Israel Resource Review 28th July, 2002


Eight Children without a Father: The Aftermath of the Murder of Rabbi Elimelech Shapiro
Shlomo Ceszana and Sharon Solomon
Correspondents, Maariv

Yesterday, at the fresh grave of Rabbi Elimelech Shapira stood his wife Rivka, embracing her eight children: 17-year-old Reut; 15-year-old Ortal; Hadar, 13; Elyashiv, 11; Evyatar, 9; Hillel, 7; Zimrat, 5; and Hananel, 3. They stood and grieved for their father, who was killed by terrorists when he traveled at 3:30 a.m. from his home in the settlement of Peduel in Samaria to a Bible lecture in Bnei Brak.

Rabbi Elimelech Shapira, 43, studied in the hesder yeshiva [a program that combines yeshiva studies with army service] in Kiryat Shmona and studied afterward in a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Eleven years ago, he moved to Peduel in western Samaria. There he founded the Eretz Tzvi pre-army academy and headed it ever since, along with Rabbi Meir Katz.

About 170 students attend the academy, which is meant to prepare young religious high-school graduates to serve in the army "with their bodies and souls," through Jewish studies and physical training. Hundreds of young men who studied there serve in army combat units.

But Elimelech Shapira was not only known as a rabbi. No less was he known for his great love for music. He enchanted many with his flute. "He represented all that is good and beautiful in a human being, the opposite of what his murderers represent," said Yona Goodman, a member of the settlement.

"Rabbi Shapira used to say that we must use our time for study," they said on the settlement. Therefore, he used to leave Peduel early in the morning for Bnei Brak, to get in a Bible lesson in the yeshiva there, and get back by morning and give his usual lecture in academy in Peduel.

The head of the Settlers Council, Benzi Lieberman, who lives in Peduel, said that Rabbi Shapira was "an admired figure who aspired to excellence and loved the country." Lieberman said that the murder would only strengthen the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria and that Peduel and Alei Zahav, between which two settlements runs the road on which Rabbi Shapira was killed, would build two new neighborhoods next month.

Rabbi Shapira was buried last night. "Daddy, my beloved father, I love you," eulogized his daughter Ortal, 15. "I see all the many people who came here, people Daddy taught all the time. My father is the Messiah; I want you to know that."

Thousands of people accompanied Rabbi Shapira on his final journey, among them hundreds of soldiers and army officers, graduates of the pre-army academy he headed. At first, the people congregated at the academy building. Dov Shapira, head of the religious council, said: "You went up to heaven in a storm. You were murdered before studying Torah and after immersing in the mikve [ritual bath]." Meir Yehiel, his father, said: "My dear and holy son: the bullets of contemptible terrorists hit you. Not every day does the Heavenly Yeshiva merit to receive a special person like you."

After the many eulogies, the funeral cortege set out in a long convoy to the Segula cemetery in Petah Tikva. Rivka, his wife, said over the open grave: "I don't know whether to call you my beloved, my rabbi or my father. Today we return that with which we were entrusted. God gave, and God took away. Elimelech, I love you."

This article ran in Maariv on July 26th, 2002

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Surviving Orphan of the Dickstein Family:
"The Terrorist Looked Us in the Eye and Opened Fire"

Correspondent, Maariv

"Where will we sit shiva"?
"Where will we live?"
"Who will be our adoptive parents?";

These difficult and heart-rending questions were asked yesterday by the nine surviving Dickstein children who lost their parents and their nine-year-old brother on Friday in the lethal terror attack in the southern Hebron hills.

Yaakov and Hannah Dickstein, both teachers, were the parents of ten children. They moved eight months ago from Jerusalem to the settlement Psagot as part of their desire to contribute to the Jewish settlement enterprise in the territories. On Friday they were making their way to visit their friends at the settlement Maon, traveling with six of their children.

An investigation of the incident suggests that a terror cell composed of what appears to have been four terrorists positioned itself on the side of the road that connects Pnei Hever to the settlements Maon and Carmel. The position the gunmen selected is about two kilometers south of Zif intersection and 500 meters from the village Yatta, to which the terrorists fled. Elazar Leibovich was killed in the first car to pass the gunmen. Leibovich, who was driving the car, sustained mortal injuries from the gunfire, but he succeeded in driving a little further. He died within a short period of time from his injuries.

Immediately afterwards, the Dicksteins came down the road. One of the terrorists opened fire on the car, and the car pulled to a stop. Another terrorist who was hiding on the other side of the road came out of his hiding place and drew near the car. "The terrorist came up to us, looked us in the eye, and began to shoot," one of the Dickstein girls told the detectives. Mr. Dickstein tried to get out of the car, and was shot dead. Hannah Dickstein and the nine-year-old Shuva-ell were murdered by the terrorist in front of the five other children. Adiel, a baby, sustained light injuries and was treated on the spot, and one of the boys, who is 12-years-old, sustained injuries to his back and arm from shrapnel. He was hospitalized in Hadassah Ein Karem in light to moderate condition.

Rescue workers, IDF troops, and police troops under the command of Samaria and Judea District Commander Shahar Ayalon. The physical evidence at the scene indicates that the terrorists fired 20 bullets before fleeing.

Tanzim took responsibility yesterday for the terror attack. Security officials said that their intelligence indicates that the terrorists are hiding out either in Yatta or in one of the caves in the vicinity. Yesterday the IDF swept Yatta and discovered illegal guns, knives, a large amount of ammunition and a home-made bomb in the Palestinian police station in the town.

"Yaakov and Hannah were optimistic people, with a lot of joy of life and light in their eyes," said yesterday Hannah Diamant, a family friend. "They built their house in Psagot with all their heart and all their soul and despite all the difficulties."

Yaakov, who was a teacher in the Netiv Meir yeshiva, was on sabbatical this year which he used to establish a higher education institution in Jerusalem. Hannah taught computers at a girl's ulpana in Pisgat Zeev and at the Evelina de Rothschild school in Jerusalem.

All of the surviving nine Dickstein children spent the weekend in the hospital along with their injured brother. All nine, including the two-year-old Adiel, know that Mommy, Daddy and Shuva-el will not be coming home.

This article ran in Maariv on July 28th, 2002

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Three bodies, Nine Orphans
Shlomo Ceszana
Correspondent, Maariv

Three members of the Dickstein family who were killed in Friday's terror attack in the Hebron hills were laid to rest yesterday. The funeral cortege of Yossi and Hani Dickstein and their son Shuva-el left the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem for the Psagot cemetery.

"It was clear to the whole family that the funeral would start here, in the study hall where you acquired the spiritual foundations of our home and that it would end in Psagot," said the oldest son, Zvi Yehuda, 22. "Only last week, Father looked at the home he had built in Psagot and said: We were like dreamers; we now have our portion [Biblical quotes]. You found your place in Psagot and it was clear to us that we would bury you here."

The nine orphans walked behind the three bodies. Zvi Yehuda began his eulogy with a quote from the penitential prayers. "What words can describe the enormity of this catastrophe?" he asked. "How can we speak in the past tense about the people we loved best? Father, Mother, Shuva-el, suddenly everything is stopped in the middle. But, dear parents, we received a solid education, an education for ideals, and we will continue in your path."

Zvi Yehuda said that he realized his parents had been killed when he saw their bodies that morning at the funeral, but he was having difficulty assimilating the loss. "What will be with us, the children? You wanted so much to see us married, and now, who will lead us to the marriage canopy? You won't get to see your grandchildren. Father, Mother, in my name and in the name of all the children, I promise you that we will keep the family united."

The nine orphans announced that they would continue to live in Psagot, in the home their parents built, where they moved from Jerusalem about seven months ago. "We have no idea how we will go on," Zvi Yehuda said, "but we will go on. We will go on here, in Psagot, as you taught us."

This piece also ran in Maariv on July 29th, 2002

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Critique of Hansen Op-ed
David Bedein

Mr. Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief Works Agency, in a NYT op-ed on July 30, 2002, "Easing Palestine's Humanitarian Crisis", and in an IHT op-ed on July 31, 2002, correctly writes that "something must be done for ordinary families in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hansen, however, does not address the question as to whether the UNRWA policy of maintaining Arab refugees "and their descendants" in the squalor of refugee camps - under the premise and promise of the "right of return" to homes and villages that no longer exist, instead of resettling them in humanitarian conditions, is not in itself part of the problem of these "ordinary families".

All other refugees around the world attended to by the U.N. fall under the mantle of the High Commission of Refugees, which works diligently to see that refugees are resettled (not necessarily in their place of origin) with all due speed. Only Palestinian Arab refugees have been maintained in ostensibly temporary camps for over 50 years. Hansen himself is on record as having said that "this is their whole life."

This policy has fomented Palestinian unrest and raised expectations in a way that is a definite factor in the rise of terrorism. Astonishingly, Israel was prevented, by a U.N. General Assembly resolution in December 1985, from moving refugees who had fallen under their jurisdiction into permanent housing that had been built for them. So political were the goals of the U.N. that they preferred to see the refugees themselves suffer. And to this day that situation pertains.

Hansen's statement that UNRWA "is committed to ensuring that its installations remain free of militant activity" stands in contradiction to what UNRWA public affairs spokesmen have told our agency, which is that UNRWA knows full well that the forces of the PLO and Hamas maintain an armed presence in the UNRWA camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza. "Battle for the Holy Land", aired by PBS in April, 2002, showed arms caches located in UNRWA camps throughout the West Bank. P.A. minister Ghassan Khatib remarked to CNN on February 28th, 2002, that every young man in the UNRWA Balata refugee camp now had his own personal weapon.

Hansen's statement that "its 22,000 staff members do not allow their political beliefs to interfere with their duties" stands in contradiction to the fact that Hamas openly controls the UNRWA teachers' union. Hansen's assertion that UNWRA "has produced school materials promoting tolerance, nonviolent conflict resolution and human rights", stands in contradiction to what the UNRWA director of curriculum development had told our agency, which is that UNRWA has reinstated the books which Israel had deleted in 1967 because of Israel's determination that these books promoted hatred and war against the Jewish state. UNWRA schools use texts that have maps of the Middle East with Israel missing.

This fall, 38 donor nations of UNRWA convene to consider the renewal of funding for UNRWA and of the UNRWA mandate itself. It will be instructive to see if the congresses and parliaments of the contributing nations of UNRWA take a closer look at UNRWA at this time.

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"Easing the Palestine's Humanitarian Crisis"
Peter Hansen
Commissioner General, UNRWA

A consensus has emerged in the Middle East, among people of otherwise widely divergent views, on one point: something must be done for ordinary families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They face a crisis of such dimensions that it threatens everyone in the region.

Two weeks ago, Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, telephoned Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, to ask for an international effort to help the Palestinian people. Last Wednesday Daniel Kurtzer, the American ambassador to Israel, calling the situation in the territories "a humanitarian disaster," urged Israel to lift travel restrictions on Palestinians. And on Friday The New York Times reported on an ongoing study by the United States Agency for International Development that has found dramatically increased malnutrition and anemia among Palestinian children. By Sunday, Prime Minister Sharon had announced an easing of travel and other restrictions and had named Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to coordinate relief for the Palestinians. The United Nations hopes these decisions will be swiftly implemented in such a way that they make a substantive difference to ordinary Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon's phone call came on a day when Mr. Annan was meeting in New York with his colleagues in the Quartet - Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, and Javier Solana, the European Union's high representative. They agreed that full humanitarian access would be the fastest way to begin improving the Palestinians' plight and that the United Nations should lead the humanitarian effort.

The United Nations already has the largest humanitarian operation on the ground in the Middle East, with 10,500 staff members in the West Bank and Gaza alone: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Since 1950, the agency has catered to the basic health, education and welfare needs of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and their descendants - some of whom still live in so-called refugee camps, which are townships of two- and three-story buildings, while many others are scattered across the region.

Since September 2000, the agency has also been trying to lessen the humanitarian impact of violence, curfews and closures on the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. It has greatly increased its provision of food aid: whereas before the strife such aid went to 11,000 refugee families, it is now reaching almost 220,000 families. As the Palestinian economy has stagnated, the demands on agency resources have soared.

Israel has long understood that the relief agency's work is an important factor in the stability of the large Palestinian population on its doorstep. In 1967, when it took control of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel asked the agency to continue its work there - a responsibility that, without the agency, would have fallen on Israel's shoulders. More recently, in November 2001, the Israeli delegate to the United Nations General Assembly expressed Israel's "appreciation for the efforts of UNRWA in providing important services, especially in the fields of health care and education."

Despite such statements, there have been attacks on the agency by some commentators in Israel and America alleging, wrongly, that the relief agency is not part of the solution to the violence in the region, but is part of the problem.

The agency faces many difficulties in serving such a highly politicized population, even though it does not police or administer the refugee camps (where a third of refugees live). The agency is committed to ensuring that its installations remain free of militant activity and demands that its 22,000 staff members - 99 per cent of whom are Palestinian refugees - do not allow their political beliefs to interfere with their duties. These efforts have brought attacks from Arab commentators (and some in the agency's staff union) claiming that the agency suppresses freedom of speech.

However, in an environment as polarized as the Middle East, the agency would soon lose all credibility if it allowed its commitment to the norms of justice to be diluted by a fear of criticism, regardless of where it might come from.

The agency is working with its donors to tackle some of the difficulties created by the political landscape. For several years it has produced school materials promoting tolerance, nonviolent conflict resolution and human rights. The agency plans to expand this program with further financial support from the United States, which has long been the most generous backer of Palestinian refugee relief. Such support from the international community is vital if the relief and works agency is to continue to operate apolitically in a politically polarized region - and to relieve the desperate situation of Palestinian refugees.

Peter Hansen is commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

This column appeared in the New York Times on July 30,2002, and in the International Herald Tribune on July 31, 2002

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