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
February 23, 2001 - 30 Shvat 5761
Issue number 314
* He said that he never recommended the dismantling of isolated settlements, and will not do so in the future.*(arutzsheva.org Feb 20)
Regarding the killing by Hizbullah of an Israeli soldier last week near Har Dov on the Lebanese border: "We should respond, and we will do so after we take everything into consideration, and it will happen when and where we decide."
* "All the Palestinian security services are actively engaged in terrorism. The fighting in Yesha is being led by the Palestinian Authority... In the eyes of the IDF, this is a war for all intents and purposes."
Many of my neighbors in Efrat were probably not surprised by the recent murder of Tzahi Sasson on the tunnel road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion. In their eyes it was almost inevitable, although he was the first Jewish civilian to be killed by Palestinians in the area from the capital to the Gush Etzion junction, 20 kilometers south of Gilo. Staunch opponents of the peace process, opposed in principle to any territorial concessions, these neighbors had claimed all along that giving the Palestinians control of their cities as well as guns would only increase the number of terror attacks on Jews.
There were, however, quite a few Efrat residents, myself included, who thought otherwise. We believed that the Oslo Accords had created an historic opportunity to achieve peace with the Palestinians and that, despite the necessity of making painful concessions, such sacrifices might well be worthwhile.
Perhaps one of the factors which affected our thinking on this issue was the relative absence of terror in the Gush Etzion area and along "our" road to Jerusalem. For some reason the level of Palestinian violence near Gush Etzion had always been consistently lower than in other areas of Judea and Samaria, and we drew comfort from that fact. The symbol of our unique status was the tunnel road, which had been built so that the residents of the areas south of Jerusalem could reach the capital without having to travel through Bethlehem and El-Khader, or past the Dehaishe refugee camp, where Israeli vehicles had been stoned on numerous occasions. Besides initially being a practical success, the road, whose construction cost NIS 130 million, was something of an architectural wonder by Israeli standards, as it boasted the country's first two road tunnels and an impressive bridge between them.
It also seemed symbolic of the mind-set of the architects of the Oslo accords and those supportive of the peace process that Israeli imaginative thinking and technological progress could provide answers to even the most difficult obstacles on the path to the achievement of peace.
In the wake of the recent intifada, however, the situation changed and Palestinian violence escalated. As usual, the incidents in our area were initially not as serious as those elsewhere, but in many respects the handwriting was already on the wall.
When Dr. Shmuel Gillis, a resident of Karmei Tzur, a settlement between Gush Etzion and Hebron, wasmurdered in a drive-by shooting near the El-Aroub refugee camp south of the Gush Etzion junction, some of us tried to comfort ourselves by saying that the site of the murder was not in our neighborhood, but rather to the south, where violence was far more commonplace.
It did not take long to shatter that illusion of security. Ten days after Gillis was shot dead, Sasson, a 35-year-old father of two young boys, from Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, became the first to be murdered on the road that was supposed to symbolize the hope for peace.
Combined with Arafat's refusal to accept far-reaching Israeli concessions and the high level of Palestinian violence and ongoing antisemitic incitement, the murder capped a process of painful awakening for those of us who were willing to "give peace a chance."
In that context, I was reminded this week of an interesting phenomenon related to the tunnel road. As one rides south from Jerusalem and comes out of the first tunnel and enters the bridge which stretches to the second tunnel, on which a sniper's bullet murdered Sasson, there are two totally different scenes to be viewed on opposite sides of the road. On the right-hand side, there are two, totally barren, uninhabited mountains with a valley in between, also uninhabited. On the left-hand side, one can see the towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala with thousands of homes spread across the mountainous terrain.
This stark dichotomy prompted a thought that crossed my mind many times as I drove on the bridge. People with a right-wing political orientation, who travel to the territories, on emerging from the tunnel, can look to the right and see only the empty spaces and enter the second tunnel convinced of the correctness of their approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leftists, on the other hand, look to the left and see only the tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and proceed to the second tunnel just as convinced of the justice of their position as their right-wing counterparts.
Yet, the truth, I used to conclude, as a person who thought the peace process was worthy of support, lies somewhere in the middle, right on this bridge, which serves as a conduit to Jerusalem for people of all political persuasions. In the wake of Sasson's murder, however, the bridge between the tunnels is no longer neutral territory, a no- man's-land between right and left. On the contrary, it is the site of a new consensus that, while peace is a goal worthy of costly expenditures and even of painful sacrifices, it cannot be reached solely through bypass roads and good intentions.
Ultimately, bridges built only by one side very often lead to nowhere. (Jerusalem Post Feb 20)
The writer is director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
In our technological world filled with mind numbing amounts of information available at our fingertips, we too often lose sight of the humanity associated with the situations that we read about in the newspaper or see on television. Sound bites rule.
A recent event, thousands of miles from our home in Charleston, however, brought home in a very personal way the tragedy that we are witnessing in the Middle East.
First, however, a little background. Approximately 125 years ago, part of my mother's family escaped the anti-Semitic persecutions of the Russian czar by immigrating to the United States and England. One member in Englandmarried a man by the name of Gillis. They had five children, two of whom were named Joe and Aaron.
Joe Gillis had a gift for numbers and statistics. In 1941, Joe Gillis was one of the few men selected to work on the Ultra project by British intelligence. Ultra was the code name for the system developed by British intelligence for breaking the Enigma encoding machine used by the Germans in World War II. As Professor Stephen Ambrose has written in "D-Day, June 6, 1944," by giving the Allies the most basic and priceless of all intelligence in war, such as the location of enemy units, their battle strength and their capabilities, Ultra shortened World War II considerably. Joe Gillis was an integral part of Ultra. Following the war, Joe emigrated to Israel.
In approximately 1970, Joe's brother Aaron, his wife Doreen, and their three young sons, Samuel, Emmanuel and David, also moved to Israel. Although we in Charleston were generally aware of our English, now Israeli, cousins, I had never met them until I traveled to Israel for the first time in 1983.
Samuel and I were the same age. When Samuel was living with his wife in Boston in the early 1990s while doing an advanced fellowship in hematology, some of us had the opportunity to visit. He became a senior hematologist and oncologist at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Samuel and his wife had five children, now ages 3 to 13, and lived outside of Jerusalem. My wife and I planned to visit them next year with our four children, all of similar ages.
I won't get that opportunity. On Feb. 1, my cousin Samuel, now known byhis Hebrew name Shmuel, was ambushed by Arab gunmen as he went home to his wife and five children from working at the hospital. According to news reports, Samuel, 42, was killed as a van filled with Arab gunmen riddled his caron a major highway with at least 10 bullets.
An Associated Press article in the Feb. 2 Post and Courier reported in the first paragraph, in the usual mind-numbing fashion, the numbers of Arabs and Israelis killed in the recent violence. After briefly describing Samuel's murder, the following paragraph describes the murder by other Arabs of another unnamed Arab. The story reports: "Neighbors said he the victim was suspected of collaborating with Israel." Without any type of trial, the Arabs found their brother Arab guilty. So much for those quaint Western notions of "due process of law" and "equal protection."
My cousin Samuel could also be accused of collaborating. The AP reported that "one of Gillis' last patients was 25-year-old Omaria Fawzi, an Israeli-Arab leukemia patient awaiting a bone marrow transplant. 'He was a medical angel, better than an angel. I would give him my soul, my eyes,'Fawzi told the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv."
I wonder how we can have peace in the Middle East when Arab gunmen unload on suspected Arab collaborators, such as the unnamed one mentioned in the AP story, and on collaborators such as my cousin Samuel, whose only real sin was trying to save Arab, as well as Jewish, lives.
The CNN story includes the AP's photograph of the face of my cousin Samuel's son, Amichai, whom I do not know. It is the face of a young boy who will never again see the smiling face of his father. He looks to be about 5 years old, the same age as one of our sons, who came into our bed at 2:30 this morning to be comforted by his father and mother, having been frightened by a bad dream.
Who will comfort Amichai? How will his mother explain to him that this is not a dream, that he will never see the face of his father, a healer and a comforter, alive again?
One neighbor describes Samuel as "a quiet man who could often be seen playing games and joking with his wife and five children. I remember him with his beepers going off. ... He was a very simple person, one of the most modest humble people we knew." Samuel's death is now attracting international notice. I am sure that Samuel would gladly give up the notoriety to spend more time on the Judean hillside with his young children.
I am equally confident that soon, most of those who have read the wire stories in the world press will have forgotten about Samuel's death. To the world at large, his death will simply be one more statistic, one more number. Battered by numbers killed, we in the United States are desensitized to the humanity of the carnage. The media suggest that the Israelis living in the settlements outside Jerusalem are right-wing extremists motivated by religious fanaticism. My cousin Samuel was no extremist except in his love of human life, both Arab and Jewish. He was no religious fanatic bent on causing the death of others in a holy war. He devoted his all too short life to trying to preserve life and denying the angel of death from his victims. I find myself numbed by the news of the death of my cousin, the medical angel to an ill Arab woman. I hope Israelis continue to collaborate with Arabs as my cousin Samuel did. I was looking forward to seeing Samuel again next year surrounded by all of the children, both his and mine. Now, I won't have that chance. I thank God that my cousin Joe Gillis was in the right place at the right time to make a difference for all of us. I don't understand why God chose to place my cousin Samuel Gillis at the wrong place at the wrong time that Thursday night. I never will. I only hope that one day, those responsible for the senseless violence in the Middle East today will choose peace so that we can have more collaborators like my cousin Samuel. (Charleston Post Feb 12)The writer is a Charleston attorney.
If I could pose one question to a group of senior American and European government officials, it would be the following: Is there any action at all that you would deem legitimate for Israel to take to defend its population against Palestinian attacks - and if so, what?
The answer to the first half of the question would probably be yes, because in principle, both America and Europe agree that countries have the right to defend their citizens. But the second half would be a poser - because both the Europeans and the Americans have proven over the last four months that when it comes to Israel, they oppose translating this principle into practice.
During this period, Israel has tried a wide variety of tactics in response to the war of attrition that has been the Palestinians' answer to unprecedented Israeli concessions at the negotiating table. Yet every one of these tactics has been unequivocally denounced by the US and the European Union.
Initially, Prime Minister Ehud Barak opted for the simplest tactic of all: telling soldiers to just shoot back when fired upon. But since Palestinian gunmen made a practice of stationing themselves in the midst of crowds of civilians, and since even the most sophisticated weapons are rarely perfectly aimed in the heat of battle, this tactic resulted in the deaths of many civilians as well as gunmen. The result was universal excoriation of Israeli brutality, and the implicit message that it would be preferable for IDF soldiers to simply let themselves be used for target practice.
Barak then decided to try targeting property rather than people. In response to Palestinian attacks, he began ordering the IDF to destroy buildings belonging to the organizations responsible, after first warning the people inside to leave and giving them several hours to do so. Highly sophisticated weapons were used to ensure, as far as possible, that no innocent bystanders were hurt. And the result? Israel was again universally condemned, this time for having used heavy weaponry such as combat helicopters - even though the main purpose of this hi-tech weaponry was to prevent civilian casualties.
Israel has also made extensive use of economic pressure. This has included barring Palestinians from working in Israel, in order to keep potential terrorists out, and not transferring money to the Palestinian Authority, to deprive it of cash with which to buy weapons to use against Israel (according to IDF intelligence, the PA has been engaged in massive arms smuggling for the past several months).
Keeping enemy aliens out and freezing enemy assets are both completely standard wartime measures, even though they undoubtedly hurt the innocent as well as the guilty. Nevertheless, Israel has been universally assailed for taking these actions.
Then, finally, Barak came up with one tactic that hurts only the guilty: the targeted killing of known terrorists. These killings have produced almost no civilian casualties, because the IDF can choose the time and place of the attack, and it tries to choose times and places when no innocents are nearby.
This usually necessitates picking a time when the terrorist is not actually engaged in military activity. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this: The rules of warfare permit taking an enemy by surprise; they do not state that you can open fire only when the enemy is actually shooting at you. But again, the normal rules apparently do not apply to Israel: Rather than applauding a tactic that prevents civilian casualties, both America and Europe have objected vociferously to the targeted killings, with the European Union even terming them "executions without trial" and declaring them a violation of international law.
But if all of the above tactics are completely unacceptable, just what tactics would America and Europe consider legitimate - other than for Israel to let its citizens be sitting ducks, without lifting a finger to protect them? If America and Europe want to exert an influence on Israel's actions, they owe the government a straightforward answer to this question. There has never been an Israeli government that would not prefer to use tactics acceptable to the West, if such tactics exist.
But the evidence to date seems to indicate that there are no such tactics - that in practice, Europe and America are unwilling for Israel to take any measures in its own defense. And if this is the case, then the government has no choice but to simply ignore world opinion and do what it thinks best. For no Israeli government - and indeed, no self-respecting government in any country - could agree to sit by and do nothing while its citizens are subjected to daily shooting attacks. (Jerusalem Post Feb 20)
So Ariel Sharon, the Lion of Judah, Israel's own George Patton, the toughest guy in the Middle East, the mention of whose name makes strong men tremble, has offered the top two jobs in his government-to-be to the guys who vie with Neville Chamberlain for Top Appeasers of Modern Times: Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. After his lopsided victory, Sharon turns to the humiliated leaders of the discredited opposition and offers them glory and power. Wrong. Entirely wrong.
First of all, it's an arrogant insult to the electorate. When you win a landslide, you should respect the voice of the people and do what they clearly want you to: Govern in accordance with your announced principles. Nobody believes that Barak and Peres share Sharon's view of the world, so Sharon is defying the will of the people. If they had wanted Barak and Peres, they'd have voted Labor, not Likud.
Second, it's bad politics. As I argued after our own elections, the whole theory of "unity governments" is an intellectual conceit, a misguided concoction dreamed up by people who have never governed. Israelis should know this better than most, because they've experimented with such things — Peres and Shamir made a deal some years ago that led to a rotating government, with first one, then the other serving as prime minister — and it was a fiasco. Third, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of leadership. Sharon seems to think that he'll be stronger, and the country will be more united, if he has his defeated opponents alongside him. I can't imagine what line of reasoning led him to this conclusion. He just won the highest percentage of the popular vote — 62 percent — of any candidate for top office in any democratic country in the last hundred years. Can you spell "mandate"? He could hardly be any stronger today, and his future political power will depend entirely on the success or failure of his policies, not on the members of his Cabinet.
Bringing in Peres and Barak actually weakens him, because it encourages his enemies to think that he's just another Israeli pol, a wheeler-dealer, rather than the decisive and courageous leader Israelis so desperately need and want. Do you think that the presence of the two great appeasers will make Arafat more likely to come to reasonable terms? Not bloody likely. Arafat, and his deep-pockets sponsor, Saddam Hussein, believe that Israel has lost its will, is not prepared to fight, and is ready at long last to be driven from the Middle East. Sharon's decision to play footsy with the Labor Party is martial music in their ears.
Above all, it suggests that Sharon is not going to tell the truth to the Israeli people: that they have been at war for several years, and that they do not have a choice between war and peace. Their only choice is between winning and losing the war. Neither Barak nor Peres believes that, and neither is likely to support a government that says that, and acts accordingly. So Sharon has boxed himself in: if he vigorously wages war, he'll be attacked by his own foreign and defense ministers, while if he continues their ridiculous policies he'll be excoriated by the Israeli public.
Great leaders lead, knowing that if they win they will be honored, and that they will be despised if they lose. There really isn't much more to it than that. Military leaders should understand this better than most, because all their training and all their experience in battle underline it. But General Ariel Sharon seems not to understand it, and his first few days as prime minister-designate of Israel bode ill indeed for the outcome of the ongoing Middle East war. (National Review Feb 16)
The writer holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
The security situation that Ehud Barak's peace government has bequeathed to Ariel Sharon's peace government can be more or less summed up in the following manner: Hezbollah attacks on Har Dov (to which Israel refrains from responding), Tanzim attacks on Har Gilo (to which Israel is incapable of responding), a suicide attack at the Azur junction (to which Israel does not know how to respond), shots fired at Israeli vehicles on the Modi'in Highway, shots fired at Israeli vehicles on the Tunnel Road, and approximately sixty Israelis and more than 300 Palestinians killed within less than five months.This kind of security situation can only be described as close to catastrophic. It would be unthinkable to imagine such a security situation existing in any other self-respecting democracy. This state of affairs, which has not been experienced in this country since the mid-1950s, can be directly attributed to the melt-down of two concepts: The Grand Concept of Oslo and the Mini-Concept of the Withdrawal from Lebanon. In line with the Grand Concept of Oslo, it was assumed that the flooding of the land with fifty thousand AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles for the Palestinians would usher in an era of peace for the Middle East. In line with the Mini-Concept of the Withdrawal from Lebanon, it was assumed that the deployment of Hezbollah rocket-launchers along the line on which Kibbutz Menara is situated would usher in an era of peace for Israel's northern frontier.
Both conceptions are the brain-child of the same genius. The records of the Registrar of Patents documents in detail the fact that the Israeli who invented the alchemist's formula of Oslo ("If we say that this is peace and if we sing out loud that this is peace and if we keep on saying the 'Abracadabra' of peace then, perhaps, all this will truly lead to peace") is the very same Israeli who thought up the lame-brain idea of the Israel Defense Forces pulling out of Lebanon at any price ("If they defeat us, chase us out and humiliate us, immediately afterwards they will certainly leave us alone in peace").
However, this famed inventor cannot be held solely responsible for these two concepts. Granted, the outgoing justice minister did turn Israel into a country that is incapable of granting even a modicum of personal safety to its own citizens, and has gambled twice on Israel's fate and has twice lost. Granted, he still refuses to acknowledge that all his efforts have had disastrous consequences and that his mistakes have been paid for in blood and have produced hundreds of graves. But responsibility must also be shared by thousands of other Israelis - intelligent individuals occupying key positions in Israeli society - who were his partners in the scandal of these two concepts. Thousands of Israelis who are the champions of and determined crusaders for peace, are unable to muster the courage to stand up and publicly declare that they have led Israel into this situation, that they have brought Israel to the very brink of an abyss.
When prime minister Golda Meir, defense minister Moshe Dayan and the members of the elite group who surrounded them led Israel into the fire of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, they were called to account. When prime minister Menachem Begin, defense minister Ariel Sharon and the members of the elite group who surrounded them led Israel into another fire, the War in Lebanon in 1982, they were called to account. When prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert unnecessarily placed Israel on a bed of nails in 1996 over the Western Wall Tunnel, many Israelis demanded that they be called to account. However, today, when it is crystal-clear that the Oslo-Lebanon elite has led Israel into a true conflagration, has led Israel to face a wall of fire that has already scorched acres and acres of land, no one is calling the members of that elite to account. One Israeli after another has been killed and yet no one is demanding that this elite group be called to account. One Palestinian after another has been killed and yet no one is demanding that this elite group be called to account. Granted, the government has fallen, but none of its leading lights has been toppled. None of them is seen to have made any error, none of them has blundered, none of them bears any responsibility for the present situation.
The refusal by an entire stratum of leadership to assume responsibility for its actions is an ugly and extremely grave phenomenon. Nonetheless, what is needed now is not the collective deposing of all the members of the Oslo group. Nor should the elite that was responsible for the serious blunder of the two concepts, and which ruled this country with such arrogance for the past seven years, be thrown out into the cold. The political culture of public commissions of inquiry and public beheadings has run out of steam. The political culture of mutual mud-slinging and mutual exclusion has demonstrated its limits. Thus, a different kind of punishment must be meted out to those responsible for the serious blunder of the two concepts. A reverse form of punishment is what is called for. They must acknowledge that they have made a tragic mistake and they must be forced to remain where they are, to face the music, to assume responsibility. They must be full-fledged partners in a national rescue project aimed at pulling Israel out of the two minefields into which they have led it.
All this means that today, when Sharon is extending his hand in peace on the domestic front, the Israeli left does not have the moral option of staying on the sidelines. If Sharon's invitation is rejected and if, as a result, he finds himself plunged into a war with the Palestinians, this armed confrontation cannot be called Sharon's War. It will, instead, be the Oslo War - the war that was built into the absurd framework that the Oslo elite set up here. Similarly, if Sharon becomes entangled in a war on Israel's northern frontier, this armed confrontation cannot be called Sharon's War. It will be the Four Mothers' War - the war that was built into the humiliating process in which four Israeli mothers forced the country to flee from Lebanon. Thus, if war breaks out in the North, no leftist will be entitled to stand in Tel Aviv's Yitzhak Rabin Square and protest. If war breaks out in the North, no leftist will be entitled to sit and count the dead beside the Official Residence of the prime minister in Jerusalem. Because, this time around, those dead soldiers will belong to us. They will belong to the Israeli left (Haaretz Feb 22)