|Israel Resource Review
||18th July, 2006
ISRAEL DISPATCHES INFANTRY INTO SOUTHERN LEBANON
Middle East News Line
Israel has dispatched infantry units into Lebanon.
Israeli infantry and engineering units have been sent into Lebanon
for an assault on Hizbullah positions and strongholds near the Israeli
border. The soldiers were said to be destroying Hizbullah forts and
directing air strikes against suspected arsenals in southern Lebanon.
This is the beginning of a major operation," a senior military
The source said the military planned to send more than 5,000 soldiers
into Lebanon for a rapid search-and-destroy mission. They said the operation was based on an assessment that Israel would accept a United
Nations-arranged ceasefire in Lebanon by the end of the week.
Little information has been released by the military on Israeli ground
operations. On Monday, the military said infantry and engineering units
spent two days in the area of Rajar in search of Hizbullah positions. Rajar
is a border village divided by Israel and Lebanon.
The sources said the Israeli ground operation would seek to destroy
Hizbullah rocket arsenals and eliminate fighters in at least seven Shi'ite
villages in southeastern Lebanon. They said Hizbullah was believed to have
stored thousands of Katyusha-class rockets in the villages.
Thus far, Israeli ground troops have begun the establishment of a
one-kilometer buffer zone inside Lebanon. The sources said army bulldozers
have destroyed all Hizbullah outposts along the Israeli-Lebanese border . . .
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Kibbut Nir Am and Sderot - the human side of towns under fire
Correspondent, Voices Magazine
[Most recently, Israel Resource News Agency conducted a press tour of the Western Negev under fire. Here is one of the media accounts that came out of that trip - db]
Kibbutz Nir Am is a small community on the immediate outskirts of Sderot.
It is so close to Sderot that many Kibbutz members walk to Synagogues there for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and other special occasions, since Nir Am has no Synagogue of its own. It is located several kilometers Southeast of Ashkelon, and only 3.5 kilometers from Beit Hanun, a hostile Arab village located in the northwestern corner of the Gaza strip. As you drive up the peaceful, palm-tree-lined boulevard, which serves as the welcoming entrance to the Kibbutz from the main gate, and observe the impeccably manicured lawns and landscaping, it is impossible to believe that this tranquil community has been the recipient of over 270 kassam missile attacks in the past 4 years.
Avi Kadosh is a dark, gentle-looking man in his late 50's or early 60's and is our tour guide throughout the Kibbutz. He is the CEO, or General Manager, of the kibbutz. Avi arrived in Israel as a young man from Morocco, a member of the idealistic Zionist youth movement HaBonim- the Builders. He came to Nir Am in 1970, and has been there ever since. Avi's deep love for his people is revealed as he describes the trauma his kibbutz has endured for the past four years, especially the effect the bombardment has had on the children. He shows an ironic smile as he describes the completely inappropriate calm, soothing voice of the "Red Dawn" alert system, which is immediately met by panic and fear by those who have all of 20 seconds to find a secure place to hide from the kassam rocket and its fragments when the missile finally lands. "Red Dawn", or "Shachar Adom" is the name of the warning system, but it is also these words, and not a siren, which is heard by those in need of a place to hide. The children are not only afraid when they hear the "Red Dawn" Alert, but they become nervous and fearful at any unexpected sound or loud noise. Avi tells us that even his grown daughter, an army graduate, will not sleep in her own apartment after the "Red Dawn" has been activated, and will seek refuge in the emotionally, if not objectively, secure home of her parents, "Like a small child," he adds, with sadness.
Avi takes us to a large reservoir filled with shimmering, silvery blue water. In the hazy distance it is possible to discern a village of tumble-down concrete houses- Beit Hanun. Avi points out an empty green hill in front of us. He says it is the remains of the communities of Dugit, Nissanit and Alei Sinai. I am unable to see anything but a bare green hill. From this vantage point it is also possible to see the billowing smokestacks of the power station situated just south of Ashkelon and within small artillery range of the northwestern part of the Gaza strip. Since the Israeli pullout of Gaza last August the power station has been the target of at least two missile attacks, which fell short of their mark, but nevertheless is quite worrisome.
"Until recently our kibbutz had very friendly relations with the nearby Arabs of the northern Gaza strip", Avi explains. "And even now, during this very difficult time for all of us, there is one Arab that calls me as the representative of all the residents here to wish everyone peace and to find out if we are O.K." Avi does not doubt for a moment the sincerity of his Arab friend.
Nir Am was established in 1943 as Nir Chaim by Jews of Eastern Europe on barren desert land adjacent to a small Arab village. Soon after, a large water source was discovered there, which was piped down to other new Jewish communities being established in even more severe desert conditions than existed in Nir Chaim. In 1946 the name of the kibbutz was changed to Nir Am, as a way to honor and memorialize the Am Yisrael that was so cruelly destroyed during the holocaust.
In 1948, as a result of the battles of the Israeli War of Independence, the neighboring Arab village was left abandoned. Many of these villagers sought refuge in United Nation refugee camps in the Gaza strip. Nir Am is considered by the Palestinian Authority to be an illegal settlement due to the fact that the kibbutz expanded onto the ruins of the abandoned Arab village. After 60 years there are still some of these villagers, elderly now, or deceased, and/or their descendants, who believe that one day they will be able to return to their village that no longer exists. This is the justification the PA uses to bombard the men, women and children of Nir Am with kassam missile attacks these past 4 years.
The kibbutz is small, with a little over 100 members and a total population of about 400 people. A large number of the non-member residents are single students from the nearby Sapir Regional College, an affiliate of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Kibbutz life has changed dramatically in recent years, all over Israel as well as in Nir Am. The communal dining room has been converted to a rabbinically supervised restaurant, where members of the kibbutz as well as non-members can eat there only if they pay. There is a modest but lovely guest house with 14 air-conditioned rooms. Avi urged us to come and stay there, despite the kassam attacks, as a way to give much needed moral support to this small, beleaguered community. There is also a fascinating museum on the premises called "Water and Resistance". Advance notice must be given to arrange a visit.
Don't think this kibbutz is just hiding from the rockets and feeling victimized. Not at all! Right now there are 42 new houses being built on the kibbutz, with a total additional 96 units in the planning stages.
Unfortunately Kibbutz Nir Am has been through other crisis in their history. In 1967 two kibbutz boys were killed; one at battle during the 6 day war, and another on the kibbutz itself. A suicide terrorist bomber was once caught near the kibbutz trying to make his way to Jaffa to explode his belt. Avi told us his own personal story of tragedy. In the winter of 1997 Avi's son Gil and Gil's best friend Assaf were both in the army. One Shabbat they were home together and enjoyed each other's company as only best friends can. After Shabbat they traveled to the north together, where they both were stationed. Gil went to his base in the Golan where he worked as a medic, and Assaf went to the place where he was to take a helicopter to Lebanon. On February 4th, 1997, in a terrible disaster, 76 Jewish boys lost their lives when their helicopters crashed on Kibbutz Shaar Yishuv. As a medic Gil was among the first people at the crash sight, where he found his friend among the fallen soldiers. Assaf was 20 years old when he died. As Avi told this terrible, sad story, there were several places where he was visibly shaken. Almost 10 years later the pain Avi feels for the loss of the child of his fellow kibbutz member and his own son's best friend was deep and clear. After relating this story to us Avi brought us to a beautiful outlook where Assaf's family had built large wooden wind chimes in their son's memory. The soft breeze, dramatic view, lilting notes and tragic story all combined to make our visit to Nir Am poignant and meaningful.
Although no one has yet been killed or hurt from the kassam bombardment in Nir Am, there have been several close calls. One kassam completely destroyed a house, and another landed exactly in the middle of the kibbutz, shattering the windows of the health clinic and the main kibbutz building housing the dining room and offices; setting a tree on fire whose branches landed on a car, destroying the car. Several elderly people nearby were knocked down to the ground by the force of the explosion.
Despite this intolerable situation Avi is far from bitter. When discussing the political situation Avi begins to explain that the kibbutz members, "Used to be for peace," `peace' meaning the agreements with the Palestinians and the disengagement from Gaza, but he quickly corrects himself and says, "Of course we are still for peace, but this doesn't seem to be taking us there." However when asked directly if he would have still be in favor of the disengagement last year, knowing what he knows now, he only hesitated a moment before saying that he would indeed still be in favor. When pressed for his reason he explains that he came to Israel to build a Jewish country. Without disengagement he fears that Israel would become an unjust society forced to practice "apartheid" (a reference to the South African practice of oppressing blacks) in a few generations, or else loose its Jewish character. With this observation we part company with Avi and head off to Sederot.
Sederot is a city of 24,000 residents which was founded in 1951 but did not attain municipality status until 1996. It is a development town, which basically means that it has a larger percentage of new immigrants, poverty and unemployment than an average Israeli city, and therefore receives certain types of benefits from the government. It was built in the vicinity of an Arab village abandoned in 1948 called Najid. Former Arab villagers were and in some cases still are housed in the UNRA camp of Jalabalya in the Gaza strip. According to David Bedein there is a sign there that welcomes visitors to the village of "Najid".
Our host in Sederot is Yaakov Ben-Shushan, a handsome native Israeli in his mid- 40's, who was raised in Sederot. Yaakov is a High School teacher who has recently taken a job as the head of the newly formed "Sederot Residents' Committee" whose main function is to publicize the plight of the people of Sederot.
Yaakov takes us to a quiet street with new apartment buildings on one side and an elementary school on the other. He points to two "pot-holes" in the road about 5 meters from each other, both caused by kassam rockets. Then he points to a balcony of the building we are standing in front of. "A kassam hit this balcony and destroyed it, but it was repaired immediately. We believe it is psychologically harmful to the residents to leave the remains of the destruction around for everyone to gape at, so we clean it up and make repairs as soon as possible". This attitude was an echo of what we heard in Nir Am. Even though photos of the damage can score many public relations points in the media, the welfare of the people, especially the children, always comes first.
In the past five years over 1,200 kassam rockets have fallen on Sederot, causing five deaths and several dozen injuries, including a man who as of this writing has been in a coma for over two weeks. The first deaths came almost exactly one year ago, when a four year-old boy was killed as he walked to gan, and a grandfather was killed as he accompanied his grandson to gan. Several months later, near the time of Tu B'Shvat, 17 year-old Ella Abbacassis was walking with her 10 year-old brother back home from a Bnai Akiva activity on Motzai Shabbat. Suddenly the "Red Dawn" Alert sounded. With only 20 seconds to find safety Ella immediately lied down on top of her baby brother to protect him with her own body. Ella was hit by shrapnel from the kassam that landed near them, only one block from their home. After two weeks in a coma, Ella finally succumbed to her wounds and died. Her act of heroism is memorialized in Sederot where a new Bnai Akiva clubhouse was built in her name.
In recent days the bombardment has become almost ceaseless. Over the weekend of June 24-25 over 60 rockets fell. Parents never leave their children without at least one of them staying at home. The home of the Defense Minister, Amir Peretz has been a target for kassam missiles. Several landed nearby, and one even damaged a neighbor's home. It is unclear if schools are also being targeted, but several missiles have either landed very close to, or actually hit schools.
Despite the loss of life, injuries and constant fear, there has been no noticeable increase in residents leaving the city for calmer and safer quarters. Yaakov points out that it is hard to know exactly why that is, but it could partly be because the residents of Sederot don't have the means to flee. "During the Gulf War", Yaakov reminds us, "North Tel Aviv residents fled to Eilat and other places where Scud missiles were not falling. But the more impoverished residents of Southern Tel Aviv remained. Today in Sederot homes built or purchased for about $90,000 five years ago can only be sold now for about $50,000, if at all. So even if a person wanted to move out of Sederot for personal reasons having nothing to do with the kassam missile attacks, they can only sell their homes at a considerable financial loss, which generally the working class people of Sederot cannot afford".
For several weeks before our visit to Sederot there was a protest tent built in front of the Defense Minister's home in Sederot. Several residents were holding a hunger strike until President Moshe Katzav visited the tent and asked them to stop the strike, which they did. The tent itself was moved to the municipality center by request of the police. A planned protest march to Jerusalem was postponed due to the kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit, and the proposed closure of Sederot to all traffic moving in or out of the city was only held for a few hours instead of days as was first announced.
Our next stop is the Hesder Yeshivah of Sederot, where we are treated to a lovely lunch. The Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Dovid Fendel originally from the United States, explains to us the crucial role his Yeshivah is playing in the community of Sederot. "From the beginning we viewed our Yeshivah as a means to give back to the community. We started a catering business as a source of income so we wouldn't be a financial burden to the people here. In addition, the business provides many jobs to the residents. After each kassam attack our students visit residents to boost their morale by talking with them and saying Tehillim together. We believe our role is to be an integral part of the community and not just to be a Yeshivah that happens to be situated in Sederot".
Rabbi Fendel believes that he and his 400 students are fighting back the Chamas terrorists in the way that hurts them the most. "Chamas wants to see Sederot become a ghost town. Our response is therefore to make Sederot stronger and even more permanent. When our students marry, they don't leave the community to start their new homes, but they often stay and build their homes right here in Sederot. We are right now in the midst of building a beautiful new center of Torah, with a large Beit Midrash and married student housing." And indeed, we are escorted from the temporary housing where the Yeshivah is situated now to a large, empty lot which is the future home of the Yeshivah. Construction has already begun- the several story married student apartment complex is already finished, and right now the land is being prepared to begin construction on the Beit Midrash itself. "They fire missiles at us, and we build buildings for Torah and for the community."
Our last stop on our tour is the municipality center where a protest tent has been erected. We are met with many posters summarizing and decrying the feelings of the residents towards the unbearable conditions they have had to endure these past five years. "We Want Security", "How Long Until We Have Quiet?" and "Until When Will the Evil Ones Rejoice?"
Shimon Amar, a thirtyish resident of Sederot, is sitting in the protest tent patiently cutting and tying together black and red strings into a ribbon reminiscent of the orange ribbons of the struggle for Gush Katif. Black and red are a reference to "Red Dawn", since the word "dawn" in Hebrew is close in sound to the word for "black", "shachar" and "shachor". Shimon hopes to distribute these ribbons widely to help publicize the plight of the citizens of Sederot and the other communities situated near the border with Gaza. "We feel ignored and abandoned", laments Shimon. "We are happy that our army is showing force to free (kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit, but we are angry that for five years an entire city of 24,000 people have been under bombardment with loss of life, limb and property and next to nothing was done, but for one soldier the entire army is alerted and set in motion for major action. How do you think this makes us feel?"
Another resident of Sederot points to his son and adds, "My son is 10 years old. For the past five years he has known nothing but terror. Do you think this is a normal way to grow up? Do you think he is not effected? All our children are traumatized, and our government still does nothing."
When asked what he would like to see the government do, Shimon answers that all he wants is security, and he isn't interested in how this should be achieved. "This is why the people elect their representatives, to find the solutions. It is not our job to find the way; it is the job of the members of our government. They are obligated to insure our security, and they have so far failed, miserably."
Shimon hands me a bag full of black and red ribbons as I am leaving. "Please distribute this among your friends in Gush Etzion". "I will", I promise, as we take our leave of the embattled and forgotten town of Sederot.
(If you would like to know more about how to help the Hesder Yeshivah of Sederot help the people of Sederot you can visit their website at www.sderot.org. )
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New York Times decision to feature a morgue of dead Lebanese civilians on the front page
From my perspective as a trained social work professional who works in the
media, it was both shocking and inappropriate to see how the New York Times chose to run a five column picture of a morgue of Lebanese civilians who had been accidentally killed, on the front page of the well read Sunday New York Times of July 16th, 2006.
This followed a week in which the Lebanese based Hizballah organization fired indiscriminately at more than 40 Israeli cities, towns and villages, while the Israeli army did everything in its power to avoid hitting civilian targets.
It would be instructive to see if the New York Times would now run the picture of the morgue of the people killed today in Haifa, as a result of a direct hit of a Hizbullah missile, which the Hizballah aimed at a civilian targe.
Then again, Israeli PR people do not generally provide photo-ops of morgues for the media, out of respect for the deceased.
It is obvious that the message that the New York Times wanted to convey was simple: Israelis kill civilians.
Why not say crucify?
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UNRWA: The Perennial Obstacle To Peace
"I'm from Chicago, and I know corruption when I find it!"
This is how Congressman Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) initiated his dissection of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a Capital Hill seminar held this past Thursday.
The need to "UN-Fund UNRWA" was detailed [http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?brd=2737&pag=628&search=1&SORTBY=1&tp=2&full=Sklaroff&DateRange=last30&submit=GO].
This "humanitarian" entity has morphed into a bureaucratic, self-perpetuating apologist for Palestinian Arab terrorism.
For example, the definition of "refugees"-unique to UNRWA-not only includes the original "Palestine refugees" who may only have resided in Israel for two years-but also their descendents, even if they are citizens of other countries.
Yet, because it receives 25 percent of its funds from U.S. Taxpayers, it is supposed to comply with Section 301c of the Foreign Assistance Act and, thus, "all possible measures" are supposed to be taken to prevent these monies from being given to terrorists. But Rep. Kirk noted that to date, UNRWA has not taken any possible measure to ensure Americans do not fund the terrorists who have shelled Israel and kidnapped her soldiers.
He cited the case of UNRWA employees who ran for election on the Hamas ticket, and when they failed to win seats, returned to UNRWA and asked for their jobs back. Mr. Kirk pointed out that, according to the General Accounting Office, no grant to any Palestinian Arab has ever been curtailed-for any reason-by UNRWA!
In addition, UNRWA-advocates attending this seminar did not deny that textbooks used in UNRWA-funded schools contained anti-Semitic references. Indeed, according to UNRWA's brochure, schooling "is UNRWA's largest area of activity and accounts for half of the Agency's regular budget and two-thirds of its staff . . . UNRWA uses the curriculum of the host authorities" un critically, instead of mandating that intolerance be expunged therefrom.
Rep. Kirk's bill "H.R. 5278 - The UNRWA Integrity Act" would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to assist Palestinians living in Gaza and Judea/Samaria achieve post-refugee status.
Under this Act, the President must certify to Congress that UNRWA is subject to comprehensive financial audits by an internationally recognized, independent auditing firm; does not provide employment, refuge, assistance or support of any kind to members of foreign terrorist organizations; does not promote denial of Israel's right to exist or anti-Semitism; and ceases serving as an impediment to finding a lasting solution for Palestinian refugees residing in the region.
The host-organization of this breakfast meeting was the non-profit, non-partisan Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. JINSA advocates changing the mandate of UNRWA from "maintaining" Palestinian r efugees to resettling them, mirroring the pr actices of UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). This would allow Palestinians to obtain the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in countries that agreed to resettle them, and lessen the sense of grievance that accompanies permanent statelessness. The current situation, JINSA believes, makes Palestinians easy prey for radical movements and terrorist groups.
Rep. Kirk appeared to support folding UNRWA into a UNHCR framework, for he reported that each UNHCR employee supports 2800 refugees, whereas each UNRWA employee supports only 185 refugees. He suggested that employment practices in UNRWA should mirror UNHCR as well, moving from hiring 99 percent of its staff from the population it serves, Palestinian Arabs, to a more "international" representation.
Also, JINSA would mandate that educational funding cease until an expert panel including Americans and Israelis certifies that all textbooks used in all UNRWA-administered schools are free of racist, anti-Jewish and a nti-Israeli propaganda. Maps finally must include "Israel."
The seminar was keynoted by Sen. Norman Coleman (R-Minn.) who is deeply enmeshed in comprehensive efforts to achieve UN reform. During the "Question and Answer" dialogue, he reassured a Palestinian-American in the audience that he shares the goals of those who want to preserve support for these women and children, while making UNRWA transparent and accountable to American taxpayers.
Sen. Coleman also lamented that the sole agenda item enacted by the newly created UN Human Rights Council was condemnation of Israel despite, for example, the ongoing genocide in Darfur. He noted the capacity of America to exert fiscal leverage to fix the UN, and posed the challenge as to whether the United States Congress has the political will to do so.
Rep. Kirk emphasized the need to enforce accountability and transparency. He described UNRWA's failure to provide documentation of how U S taxpayer monies are being spent, as "arrogan t." He doesn't want a portion of all UNRWA transactions to be funneled to Arab terrorists who take advantage of the plight of Arab Palestinians. He professed his ongoing familiarity investigating such graft both in government and international organizations.
We must not tolerate, he concluded, the status quo. "The Mob must not be permitted to take over the camps!"
Mr. Guzzardi is a businessman andphilanthropist. Dr. Sklaroff is an oncologist, hematologist and internist.
This article ran in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on July 17th, 2006
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