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
May 11, 2001
Issue number 326
Arab Terrorists Kill Father of Three
Aryeh Arnaldo Agronyoni, 44 years old and a father of 3, was murdered Monnday night by Palestinian terrorists. A resident of Ma'aleh Yisrael, near Ariel, Agronyoni immigrated from South America and was on volunteer guard duty in one of the distant outposts near Itamar. The Arabs shot and stabbed him to death, took his weapon, and escaped to one of the nearby villages. (arutzsheva.org May 8)
Israel Seizes Heavy Weapons Destined for P.A.
"The extent of these weapons makes a mockery of all our security-coordination meetings with the Palestinians," said Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. "We talk about peace and returning to the negotiating table, while they are preparing for war." He was referring to the discovery on Sunday of a vessel laden with heavy weapons headed for the Gaza coast from Lebanon. The shipment contained four anti-aircraft Strella missiles, 120 anti-tank missile launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar shells. In addition, there were Kalachnikov submachine guns with 13,000 bullets, Katyusha rockets with a range of 8.5 kilometers - as opposed to the 1.5-kilometer range of the mortars used by the PA until now - as well as dozens of RPG launchers, mortar bombs, mines, and more. The shipment was sent by terrorist leader Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Israeli officials invited international diplomats to see the wide array of weapons saved from reaching their destination in the PA. Prime Minister Sharon disclosed Tuesday that the captured Lebanese boat was a veteran of three previous arms-smuggling missions to Gaza. Military sources informed the government that the Palestinians are trying to enhance their store of anti-aircraft shoulder missiles in order to limit Israeli aviation over Judea and Samaria. Although the PA has denied any connection to the shipment, Israeli sources totally dismiss these claims and say that the PA helped organize the smuggling operation. The Oslo and Wye Agreements forbid the PA from holding weapons such as Katyushas, rockets, and mortar launchers, and it is bound to hand them over to U.S. officials for destruction. Voice of Israel reporter Yoni Ben-Menachem said Tuesday, "A government minister reminded me that in 1994, after the 'Gaza and Jericho first' agreement, then-Likud MK Ariel Sharon told the Knesset that it will only be a matter of time before the PA fires Katyushas from Gaza onto Ashkelon; later, then-Labor party Minister Chaim Ramon mocked Sharon and said, 'Where are the Katyushas that you promised us?' Now it looks like we will soon see them..." Israeli defense leaders said today that the Palestinians already have weapons of the type that were seized Sunday. Smuggling of weapons to the PA has been taking place for years, chiefly via underground tunnels from Egypt to Rafiach and in Arafat's plane. Other Palestinian VIPs, whose cars went unchecked through Israeli checkpoints, also smuggled in various weapons. A security source told Arutz-7 Tuesday, "Almost every time a VIP car returned from Jordan, we saw that it was heavily weighted down - but we were not allowed to check it." (A7 May 8)
Sneh: Americans Should Visit Israel
Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, appearing last week before the Conference of Presidents of Major American-Jewish Organizations, called upon them to show solidarity with Israel and to visit it during its difficult hour. "It's a disgrace that a large share of the cancellations of El Al trips are by American-Jewish groups," he said. "American Jewry must set a personal example and fly to Israel on El AL." (A7 May 7)
Musings by Sharon
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave an evasive answer Wednesday to the question of whether Arafat is Israel's partner in peace. He told reporters "Whoever causes the killing of Israeli citizens is not a partner." He then added, "If there is total quiet [non-violence], we will certainly be happy to renew the negotiations with whoever stands at the head of the Palestinian Authority." The Prime Minister lavished great praise on the residents of Judea and Samaria: "They are essentially the great heroes of this period, they are standing at the front line of the State of Israel. I can only say that I have a great admiration for their activities." (arutzsheva.org May 9)
Visiting Rabbis See Gaza Close Up By Elli Wolgelernter
While many groups of Diaspora Jews like to come here on missions to show solidarity with Israel, very few plan their itinerary exclusively across the Green Line, as 13 Orthodox rabbis from North America did this week. Wednesday called for a trip to Gaza, where rabbis, community leaders and civilians first briefed them on what it is like living on the front lines, and then thanked them profusely for coming to give support. "It's amazing to me," said Rabbi Neal Turk, of Beth Israel Congregation of Miami Beach, Florida. "They keep saying we are brave for coming - there is no courage for us to come here, but for those who live here, it's absolutely amazing. They feel that they have a mission, that this is the pioneering spirit, that they are on the border with the enemy, and that if they wouldn't be here then [the Palestinians] would be farther inside the country."
The sense of pioneering spirit, reminiscent of the days of the War of Independence, was repeated by many in the delegation. To get to the settlements, the escorted rabbis drove past fortified army checkpoints, with sandbags piled high, and rows and rows of barbed wire.
For Rabbi Heshie Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, the surroundings seemed very different from other times he had visited. "What struck me was the appearance that we were coming into a war zone," said Billet, the incoming president of the Rabbinical Council of America. "Once upon a time you would ride on a normal road - there was always the presence of the army, but now you see tanks. Also a tremendous feeling that this is a unique time in Jewish history for many people, reminiscent of the pre-1948 days of the State of Israel, where a significant number of Jews lived every day with threats to their lives." Indeed, those words were echoed by many people the rabbis met, like Rabbi Kaminetsky from Kfar Darom, who told then outright that the "War of Independence hasn't ended," and that "this is an obligatory war."
Kaminetsky also told his visitors that while they as rabbis may answer questions of Halacha all the time, they will never hear the kinds of questions the rabbis in Gaza hear, like the large family that came to ask whether the parents should split up the children and drive in separate cars when they leave the settlement, in case they should get attacked on the road.
The rabbis heard from others that despite the attacks in the last seven months - 4,200 shootings and bombings, and 16 dead - settlers not only are not leaving, but that more are coming in, and new houses and schools are being built. That sense of resolve to stay was best demonstrated by one widow who lost her husband in an attack a couple of months ago, and whose burn scars on her right leg were visible while she told what happened. "People think we're crazy living here, that we're lost," she said. "We're not, we live normal lives, we're not afraid. We're happy to pay the price to live here in Israel."
The dedication of the Gaza settlers was not lost on these rabbis, a message they said they would take back to the 5,700 families they represent. "These people who are settled here, they are the ones who are the heart and soul of our people," said Rabbi Steven Weil, of Congregation Beth Jacob in Los Angeles. "This is not the story that The New York Times or the LA Times tells; this is a totally different story. These are people trying to live, trying to earn a living, trying to raise children - they're not getting in anybody's way, they aren't in the Arabs way, and the way it is reported in the world's press is sick. And it's a travesty." From the army lieutenant-colonel in charge of the Gaza Strip, the rabbis heard of the high morale of both regular and reserve soldiers serving there. He also told them of an "average" patrol the day before, when 30 grenades and four land mines were detonated against his convoy. The trip this week was organized by Rabbi Kenneth Hain, the outgoing president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and by the One Israel Fund.
"We wanted to show our solidarity with the Jews of [Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip] at this critical time, and we thought bringing the rabbinical leaders of the American Jewish community would be doing that," said Steve Orlow, president of One Israel Fund.
Not only did it show solidarity to the residents, but it brought home to the rabbis just how much the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip have to go through to survive, said Rabbi Baruch Taub, of Congregation Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto. "We view the land of Israel as central to our lives, and the state is central to our lives. But we come as tourists, we enjoy all the accoutrements. For these people, what's going on in the territories is a throwback in history. We have to realize what's going on. It is a war. We wanted to see it first hand, and you feel that in a certain sense there is an obligation to support. It brings it home." (Jerusalem Post May 8)
Hevron Cemetery Desecrated Again
Hundreds of mourners at the funeral of long-time Kiryat Arba-Hevron resident Chaim Mageni Sunday were shocked to find that the old Jewish cemetery in Hevron had been, yet again, badly desecrated over the weekend by Arab vandals. Gravestones in the cemetery were found to be smashed, large pieces of marble were scattered nearby, the gravesite of Menucha Rachel Slonim was desecrated, and the stone floor above the cemetery was smashed to pieces. A Hevron spokesman issued the following statement: "If the Arab cemetery in Hevron had been desecrated by Jews, CNN, The New York Times, as well as the entire Israeli media would blare out how Jewish extremists had vandalized and desecrated, etc. Yet when Arabs, time and time again, destroy Jewish graves, no one pays any attention. In many European countries, guards are stationed at Jewish cemeteries in ensure their well-being. Yet in Hevron, the Israeli government and security forces see no reason to protect Jewish cemeteries from continued desecration... Hevron residents have offered to guard the cemetery, but the IDF refuses to grant permission..." (arutzsheva.org May 7)
Yeshiva Building in Peduel Dedicated
"I personally draw great strength and encouragement from every event of this nature in Judea and Samaria." So said National Religious Party head Rabbi Yitzchak Levy on Sunday, at the dedication ceremony of Eretz HaTzvi pre-military yeshiva and hesder academy's new home in Peduel, west of Ariel. The yeshiva was built thanks to the generosity of the family of the late Tzvi Herman of Petach Tikvah. Hundreds of yeshiva students and their families were in attendance, as were many members of the Ashlag Hassidut, to which the Herman family adheres. Rabbi Levy said, "Throughout the Land of Israel, we must call out in the name of G-d, just like Abraham did, by building Torah institutions. When we do that, then the next verse - "they [our enemies] will fall and we will arise" [Psalms 20, 9] - will also come true." (arutzsheva.org May 8)
Mr. Day Speaks the Truth By Marcus Gee
Stockwell Day is in trouble with his caucus again, this time over his stand on Middle East violence. In a speech to the Canadian Jewish Congress last weekend, he laid the blame for the violence squarely at the feet of Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian officials.
He said that recent mortar attacks against Jewish communities could not have taken place without the knowledge or tacit approval of the Palestinian police and their superiors. "We know that paramilitary organizations, including the Hezbollah, Hamas and Arafat's own militia, the Tanzim, continue to train and participate in the attacks," Mr. Day said.
Despite that fact, he went on, many people outside of the Middle East have the impression that Israel is the aggressor because they see television pictures of Israelis with tanks and guns firing at Palestinians armed with stones and slingshots. "Is that a truthful portrayal of what is going on?" he said. "There is a moral difference between an accidental injury or the death of bystanders who are tragically caught in a crossfire of violence . . . and the deliberate murder of innocent people in a premeditated act of terrorism, and those differences should be portrayed."
Arab and Muslim groups are calling that assertion outrageous. So are some of Mr. Day's own MPs, who accuse him of breaking the Canadian Alliance's policy of evenhandedness on Middle East issues. In the eyes of his critics, this is just one more in the long string of Stockwellian gaffes.
Well, as someone once said, in politics a gaffe is when you tell the truth. That is just what Mr. Day has courageously done.
Seven months into this most recent Palestinian uprising, known as the intifada, there is no longer any doubt that Mr. Arafat and other leading Palestinian authorities are supporting the campaign of violence. Indeed, he boasts about it, calling the intifada the Palestinians' only weapon against Israeli oppression. Despite his signed pledge before the world to abandon violence as a means of solving the Arab-Israeli dispute, Mr. Arafat stands aside while Palestinian militants carry out bloody attacks against Israeli civilians.
Consider the events of yesterday. When two teenaged boys were found dead near their homes in the West Bank, their bodies bound, mutilated and pummelled with stones, Mr. Arafat refused to express regret, saying only that Palestinian children were victims too. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, by contrast, immediately voiced regret and sorrow over the death of a Palestinian baby killed by Israeli shrapnel during a gun battle in the Gaza Strip that was initiated by Palestinians.
Any death is tragic, but there is no comparison, no parallel, between the deliberate stoning and murder of two teenaged boys and the accidental killing by stray shrapnel of a Palestinian baby in the heat of battle. Mr. Day is right. There is a moral difference, and Canadian politicians should be able to say that without being condemned for it.
Canada's Middle East policy, like the Alliance's, has been to avoid blaming anyone and to urge everyone to work for peace. That's fine as far as it goes. But sometimes objectivity becomes a kind of blindness. Only the blind can believe anymore that the intifada continues only because of Israeli violence. The intifada continues because Palestinian militants and Palestinian leaders let it continue. The killing would stop tomorrow if they stopped attacking Israel, and it's about time somebody said so. (Globe and Mail May 10)
Peace Proposal Is a Mirage By Amos Perlmutter
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres arrived in Washington last week to inform the US administration of Israel's inconclusive talks with Egypt and Jordan on their joint plan to end the Palestinian violence. Peres was welcomed in the White House where he conducted conversations with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and, of course, President George W. Bush.
Peres had a receptive hearing in Washington, being the "pope" of the Oslo peace process. Nevertheless, Powell sees the Egyptian-Jordanian "non-paper" as a "beginning of a dialogue that could resume after a reduction of violence." The secretary clearly emphasized reduction, but not total end, of violence.
This is a shift from Bush's original acceptance of the Israeli interpretation of what the end of violence means. Does this mean a shift in policy?
The essence of the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal is the creation of a framework for mutual steps to be taken by the parties. It calls for a freeze on new settlements and the end of violence. Like Madrid and Oslo, the emphasis is being put on cooperative building blocks toward peace. The Israeli demands are missing from the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal. That means no mention of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's failure to implement more than eight agreements based on the same proposition - that peace will be achieved only if Israel surrenders its settlement policy. Hiding behind the veneer of an explanation that Arafat's reason for rejecting president Bill Clinton's and prime minister Ehud Barak's most generous offer for concessions was that Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace.
The Oslo negotiations and agreement from 1992 to 1993 did not deal with settlements - only land for peace, which was the main strategic reason for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's acceptance of the Oslo agreement. In fact, it was tacitly understood at the time that most Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza would be incorporated into Israel as part of a peace treaty.
The Egyptian-Jordanian proposal does not include Israel's security imperatives that must be accepted by Arafat. In fact, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon earlier dismissed the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal as unsatisfactory. Peres persuaded him to reconsider and send the proposal back to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II with amendments. They are in the process of reviewing the amended proposal. Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa has already rejected one of the amendments, which is Israel's refusal to freeze settlements. Israel is willing to stop building new settlements, but will continue to expand existing settlements, as has been Israel's practice for some time, including the Barak government. Thus, Peres arrived in Washington hoping to convince Bush and his administration to help persuade Egypt and Jordan to accept the Israeli amendments. He did not succeed.
The modified Egyptian-Jordanian proposal is a nonstarter. It violates Sharon's doctrine on peace and security. Sharon distrusts Arafat. He wants action, meaning a total end to violence, which Arafat has conditioned on the acceptance of the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal for peace. Arafat has used language to deceive the international community about his intentions. He portrays himself as seeking peace if only Israelis will end retaliation.
For Arafat security means warfare with Israel - both diplomatic and military. For him the present Palestinian uprising is a war for independence. The use of violence is a strategic commitment on the part of Arafat. In fact, no less than the former foreign minister in the Barak government, Shlomo Ben-Ami, a leading dove, wrote in Ma'ariv (April 28) the following: "The root of the problem is that at Oslo we negotiated with Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people, not with Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian population and territories." Ben-Ami concluded that Arafat is a revolutionary and is not a partner for peace. This from the most dovish member of the Barak government.
What is meant by the leader of the Palestinian people (not the leader of the Palestinian population and territories) is the right of return of some five million Palestinians. Not only to the Palestinian territory, but to Israel proper. For Arafat, the issue is not territory, but ideology anchored in the Palestinian Charter. It calls for the settlement of Palestinians in all the Palestinian territory, i.e. including Israel. Despite all claims by the Palestinians that the charter has been annulled, the most pernicious paragraphs (especially on the right of return) are as alive as ever.
The Palestinian state, by all definitions of political science and sociology, is a failed state. It is composed of corporate, feudal baronies in Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. It has no institutionalized political structures or political parties. The PA, its so-called administrative and legislative body, is Arafat's playground. There is no true democratic representation in the PA. In the absence of stable political parties, the authority is undermined by extremist groups. We should be aware that US involvement in the Palestine issue can create a Kosovo-like situation that would result in the American need to protect the corrupt security baronies from each other and protect Israel from their continued violence. America should stay out. (Jerusalem Post May 7)
The writer is a professor of government at American University in Washington.
Mitchell's Mistaken Shortcut Jerusalem Post Editorial
On its face, the report by the Mitchell Committee seems a low-key, relatively sober attempt to pick through the minefield of the Arab-Israeli conflict without drawing too much fire from either side. A closer examination, however, suggests that the report is a flawed blueprint that the Bush administration, not to mention Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, should delicately dismiss before it does any more damage.
The Mitchell report, despite the no doubt sincere effort of its authors to be constructive, commits two cardinal sins: advocating the rewarding of violence and attempting to supersede existing agreements. At the heart of the report's recommendations is a trade: The Palestinians should end their offensive against Israel in exchange for Israel freezing "all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements." In fact, the report goes even further, suggesting that security cooperation "cannot for long coexist with settlement activity."
The issue here is not the merits of settlements, but explicit advocacy of a large diplomatic payoff to the Palestinians for doing Israel the favor of stopping their attacks and returning to the negotiating table. Even the Mitchell report itself does not claim that settlement activity violates the agreements Israel signed, but rather the "spirit of Oslo." Yitzhak Rabin, for example, when he presented the Oslo II agreement before the Knesset, stated explicitly that Oslo did not commit Israel to "the uprooting of any settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, nor to a freeze of construction and natural growth."
According to Joel Singer, the Foreign Ministry legal adviser who was a central drafter of Oslo, the agreement permitted not only "natural growth," but the establishment of new settlements. "The PLO tried to obtain a clause prohibiting the establishment of new settlements," Singer writes, "but Israel rejected this demand." Since signing Oslo, successive Israeli governments have unilaterally committed not to establish new settlements, but have never agreed to a complete halt of natural growth. As Shimon Peres explained in 1995 when he was foreign minister in Rabin's government, "Building which is necessary for normal life, like schools and private apartments, we are not going to stop." It is inconceivable that Israel would agree now, as a payoff for a cease-fire, to what is essentially an amendment to the Oslo Accords in the Palestinians' favor.
The Netanyahu government agreed to restrict building to within the municipal boundaries of existing communities. It might well make sense for the Sharon government to renew such a commitment as part of a series of mutual "confidence building measures" once a cease-fire is in place.
By falling into the trap of advocating a reward for violence, the Mitchell report represents a step backward toward the Clinton policies that the Bush administration has taken important steps toward reversing. Despite the unfortunate relapse into evenhandedness by Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Bush administration still remains clearly opposed to internationalizing the conflict in the Security Council, and is putting the onus on Yasser Arafat to end the attack that he started.
In this context, the Mitchell report solution is like the apple in the Garden of Eden - tempting but the ticket to a much more complicated and difficult world. The current situation is hardly paradise, but capitulation to violence now will only having to resist more violence down the road. In his speech opening the new Knesset session yesterday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - sounding much like Shimon Peres - told the Palestinians that all their accomplishments have come through diplomacy, while all their suffering has been the result of violence. The challenge before Israel and the United States is to make this statement as true as possible.
In Washington this month, Peres admitted to the "mistake" of putting "too much emphasis on the writing of agreements and not enough on their implementation." We are now reaping the results of turning a blind eye to the rampant Palestinian violations of Oslo, particularly the provisions banning incitement and illegal weapons. This blind eye was one attempt at a shortcut to peace, the Mitchell bid to reward violence is another. Mitchell is wrong: There is no substitute for standing by the demand for the unconditional end to the unjustifiable Palestinian offensive against Israel. (Jerusalem Post May 8)
The Palestinian Humiliation By Ron Dermer
With Foreign Minister Shimon Peres desperately trying to convince Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to return to the negotiating table, it may be worthwhile to remind ourselves why negotiations broke down in the first place.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak's breathtaking offer to return nearly all the territories captured in the 1967 war and redivide Jerusalem was answered with the worst violence that Israel has seen in decades. Negotiations did not, as Palestinians would have the world believe and as Oslo messianists would have themselves believe, break down over the "settlements" or the "occupation." Barak's offer to end both was rejected in a hail of rocks, bullets and mortar shells. The dictator who rules the Palestinian people was not interested in "ending the conflict" with the Jewish state because, at a minimum, he would have had to abolish the so-called Palestinian "right of return," a price on which even Yossi Sarid, the leader of the most dovish Zionist party, Meretz, continues to insist.
It is obvious to nearly all Israelis why the Palestinian refugees must never be allowed to return to Israel. A refugee community of 600,000 in 1948 has grown to over two million today. Their return would drastically shift the demographic balance within Israel by doubling the percentage of non-Jews from 20% to 40%. Moreover, their higher birthrate would soon make the exercise of Jewish sovereignty a practical impossibility.
But even if Israel were able to limit the numbers actually returning, granting a "right of return" to the refugees would give the Palestinians a far more immediate and devastating victory by effectively denying the "right" of the Jewish state to exist: for it was the refusal of the Palestinians to accept a Jewish state that created the refugee problem in the first place and taking responsibility for their plight would make Israel responsible for the aggression launched against it.
That the Palestinian refugee problem is the result of the Arab-Israeli conflict and not the cause of it is plain to even the most revisionist of Israeli historians. While the Jews accepted the UN partition of Palestine into two states - a bitter pill for Jews to swallow having already seen three-quarters of British-ruled Palestine transferred to the Hashemites 25 years earlier - the Palestinians rejected the partition and joined their Arab brethren in a war designed not to establish a Palestinian state, but to annihilate the local Jewish population. Hoping to return after a promised Arab victory, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the scourge of war, while a small percentage were kicked out, primarily to prevent sworn enemies from occupying strategically important sites.
While it is clear why Israelis across the political spectrum reject a "right of return," one might wonder why the Palestinian leadership so steadfastly refuses to compromise on this issue. There are the familiar answers, ranging from a malicious desire to achieve through demography what cannot be achieved militarily, to the fear on the part of Arafat and his henchmen that by agreeing to such a compromise they would be signing their own death warrants.
The current issue of Commentary, in which historian Efraim Karsh shows convincingly why the Palestinian demand for a "right of return" gives new meaning to the word hutzpa, points to another reason. In describing the exodus of Palestinians both before and during the War of Independence, Karsh explains that the Palestinians, particularly their elite, were unwilling to "subordinate personal interest to the common good." Put simply, when the going got tough, the Jews, their backs to the wall and with nowhere to run, dug in their heels and fought. In contrast, the Palestinians turned tail and fled.
In the Arab world, a world in which brothers kill their own sisters to protect their family's honor, such a desertion is especially humiliating. One does not have to spend a great deal of time with Egyptians, Iraqis or Saudis to hear the contempt in which they hold the Palestinians.
Not that the Palestinians were the only ones to ever run from a fight. But unlike Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other Arab leaders, the Palestinian leaders do not have the luxury of spinning wild tales of valor in which their leaders always seem to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Palestinian refugee camps are a constant reminder to their leadership of their own cowardice and defeat - a humiliation all the more profound because they brought it upon themselves. Such a stain on Palestinian honor will not be removed by absorbing millions of refugees into the Arab states that host them. That will only make the stain permanent. Rather, the only way to restore Palestinian dignity in their own eyes and in the eyes of the Arab world is by granting them a "right of return" - a right that would destroy the Jewish state both in theory and in practice. (Jerusalem Post May 8)
The Pope's Silence By Shlomo Avineri
Pope John Paul's recent visit to Syria was a momentous affair - especially since it also entailed a first visit by a pope to a mosque.
It is in line with the present pope's attempt to reach out to other religious traditions and to find what is common, rather than what divides the world's major religions. His apology to the Greek Orthodox Church, especially for the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople, during his stopover in Athens, was done in the same spirit. Yet, during his visit to Damascus, the pope also failed to rise to the occasion such a papal visit would have called for. More than many previous pontiffs, Pope John Paul II has been a voice in the battle against dictatorship and tyranny, especially in his native Poland. There is no doubt that the pope's visits to Poland prior to the fall of communism contributed enormously to the weakening and delegitimization of communism - not only in Poland, but in the whole Soviet bloc.
Nothing of the kind occurred on the road to Damascus. If one did not know what kind of regime Syrian President Bashar Assad is presiding over, one would imagine - judging from the pope's language during the ceremonies in Syria - that Damascus is the capital of an open, free, democratic and liberal society, whose only concern is for peace, justice and stability in the Middle East. Yet Assad is heading one of the more brutal, oppressive and tyrannical regimes in the region. As an official guest and religious pilgrim, the pope is obviously under constraints caused by his status and the context of his visit.
Yet his silence was deafening. Where was the outspoken and at the same time sophisticated critic of dictatorship and oppression? Why was the voice, which, when raised in Cracow had repercussions all the way to the Kremlin and Vladivostok, curiously silent in Damascus? Reasons of state? An attempt not to harm the Christian community in Syria? Maybe. Papal silences in the 1930s were similarly motivated - and have caused the Catholic Church shame and calumny from which it has not totally extricated itself to this very day.
Even worse was the pope's silence during - and after - Assad's antisemitic diatribe. It is only natural that the Syrian president would use his welcoming address to the pope to deliver an extremely anti-Israel speech: when else does the Syrian president have the attention of the whole world riveted upon him? But Assad went further. In one of the most despicable public statements ever made by an Arab head of state, Assad went on to say that "They [the Jews] tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Mohammed."
Whatever the limits of legitimate criticism of Israel are, this is beyond the pale of human discourse - the scandal of a head of a military, oppressive dictatorship parading as the defender of both Islam and Christianity boggles the mind. But what is depressing, once again, is the pope's silence - during and after this medieval outburst. Again, the constraints of politesse can be understood. But no response - even an indirect, opaque one? Going on with the propaganda tour of Kuneitra as if these hateful words were not uttered? Did Vatican II never occur?
The pope has, as we know, no divisions. But he claims to have a moral voice. It was this voice which was not heard during the 1930s and 1940s - and its silence epitomizes to this very day the moral failure of the Roman Catholic Church in our times. On the road to Damascus, following in the footsteps of St. Paul, Pope John Paul II remained silent, recalling much more St. Peter's silence at a crucial moment in the Christian tradition. Obviously, it is easier to apologize for the 13th-century Fourth Crusade than it is to stand up to hate and bigotry in the here and now. As a secular Jew, I feel deeply ashamed for the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, the church has failed its test of speaking truth to power.
The author is professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Jerusalem Post May 9)
Born in USA, Murdered in Israel by Harvey Tannenbaum
This could be a letter from Yakov "Kobi" Mandel, 14 years old while he was waiting for the Chevra Kadisha to finish 'preparing him' for his burial in Kfar Etzion cemetery.Dear Friends around the World:
Most of you don't know me. I'm just an 8th grader in Israel learning in Efrat's Jr. High School. I used to be alive in Tekoah where my family moved to from Efrat. My father works at Aish Hatorah in the Old City. I was born in the USA. I had my brit milah in the USA. As I grew up,we moved to Israel. I had my bar mitzvah last year in Israel. It was fun and my relatives joined me and my family for this simcha. I have an American passport and an Israeli passport. How lucky to have two passports.
Yesterday as a Jewish kid,I went with my friend to the nearby Nachal Hartin, not far from my home in Tekoah. I was killed with my friend by a bunch of Arabs with stones and rocks. They pummeled my head into obliteration so that even the Chevra Kadisha who is working on my body now for my burial could not really recognize me from my barmitzvah pictures. Before I get wrapped in my father's talit, a talit that I was wrapped in at my brit milah in preparation for my burial, I wanted to leave some notes for some people TO Prime Minister Sharon: We kids in the 8th grade ran around the cities for you with bumper stickers and banners because you promised me security and safety if you were elected. So far, you have broken your promise. I realized that you are responding much tougher than Mr. Barak when we Jewish kids are blown up or killed. Please do what you can so my younger sister and brother stay alive to say kaddish for me and perhaps name their future newborn after me.
TO Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid: We kids in the 8th grade never met you two characters. I was told by the adults that you still believe in peace partners who kill and maim kids intentionally. I was told by the adults that you are still against us 'settler kids.' Why did you give the PLO arms over the last years? I think if I were to have lived and become a lawyer, I would try you two for treason and send you to jail. Can't you two understand that we Jewish kids are being killed like in the 1940's because we are Jewish not because we live in ''settlements." Did you both know that Tel Aviv University campus today was once an Arab village called Sheik Musah in Tel Aviv? Why don't you want to give back Tel Aviv University ? Jewish kids who were killed over the last 9months were killed in Holon, Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and other cities. Are Arabs killing the Jewish kids there because those are settlements? Or, maybe they were settlements in the 1940's.
TO President Bush: I am an American citizen too. When I used to go to NY to visit my grandparents, your officials at JFK used to check my American passport and not my Israeli passport. This summer I can't be checked anymore at JFK, so your officials will have one less Jewish kid to deal with. I know that you are tougher than Mr. Clinton was as was your father. I don't understand as I was reading last night that you and your government were 'upset' about settlements. Do you really think I am about to be buried because of a settlement? Please wake up, it is 58 years after Hitler. I was brutally murdered last night because I am a JEW JEW JEW JEW! Please tell Mr. Powell to stop trying to be a politician and remember that he was a decorated soldier who did so much to help my country of Israel and the USA during the GULF WAR.
TO Mom and Dad: What can I say, except that I am sorry that you are now crying. I did not see you cry too much growing up. May be you cried when my brit milah was going on and you were giving me my name, Yakov. All that wood that stored up outside the house for tomorrow night's LAG Ba'omer bonfire will not be used by me and my dead friend. I guess you and the other kids won't be having any bonfire as you sit shiva for me. I will think about you when I meet G-d tonight and I want to thank you for your nonstop giving and caring for me. I will miss you and the others in the family. I am sorry I did not make my bed yesterday or clean up my room. I wish I still have time, but the hearse is here to carry me in your talit to my final resting place. Love, Yakov