Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Holocaust Test

Whenever I hear about a tragedy befalling large numbers of people, like the tsunami earthquake disaster in south east Asia, I compare it with the Holocaust. Until now 60,000 are reported dead in ten countries, a terrible toll. But, in comparison to the Holocaust it is as nothing. Towards the end of WWII that number of Jews was being killed every day in eastern Europe! And the worst part of it was that unlike the tsunamis that were a natural phenomenon, the Holocaust was man-made.
Apart from the terrible toll that the years of starvation and disease was enacting on the Jews, the Germans and their E. European allies (Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, etc.) at this time were working extra hard to solve the "Jewish problem" as efficiently as they could. This included driving over 500,000 Hungarian Jews by foot for hundreds of miles from Budapest to Auschwitz and killing those who survived the march in the gas ovens there.
So maybe I have become somewhat hardened and cynical. Would these people now suffering have helped us if we were in dire need? What if Israel were being attacked by terrorists, would they show any sympathy - but wait a minute, we have been attacked by terrorists, and about 1,200 Israelis have been murdered in 4 years, and did any of these countries, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, say or do anything to help us. A few of them issued nice sounding statements against terrorism in general, and criticized violence on both sides.
Yet, within a day of the tragedy being announced Israel was actively sending aid:
l The Israeli organization Latet ('To Give') filled a jumbo jet with 18 tons of supplies.
l A medical team headed by four doctors from Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital arrived in Sri Lanka on Monday night (Dec. 27), carrying medicine and baby food. The doctors specialize in rescue operations, trauma and pediatrics.
l An IDF rescue team is now on its way to Sri Lanka with 80 tons of aid material, including 10,000 blankets, tents, nylon sheeting and water containers, all contributed by the IDF.
l A ZAKA rescue-and-recovery team arrived in the disaster areas Monday night, armed with its specialized equipment for identifying bodies.
l A Health Ministry contingent left for Thailand on Monday night to aid in rescue efforts. The group includes doctors, nurses and four members of the IDF.
l Israel has also offered its assistance to India, a search-and-rescue team from the Home Front Command, as well as consignments of food and medicine.
What is most infuriating about this humanitarian response, far out of proportion to Israel's size, is that not a single major media outlet mentioned it. And even worse than that, L'Ossevatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, published an article criticizing Israel for not responding to this humanitarian catastrophe, and accused us of restricting all our efforts to military actions against the Palestinians. If that is not a case of outright anti-Jewish prejudice, what is? Not only singling out Israel from among all the countries of the world for criticism, but actually ignoring the facts. But, then should we be surprised by Catholic anti-Jewish prejudice.
So we should still give to those who are suffering, but if history is any guide, we should not expect reciprocity.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Conflicting signs

There are conflicting signs coming from the PA. In a major campaign speech
last Saturday, Mahmoud Abbas, acting President and front-runner in the PA
elections, expressed hard-line positions in which he stated emphatically
that "I won't turn guns on my own people." Referring to Hamas and other
terrorist groups he said that the Israelis call them "murderers" but we call
them "strugglers." On the other hand, he did not call for a continuation of
terrorist violence and suicide bombings. He did however demand that in
order to achieve peace Israel must return to the pre-1967 borders, end the
occupation of Palestinian lands and allow all the Palestinian refugees to
return . In Israel this is seen as inevitable posturing for his election
campaign. It is hoped that some softening in his positions will occur if or
when actual negotiations take place.
In an unprecedented move, over 500 prominent Palestinians, including
Ministers in the PA, top officials, legislators, writers, intellectuals and
poets called for an end to violence against Israelis. This was published as
an 'open letter' in a major Palestinian newspaper. Entitled "What we want
from the elected President," this included appeals for an end to chaos,
democracy, transparency and reform. It is inconceivable that such an open
appeal could have been published under Arafat.
At the same time, fighting continues. About 40 mortar shells were fired at
the Gush Katif settlement bloc over the weekend, notwithstanding previous
IDF attacks on Rafah, and although no-one was killed the settlers are mad.
They are convinced that the IDF is under orders not to protect them so that
they will be forced to move. Certainly the terrorist groups are trying to
make it appear that they are forcing Israeli withdrawal.
Meanwhile on the West Bank, a group of Israeli special forces came under
fire while trying to arrest the deputy leader of the al Aksa Martyr's
Brigades in Jenin. In the gunfight that followed and the destruction of his
house, Taher abu Kamal was killed. In another gunfight in Tulkarm, three
Palestinians were killed and a fourth captured. One of them was 16 years
In Israel, the road to the National Unity Government continues, with the
Labor Party, voting to join the coalition and selecting several younger
candidates for the 7 Ministerial positions that Sharon and Peres have agreed
upon. Surprisingly, Ofer Pines-Paz received the highest number of votes and
has accepted the position of Interior Minister. But, the process is slow
because each Minister must negotiate his own position with Peres. And this
does not include the positions that Sharon has set aside for Shas should
they agree to join the coalition government. Naturally there is much
criticism in Israel over the long drawn out and unseemly jockeying for
positions. Many think that the Israeli system needs significant reform.
So it seems that both the PA and Israel will get new governments at roughly
the same time in January, 2005, both under internal pressure to reform and
both hopefully willing to enter negotiations for a peace settlement. Let's
hope that 2005 will be the year of cessation of violence and a beginning of
the end of the seemingly eternal conflict. Amid conflicting signs we must
live in hope.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Blue eyes

Notwithstanding its humble origins, Christianity became a triumphilist
religion. You can see this very easily by the sizes of the Churches, St.
Paul's in London, St. Peter's in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, and so on. Apart
from their architectural beauty, they are manifestations of religious
fascism, reducing the individual to insignificance. In Spain each city
competed for the largest and most sumptuously decorated cathedral. If you
compare religious buildings around the world, synagogues are very modest,
while Churches have significant spires and Mosques have high minarets,
examples of phallic pretensions.
Islam has a distinctly repressive side, believing not only that it is the
superior religion, but that everyone must "submit" to it. Of the so-called
three major monotheistic religions, only Judaism is comparatively modest and
does not actively proselytize. The basis for the Western Judeo-Christian
ethical tradition, now represented in secular culture as the legal system
that governs us all, religious and non-religious alike, derives ultimately
from Judaism (while other aspects derive from the Greeks - such as drama -
and the Romans - such as civil administration).
But Islam retains a perverted form of political system, more akin to
Communism or Fascism than to Western norms. For example, although the
priests and the Church hierarchy up to the Pope were the purveyors of
Christian orthodoxy, there was always a parallel political or secular power,
that of the State, that existed separately from it. In the end this led to
the strict separation of Church and State found in the American political
system. In Islam there is no separation between religious and secular power,
and in totalitarian systems everything is political. It's true that there
are Islamic States that are considered to be secular, such as Egypt or
Syria, but they are dictatorships, in which individual rights are virtually
nonexistent, just as in the fascist system.
In Pakistan recently a man was accused of having sex with a young woman from
another tribe. A conclave was held of the elders of the two tribes with the
two families. In order to compensate the aggrieved tribe a girl (aged 14)
was chosen from the tribe of the alleged guilty man, and she was sentenced
to be raped, then and there, by men of the other tribe. She was immediately
taken into an adjacent room and gang-raped, within full earshot of the 500
or so people present, including the religious imams who decided the verdict.
The very unusual thing about this occurrence is that her family refused to
accept the "shame" of the verdict, went to court and sued the men of the
other tribe. This went to the highest court in Pakistan and eventually
Pres. Musharraf himself on behalf of the Government offered a financial
settlement (a bribe) to the girl. She rejected this, but instead asked that
the money be used to build a school in her village, where there was none.
Musharraf agreed, and two schools were built, one for boys and one for
girls. But, many people refuse to send their children to these schools
because they were financed by money that was paid to compensate for the
shame of the raped girl and her family.
You could argue that this is an example of "tribal justice" and has little
to do with Islam, except for the fact that it is apparently routine
punishment in Pakistan (this story comes from the BBC so it must be true).
And what about the cutting off of hands for theft, what about the prevalence
of female circumcision, what about suicide bombers, and beheadings and what
about the extreme hatred of Jews expressed openly in Muslim societies.
In Iran a film has just been shown on State TV called "Blue Eyes," in which
an Israeli politician covets the blue eyes of a Palestinian girl. He
arranges for her to be abducted and her eyes removed and transplanted in
him. Her father can only see the now blind girl by masquerading as a Jew.
This travesty of a film is not only absurd (you can buy blue tinted contact
lenses), but shows more about the pathological hatred of Jews in Islamic
Iran than it shows about the reality of Israel (where Arab children are
treated equally in our hospitals).
The larger question, now that the democratization of the PA and Iraq are
live issues, is whether or not Islamic societies can overcome these
"primitive" aspects of their culture and adapt to accept individual rights,
including women's rights, and the protection of minorities. Elections are
only the beginning of this process, that might take 50-100 years.
They are being given the opportunity. If they don't take it, then the
possibility of a "clash of civilizations" would seem more likely.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The morality of ethnic cleansing

Do you think that it is morally acceptable for one group of people to
physically replace another in a given territory? Think about it carefully
before answering, because you can't have it both ways, either it is or it is
not morally acceptable for one group to supplant another, either as a result
of war, genocide or any other means. Those who oppose Israel's "occupation"
of "Arab Lands" often do so from a moralistic position.
If you said no, that it is NOT morally acceptable, then you have a problem,
because most of the countries in the world came about by one group defeating
and supplanting another. For example, the British defeated the Indians (or
indigenous Americans) and the French during the 17-18th centuries, and took
over North America, eventually constituting two countries, the USA and
Canada. Whatever differences there might have been between the USA and
Britain then, have been smoothed over since, and there is no doubt that the
Anglo-American alliance practically rules the world, to the chagrin of the
French (the Indians, many of whom were massacred, ceased to be a factor long
ago). If this take-over was immoral then the self-righteous English or
their successors should renounce their conquests and give back the lands to
the original inhabitants. Legal claims for the restoration of stolen lands
are still proceeding in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Another example, the Muslim Arabs conquered the Byzantine Empire in the
Middle East around the seventh-eighth centuries and essentially forcibly
converted its inhabitants to Islam. Those Jews and Christians who were not
converted and survived became second class citizens, first of the Arab
Empires and then of the succeeding Turkish Empire. If you think it was
immoral for them to do this, then you must believe that they should return
these lands to their original Jewish and Christian inhabitants. History
shows us that the large Jewish population in the Holy Land was decimated
both by the Byzantines and later and more effectively by the Arabs, and that
this was a deliberate policy to de-populate the area of Jews so that the
Arab claim would be uncontested.
We recently visited the area around Modi'in where the Macabees (Hasmoneans),
the leaders of the Jewish Revolt that is celebrated as Hanukkah, lived.
Around this region there are many Jewish sites, about 20 were discovered
during the construction of Route 6 that dissects the region. But, at the
time of the Macabees the enemy was the Syrian Greeks, no Muslims came on the
scene until nearly a thousand years later. Yet they claim this land.
We could go on with such examples for ever, including the many wars that led
to the drawing of borders between European countries in the 18-20th
centuries, which often divided ethnic groups. For example,
Schleswig-Holstein, was part of Denmark, it was occupied by the far stronger
German Army in the mid-1800's, and after many years of fighting over it, a
plebiscite was held there, but the Germans had already re-settled a majority
of their people in SH, and so they got the result they wanted, the
inhabitants voted to remain part of Germany. In fact, the Geneva
Conventions, that are supposed to control relations between states were
promulgated initially to precisely prevent these kinds of manipulations. Yet
SH is still part of Germany.
The Israel Government is about to carry out an unprecedented moral act, to
withdraw voluntarily from a (partially) occupied area (20% of Gaza, agreed
to in the Oslo Accords), over which it has a legitimate claim, since in the
time of the Macabees the Land of Israel included Gaza (as well as the Golan
and part of Jordan). Also, some of the settlements in Gaza were owned by
Jews in the 1930s, well before the concept of a Palestinian people took
hold. Why is it that Israel is prepared to do this? Because we shrink from
the obvious solution, that which all the other countries of the world have
used, of what is now known as "ethnic cleansing," and we have the belief
(illusion?) that this withdrawal should lead to peace.
Now we come to the opposite possibility, namely that it IS morally
acceptable for one group to supplant another as shown above, at least that
is the reality by which the world has been governed. But, note that we are
not talking about pragmatics, but morality, which presumably is not relative
and should not change with time or circumstances. Now suppose you think
that it is moral for this kind of process to occur, then you have a problem.
For example, Yugoslavia, where each of the three ethnic groups Orthodox
Serbs, Catholic Croatians and Muslim Bosnians massacred each other with
abandon, until NATO stepped in, ended the fighting and forced them to accept
a division of Yugoslavia.
So the situation is that the world to a large extent, having evolved through
precisely these kind of immoral take-overs of other's lands, now wants to
impose a higher order of morality, that tries to prevent any further such
supplantings. This is considered to be progress. The instrument for
accomplishing this is mainly the UN, which enshrines the principle of no
territorial gains by force, even though every one of the countries
represented got that way by precisely this means.
Not only that, the UN is hardly a moral force in world affairs. Its
interference in recent conflicts, in Rwanda, Somalia and Yugoslavia, have
been abject failures, its personnel have been involved in permitting
massacres (e.g. Srebrenice) and in carrying out sexual and other abuses
against local populations (e.g. Congo) and the UN is currently embroiled in
a massive b$20 financial scandal of the Iraqi "oil for food" program. In
fact, there are now calls from the US Congress for Secty. Gen. Kofi Annan to
resign. A few weeks ago two UN committees met in adjacent rooms, one
committee could not come to a vote on whether or not to denounce Sudan for
the murder of in excess of 50,000 Blacks in Darfur, while the other
Committee passed six resolutions censuring Israel for among other things
"occupying Arab Land." Is this a fit organization to legislate the morality
of the world?
I leave you with this thought, if Israel does withdraw/disengage from Gaza,
and the daily rocket attacks on Israel continue (6 Israelis were injured
yesterday) and the terrorism continues, what then? To those who say that you
can't reverse history I say that you can't stop it either.

Great expectations

Speaking at the annual Conference of the Herzliya Inter-disciplinary Center
on Thursday night PM Sharon gave a very conciliatory speech. He declared
2005 a year of "great opportunity," and called upon surrounding Arab
countries not to miss this historic chance of making peace with Israel. He
stated that "2005 can be the year in which we establish the foundation for a
long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian agreement." He offered to "coordinate
various elements of our disengagement plan with the future Palestinian
Government," and stated that major concessions are required from both sides,
and Israel has made "the historic decision that we are prepared for such
concessions ...because the alternative of one nation ruling over another
would be a horrible disaster for both peoples."
In response to these conciliatory comments the PA reacted angrily, saying
that "he would not find a Palestinian partner for his vision!" More
specifically, Mahmoud Abbas told al-Jazeera TV "these statements are
unacceptable and completely rejected." Is this the kind of response one
would expect from a leader preparing for a peaceful future? Much is being
written about Abbas, the sure winner of the upcoming PA Presidential
elections. But, how sure are we that he is sincere, that he really wants
peace. The answer is that no-one really knows.
While touring the Arab world in the wake of Arafat's death, seeking support
from the entrenched and dictatorial rulers of these lands, Abbas has sounded
like no one else other than Arafat. He says that he is against the use of
violence, especially used against Israeli civilians, because it is
counter-productive for the Palestinian struggle at this stage. Not that it
is wrong, or immoral, or against Islam, just that it is untimely. Recently
in Saudi Arabia, of course seeking financial support that has waned during
Arafat's regime, Abbas sounded very conciliatory to the Saudis, as he has
done to the Syrians, Lebanese and Egyptians. Once again the anticipated
leader of the Palestinians is preparing himself to be the point man for the
whole Arab world in its perceived vital struggle against Zionism.
The question is will Abbas, in the mould the Americans have designed for him
of democratic reformer, follow in the footsteps of Sadat of Egypt, who
really made peace with Israel, or of Assad and the myriad of other dictators
who have used the Arab-Israel conflict as an excuse to avoid any progress or
improvement of their people? Let me make myself clear, I don't care if the
Arabs live in dire poverty and make no progress, that is their concern. All
I care about is that in those circumstances they continue to believe that
destroying Israel will somehow rid them of this condition. That is their
illusion and to a large extent their acquired culture.
But, actually any sensible rational man would know that the reverse is true,
in order to improve their lot and start to develop they need peace. War
only keeps them down, and so far as anyone can see from bitter experience
war does not hold any hope for them to attain their goals of destroying
Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian State. The concept of an Arab
"right of return" to Israel is the give-away. Every Arab knows that Israel
will not and cannot accept this, because they would be a determined fifth
column that would destroy Israel from within, if not by sabotage then by
demographics. Israel already has a 20% Arab minority, and the Palestinians
are planning to have no Jews (0%) in their future state! So their apparent
support for a two-state solution is a front, a cover for their continuing
destruction of Israel in stages, the old Arafat-PLO strategy. And Abbas
strongly adheres to this policy and has publicly insisted that he will not
accept any agreement that does not allow full and complete return of all
"refugees" to Israel, and he has said this in all his stops, in Lebanon,
Syria, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Now you could call this a campaign platform designed to gain support from
even the hard-line resistance to democratic reform in the PA, or a
pre-negotiating position that will soften later. Maybe. But, the fact
remains that there are no peaceful conciliatory sounds coming from the front
runner in the PA, and this does not augur well for the rosy future that the
American and Israeli Governments are projecting. Apart from the steps that
Mubarak of Egypt seems to be making to improve relations with Israel,
including the recently signed trade pact, no-one in the Arab world yet dares
to talk publicly like Sharon of a constructive peace with Israel.
Meanwhile the Israeli Govt. coalition talks appear, after a rocky start, to
have succeeded. Labor will have 8 ministries and Shimon Peres will be
Deputy PM along with incumbent Ehud Olmert of Likud. With Labor in the
Govt. and Peres probably in charge of negotiations with the PA, the
Palestinians think that they have achieved a great victory, forcing Sharon
to give in to them, and they will try to drive a hard bargain. They expect
from previous experience that Peres will be malleable and conciliatory.
Because of the losses from terrorism that Israel has suffered they expect
major Israeli concessions without themselves having to make compromises, and
if they don't get them they have not ruled out a continuation of terrorism
in the future. How much has really changed? Is this another case of
self-deceptive "Oslo illusions"?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

We are two

The difficulty of Jewish identity is compounded by the distinction between
living in the diaspora and living in Israel. Since I have experienced both,
particularly in the UK and US, and for the last nine years (as well as 3
years previously) in Israel, I think I can give an informed opinion on this.
The obvious problem is that in the diaspora, Jews were and are in a
"dependent" position. They are in many ways powerless to affect their fate,
they must call on other more powerful forces, the French State, the British
police, the American legal system, to protect them. When push comes to
shove and Jews are being attacked and murdered in the streets of Paris,
Brussels, Stockholm, Berlin, there's not much the Jews can do except put out
a hue and cry, "help us!" This is certainly reminiscent of the plight of
the Jews in pre-WWII Europe, whether the anti-Semitism is different now or
not. But when Jews are attacked in Israel then the IDF can react strongly
and actively. They defend the Jewish people of Israel, and have undoubtedly
turned around the vicious terrorist campaign against Israeli citizens.
There is almost no way that Jews in the diaspora can identify fully with
Israel, unless they call themselves Zionists, and then make aliyah. That's
why, while three-quarters of Israelis supported Bush, three-quarters of
American Jews voted for Kerry. There is a fundamental difference in
interests and identity between diaspora Jews and Israelis, notwithstanding
all the slogans ("we are one").
In past Jewish history the emphasis was on Jewish victimhood, we were the
victims and the surrounding Christians (and Muslims) were our tormentors and
killers. This situation made us more sympathetic with the underdog in
Western society, the Negroes, the immigrants, the women. It was both for
altruistic and selfish reasons that the Jews in the West were predominantly
liberal. Now even though the situation has fundamentally changed, diaspora
Jews still think of themselves in the same way, basically as victims. So
they vote with the liberals, even those who are biased against Israel (and
I'm not saying that Kerry is). While in Israel there is a Jewish minority
that identifies with the Palestinians, but the majority don't think of
themselves as helpless victims and are prepared to fight.
Here's another difference. Israelis are very aware of the Arabs living
amongst us. They are in every walk of life, as students, doctors, taxi
drivers, shoppers in our streets and our Malls. But, no-one bothers them, we
accept their legitimate presence here. Unfortunately the situation is not
reciprocated. However, maybe things are changing again. In a poll issued
last week, for the first time in at least 5 years, Palestinians in Gaza and
the West Bank voted over 50% to accept the idea of a negotiated treaty with
Israel. This is maybe the effect of the defeat of the aims of the intifada
and the death of Arafat.
Another difference, in the IDF there are Arab soldiers. Last week 5 were
killed in an explosion in Rafah, when an extensive tunnel was blown up with
over 1 ton of TNT adjacent to an IDF outpost. Four Bedouin soldiers were
killed and one Israeli Arab from northern Israel. At his funeral no Arab
said anything that could be interpreted as supporting the IDF or the Israeli
State, but nevertheless there are Arabs fighting in the IDF and speaking
fluent Hebrew, more than most diaspora Jews do.
One could philosophize that Israeli Arabs have the greater identity crisis,
being like the Jews in the diaspora. But, this only highlights the
difference in identity between diaspora and Israeli Jews, we are indeed two.
Given this it would be a major mistake if diaspora Jews were given any say
in how Israel is governed or run (as has been suggested), and from my
experience, Israel would be making a serious error if it allowed its future
to be dependent on the opinions or actions of the diaspora, and particularly
American Jews.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

National Unity Government

The vote last Thursday by the Likud Central Committee opened the way for PM
Sharon in his bid to form a National Unity Government with the Labor Party,
as well as with two religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. He
won the vote by two thirds to one, a surprisingly strong turnaround from
previous defeats.
Now the Labor Party, that is also split between those who want to form a
coalition with Likud and those who do not, has to decide. It is very likely
that Labor leader Peres will get his way, since few are prepared to risk new
elections when they can obtain Ministries and influence now. So it is
highly likely that within two weeks a new NUG will be in office, and
prepared to carry out the unilateral Disengagement Plan for Gaza and
northern Samaria.
However, now that Arafat is gone, and a new PA Government is being elected,
there is a move by Sharon to reduce the unilateral nature of this policy in
preference for coordination with the new PA leadership. Yielding to popular
pressure Marwan Barghouti has flip-flopped again and is no longer going to
run as a candidate for the PA Presidency. This leaves the way clear for a
large majority for Mahmoud Abbas, thus strengthening his position. However,
whether or not he will be strong enough to act against the terrorist groups
who have refused to stop their attacks against Israel or he can engineer a
ceasefire remains to be seen. Every day there are still rockets and mortars
fired at Jewish settlements in Gaza and into Israeli territory in the Negev.
Also, suicide bombings are being thwarted all the time, now the rate of
interception is about 90%. So the extent of Israeli coordination with the
PA of the withdrawal from Gaza will depend initially on to what extent Abbas
and his Government can actually stop the attacks and bring about a
ceasefire. With a popular Government on each side and strong support from
Egypt, Jordan, the US and the EU, good things could happen.
However, there are some flies in the ointment. In their recent
fence-mending tour through Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, Abbas and the PA
leadership made some disturbing statements, such as admitting that their
aims are the same as those of Syria and the Palestinian terrorist groups
headquartered in Damascus, and committing themselves to the full "right of
return" for the half million or so Palestinian residents in Lebanon and
Syria (the so-called "refugees"). Since this is an unacceptable condition
for Israel, it is clear that the future negotiations, if they come to pass,
will be difficult indeed.
One interesting idea that has been floated is that in exchange for areas of
the West Bank that Israel intends to retain as part of any final drawing of
borders, Israel could transfer sovereignty over parts of Israel that contain
a majority of Arabs that are adjacent to the West Bank. This includes the
so-called triangle region between Umm-al Fahm and Baqa-al Gharbiya,
containing several hundred thousand Arabs. This would satisfy the PA's need
for land and contiguity as well as Israel's desire to maintain a Jewish
majority. However, this idea might flounder because the Israeli Arabs who
live there might not want to give up their Israeli citizenship, and also
because some Israelis will see it as a bad precedent to give up sovereign
Israeli territory to the PA. However, such ideas may come to the fore if
the PA really adopts a ceasefire and genuine negotiations follow.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Jenin - the truth

A few nights ago a documentary film "Jenin - massacring the truth" was
broadcast on Israel TV (in English). It is a report by a Canadian reporter
Martin Himel with the aid of an IDF doctor, Jonathan van Caspel, following
up on the story published throughout the world reporting that there had been
a massacre of Palestinian civilians in Jenin in April, 2002, during part of
the IDF Operation Defensive Shield.
What prompted this IDF operation was the terrible toll of 130 Israelis
killed during March 2002 alone, including 29 dead in the Park Hotel here in
Netanya during a Passover Seder meal (a real massacre). The IDF re-entered
the West Bank cities for the first time since many Israeli withdrawals had
taken place under the auspices of the Oslo Accords. So up to that point the
excuse often given for Palestinian attacks, namely "the occupation," could
hardly be taken seriously.
Since the majority of suicide bombers and attacks had emanated from the
Palestinian town of Jenin, near the borders with Israel in Samaria
(Shomron), the IDF for the first time attacked the casbah in Jenin, and went
into the narrow alleys, which had been booby-trapped by the terrorists.
Intense hand-to-hand fighting ensued and the terrorists were gradually
driven back. In order to overcome the hard core remainder, the IDF used
tanks, that were difficult to maneuver in the narrow streets, and armored
bulldozers. In the process many buildings were destroyed and some civilians
were killed. That is not in dispute.
What was in dispute however is how many civilians were killed and did the
IDF engage in deliberate massacre of civilians? The answer to the first
question can be given definitively, since both the UN and Human Rights Watch
(UK), neither known for friendliness towards Israel, determined after
extensive searches that ca. 52 Palestinians had been killed during the
Operation altogether, of whom 22 were civilians (the IDF lost 16 soldiers).
Given these numbers (very small under the circumstances) it is impossible
that any "massacre" took place.
Note that in the first few days of the battle Saeb Erakat gave out the
"official figure" of 520 civilians killed, and stuck to this even when asked
for evidence that he could not produce. Others spoke of thousands of
Palestinians killed, and Jenin reduced to rubble. The UN Middle East
spokesman Terje Roed Larsen visited Jenin and repeating Palestinian
propaganda spoke of "the stench of bodies" and called what happened there
"an atrocity."
This situation reminded me of the IDF campaign into Lebanon in 1982, when at
first thousands, then hundreds of thousands, were claimed to have been
killed by the IDF in the first days of the war in southern Lebanon. The
fact that these numbers were released by Fathi Arafat, Yasser's brother, and
head of the Palestinian Red Crescent (who also died recently in Cairo), did
not dampen the media's enthusiasm to accept such figures and repeat them. I
pointed out in an article in the Washington Jewish Week that there were less
than 300,000 people in the whole of southern Lebanon, so such casualty
figures were obviously grossly exaggerated. You'd think that the media
might learn a lesson from this and not trust Palestinian spokesmen without
other confirmation.
But no, the media enthusiastically embraced the "Jenin massacre" story, even
though there was no objective evidence for it. Many reporters took the
words of so-called Palestinian eyewitnesses at face value, without any
corroboration. The fact that (we now know) they were lying, only increases
the deception (or self-deception) indulged in by these scores of Western
reporters. There was clearly a "herd mentality" among these journalists, who
shared their biased enthusiasm for attacking Israel (particularly since they
were initially kept out of the zone by the IDF for their own safety). Of
course, the BBC excelled itself, trumpeting in self-righteous anger how the
IDF had massacred civilians ("Massacre evidence growing," April 18, 2002).
Given the actual casualty figures and the absence of hundreds of bodies, the
whole "massacre" story was a "big lie" and a calculated piece of
disinformation. But, the damage was done.
Dr. van Caspel (of Dutch origin), who had been with the IDF forces in Jenin,
who had treated Palestinian casualties as well as IDF soldiers, could
corroborate as an eyewitness that there had categorically been no massacre.
This doctor had been moved to refute the claims in a movie entitled "Jenin,
Jenin" that was produced by a Palestinian actor, who had not been present in
Jenin, but who had filmed many Palestinian "eyewitnesses" describing
cynically how the "massacres" had taken place.
What was most interesting about the latest film was the response by many of
the Western reporters when confronted by these facts. Only one actually had
issued a renunciation of his incorrect story, but some newspapers, such as
the South African Mail, refused to carry his correction (when confronted
they later issued a partial correction). Most of the other reporters
dissimulated or lied (such as the Daily Telegraph's David Blair), by denying
that they had used the words "massacre" or "atrocity", which they had, as
shown in their original reports. One "reporter", Janine di Giovanni, who
writes for the supposedly prestigious newspaper "The Times", refused to
speak to the IDF doctor, and ordered him out of her house, and she asked the
reporter if he was Jewish (he did not reply), and then she repeated the
canard that Israel gets off easy from its actions (although this in itself
does not appear to be true) because it has great influence with (controls?)
the US Government. Apparently she is known for her reports from war zones
(where it is difficult to corroborate stories), and has written a book in
which she has amplified on the story of the "massacre" in Jenin. In it she
claims that the destruction in Jenin was worse than that in Grozny, which is
ridiculous, since only 7% in the center of Jenin was destroyed, while ca.
95% of Grozny was destroyed by the Russians with aerial and artillery
bombardment (neither used by the IDF). She also said that the massacres in
Jenin were worse than those in Bosnia and Kossovo, where thousands were
killed! So her reporting is biased, and her credibility destroyed. Yet she
still refused to even listen to the facts! So much for objective Western

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Yesterday in Jerusalem I went to a talk by David Horovitz, the new editor of
the Jerusalem Post. David is a young-looking man (age 40) who took over
only 2 months ago at the Post, and then the paper was sold to a new owner, a
Canadian firm. He looked very tired, but when he started talking he became
animated and was fluent.
David gave a summary of the current situation. He said that two main things
have changed, first Sharon has made it harder for the Palestinian terrorists
to kill us, and secondly Arafat's death has fundamentally altered the
situation. However, he is somewhat pessimistic about Mahmoud Abbas, since
he is one of Arafat's old guard, and he thinks there needs to be a change
over of the generations.
He mentioned that he had an interesting conversation lasting an hour over
coffee with a Palestinian he met while on an assignment. This was an
average man-in-the-street, who turned out to be quite moderate, against
terrorism, but who was convinced that Israel was responsible for all the bad
things that have gone wrong. He argued well and knew his facts, which
surprised David, who is after all a professional journalist. So the message
is that even the Palestinian moderates are convinced that Israel is the
cause of the conflict.
David felt that on our side there are only a few percent of extremists, and
the rest of us are in the "confused mainstream."
He felt that Sharon has acted poorly as a politician from a democratic point
of view. When he changed his opinion only a year and a half ago regarding
the disengagement from Gaza, due mainly to the demographic realities, he
then pursued it like his nickname implies, "the bulldozer," without enough
consideration for the political realities in Israel. His decision to opt
for a vote in the Likud Central Committee was an obvious mistake that most
observers could have told him would fail.
A member of the audience made an interesting comment, he said that he had
been Sharon's medical officer in the IDF and knew him well over many years.
He compared the settlements in Gaza with the Israeli outposts along the Suez
Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. They had been over-run by the Egyptian
Army although there were a few holdouts. The high command decided it would
be too costly to re-occupy them or try to rescue any holdouts. But, Sharon
sent in rescue missions, against high odds, in order to evacuate them. He
felt that Sharon is doing the same thing in Gaza, recognizing that Israel
will have to withdraw from Gaza in any case, he is rescuing these "outposts"
that are remote from Israel proper, but before they are surrounded and
occupied by hostile forces.
He agreed with me that the biggest threat to Israel in the future could be a
peaceful and democratic Palestine, because then the internal cohesion within
Israel, without the external threat, might come unstuck. However, we are
still a long way from that situation.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Letter to THES

This letter will appear in the next issue of The Times Higher Education
Consider the following facts in the light of renewed calls for an academic
boycott of Israel, ("Alarm at bid to revive boycott", December 3). The
winners of The Wall Street Journal's 2004 Technology Innovation Awards have
just been announced. The gold award went to Sun Microsystems of California
for a wireless approach to chip design. The silver went to Given Imaging of
Israel for PillCam, a tiny camera that patients swallow so that doctors can see
their digestive tract. The bronze went to InSightec Image Guided Treatment
of Israel for ExAblate 2000, a non-surgical method of destroying tumours.
Israel is contributing to the future well-being of mankind through advanced
technology. It would be irresponsible and self-defeating for Britain to cut
itself off from these and other Israeli high-tech developments.
And what of the supposed "moral" issues involved? Why isn't a boycott of the
Palestinian university system being considered, when most Palestinian
campuses are dominated by terrorist groups? Last Tuesday, the head of the
student union of al-Quds University was assassinated by masked men in a taxi
with Palestinian licence plates.
No Israeli academic dares to visit Palestinian campuses, while Israeli
universities have a large component of Arab students and teachers who go
about freely and undisturbed.
This Israel academic boycott scheme is conducted by hate groups opposed to
peace, and should be resisted by all fair-minded people interested in the
true pursuit of knowledge and open interactions between peoples.

Jack Cohen
The Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel

One Rabbi

One old Rabbi, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas movement,
holds the future of the State of Israel in his hands. How ironic! Sharon
is now down to 40 members of the Likud Party in the Knesset, not all of them
loyal to him, to constitute his minority Government. Actually its not
really a Government at all, any vote against him and he's out and there will
have to be new elections.
The Labor Party is in the process of trying to decide whether or not to join
him in a National Unity coalition. But, he also needs some of the religious
parties, including Shas and United Torah Judaism, to make a majority and to
keep some of the right wing members of Likud from bolting also, or blocking
the deal with Labor. But, Labor only wants to join him in order to bring
about the Disengagement from Gaza.
Shas so far, under the order of Rabbi Yosef, is against the Disengagement
Plan, seeing it as giving up sacred Jewish Land, and a unilateral concession
to the Palestinian terrorists at that. Unless Rabbi Yosef can be persuaded
(by a suitable pay-off?) to compromise and allow Shas to vote for
Disengagement, then Labor will not join the coalition and the Government
will be defeated and will die prematurely.
However, even Labor is split, the Peres faction supporting the coalition,
and the socially conscious left-wing faction being prepared to vote against
the 2005 budget, thus scuppering the Government. They are against the budget
of Finance Minister Netanyahu because he has cut social programs as much as
other parts of the Government.
So the whole nasty political business hangs on the decision of this one old
Rabbi. I wish it were not so. But, that is the politics of coalition
building in our screwed up system, where parties matter more than
In other respects things seem to be going well. The relationship with Egypt
seems to be warming up. Describing it as a gesture to Sharon, Pres. Mubarak
released the Israeli Druse businessman, Azam Azam, who had spent 8 years in
Egyptian jails on trumped up charges of spying. In exchange Mubarak got
back 6 Egyptian students who had entered Israel illegally with the intention
of killing Israeli soldiers. They came armed with an old rifle and some
knives, obviously underestimating the capability of the IDF.
Although Syria seems to want desperately to talk to Israel, Israel and the
US are playing it very cool, preferring to deal first with the Palestinians,
the basic issue, rather than complicate the whole situation with parallel
talks. So talks with Syria are not likely to start any time soon.
The Palestinians seem to be having a smooth transition. Fatah has united
behind Abbas as their candidate for President of the PA, and even the al
Aksa Brigades young guard are siding with him against Marwan Barghouti. It
looks as If Marwan spoiled his chances by waiting too long then changing his
decision twice. It made him look indecisive and unreliable and he may even
be expelled from Fatah. Even if Hamas supports him it now looks as if he
has little chance of winning. While they are in Syria, Abbas and his
cronies are seeking to persuade Hamas leaders there to declare a ceasefire
with Israel.
While seeking the route of non-violence, Abbas and his spokesmen are quick
to blame Israel for continuing the targeted attacks and capture of various
Palestinian terrorists. However, since the attacks are continuing, and
since no agreement has been made so far, the IDF needs to maintain its
anti-terrorist actions. In one case a family handed over their son at a
roadblock rather than have him carry out a suicide mission. This is the
20th case of this happening in the past few months. I suppose the word is
getting around that not only are the suicide bombings not effective, and not
only do they rob the family of their son or daughter, but also their house
will be destroyed and pretty soon the new leadership of the PA is going to
try to stop these attacks altogether. So why bother. In effect the
intifada is over bar the official announcement from the PA itself, and
hopefully that may come in due course.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Hamas ceasefire?

A Hamas spokesman, Sheikh Hassan Youssef, told Associated Press in Gaza on
Friday that the group "accepts a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders
and a long-term truce." This is a complete reversal of previous hard-line
Hamas positions, and raised some skepticism within Israel. Not only that,
the statement was contradicted by a Hamas spokesman in Lebanon, Osama
Hamdan, who said that there has been no change in Hamas long-standing
policy, to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic State, and he said
he found it hard to believe that such a statement had been made.
This reversal and confusion makes sense in the situation that Hamas finds
itself in, where its prime leadership has been decimated by the IDF's
targeted killings, its financial base has been greatly undermined by the
listing of Hamas as a terrorist group by the US and UK, and there is strong
pressure from Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah, as well as the Egyptian
Government, to come to terms and make a ceasefire with Israel, at least
during the period of the PA elections.
However, even with this statement, Hamas did not give up any claims to the
territory that is now Israel, and its truce would be time delimited,
allowing it to reverse the situation and renew the "armed struggle" again,
whenever it felt like it. In fact, the confusion may represent a struggle
between different factions in Hamas that either want to settle down and
concentrate on the social and political aspects of Palestinian Statehood,
and those who represent the extremists who want to continue the violent
struggle against Israel. If Hamas is split in this way, Abbas may use his
power and persuasion in order to support the "moderate" Hamas elements
(although that is almost a contradiction in terms).
One condition that Youssef mentioned was that Israel must halt its targeting
of their members. Although a leader of Islamic Jihad was killed during an
attempted arrest near Jenin on Friday, and a leader of Hamas was captured
with two of his lieutenants in Tulkarm (only 30 min drive inland from here),
PM Sharon in a speech on Thursday stated that Israel would halt offensive
military operations in Gaza and the West Bank should there be a ceasefire
and calm prevails. It was also announced by the PM's office that Israel
would cooperate closely with the PA in facilitating the Palestinian
Once again, these statements by Hamas are only words so far. But, should
these words become reality, should there be an actual ceasefire implemented
by Hamas, and should they instead of boycotting the PA elections, actually
participate in them, then this would indeed be a major change in the
situation. It is in the wake of the death of Arafat and the initiative by
Israel of the planned Disengagement from Gaza that these major changes are
having their repercussions. Even Hamas must reassess its situation.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Government crisis

The Sharon Government is in crisis today because the Shinui (Change) faction
in the coalition voted against the 2005 State Budget. The reason they did
was because Sharon awarded 290 million shekels to the United Torah Judaism
party interest groups in the Budget, as a means to persuade them to join his
coalition. The secular Shinui Party refuses to be in a coalition with the
ultra-orthodox parties and is against such payments to them (although not to
its own interests). Then Sharon carried out his threat and fired all the
Shinui Ministers who voted against the Budget. Because the budget motion was
defeated in the Knesset this means that the Government has been defeated and
ordinarily would be forced to resign, thus triggering new elections.
But, Sharon has the possibility of resurrecting his Government as a
different coalition with Labor in a National Unity coalition and with the
orthodox parties UTJ and Shas. The problem with this scenario is that Labor
also refuses to serve with Shas, and will only join the coalition in order
to bring about the Disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank, while Shas has
so far refused to support the Disengagement Plan. So the rescue of his
Government by a new coalition by Sharon at this point is far from assured.
Meanwhile Marwan Barghouti has reversed himself again and is now going to
stand as a candidate for Presidency of the PA. This is not surprising,
since he does represent the constituency of the "young guard" of the Fatah
and it was very surprising that he would accede to the wishes of Abbas
representing the "old guard" (those who came with Arafat from Tunisia) not
to compete with him as the official Fatah representative. Now we go back to
the situation where we see whether or not the Palestinians opt for peace (by
voting for Abbas) or for continued intifada (by voting for Barghouti).
Hamas announced that they will not stand a candidate, because they do not
recognize the elections. In fact they told their supporters not to vote at
all but to boycott the election, which is good for Abbas. It is not widely
realized that not only does Hamas not recognize Israel, but they do not
recognize the PA either!
So on both sides of the divide things are simmering. It is unclear how
things will turn out in Israel or the PA. But, if Sharon manages to pull
off his National Unity coalition and the Disengagement Plan goes ahead, and
if Abbas is elected President of the PA and can somehow reduce the violence
and really can institute talks with Israel, then there is at least the
possibility (or the illusion) of hope.