Friday, September 28, 2007

Debunking the Myth that Military Strategies Don't Work Against Terrorism

It's been a popular refrain, since the beginning of Israel's decision to fight back in late March 2002 with the initiation of Operation Defensive Shield, that there are no military solutions to terrorism. Well, there may not be any perfect solutions, but five years later, the evidence overwhelming points to the success of Israel's military/intelligence strategies. The combination of good intelligence, the IDF's physical presence (including roadblocks), targeted killings of terror chieftans, bombmakers, engineers, etc., and the construction of large sections of the separation barrier, has brought the toll of Israeli civilian and military casualties down to a remarkably low level, when compared with those numbers at the height of the second Intifada, before these tactics were implemented. In 2002, the single worst year of terrorism, Israel suffered 450 deaths attributable to Palestinian terrorism. Today, the last 'successful' suicide bombing inside Israel took place a year and a half ago. Since the beginning of 2007, two soldiers and six Israeli citizens (three in a suicide bombing in Eilat, two from Qassam rockets in Sderot, and one who was stabbed to death in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank) have been killed as a result of terrorism. While tragic, these are minor numbers, especially considering the number of attempts made by Palestinians at carrying out attacks.
True, the military option is not a permanent solution to the conflict, but it is an important tool, actually creating an environment where real diplomatic progress can be achieved. It is only after the Palestinians understand that terrorism is actually counterproductive to their goal of statehood, that movement towards a diplomatic solution can be reached.
david brumer

It's Possible to Defeat Terrorism - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
It's common to claim it is impossible to defeat terrorism. But over the years of combating Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada, the IDF and the Shin Bet have reached the closest possible point to achieving a victory. Since the beginning of the year, two soldiers and six Israeli citizens were killed as a result of terrorism. At the high point of the intifada, 450 Israelis were killed in 2002. The last suicide bombing in central Israel occurred 18 months ago, in April 2006. The winning formula is a combination of aggressive intelligence-gathering by the Shin Bet, the obstacle created by the separation fence, and the complete freedom of operations granted to the IDF in the Palestinian cities. (Ha'aretz)
The West Bank operation / A reminder of a forgotten war
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
The death of a soldier from an elite unit yesterday in Nablus was a reminder of a forgotten war. The endless wait for the Winograd Committee report - and the political capital the prime minister has received in opinion polls published in recent days - have drawn the attention of most Israelis away from the daily warfare that is taking place less than an hour from the center of the country. In recent months, the West Bank and Gaza Strip security forces have arrested hundreds of militants and foiled dozens of terrorist attacks. Only the fact that yesterday the IDF suffered its first fatality this year in the West Bank has returned the focus on what is taking place on that front.
It's common to claim it is impossible to defeat terrorism. But over the years of combating Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada (this month marks the seventh anniversary), the IDF and the Shin Bet have reached the closest possible point to achieving a victory. Since the beginning of the year, two soldiers (one each in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and six Israeli citizens (three in a suicide bombing in Eilat, two from Qassam rockets in Sderot, and one who was stabbed to death in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank) were killed as a result of terrorism. These are very minor figures, considering the number of attempts at carrying out attacks, and also when compared to the high point of the intifada, when 450 Israelis were killed in 2002. The last suicide bombing in central Israel occurred 18 months ago, in April 2006, in the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. The winning formula is a combination of aggressive intelligence gathering by the Shin Bet, the obstacle created by the separation fence and the complete freedom of operations granted to the IDF in the Palestinian cities. The army considers the continued arrests of militants and the main roadblocks as essential tools for successfully combating terrorism. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that if he had to choose between easing restrictions on Palestinians and security considerations, he would opt for the latter.

The "Nonexistent" Military Solution? - Evelyn Gordon
In March 2002, Israel reconquered the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield - and Israeli fatalities dropped dramatically, that year and every year thereafter. In 1993, many Israelis hoped that a peace agreement would end terror. Fourteen years later, after having suffered more fatalities from Palestinian terror post-Oslo than during the entire preceding 45 years, most Israelis have concluded that the allegedly nonexistent military solution does a much better job of protecting their lives. And until there is concrete evidence of Palestinian willingness and ability to do the job as well or better, there will be no Israeli majority for any deal with the PA.

The fact that Israel first sought nonmilitary solutions in Gaza resembles its behavior during the first 18 months of the intifada: It signed cease-fires (which instantly collapsed), declined to respond even to major suicide bombings inside Israel (Dolphinarium and Sbarro), and generally sought to get the Palestinian security services to reassert control. But as the casualty toll, especially inside Israel, mounted, it became clear that salvation would not come from the PA. So in March 2002, Israel reconquered the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield - and Israeli fatalities dropped dramatically, that year and every year thereafter.
However, there is one crucial difference between the intifada's early years and the recent Israeli quest for a nonmilitary solution in Gaza: While Israelis would always prefer to avoid risking soldiers' lives, they now know, as they did not in 2002, that the military option works. After all, not a single Kassam has been fired at Israel from the West Bank. Hence Israelis are not awaiting leadership from above; they are backing military action even as the politicians still vehemently reject it.
Given this growing recognition among the Israeli public, it is bizarre to hear senior politicians and military officers still parroting the "no military solution to terror" mantra. But at least these officials understand that in practice, Israel's defensive measures in the West Bank work, and therefore, ending them would be a bad idea (not to mention unpopular with the voters).
International agencies and diplomats, in contrast, have not even gotten that far. Any of them could, if they took five minutes to examine the data, realize that Israel's military measures in the West Bank have dramatically reduced Israeli fatalities, especially inside Israel, since 2002; yet they persist in declaring that these measures are unnecessary and must be scrapped. Thus Condoleezza Rice uses her every visit to pressure Israel on this issue, while the World Bank once again demanded last week that Israel remove West Bank checkpoints, open its border with Gaza and restore freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank.
Or perhaps this is feigned ignorance, meant to cover a willingness to sacrifice Israeli lives in order to demonstrate "progress" in the peace process. The World Bank report, for instance, coyly stated that "the costs are subjective to each side and are beyond the scope of this report" - thereby sparing it the need to acknowledge that the likely cost is Israeli lives - but "all parties will need to expend more resources and assume more risks than they have done in the past."
Is it really unaware of what those carefully unstated risks are?
Either way, however, this willful blindness perpetuates the conflict by ensuring that a key obstacle to resolving it - Palestinian terror - remains unaddressed. In 1993, many Israelis hoped that a peace agreement would end terror. Fourteen years later, after having suffered more fatalities from Palestinian terror post-Oslo than during the entire preceding 45 years, most Israelis have concluded that the allegedly nonexistent military solution does a much better job of protecting their lives. And until there is concrete evidence of Palestinian willingness and ability to do the job as well or better, there will be no Israeli majority for any deal with the PA.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Eastern Jerusalem, NGO Monitor, Defensible Borders and the Importance of a Unified Jerusalem

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to receive a world class tour of Eastern Jerusalem and its environs from Judy Balint, a ten year veteran resident of the city, following her Aliya from Seattle in 1997 (See her books and website, Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times).
The tour was a real eye-opener. Judy took me through Sur Bahir, Jabel Mukaber, Sheik Jarrah, Silwan, and Abu Dis, which is partially within the municipality of Jerusalem, although mostly situated outside the city lines under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority [an interesting side note; Barak had offered Arafat Abu Dis as the capital of Palestine, with the Parliament building (which still stands today) actually closer to the Old City than the Israeli Knesset!]. Judy showed me pictures of what Eastern Jerusalem looked like pre-1967, and amazingly, it was only sparsely populated under what was then Jordanian control. Most of the development in what is now conventionally considered Arab Eastern Jerusalem has taken place since '67, and by the looks of many of the structures, most of the buildings have been constructed in the recent past. What was more startling was the quality of much of the housing. Villas dotted the highlands in Abu Dis and Silwa, and the more middle-class dwellings were far from shabby. Yes, there were poorer neighborhoods too, but part of the problem is self-imposed. The Israeli-Arabs of Eastern Jerusalem refuse to vote in municipal elections and consequently have no representation on those councils.

Har Hazaytim, or the Mount of Olives is also considered part of Arab Eastern Jerusalem, even though it is among the holiest of Jewish sites, where thousands of Jewish graves are located, including some of the prophets and righteous ones from ancient times. The Mount also offers a stunning view of the Old City and Jerusalem to the West. Since ancient times, Jews have always wanted to be buried here, believing that they will be the first to arise when the dead will be resurrected, according to Jewish Scriptures.

Another striking realization was just how close everything is. Bethlehem is minutes away, as is it's adjoining city, Beth Jala. It was from Beit Jala that mortars were fired incessantly-during the height of the second Intifada-into the homes of the residents of Gilo, on of Jerusalem's southernmost neighborhoods. Judy pointed out that since Oslo, both those cities have seen their Christian populations decimated. By varying estimates, those cities had Christian populations as high as 50-70%, whereas today they are estimated at under 30% (some put the number at closer to 12%).

Like everything else in this small parcel of land, Jerusalem is emblematic of the complexities and competing claims for sacred space. But it is easy to understand why a unified Jerusalem is so significant from a Jewish perspective.

Later in the afternoon, I met with Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, author, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, and personal advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. I met with him in his office at the JCPA. Dore Gold is a muscular presence, in physical stature as well as intellect. He shared with me his view that what is of paramount importance to Israel is 'Defensible Borders,' as outlined in the much misunderstood UN Resolution 242 and 'A United Jerusalem.' He pointed out that today, only under a free and democratic Israel can all faiths be protected and safeguarded. With the increasing Islamicization of much of the Middle East, Jerusalem would run the risk of 'Talibanization' were it to be divided. He also explained why rather than being given a platform to speak at the United Nations and Columbia University in NYC this week, Ahmadinejad should rather be brought to justice for violating one of the cardinal tenets of the Geneva Convention; namely, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, established on January 12th, 1951. "The Genocide Convention" defines the crime of genocide, and stipulates that certain acts related to genocide are punishable. One of these prohibited acts is incitement to commit genocide. Indisputably, Ahmadinejad has committed such public acts of incitement. On Oct 6, 2005, Ahmadinejad declared, "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map." Again, in Aug of 2006 he said, "They should know that they are nearing the last days of their lives...Very soon this stain of disgrace (i.e. Israel) will be purged from the center of the Islamic world--and this is attainable..."
And certainly with Ahmadinejad's full endorsement, The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei said on Aug 14, 2006, "There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state." While on the one hand denying that the actual Holocaust of European Jewry occurred, Ahmadinejad now calls for a second Holocaust against the Jewish people and Israel.

I also had the pleasure of meeting with the gracious and unassuming Director of NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg, also at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He founded the organization "to provide independent analysis and promote critical debate regarding the activities of the NGO network in the context of the Arab-Israel conflict." The soft-spoken Steinberg explained to me that we've gotten a late start in paying attention to this arena. The NGO's have largely gotten a free pass from journalists and the public, because the assumption has always been, if Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch says something, it's backed up by extensive research and documentation. But that hasn't actually been the case. It's as if the foxes have been guarding the hen houses. As Steinberg eloquently puts it,

Officials of powerful NGO's exploit the rhetoric of universal human rights and international law to promote ideological and political campaigns. Instead of careful verified research, "reports" alleging human rights violations, particularly in areas of conflict, have been exposed as based on evidence from "eyewitnesses" and sympathetic journalists. And dozens of radical pro-Palestinian NGOs--supported by European and other governments supposedly to promote peace, democracy and aid--use this funding to demonize Israel.
NGO Monitor is doing critical work in exposing these abuses and they deserve our gratitude and support. Gerald Steinberg is also a Professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, where he directs the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. It was my great pleasure to spend some time with him and learn of the important work his organization is doing.
David Brumer

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur & the Tour de Holon

Yom Kippur is a very special experience in Israel, not least because of the ban on motor vehicles from sundown on erev Yom Kippur until the final shofar blast concluding the holiday some 25 hours later. It's amazing to see the streets emptied of cars by about 4pm on erev Yom Kippur, with a few strays scurrying to their final parking places until about five o'clock. From sundown on, it's actually illegal to drive a motor vehicle on any roads unless you're an ambulance, police car, or of course, army.
Spending the holiday in Holon, the home town of my wife and her siblings (they continue to reside here) was quite an experience. Secular Israelis start flooding the streets soon after the erev Yom Kippur meal. Mine was a delightful Yemenite repast provided by my brother-in-law's parents, long time residents of Holon (History is never far away in Israel; My brother-in-law Barak's father was a member of the Irgun, "a clandestine Zionist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948, as a militant offshoot of the earlier and larger Haganah (Hebrew: "The Defense", ההגנה) Jewish paramilitary organization. In Israel, Irgun is commonly referred to as Etzel (אצ"ל), an acronym of the Hebrew initials"). As I made my way to one of the local synagogues, I was met by young bicycle brigades amidst fellow synagogue travelers.

I spent Kol Nidre services in two Sephardic synagogues, one Egyptian; the other Yemenite. Both were small, intimate and overflowing. Unlike our larger American counterparts, these places of worship are minimalist in design and have few of the ornaments that mark North American temples. My wife likens the Israeli synagogue experience to bees going to their hives to do their business. There is no fanfare, frills or grandiose ornaments. I was very welcomed and enjoyed seeing services conducted in a very different fashion.
By the time I left services, the streets were packed with enthusiastic young bicyclists and adults enjoying the car-free streets. Secular and observant alike were out in droves. At least in Holon, and on this particular holiday, there was a tolerant meshing of the observant and the secular.

Saturday was more of the same. Kids everywhere on their bikes; adults flanking the roads and boulevards. Synagogue goers making our way to services, carefully weaving through the heavy traffic of youngsters on bikes. I overheard one group of boys (probably between 10-12 years old) making plans to head down to the beach at Bat Yam, an adjoining city by the beach several kilometers away. It's not unusual for children to be on their own in the streets on Yom Kippur. My 6 year old niece, Bar, took her cousin (my 7 year old son Asaph) downstairs on her own to start the days cycling fest ivies. Parents are only worried about bicycle accidents, of which there is no shortage. Some of the kids wear helmets; many do not. The regulations police (parents) that are so prevalent in America are non-existent here. There is much less protecting one from oneself in a society that has far greater daily worries.

I spent Saturday services at an Ashkenazi shul. The machers (those in the know) there made me feel at home. They brought me the Yom Kippur prayer book and showed me where we were in the service. One man directed me to a place where there was an empty seat. The gentleman next to me regularly helped me find my place as the particular siddur (prayer book) I was given was very old and the service jumped around the pages. During Neila ("locking"), the closing prayers, I was invited up to the ark to kiss the torahs before the final closing of the ark and symbolically, the gates of heaven.
My sons found their way to the synagogue I was at and got to experience the blowing of the Shofar, concluding the holiday. They were exhausted from a long day of bicycling, but happy to find me and hear the shofar. We went back to my sister-in-law's apartment, showered and made our way to my other brother-in-law, Ofer's apartment, not far away, to break the fast in a classic Israeli-style feast! After dinner, I had the opportunity to interview my nephew Amir, a 21 year old lieutenant in the IDF and his best friend, Aviad ben Yehuda, also 21 and a second lieutentant. He is the great-grandson of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the individual principally responsible for the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language. (as I mentioned earlier, we are never far away from living history here in this amazing country!). More on that interview in a future posting. It was a Yom Kippur I will long remember!
david brumer

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Baha'i World Center Reflects Israel's Authentic Committment to Diversity, Pluralism, Tolerance, & Freedom (and protection) for all Religions

Yesterday, we visited the Baha'i World Center in Haifa, often referred to as the
Eighth Wonder of the World. The terraces, gardens and buildings are among the most spectacular sites in all of Israel, and they have nothing to do with Judaism, save the fact that Judaism teaches respect and tolerance for all peoples. Israel has proudly dedicated one of its most precious slopes on Mount Carmel to the besieged religion and traditions of the Baha'i people. Perched high above the port of Haifa, the Baha'i Center features magnificently manicured terraces and gardens, sprouting a glorious array of plants and flowers. The garden terraces extend nearly a kilometer up the side of Mount Carmel (with 750 steps), bracketing the Shrine of the Báb, the second most holy place in the Bahá'í world. It is the resting place of the Báb, who is regarded by Bahá'ís as a Messenger of God and forerunner to Bahá'u'lláh (the Bab's prophetic successor)
Ironically, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Shrine and its adjoining structures are safe from attack and destruction; at least from within the country. Last summer, Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets, fired indiscriminately all over Haifa and its environs, could easily have destroyed these sacred sites.

The Bahai's are Iran's largest religious minority. Yet a few months after the 1979 Revolution, the Bab's house in Shiraz was destroyed by the Ayatollah's regime. The Bab's remains are today buried in the golden shrine on Mount Carmel. In Israel, a country often accused of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and of having 'the worst human rights record in the world,' the shrine of the Bab is not just tolerated, but given pride of place on some of the most coveted real estate in all of Israel.
The shrine, terraces and gardens of the World Baha'i Center are open to everyone - tourist, pilgrim, Christian, Jew and Muslim. The Baha'i faith is characterized by religious tolerance, a concept that is also a cornerstone of the modern state of Israel, where all faiths are guaranteed the freedom of worship.
In every other country in the Middle East, the Baha’is are banned or persecuted. They cannot attend school, get married, hold passports, publish or distribute their scriptures, seek converts, or worship in public. In Israel they are given safe haven and honored.
Curious, isn't it? The Bahai's, facing persecution all over the Middle East, including in the land of their origins, Iran, have sought to build and expand their refuge, their shrines and holiest sites of their faith in of all places, Israel. Perhaps we should ask why. The answer is simple. Israel continues to be a haven of religious freedom for not just Jews, but Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bahai's, and even smaller communities like Hindus and Buddhists.

Article 1 of Israel’s 1967 Protection of Holy Places Law proclaims that ‘The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.
And in the 'Delcaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel' it is enshrined that

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the
Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the
benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as
envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social
and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will
guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it
will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the
principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Does Israel accord with these principles in perfect observance? Of course not. There is still much work to be done. But Israel is constantly striving to be better. And all in all, her track record is extraordinary, given the ceaseless hostility and enmity she lives with from many in these minority communities.
Perhaps the Jimmy Carters and Desmond Tutus of the world should take a second look before they bandy about such slanders as 'apartheid' against Israel, a land of true diversity, pluralism, tolerance, and freedom.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, may Israel continue to be a beacon of light for all religions and peoples.

david brumer

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Seeing Israel from Aloft: The Perspective from the Skies

In 1998, while still Governor of Texas, George W. Bush was taken on a helicopter tour of Israel by Ariel Sharon, then Minister of National Infrastructure. As yet on the sidelines of power, he had ample time on his hands for such a venture. The view from above forever changed Bush's perspective on the realities of Israel's security needs. While hovering over the narrow 9 mile waist of Israel, Bush was said to have quipped, "we have longer driveways on our ranches in Texas." This gave Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President and Founder of The Israel Project (TIP) the idea to launch an amazingly successful informational and educational project known as "Intellicopter Tours."

Yesterday, The Israel Project graciously flew me around the country as part of this now legendary offering to foreign journalists. To date, TIP has flown over 600 foreign journalists on these rides. There is nothing like seeing the physical landscape from above to gain an indispensable perspective on the realities of Israel's security concerns. We left Herzilya Airport along the coast of the Mediterranean and within minutes were at the edge of the West Bank, hovering over Tulkarm and Qalqilya. At it's most narrow, Israel's 'waist' is a mere 9 miles wide. The coastal plain, where 80% of Israelis live, is literally minutes away from the West Bank in certain places. The security barrier, erroneously-and often maliciously-referred to as 'The Wall,' is in fact almost entirely composed of wire fence. One can see how it winds around the country, with less than 5% of its ultimate 800 kilometers to be constructed of concrete, or wall. Yes, the barrier is a concrete wall in Qalqilya, but as Calev Ben-David, Communications Director of TIP points out, this is because Qalqilya sits on a hill above Highway 6, a major north-south artery for Israelis, and until the construction of the wall there, Israeli motorists were at the mercy of snipers shooting down on them for the hilltops of Qalqilya.

Following the snaking barrier from the air, one can see that it is predominately a fence until Jerusalem. There, the barrier is in fact a wall and that is where most of the almost 5% of concrete that constitutes the wall portion of the security barrier is located. It seems cruel and harsh until one understands why. As Calev explains, the fence has built in motion detectors and infra-red cameras, allowing the IDF to monitor any suspicious activity approaching. But it detects motion for approximately 3 meters or close to ten feet. This would be completely impractical for the densely populated and pedestrian-heavy streets of Jerusalem, effectively creating a 10 foot no man's land. As much of an eyesore as the wall may be in Jerusalem, it is a more humane solution than prohibiting Palestinians from walking their own streets. As is often the case, perspective is vital to truly understanding the situation on the ground. Calev pointed out again and again that the Fence/wall is a security barrier and in no way a political barrier. In fact, on several occasions, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the fence must be re-formatted closer to the Green Line to allow for greater mobility of the Palestinians. Israel is constantly balancing her own very real security needs with humanitarian concerns for the Palestinians. On occasion, the Israeli Supreme Court overrules the Israeli Army and mandates that the route of the barrier be altered, as just happened again earlier this month when the court ordered the route of the fence to be redrawn in Bi'ilin, a West Bank village where Palestinians (and internationalists) brought the suit to the court.

The armistice line of 1949, known by most people as the Green Line, is all that Israel laid claim to up until the 1967 Six Day War. Since then, the territories beyond have remained disputed. What is indisputable though, is that until the beginning of the construction of the security barrier in 2002, young men from Tulkarm, Qalqilya, and hosts of other towns and villages within the West Bank could simply walk across a very porous de facto border, cross an open field, and within minutes be in an Israeli city like Kfar Saba (less than a kilometer away). It was only after dozens of such sojourns by terrorists with explosives strapped to their belts that Israel took action, and began a more vigilant system of protecting its citizenry from suicide bombings. Contrary to all the naysayers, the security barrier works in exactly the way it was intended. Where it is finished, suicide bombing terror attacks are down over 90% from the height of second Intifada, just a few years ago.

We flew on to Sderot, a development town in the south of the country, only a few kilometers away from the border with Gaza. Sderot has borne the brunt of the Qassam missile attacks from Gaza, over 4,000 to date; over 2,000 since Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in the summer of 2005. Calev explained that the Qassams are often mischaracterized as home-made bombs, largely ineffective and landing in stray, open fields. But this belies the fact that when they do land in civilian areas they can indeed be deadly weapons. Moreover, as a weapon of terror they are inordinately successful because of their randomness and unpredictably. In less than 30 seconds from their firing, these missiles land indiscriminately outside (or inside) day care centers, homes, playgrounds, and businesses. There is no effective means of stopping them, short of Israel re-occupying parts of northern Gaza, something Israel is understandably reluctant to do. While the army can detect where the missiles are fired from, the problem with retaliation is that they are often fired from just outside houses in Gaza, and if Israel were to strike back, it would inevitably cause death and injury to civilians.
The most sophisticated of the Qassams now have a range of as much as 12 kilometers, putting Ashkelon in their sites. God forbid, were the power plants of Ashkelon (providing power to not just southern Israel but also to Gaza) to be hit, Israel would be forced to take more stringent measures. In the meantime, Israel is engaged in an unwanted game of Russian roulette.

It's hard not to come away from this tour with a renewed appreciation for the security dilemmas Israel faces, especially with the radical and uncompromising Islamists of Hamas now holding the reins of power in Gaza and much of the West Bank. It's so easy to pass judgement on Israel from the comfort of European perches or American universities, but to see with one's own eyes the very real threats this tiny country is surrounded by must give one pause. In the face of such imminent and daily threats to her security, it is hard to not be in awe of the admirable way Israel handles her citizenry's security needs, ever conscious of the moral (and sometimes legal) mandate to balance those needs with ordinary Palestinians' humanitarian rights. Not an enviable task.

Let me conclude by commenting on the raw beauty and variety of the Israeli landscape. In a land the size of New Jersey, one encounters such a variegated terrain. From tropical Tiberias it is not far to the ski slopes of Mount Hermon in the north; back down to the sandy desert of the Judean Hills; Jerusalem, the city built on seven hills; balmy Tel Aviv and its environs; the arid Negev down to Eilat and the beautiful beaches on the Red Sea. Natural wonders, man-made marvels, and an indomitable spirit all make up the amazing land that is Israel!
david brumer

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Lowest,Most Majestic Place on Earth: The Dead Sea

Yesterday my wife and I took the boys through the barren beauty of the Judean Hills, all the way down (and I mean down; the dead sea basin is literally the lowest point on earth) to the Dead Sea. The trip out of Jerusalem is itself remarkable for the natural beauty one sees along the way. The bronze and rusty reds of the rocks and mountains reflect natures vicissitudes over millions of years. As one approaches the sea itself, Jordan's red mountains reflect lambently on the still and ancient waters.

We stopped at Ein Gedi Spa where the boys enjoyed a swim in the pool before venturing down to mud heaven (my pregnant wife Iris--pronounced 'ear-is' remained poolside, for the powerful salts and minerals are not recommended for those carrying new life). The three of us plastered ourselves in mud and then had the obligatory picture of the three 'mudmen' taken. Then on to the trolley for the final voyage to the sea itself. Oily, indescribably salty; delicious. Woe to all with any open cuts! We floated blissfully for a time and then made our way back to the pool, where languages from Swedish, to Portuguese, to French, and Spanish permeated the air, suggesting that the Europeans don't mind availing themselves of our natural wonders.

Next we drove down to ancient Masada. Alas, it was too late for the climb--or cable cars--so the boys had to settle for a view from the foot of the massive mountain retreat and a brief explanation. The orange ball of fire in the sky was beginning its nightly repose. There is no place on earth more beautiful to observe a sunset!

We continued back towards Jerusalem and stopped at a local kiosk for a coffee. There was an army patrol jeep with a turreted machine gun mounted on the back. Three soldiers in Melueem (reserve duty) saw the boys' fascination and waved them over. They graciously invited them into the jeep, allowed Eemma (mother) to take pictures, and even let the boys sit behind the machine gun while being photoed. More pictures with the boys in helmets and flak jackets.

Rak b'Yisrael (only in Israel)! Pleasantries were exchanged and we were back on the road. To the boys' great disappointment, the camels were nowhere to be found, and the boys were so looking to riding one. Something for another day.

Later this morning, I will be touring the country via helicopter, courtesy of The Israel Project. More on that venture later.
David Brumer
The Dead Sea

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Conversations: What 'Ordinary' Israelis Think about Ha'Matzav' or 'The Situation'

Probably the most noteworthy observation I have here is that most of the Israelis I talk to are not terribly interested in going on about Ha'Matzav or The Situation (which is a general term here to connote the ongoing struggles vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the larger Arab/Persian world). People are weary of discussing developments unless they are personally affected (for example, the parents of soldiers who were attacked at the army base in the Negev last week were very vocal in their concerns and expressed their contempt for how the government is handling things). Many here have created a psychic safety-valve to keep from going insane; from the never-ending struggles and perpetual state of uncertainty, lack of clearly defined borders, and the ever present specter of being one major suicide bombing away from seeing their world literally blowing up around them. It's understandable too, because just to negotiate through day to day life here is enough to keep most Israelis very preoccupied. Between the traffic, the congestion, the pushiness, the bureaucracies, the honking, the crowds, the constant vigilance required when just crossing the's easy to understand why for most Israelis, solving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not always high on their list of priorities. Plus, Israelis are among the most vivacious, curious, engaged people on the planet. The people I talked with are interested in travel, literature, music, wine, and all the other amenities of the modern world that their contemporaries in Europe and North America are interested in; maybe even more so, because there is such a strong sense of 'carpe diem' here. Israelis have a life, and a rather full one, and as one friend said, "I just want to be like other people; a nation among nations." He's weary of the Matzav because he wants to be able to get on with his own very full life; three children, a wife, a career, playing music, visiting with friends and family...all the things that regular people do.

Many Israelis have also developed what in psychology is known as 'compassion fatigue.' Following the first Intifada and through the Oslo years, there was a major shift in consciousness among most Israelis, when they came to see the legitimate concerns and rights of Palestinians, and were willing to act on rectifying past wrongs. That was what Oslo was all about. But with the eruption of the second Intifada and the barbaric, deliberate bombings of civilians inside the Green Line, even the mainstream Left in Israel came to understand that this was about far more than 'land for peace' and reasonable compromise among civilized peoples with border disputes. This was an existential war and it was hard for Israelis to not see the other side as wanting to displace them from their homeland of Israel proper. Now, two years after the withdrawal from Gaza and the relentless Qassam attacks from its northern precincts and one year after the war in Lebanon (launched from where Israel also relinquished territory in May of 2000), and 20 months after Hamas' election victory, Israelis feel less than sanguine about 'peace' prospects with their neighbors. Moreover, they have little psychic space left over for empathizing with the plight of the Palestinians (they fully acknowledge that the Palestinians are suffering), who they see as largely having made their own bed. Where in the 90's there was much empathy and goodwill toward Palestinians, today there is more of an attitude of 'we wish you well in creating a civil society and maybe eventually having normalized economic and even social interactions with you; but the burden of proof is now on you to create such a society--and the signs so far are not encouraging; we withdrew from Gaza completely, even left you the Greenhouses, and instead of making a pilot project of independence and building democratic, civil institutions, you destroyed what beginnings were left to you and voted in a fundamentalist, Islamist party who is more interested in destroying our State than in building yours; so you'll excuse us if we continue constructing our separation barrier and get on with our lives. As King Lear once intoned to his wayward daughter Goneril: "Mend when thou canst; be better at thy leisure: I can be patient..."
At least that's how I read how many Israelis feel today. Trouble is the other side can be extraordinarily patient as well. They can sip tea for generations and wait us out. Time is not necessarily on our side.
In one of my conversations with a friend of a dear Israeli friend of mine, he related a very interesting take on this very issue by Israeli commentator Tzvi Yehezkeli at the 'Arab Desk' on Channel 10. According to Amnon, Yehzkeli spoke of the incredible patience of those in the Arab world. That they understood time very differently than those of us in the Western world where we tend to see things much more short-term and present-centered. When an old Arab man was asked how he felt about seeing Israeli tanks roll in front of him, he replied that it didn't phase him all that much because in the long run, over decades or even centuries he was confident that the land would be returned to the Arabs (reminded me of Ali's pronouncements in the staircase scene with Avner in Munich).
But on a more promising note, Yehezkeli also noted that in his conversations with average Palestinians, there was a growing recognition that they could no longer lay all their problems at the feet of the Israelis. That there was growing acknowledgement that their legacy of electing/supporting poor leadership was at the heart of their predicament. That corruption is rampant, tribal affiliations are superseding larger associations, and that until they begin the process of correcting these flaws, they will likely continue to languish behind while they watch Israeli society flourish and prosper. There is a growing understanding that as Israelis feel more secure behind their security barrier, they will be less concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, until they see concrete, on the ground changes. Of course, if Hamas continues to grow in strength in the West Bank after it's coup in Gaza, then all bets are again off. Meantime, most Israelis see this fall's big Summit Conference as worthy of little more than a yawn right now.

I did speak with one Israeli who was more than happy to talk about the Matzav. She is an energetic social worker and happens to be my wife's cousin. What's fascinating about Rachel is that she bucks the general trend of apathy/indifference, is working tirelessly to make life better for Israeli-Arabs, works in their midst in Yafo (Jaffa), and even sees herself as something of an Arab Jew. I had some problems with this characterization, regardless of the fact that both her parents were born in Morocco, clearly an Arab land. I did a little checking on Wikipedia and by their reckoning, it's quite a stretch to describe Rachel as an Arab Jew.
Be that as it may, she's clearly a committed Israeli Jew of Arab-land ancestry. Rachel works at a social center in Yafo with Israeli-Arabs, including children. She's making a difference, and as a fellow social worker, I know that sometimes we make a small dent in the world and the ripples are how larger changes come into being. Rachel works with battered women, families and children. Sometimes she's met with suspicion but over time, she usually wins her clients over. If nothing else, she's doing important work by demonstrating that interconnections are still possible between the two peoples. And she's involved in the crucial work of education.
Rachel tells me the tension and even hatred is palpable. Yet Yafo remains a city where there is a lot contact between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, for better or worse.
Rachel and I argue about who's responsible for what. She tells me that she spent the last year in Dohar, Qatar and was ashamed of what she saw Israel doing during the Lebanon War of last summer. Of course, she saw what "Israel was doing" filtered through Al Jazeera. When she spoke to me about human rights, I couldn't help but point out that the violations were so rampant on the other side (deliberately targeting civilian populations on the Israeli side; hiding behind civilians and using them as human shields) that it was like an Alice in Wonderland Universe. I mentioned Marvin Kalb's excellent study, The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict.
But Rachel had many important points to make, not least of which is that it's so important to continue listening, hearing other points of view, and not seeing the world only in black and white hues. She's proud to be friends with people with such divergent perspectives as Tom Gross and Gideon Levy. Certainly left me with more to ponder in this ever so complex land of infinite challenges and possibilities. More tomorrow
David Brumer

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the eve of Rosh Ha'Shana, IDF Conscripts 'Sworn in' at Latrun

Yesterday, hundreds of young Israeli recruits were officially inducted into the IDF or Israeli Defense Forces, at the Latrun Armoured Corps Museum (Latrun was the site of three major battles in failed attempts by the Haganah and fledgling IDF to secure Jerusalem in the 1948 War of Independence). My wife and two young sons arrived in mid-afternoon, and were greeted by baby-faced recruits (boys and girls), sporting their Galil assault rifles and full IDF regalia. Despite standing guard under a blazing afternoon sun, they were friendly and helpful. They explained that a number of Platoons had just completed basic training or special training courses. There would be a swearing in ceremony at 5 o'clock. Hundreds of young soldiers and their families were roaming the grounds, but we were welcome to tour the museum and enjoy the festivities later if we so desired.

Today in the West, it is generally deemed politically very incorrect to celebrate such displays of martial prowess. But of course, in the dangerous neighborhood that Israel finds itself in the Middle East, the luxury of pacifism is not an existential option. At least not if one wants to survive. I once had an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing--a modality in psychotherapy) instructor who told the class of a visualization she would do, imagining a giant Magnet-Man with his enormous metallic arms spread across the sky, sucking up all the weapons in the Middle East through magnetic force. And thus peace could come to all who inhabit those lands. I hated to burst her bubble, but I couldn't help but point out that removing the weapons wouldn't take away the hatred, fanaticism and unwillingness of too many in this neck of the woods to embrace the reality of 5 1/2 million Jews in their midst. That powerlessness has not been a very successful strategy for the Jewish people. That if therapy teaches us anything, it's that external, cosmetic changes do little to affect real and lasting transformation, which can only occur after profound work is done in one's internal world (At least that's what I would've said if I weren't interested in finishing the course).

So here I was in Latrun, watching my sons, aged 10 and 7, fascinated with the collection of tanks on display; captured antiques from Syria and Egypt, Merkava modern Israeli tanks, and other relics of the armoured corps. It seemed perfectly natural for young boys to be captivated by the tools of war, climbing up on the massive metal machines, standing atop the barrels, hatches and turrets. My wife, who has done her own few years of service in the IDF (she joined the Nachal, which includes at least six months of agricultural, kibbutz training/education), told the boys she only wished we didn't need all this militarism; that war is something to avoid at almost any cost; that we need to work to make the world a better place. She pointed out that the songs of her youth and still today are songs of peace. She told us that one of the songs includes the line, "Prachim ba'Kaneh," or flowers in the barrel. Seems like throughout our history we've always sung and prayed for such things, as early as Isiah's pronouncement of 'beating swords into plowshares.' Perhaps we need to do a better job, but we certainly shouldn't be accused of not trying.

I was left pondering how I felt about all this. And what I came away with was an enormous sense of pride and respect. Pride and respect because despite the neighborhood Israel live in, where threats of annihilation from her enemies are commonplace (just listen to Ahmadinejad or read the Hamas Charter), her sons and daughters are still taught songs of peace and love. Because the mettle of the families I saw said that despite the corruption in government, despite the errors and miscalculations in last summer's war, despite the horrific Qassam attacks from Gaza (courtesy of Islamic Jihad, but celebrated widely by all in Gaza--Hamas called it "a victory from God") just yesterday at an army base in the Negev wounding 69 young recruits; despite all that, most everyone still sends their sons and daughters proudly into service, because they understand that until our enemies change their ways, we have little choice but to have a strong military if we wish to survive.
I explained to my young sons that if we ever manage to to make Aliya [literally ascension, used to connote emigrating/moving (upward) to Israel as part of the Jewish 'Right of Return' laws], I will proudly come and watch them be sworn in when their time comes (my wife may have something to say about all this, but that's how I feel).
We went on to the Miniature Israel Museum up the road and from the distance could hear the music and salutes and the oaths taking place. We thought it only appropriate to then travel on to the center of it all, Jerusalem. And thus began our Rosh Ha'Shana eve.
Shana Tovah u'Metukah to all
David Brumer
Holon, Israel

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Dispatch from Israel: A Tiny, Crazy, Compact & Wonderful Country

I've been here for three days now and already feel fully immersed in the ways of Israel. There's an intensity here that can make New York look tame by comparison. Granted, things can get pretty crazy in Israel, but given the conditions, one has to marvel that things function as well as they do. There's a method to the madness but this place is definitely not for the faint of heart.

The thing that keeps coming up for me is space. There just isn't enough of it here. Not in people's living quarters, not on the roads (traffic is horrific), not for parking. People drive like maniacs, but one sees survival at work. You just can't afford to let your guard down. There's too much vying for the same space, and it's incredibly limited. Today I went to a little park in Holon where my niece and nephew were playing. It was rush hour and I had to park illegally with the rear of my rent-a-car extending out into an intersection, only to watch my brother-in-law park across the street (also illegally) with the front of his car extending into the same intersection. Neither of us prevented other cars from squeezing between us because, well, they had to get by. Cars park on sidewalks, crosswalks, intersections, bus stops; you name it. Speaking of bus stops, I parked just in front of one in Rehovot yesterday (legally, but just barely), only to come out from shopping and find a note on my windshield informing me that the new dent on my left door was courtesy of an Eged bus. The driver put the note there himself and was kind enough to leave me his phone number so I could inform El Dan, the rent-a-car company. Seems like a good deed, and I believe it was, even though the driver would run the risk of being penalized if he did not do so and a passenger or bystander reported him. Still, I could imagine many a NYC bus driver in similar circumstances leaving a note that said, "I'm writing you this note because lots of people are watching. Lotsa luck, fella!"

The thing that's maddening about the driving is not so much the cut-throat nature of the drivers and the fact that you can practically feel the hot breath of the guy behind you on your neck(never mind that half the cars have Shmor M'rchak--keep your distance--on their bumpers). The crazy thing is that the signs on the roads are impossibly ambiguous, obscured by bushes and trees, popped on you seconds before the turn is required, and in three different colors (blue, green, and white--the white ones are pretty much nostalgic vestiges). My wife is a native and she can't make heads or tails of the way of the road, and I'm not talking Derech Eretz here. The good and bad part is the country is so tiny. Good in that you can't get too far out of your way; bad in that before you know it, you're practically in Gaza; or Lebanon.

Back to the space problem. You see it also in the streets, the parks, the malls, shopping centers, and of course, the roads. The country is incredibly compacted. And it's hot; and humid. And taxes are high; prices higher. Wages for most are not commensurate with the high cost of living [Yet somehow, everyone has a big flat screen tv, the new water dispenser in their kitchen (they sell for about $1,000 American dollars, but you get to pay it out over three years), a fairly new car, and manages to take regular vacations, send their kids on trips, and live surprisingly well]. Practically everyone has either a kid in the army or one or two in waiting, maybe someone still in the reserves, and knows someone who was killed, injured or traumatized by a terror attack, a missile attack in the south or north (take your pick), or just a plain old war.

I watched the news tonight (my Hebrew is not good enough to understand much but the pictures--my kind relatives filled me in) while all the kids were playing in the living room and it was like watching a series of catastrophes, tragedies and farces. The second day of neo-Nazi arrests and exposures. Apparently some bad apples from the FSU, but then there was one fellow whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. Another dispatch told of a young man who beat another young man to death in a club, over God knows what provocation. Then there were the pictures of Hamas (or was it Fatah?) in their usual summer garb of ski masks and Kalashnikovs. I wasn't sure if it was Hamas abusing Fatah or vice versa. According to recent news reports, there have been episodes of both, with the former occurring in Gaza and the latter in the West Bank. There was Mahmoud Abbas looking very stately aside a likewise polished Ehud Olmert. Then flashes to Ahmadinejad, I presume, in his native Iran. My wife was surprised that her sister let the kids be exposed to all this. But we all quickly agreed that in a country where violence is so random and at least potentially prevalent, there's not much point in hiding it from the kids. Best to just explain as much as is age appropriate and walk the kids through the minefields of daily life here.

Did I mention that the beaches are on high alert for powerful undertows that took the lives of four people yesterday? Did that stop swimmers and wind-surfers today? Not on your life. The lifeguards at the Tel Aviv beach I was at today were imploring those in the water to come back in to shore. That it was very, very dangerous. NO KIDDING. My wife told me that this is a country where generally nobody tells you what you're doing is dangerous. Everything here is dangerous! Doesn't stop scooter drivers and motorcyclists from weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds. Didn't stop the bicyclist we saw today riding on the highway, and with not even a helmet. So if the lifeguards were shouting again and again that the waters were treacherous, it might be a good idea to take heed. Not many takers of unsolicited advice around here.

But I digress. Back to the Jewish Space Problem. There just doesn't seem to be enough of it around here (maybe someday the dream of seriously populating the Negev will come true, but in the meantime, it's crowded in all the major centers). And yet we're always talking about giving up more space in the never ending quest to be able to live in, and at peace with our neighbors. Which would maybe be okay if the strategy were successful. It's just that it hasn't seemed to work out that way; yet. Not exactly like the southern border has been quiet since the full withdrawal from Gaza two summers ago. North wasn't so great last summer either. Terror attacks are constantly being thwarted by the incredible work of Israel's security services, unbeknownst to most inside and outside the country. And of course, later this fall there will be more talks about giving up yet more space. I'm not saying that we shouldn't consider the possibility, but certainly it should also be acknowledged that we have some rights to the space too.
Ironically, we are seen as the great imperialist colonizers, when in fact Zionism has really never been about aggrandizement of land. Avi Erlich makes this point in Ancient Zionism.

"Abraham's idea is antiliteralist and explicitly anti-imperialist. Since the land's function is to represent monotheism, there is no need for it to be particularly large. It must be large enough to be a self-sustaining nation, large enough to notice that its intellectual lapses led to disintegration into the old tribal areas, but not as empire. Our passage continues to delineate a land that--though it radiates large metaphorical meanings to the lifted eye--is limited to the magnitude of territory encompassed by ocular vision: 'Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.' (Genesis 13)."

At about 1/95 the size of Saudi Arabia, and 1/6 of 1% of the Arab World, how is it that we've gotten such a bum rap as land hogs? We have so little and still we're willing to live with even less, yet we're portrayed as the usurpers; the greedy ones. Perhaps it's time to pull the camera back a bit and regain some perspective on what little space we're really talking about here, and about our rightful claim to a tiny parcel of the Middle East.
david brumer
from Rehovot

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cult of Death Worship & Martyrdom Paved the Way for the Gradual Islamicization of Palestinians

Unbeknownst to most, Arafat, 'the secularist' is the person most responsible for the Islamicization of the Palestinian people. As Joel Mowbray points out below, Arafat carefully nurtured a very aggressive indoctrination of Islam into all aspects of Palestinian society; thru the schools, the media, and the mosques. It is no accident that Palestinian society is now primed for Islamic extremism. What is surprising is how oblivious the West has been to this trend since early in the Oslo years.
david brumer
How Fatah Primed Palestinians for Hamas - Joel Mowbray
The tidy Western view of Palestinian politics coming down to Islamists vs. secularists faces yet another reality check. Both Hamas and the supposedly secular Fatah are engaging in a new propaganda war, each portraying itself as the defender of the faith, while accusing the other party of defiling Islam, according to a report by Palestinian Media Watch. The struggle is indicative of the increasingly Islamic tenor of the culture in which each group is attempting to stake out the Islamic high ground.
It is Fatah, at the original direction of Arafat, that is most responsible for Islamicizing Palestinian society. Upon taking the reins of Palestinian society following the 1993 Oslo accords, Arafat implemented an aggressive platform of Islamic indoctrination, beefing up Islamic education in the schools and giving new prominence on television to fire-breathing imams, including many who called for Islam to topple the West. Arafat used his newfound power to create a new generation of terrorists superior to the old PLO thugs in one key respect: These brainwashed Palestinian kids were not only not afraid of death, but they actually wanted to die. Arafat carefully cultivated a cult of martyrdom that permeated Palestinian society. In addition to the hero worship of successful suicide bombers, almost as important was the glorification of their parents. Umm Nidal, or "Mother of the Struggle," who bursts with pride that three of her six children died as Islamic terrorists, is now a Hamas member of the Palestinian legislature. (Washington Times)

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No, Hamas is not the Palestinian Version of the IRA

"Israel should talk to Hamas, as Britain and Ireland spoke to the IRA. After all, the IRA, as a terrorist organization, moderated its position, gave up arms, abandoned the use of terrorism, and accepted an agreement based on compromise."
I have also heard this argument ad nauseum. Britian negotiated with the IRA, despite their acts of terror. The political arm of the organization could talk sense to the military wing, and ultimately accomodations were reached. Problem with the analogy is that the IRA wanted the Brits out of Northern Ireland, not England!!!
david brumer

Hamas Is Not the IRA - Zion Evrony
(International Herald Tribune)
Since my arrival in Ireland about a year ago as Israel's ambassador, it has been suggested to me in almost every conversation that Israelis and Palestinians should learn from Northern Ireland's peace process. In particular, I am told that Israel should talk to Hamas, as Britain and Ireland spoke to the IRA. After all, the IRA, as a terrorist organization, moderated its position, gave up arms, abandoned the use of terrorism, and accepted an agreement based on compromise. But would a similar process lead Hamas to end its campaign of violence and accept the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state living in peace with Israel?
While there are some similarities between these two protracted conflicts, it is a dangerous exercise to conclude that they are the same because of their largely different historical, geopolitical and cultural circumstances. Underlying my Irish friends' advice is the expectation that should Israel start a dialogue with Hamas, the latter will change its ideology, renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, stop all acts of violence, suicide bombings and Kassam rocket attacks, and relinquish its weapons. Unfortunately, this theory is not valid in the case of Hamas.
The ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. At the core of this belief is the desire to create an Islamist state based on Islamic law over all the land, not just the West Bank and Gaza, but Israel as well. There is no acceptance of the notion of coexistence, no support for the idea of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, but an exclusive demand, based on fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts, for control of the entire territory.
Hamas officials continue in their refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. In contrast, the IRA never questioned Britain's right to exist. In fact, the whole idea of a peace process and the use of mediators are ruled out by the Hamas Charter. "Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam" (Article 13).
What then is a prudent policy for the international community towards Hamas? The answer is a united front and a consistent policy, demanding and insisting on the acceptance of the three principles laid out by the Quartet: recognition of Israel's right to exist, renouncing and ending terrorism, and accepting all prior agreements and understandings achieved between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The New Anti-Semitism & the Secular Religion of the Ideological Far Left

Europe is seeing alarming levels of a new anti-Semitism. As Denis MacShane points out below, there is a new "mood and tone whenever Jews are discussed, whether in the media, at universities, among the liberal media elite or at dinner parties of modish London." He points out that this new strain of anti-Semitism is about much more than Jews or Israel. It goes to the core of humanistic values, the rule of law, tolerance and respect for basic rights such as free expression. "It is about everything democrats have long fought for: the truth without fear, no matter one's religion or political beliefs. The new anti-Semitism threatens all of humanity."

The old anti-Semitism has morphed into a more sophisticated form of racism. Bizarrely, despite the reactionary attitude of Islamic radicals towards women and gays, the ideological left gives them a pass on this bigotry and denial of human rights, in favor of siding with them against Israel. Robin Shepherd, a senior research fellow of the Chatham House Center in London notes that people like Noam Chomsky are not necessarily self-hating Jews, as is often assumed, but that their political standing in the left is more important for them than their Jewish identity. "That's why the extreme Jewish critics of Israel almost always come from the far left, for them politics is the most important of their identity. They are in thrall with a system of thought that happens to have as one of its main objects of belief an obsessive hatred of Israel."

The New Anti-Semitism - Denis MacShane (Washington Post)
Hatred of Jews has reached new heights in Europe. Last year I chaired a blue-ribbon committee of British parliamentarians that examined the problem of anti-Semitism in Britain. None of us are Jewish or active in the unending debates on the Israeli-Palestinian question.
Our report showed a pattern of fear among a small number of British citizens - there are around 300,000 Jews in Britain - that is not acceptable in a modern democracy. Synagogues attacked. Jewish schoolboys jostled on public transportation. Rabbis punched and knifed. British Jews feeling compelled to raise millions to provide private security for their weddings and community events. On campuses, militant anti-Jewish students fueled by Islamist or far-left hate seeking to prevent Jewish students from expressing their opinions.
More worrisome was what we described as anti-Jewish discourse, a mood and tone whenever Jews are discussed, whether in the media, at universities, among the liberal media elite or at dinner parties of modish London. To express any support for Israel or any feeling for the right of a Jewish state to exist produces denunciation, even contempt.

Today the old anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have morphed into something more dangerous. Anti-Semitism today is officially sanctioned state ideology and is being turned into a mobilizing and organizing force to recruit thousands in a new crusade to eradicate Jewishness from the region whence it came and to weaken and undermine all the humanist values of rule of law, tolerance and respect for core rights such as free expression that Jews have fought for over time.
We are at the beginning of a long intellectual and ideological struggle. It is not about Jews or Israel. It is about everything democrats have long fought for: the truth without fear, no matter one's religion or political beliefs. The new anti-Semitism threatens all of humanity. The Jew-haters must not pass
The writer is a Labor member of the British House of Commons and has served as Britain's Europe minister.

An Unlikely Advocate
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Jewish World Correspondent
Robin Shepherd is not the first person to try and define the world's oldest hatred, but he is perhaps one of the most unlikely. The senior research fellow of the Chatham House center in London has no significant connection to the Jewish people and his visit to Israel last week was only his second, his first being in 1989 as a student.
His previous study was on the wave of anti-Americanism sweeping Europe and this lead him to believe that a new form of anti-Semitism was also at the root of the increasingly critical attitude towards Israel on the continent. Interestingly, Shepherd notes that the old-style anti-Semitism is still fairly prevalent in the post-communist central and eastern Europe countries, but at the same time, there's much less anti-Zionism there as in western Europe. What in his opinion is "a much bigger problem is the objective, anti-Semitism, the hatred of the state of Israel. Since Israel is a Jewish state and if you use false analogies between Israel and Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany, you are comparing them with Jews and you are therefore engaged in anti-Semitism." That doesn't mean that everyone who uses the comparison is an actual anti-Semite says Shepherd, "that depends on how central it is for you. When it becomes an obsession, and this is one of the things you find increasingly in Europe, then at this point it becomes a new form of anti-Semitism." This obsession is Shepherd's answer to the standard response given by Israel's detractors in the West that "not every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. Of course one can criticize Israel, but there is a litmus test and that is when the critics begin using constant key references to South Africa and the Nazis, using terms such as "bantustans". None of these people of course will admit to being racist, but this kind of anti-Semitisim is a much more sophisticated form of racism and the kind of hate-filled rhetoric and imagery are on the same moral level as racism, so gross and distorted that they are defaming an entire people, since Israel is an essentially Jewish project."
He defines his politics as "center-right on international affairs with very liberal social views." He attributes the rise of the new anti-Semitism to the crisis of the "old ideological left" in Western Europe."The main thrust is coming from the left wing of the old European Labor and Social-Democratic parties and of course from the surviving Communist, Trotskyite and Marxist parties. These are groups that might have a marginal place in wider society but there influence is focused in the trade unions which are boycotting Israel and the opinion-forming classes such as the media. The ideological left has been comprehensively defeated, and it knows it. That's why it has no positive campaign as it had in the past, like nationalization of the economy. In the absence of a positive program, it is about what they hate, the US, the global capitalist economy and the state of Israel, because Israel is the frontline to the only force that is challenging all that, is the Arab world. That is why despite the horribly reactionary attitude of the Islamic radicals towards women and gays, there is common cause "my enemy's enemy is my friend."
Another excuse often made by Israel's poisonous critics who say they are not anti-Semites, is that there also prominent Jews among their ranks. Shepherd says that this is one of the most interesting points that he plans to research. "I know there is a tendency to call them self-hating Jews but the key point is much more subtle. This is where you have to understand people like Noam Chomsky who is American but an iconic figure for the European left. He is not a self-hating Jew but his political standing in the left is more important for him than his Jewish identity. That's why the extreme Jewish critics of Israel almost always come from the far left, for them politics is the most important of their identity. They are in thrall with a system of thought that happens to have as one of its main objects of belief an obsessive hatred of Israel. It might be personally painful for them but the ideological left is a secular religion, more than any other political group, and for them this religion comes before being Jewish."

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