A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
10 Adar 2 5760
March 17, 2000
Issue number 263
"We have only one access road to our community, and the government wants to give it away to the Palestinians. It will simply be dangerous for us to go in or out of our town. Despite this, however, we plan to continue using the road - although the women will have to travel either with guns, or only with men accompanying us; we have not yet decided."The upcoming withdrawal will also involve "filling in" an area in between the PA city of Jericho and the PA village of Ouja, which are presently connected only by a narrow strip of Palestinian-controlled territory. David Levy, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, explained today that the 5.5- kilometer strip of land, running northwards from Jericho to Ouja, has been widened to an area of three square kilometers. "Until now," Levy told Arutz-7 today, "this strip has been insignificant, in that it was not able to be used [by the PA] for anything. Now, however, it will become a substantial piece of property, thus that the Israeli community of Na'ama [with 24 families], which is to the east of this strip, will now become almost completely closed in: Ouja to the north, Jericho to the south, the new area on the west, and the Jordanian border to the east."
The Prime Minister's Office announced on Tuesday that it was decided not to include Anata - near Anatot and the Jerusalem suburbs of Pisgat Ze'ev and N'vei Yaakov - in the upcoming withdrawal. The press had been rife with reports and reactions to the previous decision to retreat from Anata. Many right-wing politicians were visiting in Anata, or were on their way there, to protest the original decision when the announcement was made. Likud MK Danny Naveh declared emphatically that Barak, in his original decision to give Anata away, had "simply underestimated the extent of the public's refusal to accept anything that would endanger the unity of Jerusalem and the security of Jerusalem neighborhoods." MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) had the following reaction:
"As a citizen, this topsy-turvy behavior is very worrisome to me. The security cabinet is supposed to be a serious, high-level body, yet I see that over the past few weeks the cabinet members allowed Arafat's objections to change their minds about the withdrawal. In addition, the discussions at their meetings are constantly leaked, in blatant violation of the law. Now, today, they again changed their minds because of public pressure. Barak appears to be like play-dough - as pliable as a toy."Prime Minister Barak also plans, in the upcoming withdrawal, to give away the village of Za'atra, near the eastern-Gush Etzion community of Nokdim. MK Avigdor Lieberman, a resident of Nokdim, says that this move will be most damaging to his town. Women in Green leader Nadia Matar says that the new map is a "declaration of war upon Eretz Yisrael." She calls upon the Yesha Council not to suffice with a restrained response.
Arutz-7 spoke to MK Colette Avital (Labor) about the government's decision to hand the PA full control of areas close to Jerusalem. "Why has the government already provided, so early on in the negotiations, areas that are so important historically and so close to Jerusalem?" asked Arutz-7's Haggai Segal. Avital answered, "The principle on which we are basing our decision is the need to preserve a united Jerusalem. In order for this to be possible, we have to find a replacement [for the Palestinian demand for Jerusalem as their capital]... The idea is that we should give the Palestinians a chance to establish their capital in a place that for them is Jerusalem, but for us is not. Anata, Bituniya, and Abadiye are not and never were part of municipal Jerusalem... In the end, another month or two, there will be a need to reach a compromise with the Palestinians - and we know that more or less, there is going to be a Palestinian state, they will have to be in the villages next to Jerusalem..." Segal then asked, "If today we give Anata and tomorrow Abu Dis, what will remain for negotiation in the final status talks?" Avital's response: "It will still remain to establish the parameters of the final agreement. Let me remind you that we are still in control of more than 50% of the territory, and I don't think that such moves will be dangerous at all to Israel's security. I think that if a Palestinian capital is established near Jerusalem, maybe they will paradoxically be interested in preserving quiet there, in their capital. and maybe this is the most powerful guarantee for quiet - and not when there are all sort of undefined issues between us and them..."
(arutzsheva.org Mar 14,15)
Yediot Acharonot editorialized today that the United Arab League meeting in Beirut was "a theater of the absurd." Referring to the Arab threats made against Israel in the event that it withdraws unilaterally from Lebanon, the editors comment that there have been few cases in history in which a state has threatened an occupying foreign army for declaring its intention to withdraw and return the areas it occupies to its proper sovereignty. "But Lebanon is not sovereign," writes the paper. "It is entirely subject to the selfish interests of the Syrian regime in Damascus." (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)
Maj.-Gen. Rafi Noy (res.) told Arutz-7 that the IDF's opposition to the unilateral withdrawal is based on the feeling that the southern Lebanon security zone provides the best method of defense for the northern communities. "The army would agree to a unilateral withdrawal," Noy said, "if it could feel that it has the government's go-ahead to freely and harshly respond to any subsequent terrorist attacks on Israeli communities. This is the only way that the Syrian and Lebanese governments would get the message that they must rein in the Hizbullah." Maj.-Gen. Noy is against, however, criticism by the army establishment against the government for not accepting its views on the situation: "The government may ask he army and other departments for advice on how to handle a particular issue, but is not obligated to follow their advice." Referring to Saturday's Arab League warning against a unilateral Israeli withdrawal, Noy asked rhetorically: "Have you ever heard of a situation when an 'occupied country' object to an announcement by the 'occupier' that it intends to withdraw? It could very well be that behind the Lebanese and Syrian warnings is the fear of a new civil war in Lebanon, or that Syria's occupying forces will be a new target of Lebanese anger..." (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)
"The release came to avoid internal fighting. We need to save the energy of the students' movement for confrontations with Israel which will be imminent later this year.''- Palestinian lawmaker Marwan Barghouthi, commenting on the release from jail of students of Beir Zeit University who recently stoned French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. (Reuters Mar 5)
Even by Mideast standards, last weekend's announcement by the Arab League that Israel risked war if it withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon was extraordinary. The Arab foreign ministers served notice that the Jewish State had to first address what they called a "time bomb": as many as 360,000 Palestinians who have lived for years in squalid refugee camps on Lebanese territory and who demand the right to return to live in what they call "Palestine" -- an area that on their maps includes all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel within the "green lines" (that is, territory it controlled prior to the Six-Day War in 1967.)
Assad, who has been as hostile to the Palestinians as any Arab leader, appreciates that if Israel ends its widely denounced occupation of a nine-mile-wide strip of Lebanon, his own, despotic occupation of the rest of Lebanon may become politically untenable.
The Israelis are in an unenviable position. They have, for the first time in their history, effectively conceded military defeat by an Arab army -- albeit the rag-tag irregular one of Hezbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamic extremist group that insists on driving the Jews not only out of Lebanon but out of the rest of greater "Palestine" as well, and "into the sea." As a result, Israel's northern border will remain exposed, and surely subject, to continuing attack.
Last week, Israel's Supreme Court issued a ruling that calls into question the long-standing policy of locating Jewish communities in areas for strategic purposes. The decision was a defeat for the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, established during the period of Britain's Mandate Palestine to promote Jewish immigration and settlement there. The New York Times reported on March 9 that, the Agency's chairman, Salai Meridor, said:The main issue is not equality [between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.]
We're all for equality. The question is how we ensure equality while also making sure that areas with a massive Arab majority near the territory of an emerging Palestinian entity will remain part of the state of Israel.
Along with equality, Israel must safeguard its national and security interests. That these interests are indeed at risk was underscored by a news item published a few days later in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. On March 13, the paper revealed that:[Yasir Arafat's] Palestinian Authority (PA) has been implementing a policy of 'strategic construction' inside East Jerusalem and on the outskirts of the city, building thousands of new apartments there since 1997 although a substantial portion of the buildings remain vacant. Sources at the PA say that during the final status negotiations, the Palestinians will demand the return of more than 100,000 refugees, some of whom will settle in the buildings currently being constructed in East Jerusalem....Israeli intelligence agents...suggested that the Palestinian construction aims to cut through and isolate Jewish settlements around the city.
On February 2, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset used his position to force a public, if brief and uninformative, discussion of one of the most delicate of Israel's national security matters:the Jewish State's suspected but unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.As Gerald Steinberg put it in an op.ed. article in the Jerusalem Post of February 18, "Issam Makhul [of the Arabs' Hadash Party] insisted on raising the subject, but did not demonstrate any understanding of or interest in the substance and dilemmas of the Israeli policy. His main purpose was clearly to needle the government on a very sensitive issue, in order to gain popularity and publicity in the Israeli Arab sector. For the past decade, the Egyptian government has led an obsessive crusade to strip Israel of its deterrence capabilities, and to use this issue in order to isolate Israel."
Incredibly, the Clinton-Gore Administration appears to be exacerbating the dangers Arabs within Israel might pose to the United States' most important ally in the Middle East. On February 14, one of the Knesset's most influential leaders on national security matters, the Likud Party's Uzi Landau, wrote President Clinton a stern letter. It said, in part: "The following headline appeared in Yediot Aharonot, Israel's most widely-read newspaper, on February 11: 'U.S Embassy Tries to Mobilize Arab Support in the Referendum.'
According to the article, senior U.S. Embassy officials have of late conducted a series of meetings with Israeli Arab leaders. The express aim of these meetings, according to the report, is to pressure Arab leaders to produce a large turnout among their constituency in the event that a referendum is held regarding the future of the Golan Heights, as the Arab vote could prove decisive. In addition, the report states that the U.S. diplomats promised to arrange financial assistance to back information campaigns that will be undertaken by Israeli Arab groups for this purpose.
In response, the U.S. Embassy spokesman did not deny this information."Mr. Landau correctly concluded, "If the information in the article is accurate, this would constitute an unprecedented and intolerable act of gross interference in Israel's internal affairs. I cannot emphasize enough the severity of this act, which demonstrates blatant disregard for the most elementary norms of accepted international behavior between states and nations." It is unknown at this writing what, if any, response the Knesset's former Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman has received.
With the release of Adolf Eichmann's memoirs, the notorious administrator of the Holocaust is again in the news. His capture and execution by Israel almost four decades ago is still considered a milestone in the country's history, symbolizing the country's full confrontation with the Holocaust, its horror and its meaning.
Yet, even now when Eichmann has returned to the spotlight, the fact that his deputy, Alois Brunner, is being sheltered by the Syrian regime of President Hafez Assad evokes little interest. Brunner, whom Eichmann once called his "best man," was known for particularly virulent antisemitism. He became Eichmann's personal secretary, and as head of the Nazis' Jewish-affairs office in prewar Vienna, orchestrated the persecutions that forced thousands of Jews to flee.
During the war Brunner organized mass transports of Jews from Austria, Germany, Greece, and France, sending a total of 130,000 Jews to their deaths.
Living under an alias in Germany till 1954, he then fled to Damascus where he has been sheltered ever since, working as a businessman and "government adviser."
Although there have been reports of Brunner's death and Assad has consistently denied knowledge of his whereabouts, last October German journalists visiting Syria said Brunner was living at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus. Brunner is easily identifiable, having lost an eye and several fingers from letter bombs sent him years ago by the Mossad.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center regards Brunner as alive and in Syria, and has requested the Austrian, French, and Polish governments to demand his extradition; all them have publicly agreed to do so.
Brunner was already sentenced to death in absentia in France in 1954; more recently, a new suit was filed there based on his sending 250 children to Auschwitz. Germany previously applied for his extradition in 1987, and in 1991 the European Parliament condemned Syria for harboring him.
In a little-noticed bill presented to the Knesset last November, three MKs, Avraham Herschson, Dan Naveh (Likud), and Michael Kleiner (National Union, now Herut) proposed that "the Israeli government not approve, present for the approval of the Knesset, or present for a referendum, any agreement with Syria ... that does not include a clear and practical provision for the handing over of Nazi war criminals who are in Syrian territory ... It is unthinkable that the State of Israel will sign a peace agreement with a state that continues to give refuge to Nazi war criminals ...."
The bill was easily defeated by a vote of 44 to 28, with MKs from One Israel, Meretz, Center, Shinui, Shas, the National Religious Party, and Arab parties voting against it. The votes in favor came from the Likud, National Union, Yisrael Ba'aliya, Am Ehad, United Torah Judaism, and Shinui.
On the matter of the Holocaust, official Israel and actual Israel seem to have diverged somewhat. Official Israel reacted forcefully to the inclusion of Joerg Haider's party in the new Austrian government, withdrawing its ambassador from Vienna (though Haider is not a war criminal, but a praiser of war criminals who later retracted the praise). Official Israel still holds solemn commemorations on Holocaust Day, still sends high school students on educational tours of the sites of the camps in Poland.
Actual Israel, however, is tired. Amid the controversy over a peace deal with Syria, the issue of Brunner's presence in Syria has received little notice. Those who favor a deal with Syria seem determined to kill the issue with silence. Those who oppose such a deal occasionally mention it but, for the most part, have hardly given it prominence.
Israel, to be sure, is a sovereign state, not a synagogue in Philadelphia, and must play the game of realpolitik. Those who believe a treaty with Syria will bring peace and spare Israel the horrors of war might rationally maintain that peace is more important than an 88-year-old war criminal in Damascus (though, if so, one wishes they had the courage to say it out loud).
Others might feel that this is taking realpolitik to an extreme. What sort of peace is possible between a Jewish state and a regime that feels an ideological affinity with a murderer of 130,000 Jews? Has Israel lost its moral compass? (Jerusalem Post Mar 15)
When Jewish tourists think of Jerusalem, they generally have in mind the Western Wall, the Israel Museum, Ben Yehuda Mall and Yad Vashem. Tourists, like most Israeli Jews, don't spend much time in eastern Jerusalem -- despite the fact that this part of the Holy City holds the most historical, spiritual and strategic significance for Jews.
But as the final status negotiations which will determine the fate of Jerusalem are set to begin, perhaps it's time to understand the dynamics of the eastern part of the city and the implications of Yasser Arafat's daily declarations that his Palestine state will have east Jerusalem as its capital.
In the face of Palestine Authority rhetoric, Israeli politicians both left and right cite "Jerusalem, the undivided capital of Israel" as the consensus mantra. It's the definition of the phrase that's fraught with surprises.
Some ministers in Ehud Barak's cabinet, for example have publicly expressed their opposition to the project under construction at Maale Hazeitim (Ras el Amud). Yet this is a development with all permits intact, on undisputed Jewish-owned land. According to Haim Ramon, Minister without Portfolio for Jerusalem Affairs, the project is a provocation and a threat to the 'peace process.' Thus, the idea that Jews have the right to build and live wherever they wish in Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, is an unacceptable concept for people like Ramon, who nevertheless continue to proclaim their belief in a "united Jerusalem."
Without the strategic assets of Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem, the city would indeed be divided, de facto. Jews will continue to work and live in the western section, and Arabs will predominate in the eastern part of the city where so much of Jewish history took place.
The idea of surrounding the inner core of Jerusalem with areas of Jewish settlement is not new. Successive Israeli governments since 1967 have consistently carried out this policy--developing the neighbourhoods of Maaleh Adumim, Pisgat Zeev, Givat Zeev, East Talpiot and the re-established Neve Yaakov (founded in 1924). Even a cursory look at a map of greater Jerusalem will reveal that these communities play a crucial role in forming a buffer against PA efforts to achieve territorial contiguity between the Old City and the three nearby areas already under PA control--Ramallah to the north, Abu Dis to the east and Bethlehem to the south. If this contiguity were to be achieved, Arafat will have created a viable capital within shouting distance of the Temple Mount.
Let's examine the Jewish development projects currently underway which are helping to unify Jerusalem. First, on the northernmost ridge of the Mt of Olives, sits Beit Orot--a hesder yeshiva and development initiative. Located just below the Mt Scopus campus of Hebrew University, the yeshiva, founded by MK Rabbi Benny Elon and former MK Hanan Porat, educates and houses more than 100 students every year. Until recently, the yeshiva maintained a hall for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs which brought more than 50,000 people to the Mt of Olives every year. A beautiful mini-promenade was created last summer to take advantage of the spectacular view over the Temple Mount. Beit Orot hopes to soon obtain permission to start building the first Jewish neighbourhood on the Mt of Olives in two thousand years.
Down the hill and to the west of Beit Orot lies the newly reclaimed neighbourhood of Shimon Hatzaddik (established in 1891). Less than half a mile from Meah Shearim(1874) north of the Old City, the area is named after the nearby tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik. Israeli flags now fly proudly over the complex of small houses and a synagogue which make up the neighbourhood.
Ownership of the site, and a six dunam area of the neighborhood, lies in the hands of the Vaad Sephardi Haredit -- a Sephardic communal body whose members populated the area until the Arab riots of the 1920s and 30s drove them out. Jewish organizations recently acquired the "protected tenancy rights" of the Arab tenants who had squatted there for many years.
Vaad members noted that the bar mitzvah of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef took place in 1933 at the synagogue there. Behind the synagogue is a flight of stairs leading to Derekh Har HaZeitim, the road where 77 doctors and nurses trying to reach Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus were murdered in 1948. A simple monument marks the spot.
Shabbat minyanim at the renovated synagogue now draw residents of nearby Ramat Eshkol and Maalot Dafna. While Kollel (advanced) students learn every afternoon in the synagogue.
Over the past six months, six units in the immediate area have been legally acquired and put to use housing married students from Beit Orot as well as an office for the educational foundation, Kedem Yerushalayim.
A larger area of Jewish renewal is Ir David (the City of David), the original biblical city of Jerusalem. Older than the Old City, it is the Ancient City. Currently known as Shiloah or Silwan, it lies right below Dung Gate in the southern wall of the old City, the traditional entrance to the Western Wall. Ir David is where King David created his capital and it is there that 3,000 years ago he united Israel and Judea politically, religiously, and economically.
One hundred years ago, the City of David was home to a Jewish community consisting primarily of Yemenite Jewish immigrants. But it was here that Jerusalem was founded. Not in the old city nor where the Western Wall stands today. So it's not surprising that young Jewish families want to live there today. In fact, more than twenty families now make their homes in Ir David. Extensive archaeological excavations have been taking place in recent years, and a new visitors center entices people to learn more about Jewish history.
Strategically, strengthening Jewish presence in Ir David is important, since the area lies on the only access route to the Western Wall from the south. Another important strategic asset directly facing Ir David from the opposite side of the Kidron valley is the Ma'ale Har Hazeitim neighborhood (Ras el Amud) along the Mt. of Olives ridge. It creates a buffer between Abu Dis and the Temple Mount. Arafat's capital building is in Abu Dis, just a short distance to the east.
To arrive at Maale Hazeitim you travel along the Jericho Road which cuts through the Mt of Olives cemetery, the oldest Jewish burial ground in the world. The site commands a magnificent and unusual view of the Temple Mount, and will make property there most desirable. Construction is underway on the first buildings in the neighbourhood which will eventually house more than 130 families. The site is a private initiative of Florida-based philanthropist Dr. Irving Moskowitz who purchased the property more than 10 years ago from its former Jewish owners who had purchased the site over 130 years ago.
Two of Jerusalem's leading philanthropists, Moshe Wittenberg and Nissan Bak, acting on behalf of the Chabad and Wollin Hassidim Kollels (community groups), purchased this 15-dunam plot (almost four acres) on the southern lower slope of Mt. of Olives (Har HaZeitim) facing Jerusalem's Old City walls. In 1928, Wittenberg and Bak formally transferred ownership of the land to the Kollels. The Kollels then leased the parcel to an Arab farmer. The Kollel paid the property taxes levied by the authorities and this point was crucial when decades later the Arab leaseholder illegally transferred title deed to his own name.
When the Trans-Jordanian Legion captured the eastern side of Jerusalem in 1948, all Jewish property was transferred to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property Office. In 1951, the Arab leaseholder went to have the Jordanian Land Registration Office change the name on the title deed over to his own name, while concealing the fact that the land really belonged to Jewish owners. A meticulous Jordanian clerk then discovered the aforementioned tax records paid by the Jews, and the Jordanian Custodian Office attempted to block the leaseholder's being listed as the owner. They did not meet with full success, however, as the tax records alone were ruled insufficient to prove other ownership.
Subsequently, the Jordanian Custodian Office discovered the original title deed of the Land Registry proving Jewish ownership, and applied to the Jordanian Court to invalidate the false registration of the dishonest Arab leaseholder. This was shortly before the 1967 Six-Day War and the Jordanian Court had not yet issued its ruling when the war broke out. Following the war the two Kollel community groups then pursued the case in Israeli courts. The District Court ruled in their favor, but the Arab leaseholder appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the true Jewish owners fourteen years ago, in 1984.
The Jerusalem Municipal Planning Commission, with the agreement of then-Mayor Teddy Kollek, approved the plans. However, then-Interior Minister Chaim Ramon froze further discussion of the plans, but his successor, Ehud Barak, cancelled the freeze and deposited the Jerusalem Municipality's approved plans into the State of Israel's Jerusalem District Zoning Commission (which is comprised of representatives of various interested government ministries such as Defense, Interior, Housing, and other public figures) for approval. Final approval being given in 1996.
The site is continually referred to in the international press as being in "traditionally Arab east Jerusalem." Standing on the roof of the original structure on the site, it's difficult to understand what is traditionally Arab about this area. To the north lies the ancient Mt of Olives Jewish burial ground. Behind the site, to the east is the Israeli police headquarters for Judea and Samaria. Look west and you'll see the City of David and the Temple Mount surrounded by the walls of the Old City. The majority of residents living in the neighborhood today are Arab, but that hardly justifies the "traditionally Arab" appellation.
One more area of Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem that is of enormous strategic significance is Har Homa. Located within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, Har Homa is in the southern part of Jerusalem near Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and Gilo, bordering on PA controlled Bethlehem. The 1,850 dunam site is on a previously desolate uncultivated and barren hill.
The building project at Har Homa is slated to take place in two stages and will ultimately include 6,500 housing units, as well as schools, parks, public buildings, commercial and industrial zones. After years of stalling under the threat of Arab violence, construction on the first stage of 2,456 housing unit finally began on election day, 1999 . In order to implement the Har Homa construction project, the government expropriated the land, compensating the various owners. What is not widely known, is that most of it was Jewish-owned. Approximately 1,400 of the 1,850 dunams at the site, or 75%, were expropriated from Jews, while nearly 450 dunams, or 25%, were owned by Arabs. The High Court of Justice rejected appeals by both Jewish and Arab landowners and approved the expropriations.
As the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated in the Knesset on May 15, 1995, "Building Jerusalem, like any other city, sometimes requires confiscating land both for construction needs and for public needs, like roads, schools, kindergartens, and community facilities...this decision (to commence construction) gives the green light for riots, clashes, starting a battle, a war," threatened PA Jerusalem Affairs official, Faisal Husseini, (Paris Radio Monte Carlo, 21 February 1997)
Indeed, the days are short before the battle for control of Jerusalem will be decided. Efforts to establish Jewish strategic assets remain the best hope of ensuring that "a united Jerusalem" will mean more than just a slogan. (arutzsheva.org Mar 8)