" that can fan the flames that the US and Israel are trying put out. In the UN, America at its better moments leads the world in understanding this. If America also becomes part of the problem, the hopes for peace are indeed dim. (Jerusalem Post Mar 1)
A few weeks ago the Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri, who was appointed to his post by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, issued a fatwa (binding religious ruling) declaring the entire area of the Temple Mount the property of the Waqf (Muslim religious trust). In other words, it is removed from any diplomatic or political discussion.A fatwa usually addresses issues that are on the Islamic agenda, either at the initiative of the mufti or as a reply to a question by a believer. In this case, perhaps, the ruling was issued at the request of the Palestinian authorities and its purpose is both to express and consolidate official Palestinian policy on this subject, and to mobilize the 1 billion Muslims in the world to show support for their Palestinian brethren.
In reaction to attempts by Israel to claim for itself at least the depths of the Temple Mount, in order to preserve its future right to the remnants of the temple which are supposed to be buried there, Sheikh Sabri also included the treasures of the site to a depth of seven stories below and a height of seven stories above in the area of the Waqf, in order to repulse any possible Israeli claim. This week Sabri went so far as to assert that the Western Wall too is included in the area of the Waqf, as it is the western supporting wall of Al Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to Muslims in third priority, after Mecca and Medina. The Palestinians are thus signaling to Israel and to the international community that Israel has no part or share in any of the stones of the Western Wall and that any claim it might make in this regard is totally without foundation and will not be acceptable in any future negotiations.
The reader may ask how it comes to pass that under Israel's rule, its status at the site, which is sacred to it as a first priority, is equal to the place of third importance in Islam. Muslim behavior is understandable and well-known, but why does Israel have to accept this state of affairs and signal the world that it is perpetuating the world's attitude toward the status quo that has been forged there? Moreover, the Muslims' exclusivist insistence is nourished by Israel's hesitation about claiming a status for itself and implementing it in practice - in a kind of Solomonic judgment in which the sole claimant gets everything and the side that is ready to compromise loses everything.
The position of Islam on this issue is clear: The religion of the "third revelation" did not come into being in order to exist alongside its two predecessors but to supplant and replace them, because it is the last and hence ostensibly also the most "up-to-date." The statements of Ekrima Sabri reflect precisely that position.
The only way to validate our claims to the Temple Mount is to cultivate an awareness of partnership, tolerance and division instead of the atmosphere of rabid rhetoric, exclusivism and exclusion which currently prevails. The model should be the arrangements that exist at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. There, too, Jews were barred from entering for hundreds of years, from the time that the Islamic exclusivism that reigned there turned it into the Ibrahimi Mosque, which non-believers were forbidden to enter.
In the 1967 war, the Hebronites expected that the Israeli conquest would reverse the situation by turning the cave into an Israeli site from which Muslims would be excluded. Israel, though, introduced a new and progressive cultural norm: Because it was impossible to divide the site in space, it would be divided in time - meaning, in practice, that arrangements were made so that the adherents of each religion could pray at the site on different days. However, whereas official Israel showed tolerance and sensitivity, the Muslims never accepted this arrangement, which they found abhorrent, and they construed the Jews' tolerance as vacillating weakness in their faith and in their attachment to what they hold sacred.
The weakness of the Jews was even more pronounced on the Temple Mount, in the Muslims' perception. Not only did they not introduce sharing and cooperation arrangements, as they did in Hebron, they actually preserved the discriminatory status quo which enabled the Muslims to retain their exclusive control over the entire compound, while reinforcing their position of mastery and ownership at the site. This approach came as a surprise to the Muslims themselves, and when the rabbis ruled that Jews must not set foot in the compound, their sense of exclusivity was further strengthened. After they grew accustomed to this situation, and more particularly after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the Temple Mount became the symbol of the Palestinian capital.
All that remains for Israel is to make it plain that it is unconscionable that those who are tolerant and willing to share (the Israelis) should be removed from the site entirely, while the zealots and exclusivists (the Muslims) should take it over fully. Because not only must we forbid a situation in which the masses of Jews in Israel and the world will be dispossessed of the site; it is also important not to reward those who are violent and who show contempt for the tradition and religion of others. Israel must absolutely insist on, and also enforce, sharing in practice, even if the Muslims do not like it. If we forgo our right, no one else will stand up to defend it.
The writer is a lecturer on Islam and the Middle East at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Haaretz Feb 25)
I am a social worker who believes through and through in self-determination. Every human being should have the guaranteed right to create a life for him or herself, and every people should have the same right to decide how they want to live as a nation. This holds true for the Jews of Israel and the Palestinians who want to create a state for themselves.
I live in Efrat - in Judea or the "occupied territories," depending on the way you look at it. I have consistently voted for Meretz as a way of expressing my hopes for a two-state solution to what feels like an eternal conflict. Throughout the last 10 years I have spoken out for the right of both peoples to live in peace with each other, and for their right to create the kinds of societies they dream about.
When my family moved to Efrat the government did not tell me that it was at my own risk. It did not tell me that I was moving to an area where my safety could not be guaranteed. Clearly there were security issues; there were incidents of Palestinians throwing rocks, but there were no guns and no need to fear that my family and I were moving to a war zone.
In fact, before the tunnel road connected Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, we traveled every day through Bethlehem and past the Dehaishe refugee camp. There were occasional rocks, but nothing life threatening. I remember the day the Oslo agreements were signed. I drove through Bethlehem to Efrat. Palestinians were displaying their national flag, which became legal overnight, and I felt their sense of national pride and happiness as they finally achieved both the beginning of their national entity and a new sense of identity. In my naivete I believed this was the beginning of a long-awaited peace between the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac. Little did I know that the newly created Palestinian Police would, in a few years, use its guns against me.
Now, less than 10 years later, the government and the Palestinian Authority have abandoned us. The government sits by and allows Israeli citizens who live in Judea and Samaria to be shot as we travel the roads. We have not been told not to travel. We have not been told to move inside the Green Line. We are left to make the decision for ourselves and the message is, "we cannot guarantee your safety." No one says this directly, but it is felt in these communities.
It holds true for everyone, whether inside or outside the 1967 borders. When the eight young people died at the bus stop in "the middle of the country," they died in the "safe" part of the country. But they were no safer than the 35-year-old father who was shot to death on the tunnel road.
It is not only the government that has abandoned us. The PA has also reneged on its agreements, and has sent a strong message: "life is cheap."
It is more important for it to violently struggle for independence than to develop a solid and lasting peace with its closest neighbor.
During the recent intifada the message has been that lives are expendable in order to create a state. There is no patience for continued negotiations, compromise, or human relations. Life is cheap. It does not matter whether Palestinians shoot at citizens, children, or civilian buses. If a Palestinian bus driver mows down innocent young people, it is "justified" because of the frustration he feels for not being able to earn a living during the intifada. The PA has abandoned its commitment to Oslo and to create a meaningful relationship with the State of Israel. It has not only abandoned someone like me, who supported Oslo and voted to ensure its implementation; it has also abandoned everyone who has been killed and injured by gunfire throughout the conflict. The citizens of Beit Jala, opposite Gilo, were also victims of the PA, which sanctioned the Tanzim to fire from positions in private homes, necessitating return fire. The PA wants Israel to transfer tax funds according to the Oslo agreements, but why should they receive the money if they do not adhere to the rules governing their acquisition of weapons? It is fascinating to note how the US justifies its own embargo against Iraq, but criticizes Israel for its "embargo" of the PA. The conflict will escalate if it is not stopped now. The government must accept responsibility to guarantee my safety, and the PA must accept responsibility to return to the Oslo agreements and to halt the violence. If there is no change more people on both sides will die and there will be no peace. (Jerusalem Post Feb 27)