|Israel Resource Review
||8th June, 2008
Senior Research Policy Analyst, Center for Near East Policy Research
Posting: June 6, 2008
The situation. Sometimes I see us simply going in the most frustrating circles, but now (very tentatively) I see a shift in some of what we're dealing with.
We might start with the chances for an agreement with the PA. It's been unsettling, to say the least. There has been fear of a divided Jerusalem and of forced withdrawal from Jewish communities beyond the Green Line.
But now, even though we must continue to be on our guard and to fight against the staged destruction of Israel, the chances of a negotiated agreement between us and the Palestinians seems much reduced.
I have already written about Abbas's call to renew talks with Hamas (without demanding it first relinquish Gaza). But yesterday Abbas made his position even firmer: He is calling for talks based on the Yemenite initiative. That's the initiative that brought about a signed document that Abbas walked away from within hours after the PA representative put his name to the paper.
At that point Abbas was walking a fine line between relationship with Hamas and keeping the West happy. This is what seems to have shifted at present. At a gathering in Ramallah yesterday, Abbas said if we want peace we must withdraw to the lines of June 4, 1967 (essentially the Green Line). He's giving notice that no compromise will be forthcoming, and that with everything else he expects us to give them the Kotel and the Temple Mount.
Abbas says he will spare no efforts in restoring "national unity." He has thrown in his lot with Hamas rather than the West. Because of his enormous weakness, something like this was fairly predictable. He may backtrack again, if he sees loss of Western materiel and financial support. But my betting is that this is the way he's headed.
According to Khaled Abu Toameh, most Palestinian analysts see this move by Abbas as a reflection of his disillusionment with negotiations. But, says Abu Toameh, there are those who believe this is a ploy to gain concessions from us. Said one such analyst, "Abbas is telling Israel, either you give me everything I want, or I go to Hamas."
In his dreams. There's a signal lesson here. Each time efforts are made toward negotiations, there is talk of moderation, and hope for peace. But the Palestinians have never compromised. They always expect, somehow, to get it all and have prepared their populations to expect nothing less. As the Palestinian political rhetoric becomes more radical and Hamas influence is greater, the situation becomes less and less flexible. I do not believe Abbas wants to compromise, but even if he did, his throat (literally) might be slit if he tried to do so.
Olmert's visit with President Bush has been declared a huge success, as the US-Israel strategic alliance is strengthened in the face of the Iranian threat.
Bush has agreed to connect Israel to an advanced US satellite system that warns of the launching of ballistic missiles immediately after they are launched.
Additionally, we are to be given permission to purchase F-35 single engine, single seater stealth fighter jets, which will upgrade our capabilities.
We may also be able to purchase F-22 "Raptor" single seater, double engine jets. Until now this hasn't been possible because of a ban on their sale to foreign countries, which US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), now indicated he's in favor of lifting in Israel's case. "I'm a strong supporter of Israel getting all the material and equipment they need," he said.
The F-22 is exceedingly important to the Israeli capability to hit Iran, as it can fly into enemy airspace without being detected. This, of course, is very much to the point in terms of US willingness to consider supplying us now.
After meeting with Bush, Olmert declared that he had "fewer questions" regarding the US determination and plans for dealing with Iran. " . . . every day we are making real strides towards dealing with this problem more effectively."
Perhaps Bush has reassured Olmert on US intentions to hit Iran. What is clear is that the US is making it more possible for us to do so if the US does not. And the betting here is that we will if, indeed, the US does not.
Yesterday morning, a mortar shell killed Amnon Rosenberg of Kibbutz Nirim and wounded five others. Hamas has claimed credit.
I'm almost embarrassed to report that Olmert , headed back to Israel, has declared that the day of reckoning is close and there may be a major Gaza operation soon. How many times can he say this without actually doing it? What has happened how, interestingly, is that Barak, who had been pushing for that ceasefire is now said to be in favor of an operation as well, declaring that Hamas will pay a price before there is a ceasefire. So perhaps (just perhaps) the political climate has shifted here.
Members of Labor are now saying that unless Kadima holds a primary soon to remove Olmert from the head of the party, they will support Silvan Shalom's efforts to pass a bill to dissolve the Knesset.
With all of the political jockeying, this is a wait and see situation. Wait and hope, perhaps.
Obama. I had not intended to start writing about him so soon, but what he has done is so blatant, so indicative of the problems he presents, that I must.
At the AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) meeting the other day, he declared, to rousing cheers, that he was for an "undivided Jerusalem."
But now he has backtracked in a clarification. Explained a member of his campaign: "Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties." Obama, it was explained, is certainly in favor of Jerusalem remaining Israel's capital. But he does not rule out Jerusalem also being the capital of a Palestinian state, or Palestinian sovereignty over certain neighborhoods.
So, what does a "united Jerusalem" mean? " . . . it's not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967."
Huh?? "United Jerusalem" universally refers to Jerusalem remaining united under Israeli rule. To have used this term to mean something else, without clarification, was misleading and rings all sorts of bells.
My own guess is that when Obama spoke at the AIPAC meeting, he was, in essence, shooting from the hip, providing a vision that would appeal to his audience. And then, when pro-Palestinians expressed fury (this I know happened), he needed to have his campaign "clarify" to mollify them. Indeed, this rings all sorts of bells regarding sincerity as versus lip service, and raises serious questions about what his "real" positions are.
Before closing, I want to look at one other aspect of Obama's campaign that is exceedingly troubling: His choice of Daniel Kurtzer as a key advisor on Middle East issues (and someone who would likely get a major post should Obama win).
For those of us in the know, Daniel Kurtzer is recognized as very problematic for Israel:
When Kurtzer did his Ph.D. at Columbia, he blamed Israel for the "radicalization" of the Palestinians, and he referred to the terrorists as "guerillas." A bad sign. A worse sign: He was a speechwriter for James Baker, who is a hater of Israel and the Jews. According to Joseph Farah, "Probably more than any other State Department official, Kurtzer has been instrumental in promoting the goals of the Palestinians and in raising their grievances to the center of the U.S. policymaking agenda."
In a recently written book, co-authored with Scott Lasensky, Kurtzer expresses the following opinions:
-- that the US is "overly deferential" to the stated political problems of Israel
-- that the US should work to balance "asymmetries" in the power between the Palestinians and Israel
He further expresses the attitude that the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to peace in the Middle East. This is patent nonsense as it ignores Shiite-Sunni tensions, and the Jihad goals of militant Islam, which will persist no matter what Israel does. But he actually sees fit to place blame on Israel for inclinations among militant Islamists to attack the West -- Daniel Pipes has just written about this, and puts the onus on us for resolving this conflict (which means he would just as soon see us disappear).
A Middle East structured as Kurtzer would have it would weaken all US goals and interests in this part of the world and actually foster extremism. The Islamists see Israel as the "little Satan" -- a tool of America, and America as the "big Satan." If we are weakened, then the radicals are encouraged that they are winning the battle against America. And you can believe it, the battle IS against America.
Posting: June 4, 2008
What many American-Israelis here have been worried about has come to pass: Barack Obama has captured the nomination.
Here I will simply say that we are praying mightily -- for the good of the US and Israel -- that McCain will win. (Obama's stunning speech at AIPAC not withstanding.) In the course of the campaign I will share observations from this part of the world on issues of consequence that relate to the presidential contest.
To my readers: Please know that a host of responsibilities requires me, at least in the short term, to post less frequently than has been my habit. Other work I am doing (I am beginning research on a major report, for example) competes with these postings for my time and attention and a balance is necessary. I will do my best to do these postings as is possible for me. In the course of June, I will be away from my computer for a considerable amount of time.
As many are aware , Olmert is in the US primarily with regard to the issue of Iran. He has addressed the AIPAC policy conference and has met with President Bush. Also on the agenda, reportedly, is a request for cutting edge military equipment.
At the same time, members of the Israeli National Fraud Unit are also in the States. They are seeking documentation of Talansky's testimony -- regarding funds drawn from his banks at the time he says he gave money to Olmert, and the identity of the other people that Talansky spoke of in his testimony as having also provided cash to Olmert.
At present Talansky is due to return here for cross examination by Olmert's lawyers in July, but there is talk about bringing him back sooner. The lawyers are said to be caught between legal considerations, which require them to take their time reviewing all the evidence, and political considerations, which make it prudent for them to take the offensive as quickly as possible to dispel the current public impression.
The government has announced construction of over 800 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Home, both over the Green Line.
Olmert was singularly unfazed by protests registered by the PA and Condoleezza Rice. (This building "exacerbates tensions" and "obstructs the peace process.") When his eye is on sustaining his coalition, he is able to stand strong. Would that he similarly stood strong for Israel's sake.
PA chief negotiator, Ahmed Qurei, has told a Fatah activists group in Ramallah that it would take a "miracle" to reach an agreement with Israel before the end of the year. He says no progress has been made.
And -- surprise! -- Abbas has done a turn around and is now calling for a dialogue with Hamas even though they have not relinquished Gaza.
Explained an Abbas aide: "The failure of the peace process, the tragic situation in Gaza, the entire Palestinian situation required thinking courageously of an exit. We hope that Hamas will respond positively to the call."
And indeed, in Gaza, Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu said, "We welcome this call . . . to launch a national dialogue, and we consider it a positive step,"
An article this week in Germany's Der Spiegel outlines a plan being advanced by Germany, which is serving as go-between in communication between Israel and Hezbollah. It makes clear what has long been suggested: What Hezbollah would return are the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser; it would also provide detailed information on Israeli jet navigator Ron Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and presumed dead.
In return, according to this German plan , Israel would release four Hezbollah militiamen and 10 bodies. And in addition, Samir Kuntar, about whom I wrote the other day: He killed a man in front of his daughter and then smashed the child's skull in. He should never, ever see the light of day again; for such a person only the death penalty (which Israel does not administer) would be fitting. His release would not sit well with many here.
Nasrallah is additionally seeking release of several Palestinians.
Israel is currently negotiating an upgrade in our relationship with the EU -- to senior European partner -- that would give us increased access to European markets worth billions to us, and foster cooperation in science and diplomacy.
Bad enough that PA prime minister Fayyad sent a letter to the Organization for Economic Development asking that Israel's participation in Europe's markets be blocked -- Olmert was said to be livid about this.
Far worse, however, is that Israel has now learned that Egypt has been attempting (without success) to do the same. What seems to be going on is that Egypt believes Israel complaints about Egypt's failure to block smuggling of weapons into Gaza was a factor in a US freeze on $200 million in military aid Egypt -- and now they are retaliating.
Posting: June 1, 2008
"Har Habayit Beyadenu"
"The Temple Mount is in our hands." The words spoken joyously by General Motta Gur, on retaking the Temple Mount, after 19 years of being forbidden access to the holiest of our sites.
A year ago, we celebrated 40 years that a united Jerusalem has been in our hands. By the thousands, we danced in the streets. Who would have dreamed that within the course of the year that followed we would have a government blind enough, foolish enough, sufficiently devoid of Jewish passion, to consider negotiating it away to a Palestinian Authority whose head has refused to recognize us a Jewish State?
Tonight begins Yom Yerushalayim. May we move past these evil days with all possible speed, and hold fast to our sacred heritage for all time to come.
Enjoy a magnificent rendering of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav by the late Ofra Haza:
This willingness to even consider negotiating away the Temple Mount is but one facet of the colossally stupid (and dangerous) policies of Olmert and company.
Consider the current policy with regard to Syria:
It's not long since Olmert announced "serious" indirect negotiations with Syria. This was not something which the US government welcomed. The US was attempting to isolate Syria, and along came Israel providing some legitimacy to this terrorist regime, even if indirectly.
Now I read in Haaretz that Israel is warning the EU to show "caution" in contacts with Damascus. Seems there's a spate of renewed contact with Syria that is making Israel uneasy, and so a "secret" telegram has gone out from the deputy head of the Western Europe division at the Foreign Ministry to the ambassadors of key European countries, telling them to remind the Europeans to "be careful and measured" in contacts with Syria.
After all, the negotiations haven't begun yet, and "the Europeans need to be reminded that Syria continues to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is not disengaging from Iran. All these are issues of great concern for Israel, and they are still on the table, unresolved."
Sounds to me like a lot of good reasons for not negotiating with Syria now. But to open this Pandora's box and then be upset with what is set free!
What is more, that list of unacceptable Syrian behaviors ignores yet another of enormous magnitude. The Bush administration believes there is more to Syria's nuclear program than the reactor that Israel destroyed last September. US intelligence suspects that Syria is hiding a network of at least three more facilities that would have provided the fuel for the reactor, and has requested that the UN send in inspectors.
Please see Elyakim Haetzni's piece, "The Golan is not for sale," which speaks of the dangers of trying to play with Syria and the errors of even contemplating surrender of a part of Israel that is steeped in our heritage.
Then there is the matter of Olmert's and Barak's policy on Hamas in Gaza and the possibility of that ceasefire:
Decisions have been tabled for now, ostensibly because Olmert is going to the US late tomorrow and there are issues said to require clarification. Reports are, however, that there are tensions between Barak and Olmert on how to resolve the matter -- and this time it is Barak who seems to not have his head screwed on very tightly. Our defense minister -- a former military man (and at one time he was a good one) -- is said to be in favor of the ceasefire, even though Shalit is not part of the deal and there is no firm commitment from Egypt with regard to stopping smuggling.
Keep in mind that there are most certainly political dimensions to this inclination of Barak's. For him it would not be a matter purely of defense. Undoubtedly he is also considering the way in which a period of quiet that he engineered might play to his favor during this time of political upset.
Most members of the Security Cabinet are reported to be against the ceasefire, and they are restive because they feel they are not being included sufficiently in the decision-making process. A Security Cabinet meeting scheduled for today was cancelled.
Recent news from Egypt makes the mere consideration of a lull seem rather suicidal. Egyptian police have discovered a massive arms cache hidden inside of a mountain in the northern Sinai. The material -- which included 2,200 bullets, 30 anti-aircraft missiles, several sacks packed with hand grenades and automatic rifles, and RPG (rocket propelled grenade) launchers -- was to be smuggled into Gaza.
The scenario is rather obvious. They keep upgrading their equipment. What was found in that mountain 80 kilometers from Rafah is surely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. News about anti-aircraft missiles (some of which may already have been brought into Gaza) is making the Israeli military uneasy.
So? Do we wait until they upgrade even further, or do we regain our senses and start taking them out now?
Of note here is a claim by Hamas that Fatah's Al Aksa Brigades in Gaza is increasingly cooperating with Islamic Jihad in a joint effort to sabotage the ceasefire. If this is so, all the talk will remain just that, for if all factions and groups are not on board, there is no deal.
Considerable confusion exists regarding some apparent negotiations going on between Israel and Hezbollah. There have been rumors for days of a prisoner trade with them that would bring us back our two soldiers.
Part of the trouble I'm having with this -- with considerable sadness -- is my dubiousness about whether Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are still alive. There has been no evidence that they are and strong suspicion in many quarters that they are not; Gerhard Konrad, the German mediator involved in this believes that Hezbollah just wants to trade bodies. Which makes it all very strange. For there were rumors, at least, of a major concession in trade on our part: in Lebanon they have been crowing that arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar will be with them soon.
Kuntar has written a letter to Nasrallah, which was published in the PA's al-Hayat and revealed by PMW, pledging that he would continue a life of Jihad: "I give you my promise and oath that my only place will be in the fighting front soaked with the sweat of your giving and with the blood of the shahids . . . " This, in and of itself, is more than enough reason to refuse to release him.
At any rate, a trade of sorts has now taken place, although it's anyone's guess whether this is a precursor to something much bigger. We have just released Nissim Nasser, a Lebanese Jew who converted to Islam and moved to Israel, where he was arrested and convicted as a spy. His sentence was complete but he was being held under administrative arrest.
And Hezbollah has released a box of bones to the Red Cross that are said to be the remains of Israeli soldiers who died in the Lebanese War in 2006. Forensic experts still must do identification.
I will not belabor the Olmert scandal in detail, especially as the reports shift by the hour. There is considerable speculation as to precisely what he might be indicted for, but there is even talk of money laundering.
Most damning, from my perspective, is what Caroline Glick shared in her piece on Friday. In a nutshell: Talansky owns a minority share in the Israeli firm ImageSat, which sells satellite images from Israeli spy satellites to foreign governments; Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) is the chief share holder. Talansky wanted to have ImageSat sell images to Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela; he was so upset when IAI vetoed it, that this great Zionist took IAI to court.
The clincher is this: "Last week Ma'ariv reported that Olmert had contacted an Israeli diplomat in Venezuela and asked him to expedite a proposed $18 million deal between Chavez's government and ImageSat but the Defense Ministry nixed the deal for some inscrutable reason."
There is considerable jockeying for power as the current government weakens. Most, if not all, of the parties will hold primaries and begin to prepare for the day after. Within Kadima Livni is being challenged, in particular by Mofaz.
More and more, including within Kadima, there is recognition that early elections are the likely outcome. Right now the guessing is in November.
Posting: May 28, 2008
"Revulsion and Turmoil"
This is what the nation is struggling with in response to Talansky's testimony yesterday. It is not simply a question of illegality, but of out-and-out sleaze. Asking for money in unmarked envelopes instead of by check over a period of many years. Requesting loans for extravagances and never repaying them, even when asked to do so.
There is the sense on the left and the right that Olmert is not a man who can head this nation. The focus is quality government, which is not a political issue tilting one way or the other. A rabbi is calling on other rabbis to camp outside Olmert's home until he quits. An "Envelope Movement" has started, with people printing up "Olmert go home" on envelopes, passing them out and putting them in public places. And now I'm hearing about demonstrations in the streets.
Perhaps most significantly, Barak, who is head of Labor, at a press conference this afternoon, has now called upon Olmert to step down:
"In the wake of the current situation and considering the challenges Israel faces . . . the prime minister cannot simultaneously lead the government and conduct his personal affairs.
"Out of consideration for the good of the country and the accepted norms, I believe the prime minister must detach himself from the day-to-day leadership of the country."
Barak suggested that the choice of whether to resign or temporarily suspend himself remained Olmert's. He indicated that if Olmert did neither, "we will move towards early elections."
From several quarters criticism is being leveled at Barak for neither quitting the coalition now, nor setting a timetable for doing so if Olmert fails to act. There is concern that his words were not strong enough, and that he may be grandstanding rather than speaking sincerely.
MK Zevulun Orlev gave voice to this when expressing unease that Barak might "repeat the false promises he made at Kibbutz Sdot Yam at his infamous press conference in June 2007." That's when he promised to quit after the final Winograd report was issued, although when time came, he did not.
Part of what's going on here, of course, is Barak's fear that in elections he would be trounced by Netanyahu.
Three Labor MKs, acting more decisively , moved to dissolve the Knesset. There is a process, however, and this does not automatically come to a vote.
MK Eli Yishai (head of the Shas faction) is behaving in his usual pathetic manner. "I'm not going to get emotional about this," he said, while explaining that he was still backing Olmert. He will now be consulting the Council of Sages that guides Shas.
Needless to say, there is a lot of backroom caucusing taking place as people try to position themselves, within their own parties and in relationship to the other parties.
Early rumors have spread of a Labor-Likud national emergency government that would leave Kadima in the cold.
As would be expected, tension between Labor and Kadima is considerable.
And Olmert? He's a man without shame. In the face of all that was publicly revealed yesterday, he refuses to step down. Says his strategic adviser, Tal Zilberstein, this would be an admission of guilt. His lawyers are claiming that there's nothing new in Talansky's testimony and that Olmert's innocence will be proven.
Ultimately it will be up to the prosecutors and court to determine legal guilt, although when one hears about more than $300,000 allegedly transferred from Talansky's corporations to Olmert's lawyer, Messer, one does begin to suspect that there was more going on than Talansky's pure love for the mayor of Jerusalem.
But the other guilt -- of impropriety, of lack of ethical behavior -- is staring us all in the face.
Abbas is worried that all of this turmoil will affect negotiations. Let's hope so.
Posting: May 27, 2008
Morris Talansky began his pre-trial deposition in court today with a recounting of his personal relationship with Olmert, whom he says he loved.
In order to help Olmert, when he was mayor of Jerusalem, Talansky offered to write him a check. But Olmert said that because of the way checks were routed, it was better to have cash. So Talansky gave him cash.
Now, I'm not a multimillionaire financier and that request for cash smells like three day old fish to me. So what was Talansky thinking? "I didn't really grasp it. I didn't really work out how the system works over all," he claimed.
Later in his testimony he admitted that, "I overlooked, frankly and honestly, a lot of things. I overlooked them, maybe I shouldn't have."
Talansky says, between 2002 and 2005, he gave Olmert $150,000 from his own pocket, as well as assisting with raising funds from others. Some of this was transferred via Olmert's long-time assistant Shula Zaken, and some was handed to Olmert directly when he was in the U.S. He paid Olmert's hotel bill and covered other expenses; sometimes Olmert asked for money -- $5,000 here, $3,000 there. He admits that there are no records of how this money was spent: While a good part of the money was allegedly used for political expenses, Olmert, he explained, was fond of high living -- expensive cigars, watches, first class on flights, etc.
Sometimes there were "loans" -- as for example $25,000 for a family trip to Italy. The loans have never been paid back. On one occasion, when Talansky asked for the return of money, Olmert told Talansky to speak to his son, who lives in New York, but nothing materialized.
As to those campaign expenses, documents presented showed $300,000 transferred from Talansky to Olmert lawyer and associate Uri Messer from about 1999.
Talansky says the last money he gave Olmert was in 2005. Olmert had asked for expenses for a primary, and Talansky confesses to being shocked at how much Olmert said he needed: some $70,000.
Seems that he had become disencha nted with Ehud Olmert.
Talansky, in his testimony to this point -- which is extremely damning of Olmert in several respects, paints himself as innocent. "I was a victim," he says. "I trusted Olmert." He never had any ulterior motive or expected anything from what he gave Olmert. He did it for love of the man and for love of Jerusalem. He did it, it would seem, because Olmert hugged him and invited him to his son's wedding -- because it made him feel personally connected to what was important to him.
That's how it would seem.
He did acknowledge that Olmert tried to drum up business for a venture of his. (That's when billionaire Sheldon Adelson was approached and rebuffed the outreach.)
The question becomes one of legality: what was pure friendship, what was bribery, when was Olmert legally justified in taking the money, what does it mean that full records do not exist, etc. The testimony will continue. When Olmert's lawyers cross examine, they will seek to discredit Talansky and to search out legal rationale for why this money would have been given.
Durban II is being thus titled because it follows Durban I, which indeed was held in Durban, S.A. But this conference will be held elsewhere.
From Anne Bayefsky, of Eye on the UN:
The next UN racism conference - known as Durban II or the Durban Review Conference - will be held on UN premises in Geneva from April 20-24, 2009, a UN preparatory committee decided today. Durban II is intended to promote the implementation of the 2001 Durban Declaration, which singled out only Israel and labeled Palestinians as victims of Israeli racism
Observed Bayefsky: "holding the meeting at a UN venue on European soil will essentially guarantee funding from the UN regular budget for the conference, and that the European Union will fully participate and not follow boycott plans of Canada, the United States and Israel.
"Ironically, the Durban Review Conference will take place over Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah on April 21, 2009. Jews all over the world will be remembering the 6 million murdered in the worst instance of racism and xenophobia in human history. At the same time, the United Nations will be discussing whether the Jewish state, created in the wake of the Holocaust and standing as a bulwark to ensure it is never repeated, should be demonized as the worst practitioner of racism and xenophobia among nations today."
For further information : http://www.eyeontheun.org/
Sixty-one supporters (the number required) have promised to sign on to a bill in the Knesset that would require 80 votes to give away the Golan. This is good news.
Posting: June 26, 2008
"State of Confusion"
I would like to begin with some enlightening material regarding the al-Dura case, for we are dealing here with a pattern of inaccuracies in reporting news about the Palestinians -- either because major news outlets are naive in trusting what their Palestinian stringers tell them, or because they run information even when it is clear to them (or should be) that inaccuracies exist.
Dr. Richard Landes, Professor of History at Boston University, has done groundbreaking work in researching and exposing the construction of these deliberate inaccuracies; it is he who coined the term "Pallywood."
The first link below is to a video done before the appeals court decision was released in which Landes describes what is going on, and the second is after the decision.
As to other "confusion" taking place here:
Amos Gilad returned from Egyptian mediated negotiations on a ceasefire with Hamas totally empty-handed. Israeli officials say there has been no breakthrough on any of the major issues. Hamas will not agree to include the release of Shalit in the deal or to stop smuggling of arms.
One might think that this would move us, finally, to call it quits. But that is not the case: Instead the government is "suspending" any plans for a major operation in Gaza, waiting apparently to see what else develops, as Suleiman is still trying.
Said Barak at a Labor meeting:
"If, indeed, a calm emerges, then we will have to examine it according to what it entails and what its results are. And our demand could not be clearer – there can be no attacks. I say to all those who are pushing for a speedy operation: Think before you act."
Speedy operation??! This has been dragging on for months.
Meanwhile, Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, in his weekly report to the Cabinet yesterday, warned that time is on Hamas's side. Already the terrorist group has smuggled in sophisticated Iranian weapons that might reach as far as Ashdod or Kiryat Gat.
He said that Israel had to act fast, because "as time goes on, a military operation will cost . . . more casualties . . .
"There has been cooperation between Hamas and Iran. Time favors Hamas and the rest of the terror organizations, and the threat on the State of Israel is steadily rising."
Diskin remains convinced that the chances for a truce are low. But "the Egyptians want very much to bring a truce into being. They fear a mass breakout into Egypt and [want] to keep their hegemony as a mediator. Hamas is interested in a truce but does not accept Israel's terms. They are emphasizing the removal of the siege and buying time."
Hamas, he said, will demand that Egypt open Rafah if the negotiations fail.
Reason enough to explain why Suleiman is working so hard.
Olmert offered some "reassuring" words, as is his practice, saying: " . . . things are nearing a decisive point."
Have we not heard this before?
Because Israel "wants peace and security both in the short run and in the long run," he explained (thereby indirectly addressing critics who accuse the government of being myopic), "we will have to make decisions."
And wait! He said more : "If this . . . is not reached through Egyptian mediation, we will have to [use other] means. The government has nothing more important than securing its residents' safety. Both I and the defense officials are losing sleep over this issue."
Yes, undoubtedly he loses sleep over this issue . . .
Shaul Mofaz, former Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, is currently one of those in Kadima coming out strongest for a military response, as he demanded action to regain deterrence in Gaza. "We must be the ones setting Israel's agenda - not the terror organizations," he said on Army Radio.
Many people were angered by the order of Major-General Yosef Mishlav, the coordinator of the government's activities in the territories, to pull soldiers away from the Erez Crossing, in the wake of the truck bombing at Erez just days ago. In what MK Zevulun Orlev (NU/NRP) referred to as a "cowardly act," soldiers of the Coordination and Liaison Authority, who had been near the Erez were "temporarily" moved to the Julis base 17 kilometers away.
Some of the harshest criticism of this decision came from within the IDF. Said one army officer:
"[This] is an admission of our failure to protect the lives of our citizens and soldiers. The army . . . should be at the front and serve as a buffer between the enemy and our civilian population. It is wrong to evacuate them because of a threat. What will the residents of Netiv Ha'asara, who live near the base, say? They will justifiably demand that the State evacuate them as well."
"Theoretically and realistically , Israel can get along without [former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.] Dan Halutz," intoned MK Arye Eldad (NU/NR) after Shabbat.
He was mocking a statement made by Halutz: "The thought of ceding the Golan Heights gives me a bellyache, but for real peace one must be willing to pay a real price. Theoretically, Israel can do without the Golan."
Explained Eldad, "Israel must pay heed, and do something if it doesn't want to return to the failures of the Second Lebanon War. In that war, Halutz was exposed as someone who does not understand anything of the basic principles of war, and accordingly Israel saw that it didn't need his advice."
But, in the face of vast confusion, Olmert's talk about proceeding with the negotiations with Syria persists.
Iranian officials, who were greatly irked by Israel's demands that Syria cut Iranian connections, have gone out of their way to emphasize their strength: Iran's foreign minister is referring to "strategic ties" with Syria.
Those who imagine that Assad will break that connection totally in order to regain the Golan are dreaming.
This was made clear even in a Damascus-run newspaper on Saturday, when an editorial (that reflects government policy) said that Syria's relationships with other nations were not on the table and that there were no preconditions (by which was meant imposed on them).
Of additional concern is the fact that Syria is stalling on permitting representatives of the International Atomic Energy Commission to visit the site where a reactor was allegedly bombed by Israel.
And Barak, even though he really recognizes the realities, persists in dreaming anyway:
At yesterday's Cabinet meeting, he explained that, "The Syrians have a different agenda than Israel," and that peace is not their priority.
Assad's priorities are: survival of his regime; getting the international tribunal into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri canceled (as that is expected to point an accusatory finger at the highest echelons of the Syrian government); securing a "special status" for Syria in Lebanon; and getting into the good graces of the US and the West.
Yet, said Barak, Israel should try to pull Syria from the orbit of Iran, even though efforts will have to be complicated and lengthy.
What he fails to perceive (or willfully ignores) is the vast likelihood that if Syria does pursue negotiations it is not out of a desire for peace, but rather an attempt to achieve those priorities listed above.
Within the coalition, there is from my perspective no one more hypocritical with regard to negotiations with Syria than MK Eli Yishai, head of the Shas faction. Meeting yesterday with representatives of communities in the Golan, he delivered a promise to stand by them in their efforts to prevent their evacuation from the Golan.
What unmitigated nonsense! If he wanted to help them prevent this, he should withdraw from the coalition and make it difficult or impossible for the government to proceed. But then, a new government might not continue with the building of those housing units that Olmert has promised him. And so he settles for words regarding not abandoning Israel's security to Syria.
Minister Shaul Mofaz was also at that meeting. His response, designed to reassure, was fairly ludicrous. It's wrong to turn the Golan over to Syria now, he declared, as this would be tantamount to giving it to Iran. So, we need creative solutions, such as giving the Golan to Syria but leasing it for 25 years so our people can stay there for now.
There are unsubstantiated reports -- coming from Palestinians close to those doing the negotiations -- that Israel is now offering a withdrawal from all but 8.5% of Judea and Samaria (with control of Jerusalem not yet discussed). This would be less than the 12% Israel had reportedly sought to hold on to previously, but more than the Palestinians find acceptable.
Abbas has just told a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council that there has been no progress in the negotiations since the beginning.
Talansky has been questioned again, prior to his forthcoming court testimony that is scheduled for tomorrow. Olmert's lawyers will cross-examine him subsequently -- precisely when is unclear. Talansky, who is very restive and eager to return to the US, has had the hold on his travel extended until the testimony is given. There is now talk about allowing him to go, as he is scheduled to return for the wedding of his grandson on June 11.
The rumors keep flying: NY State Assemblyman Dov Hilkind says he saw Olmert, when he was mayor, receive envelopes of cash. Talansky's driver said he transported cash for Olmert. On it goes. There was a leak indicating that an indictment would be served by the end of the summer, and then that was quickly denied.
Posting: May 23, 2008
"On It Goes"
The responses to/analysis of Olmert's bid to negotiate with Syria. Touching briefly on what's happening:
-- Olmert attempted to give a talk at a Jewish Agency ceremony last night and was booed down by protesters carrying "The people are with the Golan" signs.
-- While comments by Bush have been circumspect , a report today cited a US official as calling Olmert's overtures to Syria as a "slap in the face" to the US. Bush has let it be known that he has no intention of softening his stand against Syria (which, quite likely, is what Assad is after).
-- I wrote yesterday about Livni's spelling out of what would be expected of Syria for a peace deal. Well, the Syrians responded with anger. They say they thought Israel was going into this talk without preconditions.
Seems Livni's detailing of expectations may have been an attempt to soften the blow to the US: "See, we won't deal while they are still part of the Axis of Evil." This helps explain why these expectations weren't spelled out specifically before any agreement to negotiate took place, as, of course, they should have been. All of this merely highlights the ludicrousness of the situation. (The damage done to attempts to isolate Syria by Olmert's willingness to confer legitimacy on Assad must be taken seriously.)
-- MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud head) has declared that Likud would not abide by any agreement made with Syria by Olmert.
-- Word is that the indirect talks in Turkey will be continued in a week to ten days.
Shai Bazak of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlyia has written an opinion piece on Syrian negotiations that concurs in the opinion that there will be no deal because what is wanted is only the process. His take involves analysis of Assad's precarious position as a member of the ethnic minority Alawite.
Good news here: A French appeals court has overturned an earlier ruling of libel with regard to the al-Dura case.
This is the case of the libel against Israel constructed by a Palestinian stringer in Gaza working for France 2 TV, who claimed to have filmed Israeli soldiers shooting down the boy Muhammad al-Dura in 2000. This was broadcast by the station's Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin, causing an enormous furor and even becoming a rationale for terrorism.
French Jew Phillipe Karsenty, who maintains a media watchdog website, became convinced that the entire thing was a hoax and charged that the station had knowingly misled the world on this issue. France 2 and Enderlin sued him for libel, and won.
Now in the appeal, this has been overturned . Says Karsenty, "The verdict means we have the right to say France 2 broadcast a fake news report that was a staged hoax.
Among the reasons that Karsenty became convinced it was a hoax:
No footage was shown of the boy being killed ; first he is alive, then he is lying on the ground apparently dead.
Only seven bullet holes were in the wall behind the boy even though the claim was that he had been subjected to a 45 minute hail of Israeli bullets.
Israeli soldiers stationed in the area testified that they did not participate in a gun fight that day.
Olmert was questioned by police again today , and a final decision is being made on when Talansky will be deposed, or if he is deposed on Sunday, when he will be cross-examined by Olmert's lawyers.
I believe it is official now that Hamas has rejected Israel's ceasefire terms, as conveyed by Egypt's Suleiman. Hamas officials are expressing anger at Suleiman for pushing them to accept Israel's offer rather than leaning on Israel to be more forthcoming with Hamas.
Hamas officials are angry about two things: They wanted immediate relief from the blockade, while Israel said this would come as a later part of the process, and then within parameters agreed upon earlier, which include European monitors at the Rafah crossing. They also didn't find it acceptable that Israel insisted on making sure that Hamas was truly abiding by the ceasefire before stopping all operations.
Sources close to Hamas have reported, as well , that Hamas rejected Israeli demands that weapons smuggling be stopped.
Israel's terms, said a Hamas representative, were "completely unacceptable" and were aimed at "further humiliating the Palestinians and aggravating their suffering."
This scenario, I believe, reveals a good deal about the Hamas mindset and how they view Israel. They have an exaggerated sense of their own power and obviously saw Israel as weak and accommodating; they thought they could make arrangements on their terms because launching of rockets at us had beaten us down.
That they wouldn't agree to stop smuggling (even if they intended to continue covertly) tells the whole story.
An explosive-laden truck blew up yesterday at the Erez crossing. The driver was the only casualty. Other terrorists fired mortars at the crossing at the same time that the truck exploded. As a jeep accompanied the truck, it is thought that the intention may have been kidnapping of a soldier.
One of the groups that took credit is Fatah's Al Aksa Brigades.
You don't have to stop here! Go to Current Postings, starting with this one and going back. You can post a response, send this by e-mail to a friend.
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Why Israel Conquered The Golan Heights
[PREFACE: At a time when talks have been renewed between Syria and Israel, with discussions focusing on the Golan Heights, the reason why the Golan was taken by Israel - to protect the Galilee - is often ignored or not reported at all.]
Jerusalem - The course of history can be changed by the determination of one man who stands up for what he believes in when he is listened to by people who are in a position of power.
The initiative to demand that Israel take the Golan Heights did not come from real estate-seekers who wanted to move their homes and farms to the Golan, nor did it come from people who wanted to fulfill any kind of religious or national vision to settle yet another part of the land of Israel.
Rather, the move to conquer the Golan came from resident farmers of the Upper Galilee, organized by the regional Mayor of the Upper Galilee, Yaakov (Yankela) Eshkoli*, the man who galvanized a delegation of Upper Galilee residents to lobby Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and the Israeli government on the fourth night of the Six Day War.
Mr. Eshkoli's mission: to convince Mr. Eshkol to issue an order to the Israel Defense Forces Northern regional command to take the Golan Heights and to remove the Syrian threat, once and for all, from over the heads of the Galilee settlements.
Mr. Eshkoli was elected four times to be the regional mayor of the Galilee, and served in his position from 1955-1971.
Speaking with this reporter in 1999 at the age of 88 in his home with remarkable resilience and a clear memory after 20 years of severe heart disease, the aging Mr. Eshkoli, with his 90-year-old wife Yaffa at his side, could not keep repeating how pleased he is that he has lived to tell his story, while talks with Syria get under way and while the future of the Golan is indeed on the agenda.
"Thirteen years ago, I had a heart attack, and the doctors declared me to be clinically dead. I guess I recovered so that I could tell my story today," Mr. Eshkoli said, with a wink and a twinkle in his eye, when I sat with him on his porch, on Kibbutz Kfar Giladi.
Kfar Giladi is one of the oldest Galilee farming communities, located just north of Kiryat Shmoneh and sandwiched in between Lebanon and the Golan Heights, where he and Yaffa, now 90 years old, joined the kibbutz members in 1932.
Mr. Eshkoli said that he was always eager to relate the role that he played in convincing the Israeli government to take the Golan in the midst of the 1967 war.
As Mr. Eshkoli related it, by the fourth day of the 1967 war, it was clear that Israel had delivered a solid defeat to Jordan and Egypt.
That left Syria, which had been raining a steady stream of rockets into the Hula Valley below, leaving the residents of 31 settlements in the Upper Galilee region in Mr. Eshkoli's jurisdiction to spend those glorious days of 1967 in deep, underground bunkers, glued to their transistor radios.
Mr. Eshkoli recalled how he placed constant calls into Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon from his underground bunker on the kibbutz to ask to see Levi Eshkol, then Israel's prime minister, to demand action on the Syrian front.
Mr. Allon, the 1948 war hero who liberated the Galilee, promised to get Mr. Eshkol, called him on the fourth day of the war with the good news that he could meet Mr. Eshkol and the Israeli cabinet that evening, warning him that at least one senior Israeli cabinet minister opposed any move toward the Golan Heights . . . .
Leaving his kibbutz in an army jeep, picking up kibbutz leaders from other settlements in the region, while every kibbutz member was ordered into the shelters because of the continuing Syrian artillery bombardment, Mr. Eshkoli remembers that he had the feeling that his Hula Valley was burning while the rest of the country was dancing in the streets.
Mr. Eshkoli spoke of descending the steps into the underground headquarters of the Israeli government in Tel Aviv as if it happened the day before. Mr. Eshkoli had tears in his eyes when he described the hug that Levi Eshkol gave him when he showed up. Mr. Eshkol mandates that Mr. Eshkoli's full delegation of four be allowed to enter the cabinet meeting, and he recalled the Bible that he was asked to swear on, that any matter of security that he would hear would be kept in strictest confidence.
Mr. Eshkoli was given five minutes to speak. "The longest five minutes in my life," Mr. Eshkoli remembered. His appeal was simple and clear, when he reminded Mr. Eshkol that he and every Israeli leader who had ever come to visit him in the Galilee after Syrian rocket attacks had promised them that, if there would ever be another war, they would use that opportunity to remove the Syrian threat, once and for all.
Mr. Eshkoli reported that one Israeli minister opposed the idea: Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli commander in chief who had just been appointed to be defense minister. Mr. Dayan had given the veto to his Northern regional commander, "Dado" Elazar, whom he forbade to attack Syria on the Golan, "lest this cost us 30,000 dead and risk a war with the Soviet Union," which had just pushed through a cease-fire in the U.N. Security Council. Mr. Dayan, the war hero from the 1956 war with tremendous popular following, also made a great impression on the cabinet.
Mr. Eshkoli recalls that he then thought to himself: "Will I be responsible for world war," and then said that "I could only think of my wife and the children of the kibbutz, who at that moment were in the shelters." It was then that Mr. Eshkoli made a threat, which he said that he meant with all his heart, which was that if the IDF does not remove the Syrians from the Golan, then he would recommend that all kibbutzim pack their bags and leave, and that the people of Kiryat Shmoneh would follow. Silence followed Mr. Eshkoli's emotional appeal to the Israeli cabinet.
As Mr. Eshkoli turned and began to leave the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol grabbed his hand and proclaimed that "The words of Eshkoli have entered the heart of Levi Eshkol, and they will play a crucial role in what we decide to do on the Golan Heights."
Mr. Eshkoli could not know when he left the government meeting, heading back north, whether he had succeeded in his mission. Would his words hold greater weight than Moshe Dayan?
Heading back to Kfar Giladi, Mr. Eshkoli stopped off at the bunker of the IDF Northern regional command. By that time, it was 5 a.m. Mr. Eshkoli saw "Dado" slumped over at his desk, next to a bottle of half-empty scotch .
Mr. Eshkoli reported to "Dado" what had happened at the government meeting. And while they were talking, "Dado" received a call from the Israel Defense Ministry. Moshe Dayan's resonant voice was on the line with an order .
"Climb the Golan and Succeed" were Mr. Dayan's words, and they were repeated on the 6 a.m. Voice of Israel radio newsreel.
"Dado" loudly said to Mr. Eshkoli that he had succeeded with Mr. Dayan where he, the IDF northern regional commander, had not.
Indeed, Mr. Dayan's vote in the government was the lone voice in the government to vote against the Golan attack . . . .
Mr. Dayan never forgave Mr. Eshkoli for besting him at the government meeting.
Indeed, Mr. Eshkoli showed this reporter a yellowing news interview from 1976 with Moshe Dayan with the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, where Moshe Dayan could only recall Mr. Eshkoli and his delegation with anger and resentment, characterizing them as "Dado"'s agents, claiming that, anyway, "the provocations of the Galilee farmers and fishermen in no-man's land were the cause of the Syrian shellings."
Mr. Eshkoli looks at the picture of Moshe Dayan and starts to yell at him: "Right - All of my 31 communities provoked the Syrians from their shelters. Our provocation against the Syrians is that we live and prosper here in the Galilee, which the Syrians see as a province of their country."
Asked about the current negotiations that might bring the Syrians back to the Golan Heights that face down on his kibbutz, Mr. Eshkoli would only raise a trembling hand and point to the hills and say that to "bring back the Syrians would be suicide for us."
Mr. Eshkoli's successor as regional mayor of the Upper Galilee region, fellow Kfar Giladi member Aharon Valenci, said that he will wait to see what the Syrians convey to their own people in their own media, in order to know of their commitment for peace.
Another prominent Galilee kibbutz leader, Muki Tzur, from Ein Gev, along the shores of the Sea of the Galilee and two miles from the Golan Heights, the editor of the best-selling book which came out after the Six Day War, known in English as The Seventh Day: Conversations with Fighters from the Six Day War, wrote an article in 1999 in the magazine known as KIBBUTZ, the magazine of the Kibbutz movement, that said "Jewish and Israeli history has taught us that any peace process with Israel's adversaries will be long, hard and complex, and that no decision can be made under the pressure of an immediate desire for peace. The price of a mistake in the peace process in the North would be guns in place once again on the Golan, trained on the 31 settlements of the Hula Valley in Israel's lush Upper Galilee region."
Indeed, that is why the guns in the Golan were removed.
That is why 33 Israeli settlements replaced 15 Syrian army camps on the Golan Heights. All because Yankela Eshkoli stood up to Moshe Dayan.
©The Evening Bulletin 2008
This piece ran on The Philadelphia Bulletin on May 23rd, 2008 at: http://www.thebulletin.us/site/printerFriendly.cfm?brd=2737&dept_id=585832&newsid=19714726
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It's relatively quiet in the Western Negev…is that so?
Western Negev Correspondent
Three mortars landed in Kibbutz Kfar Aza Wednesday afternoon, according to Oded Plut, coordinator of emergency services for the Sha'ar HaNegev kibbutzim. One landed in the residential area of the kibbutz, damaging two houses, while two landed on the outskirts.
"Nobody was hurt, but there was a lot of damage," he said. "And again, a lot of luck that nobody was hurt. "
One of the homes that sustained damaged was that of Noam and Mira Stahl, who were both at work at the time of the attack. Their three children were at school.
"I got the SMS that there was a mortar attack and to stay inside, and then a friend called and told me it hit by our house," said Mira, who works in Sderot.
Their four-year old daughter Ela was at the kindergarten during the attack. She told Mira that when they heard the mortar hit, all of the children began to cry, Mira said.
Kfar Aza is a focus of mortar fire from Hamas in Gaza because of its proximity to the border. Unlike for Kassam rockets, there is no warning for mortars because they do not give off a heat signature, travel at a lower altitude, and come from a much closer range than Kassam's.
"When we hear the first mortar land, then we respond to that as if it is a Tzeva Adom," Noam said.
However, in that area of the kibbutz, there is not much people can do in response to an attack.
"We don't have a safe room and the closest shelter is over there," he said pointing behind the house. "We go to the room farthest inside the house and stay down underneath the windows. It's not safe, but it is better than going outside. Most times people get hurt, they are outside."
Even though the attacks have become more frequent, and some residents of the kibbutz have considered leaving, Noam and Mira plan to stay in the kibbutz.
"We hope that it will send a message to people that this is our home and the right thing to do is to stay."
Plut said he thinks that most people intend to stay on the kibbutz.
"It depends on the person. Some people are more afraid than others. A lot of people just need a break, so they leave the kibbutz for a couple days during the week.
"The situation is problematic, though, and we expect the government to do something one way or another—either stop the attacks or make an agreement [with Hamas]. At the very least, people should have someplace safe to go."The Stahl's are going to go on with their lives, but it is not that simple."We can't just turn the page," Mira said. "Yes, we will wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to school, go to work, and go to sleep at night. But we cannot just tell ourselves it is normal"
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Dialogue with Arab students
On Thursday evening, May 29, a group of Israeli and Arab college students were aired live on Al Jazeera from Haifa from where they participated in a special two-hour program. The college students, who hailed from Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion, Haifa, and Bar Ilan universities, were asked questions about the future of the state of Israel and about the history and present situation of its citizens.
Sderot Media Center's Anav Silverman, a third-year student at Bar Ilan University participated in the debate. She writes about her experience in the following blog.
As one of three students from Bar Ilan University invited to an Al Jazeera program, I found myself on an usually warm night debating about the future state of Israel with Fayid, Remah, and several other Arab students studying in Israeli universities. The whole evening was a bit surreal. Here I was, in Haifa, taking about the future of the state of Israel with people who clearly had a very different idea of the Jewish state on the last TV station I would ever imagine appearing on--Al Jazeera!
Of course it was imperative for me to talk about Sderot and the rocket attacks and the suffering of the Israeli residents in this western Negev town. I've been talking a lot about this rocket situation for the past year--just ask any of my friends and my family back in Maine. However, I would never consider having the opportunity to present the horrifying rocket reality in Sderot and the western Negev on Al Jazeera.
Walid Omary, the program's host and Al Jazeera's Jerusalem Bureau Chief, asked us questions and then had two panel guests comment on our commentary. Each student was given a minute or so to respond to Omary's questions as the cameras in the background recorded our exchange.
There were obviously many and varying opinions but we were all basically civil on camera. Walid asked us what we thought the solutions for peace were and what how we envisioned the state of Israel in another few years. One Arab girl said that in order for peace to exist, the state of Israel can no longer be Jewish and that the concept of Zionism had to be completely eradicated. The president of the Haifa Student Council for Arabs stated similarly that there should be a secular state.
It surprised me how most of the Arab students were not for a two-state solution.
We got into heated discussions off camera during the advertisement breaks.
One debate involved the origin of falafel and the kafiyah.
I got the feeling that none of the Arab students truly recognized a Jewish state of Israel. The Holocaust was mentioned as the primary reason for a Jewish homeland from a couple of Arab students. The historical and religious ties that the Jewish people have with this land was not recognized by any of the Palestinians, except by one of the panel guests. Many of the Arab college students stated that Palestinian right of return was fundamental to peace.
I had an interesting conversation during the break with an Arab girl from Haifa University who described herself as atheist. Her father, she told me headed a human rights organization. When I spoke about Sderot and how Palestinian terror organizations like Hamas and Fatah's Al Aqsa brigades frequently wound and damage property belonging to innocent Israeli civilians, this Haifa student asked me if I understood why.
"The people in Gaza have been forced to live without water and fuel," she said. "They are desperate."
I pointed out that Israel has been forced to respond in this fashion in order to limit the number of Palestinian casualties that would result if the IDF was to enter in a full scale military operation in Gaza. According to the IDF, 97% of the Palestinian rockets are fired from civilian and residential areas in northern Gaza, especially from the populated cities of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya.
"What other way does Israel have to attempt to stop the Qassam rocket fire that plagues Sderot and the western Negev on a daily basis?" I asked her.
A couple of the Arab students also said that they had no rights in Israel.
This sounded rather inaccurate to me, especially in reference to religious rights. I told the panel and the students that only last year I saw two Arab men praying on the campus lawn in my university, Bar Ilan, which is a religious (Jewish) institution. "I would never be able to enter Gaza, Syria, or Saudi Arabia and be able to pray there freely as Jew," I said.
The debate would have continued except that the program ended at ten o'clock at night and we all had classes at our respective universities the next morning.
This was the first time that I directly engaged in this kind of dialogue with Arab students. Working and living part time in Sderot under rocket fire has not made me lose perspective that there are human faces in the Arab-Israeli conflict on both ends. On either side we have a right to voice the opinions that we believe to be true. I was glad to have the opportunity to do so.
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Property Tax Authority - Enough!
Which is worse? Having your home being hit by a Kassam, or dealing with "Property Tax Authority" afterwards? Many residents of Sderot, whose homes and property were damaged by terrorist activities, have to live with broken walls and shattered windows for months afterwards.
Sderot, December 2007, afternoon. The S' family is getting ready for the Shabbat. Suddenly, the "Red Color" alarm goes off. A Kassam missile hits and demolishes the house next door. The Kassam went through the S' family's stone fence and hit the gas balloons which were located at their back yard.
Regrettably, this is the daily life routine of the residents of Sderot. It's hard to evaluate the amount of damage in money, and it's obviously harder to evaluate it in words. There's no one in the world who can compensate the residents for the mental injustice which is inflicted upon them. On the other hand, the government has the ability to compensate the hurt civilians for their damaged property and constructions.
In 10.9.07, the recognition of Sderot and the Gaza Region settlements as border settlements which are eligible for compensation, according to Property Tax Law, has been extended to 29.2.08. A border settlement is a confrontation settlement in the periphery. The Minister of Finance, after receiving the approval of the Knesset's financial committee, has declared these settlements' residents and business owners eligible for receiving compensations from the country, due to war damages.
Section 2.a of Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law states that the accumulated money in the Compensation Fund's treasury belongs to all taxpaying Israeli citizens, or should be used for compensating citizens for war damages.
In spite of the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law, there is a grave malfunction in the bureaucratic proceeding of the Property Tax's representatives, regarding the evaluation of direct and indirect war damages which are inflicted upon property in Sderot, with it being a border settlement. Not only that the helpless residents of Sderot have to deal with the twisted security situation, they also have to deal with a governmental bureaucratic malformation, which makes their already-bad situation even worst.
The evaluation of property and construction damages is based on familiar standards which are taken from the "Dekel" price list. The Dekel price list specializes in civilian engineering and construction. Its prices are determined according to the results of tenders which are delivered to the company by governmental offices, authorities and private bodies. The price list includes a database of sections in the fields of civil engineering, construction works, concrete, installations, electricity, and prices of various construction materials.
Mrs. A', whose house has been destroyed by a Kassam, was transferred to a temporary home at a resort village in Ashkelon.
According to her, the property tax engineer had evaluated the damage in 168,000 Shekels, while the engineer who was privately hired by Mrs. A' had estimated the damage in 430,000 Shekels, according to the same price list. This means that the difference between the country appraiser and the private appraiser, who both work according to the same price list, is almost 300,000 Shekels!
The damage remains the same, the evaluation standards remain the same, and in spite of this, the differences are enormous. Almost three months have passed since Mrs. A' sent her price quote to Property Tax, and the arrangements still haven't been made. Meanwhile, Mrs. A', a senior citizen, has to live alone in Ashkelon, because she has no other place to stay.
The S' family has also suffered from Property Tax issues, after a Kassam hit their home. The missile's blast destroyed the entire front of their house. The windows were shattered. Mrs. S' says that she had to wait 9 full days before receiving money compensation from Property Tax in order to fix her windows, with the front of her house being exposed to the strong winter all that time. Property Tax did pay for the window damage, but the rest of the damage was a different story. The air conditioner was totally destroyed. According to the receipts, the new air conditioner was worth 3,600 Shekels. According to the reports, Property Tax paid the S' family only 250 Shekels for the air conditioner's check up. They will never receive compensation for the purchasing of the air conditioner. Their kitchen window was shattered as well, and the china and marble were damaged. Property Tax did approve the damage which was caused to the kitchen window and china, but did not approve the marble damage. Apparently, the expert's price quote was too high for them - 7000 Shekels.
The S' family is gathering much strength in order to appeal the Compensation Fund's decision, in front of Mr. Benny Derai, director of the Compensation Fund in the South.
Another sad story is Mrs. Y's. Mrs. Y' is an elderly lady, and is one of Sderot's pioneer settlers. "When I got here the situation was good. Nothing was happening, and now? The Kassams have been hitting my house for the past three years. The Tax Property? Nothing! They won't even approve the damages." At the past three years, three different Kassams had hit Mrs. Y's house. Her house is completely shattered, and the windows are damaged. The blasts disconnected the drainpipe, destroyed the ceiling's construction, and pulled out the roof tiles. As a result - her house is always flooded in the rainy winter days. "I kept everything broken so that Property Tax could see what happened to my house. Even my beloved antique clock broke down. I have no windows, the mice and cats go in the house. Is this a way to live? They don't care. They don't even approve the damages. They sent a letter saying that the damage wasn't caused by the Kassam." Mrs. Y' shows me the Property Tax reports from the past three years, and weeps. "This is how they let us live, like in Gaza. Is this a way to live?"
V', Mrs. Y's daughter, who is an ex-Sderot resident, also tells us about the terrible distress which Property Tax caused her. V' shows me the statement of claim which was sent by her to the Small Claims Court in Ashkelon.
"The claimed amount of money: 1,349 Shekels + 500 Shekels for the distress. "
"Claim's reasons (summarized): In 17.1.08 the 'Red Color' alarm went off and I ran for cover. At that time, a Kassam missile passed right above me, and its blast threw me in the air. I lost my consciousness, and was evacuated in an ambulance to the Brazilay Hospital's E.R. When I was hit, I was carrying both regular and sun glasses, and they were lost in the process. I asked Property Tax for compensation, but they said that I don't deserve any. Ever since, I don't have glasses, and I can't afford them either. I live on a Social Security allowance."
The claim reasons of Mrs. V' are very clear. She has presented all the documents which confirm her presence at the place and time, and yet - Property Tax refuses to approve the damages. "I don't need anything from them," says Mrs. V', "Only my glasses. It's a basic need. I can't drive without them. What's funny is that they sent me the same format of letter that they sent to my mother, saying that Property Tax doesn't approve the damages. They just changed the address in handwriting. They write: "I wasn't convinced that the claimed damage is a 'war damage', according to section 35 of Property Tax Law," and that's it. They sign it, and consider it done."
The compensations are given to the hurt people basing on the arbitrariness of the Property Tax appraiser. Turns out that there is no actual enforcement of the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law. Is it possible that the core of direct and indirect war damage compensation legislation isn't carried out, specifically in Sderot?
I have yet to receive the response of Mr. Benny Derai, director of the Compensation Fund in the South.
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