Israel Resource Review 6th May, 2002


Is Europe Lost?
A Traumatic Experience at the Council of Europe
Yosef Lapid
Member of Knesset, Shinui Party

"When the Jews warned the West," I told participants at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, "that the Nazis endangered the peace of the world, your fathers replied that the Nazis were indeed not nice, but that this was a problem between the Germans and the Jews. Now, when we warn you that fanatic Islamic threatens the existence of western civilization, you tell us that Islamic terror is indeed worrisome, but this is a problem between the Moslems and Jews. When the explosive belt of a Moslem suicide terrorist explodes in Paris or London, Berlin or Amsterdam, again you will realize that this is also your problem."

No one could say that the audience liked my words of admonition. Even less did they like it when I contended that if Israel were destroyed, all that the Europeans would do would be to set up orphanages for our children.

This is no way to talk in well-mannered Europe. Only an unruly Israeli could speak this way. But since at the beginning of my remarks I introduced myself as a Holocaust refugee, they were quiet. Perhaps their father killed my father, so why argue with me?

The Council of Europe is made up of over 600 members from 44 parliaments, who convene a number of times a year to discuss problems of human rights. This time the topic was the Middle East and around half of the council members came. Each of them a prosecutor. The accused were us, members of the Knesset delegation: Haim Ramon and Baige Shohat (Labor Party), Michael Eitan (Likud), David Tal (Shas), me (Shinui) and our ambassador to the Council of Europe, Yitzhak Eldan. For four entire days, from morning till night, in private meetings, in meetings with political groups (radical Left, socialists, liberals, democrats and conservatives) and in plenum sessions, we heard accusations, denunciations, rebukes, warnings, criticism and vilification. We heard the word "Jenin" about two million times. We were threatened with an international court, with boycotts, with dismissals, with decrees and with slowly burning over the coals of Hell. And indeed, we did feel as if we were frying in the coals of Hell (and if one more person dares tease me about the pleasures of being sent overseas, I will force them to read the minutes of all the sessions).

We had four defenders: a German goy, two Hungarian Jews and a French Jew, whose name, perhaps coincidentally, was Dreyfus.

But their defense did not avert a long series of anti-Israeli resolutions: condemnation for the systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure, condemnation for violating international law, condemnation for killing Palestinian activists, condemnation for the destruction of Jenin, condemnation for holding Arafat under siege, and for dessert: support for the dissenters movement in Israel. In fairness sake, I should mention that they also condemned Palestinian terror and the murder of Rehavam Ze'evi.

And, of course, there were also constructive resolutions: support for direct negotiations, support for Tenet, support for Mitchell and so on.

The anti-Israeli stench that wafted from these meetings gave me a feeling of being a hero in a Becket play, who spends his day in a pile of garbage.

Are we indeed becoming the victims of a new anti-Semitism?

There is no lack, even today, of the traditional anti-Semitism in Europe, of the old kind. But the thrust of European anti-Semitism is not among the offspring of the Nazis. Anti-Semitism today is fed by Moslem incitement, which portrays the Israelis as war criminals and the Jews as Israeli saboteurs among the nations. This anti-Semitism is supported by the radical Left, which sees Israel as a colonialist state that oppresses the natives, along the lines of apartheid.

Anti-Semitism is still considered indecent in Europe today. But it is again an existing fact. And again, the Jews are worried.

One evening we visited the Jewish community of Strasbourg. The young people in the Jewish youth club wore new caps. "It's a bit dangerous today to walk around with a kippa," we were told, with embarrassment, by one of the community leaders. A synagogue in Strasbourg was torched and a Jewish cemetery was vandalized.

This was during the week that Le Pen defeated Prime Minister Jospin. Paradoxically, Le Pen was not elected because he is an anti-Semite, but because he incites against Moslem immigrants. The same Moslems that incite against the Jews.

We will be making our lives too easy if we attribute the traumatic experience the Knesset delegation had in the Council of Europe only to anti-Semitism. More than the traditional enemies worried me, I was worried this time by our old friends. Politicians, who in the past had supported Israel without hesitation, spoke to us this time the way you speak to a relative who has lost their mind. They do not understand why we behave the way we do. Why did we prevent the leaders of the European Union from meeting with Arafat? Why did we smash the computers in the Palestinian Authority offices? Why did we destroy a row of houses in Jenin? Why didn't we let the ambulances evacuate the wounded? Why did we not let humanitarian delegations in for 11 days? Because the houses were booby-trapped? So we should have marked them with red tape.

On the last day the representative of the Palestinians, Ziyad Abu Ziyad, was scheduled to speak. A day earlier, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, warned us that the Israeli authorities had prevented Ziyad from coming and instead, he, the secretary general, would read the letter that Ziyad sent with harsh allegations against Israel. We realized this would be a very unpleasant demonstration of Israeli tyranny, if the secretary general of the Council of Europe would read, standing by the empty chair of the Palestinian representative, his words of condemnation. Baige Shohat phoned the defense minister. Fuad ordered Ziyad to be allowed to go and he arrived in Strasbourg on time. One PR catastrophe less.

We talked until our throats were parched about violations of the Oslo accords, about the rejection of Barak's and Clinton's proposals at Camp David, about our acceptance of the Tenet and Mitchell reports, about Sharon's policy of restraint, about Peres's attempts at mediation and about the terrible suicide terrorism. The European politicians, from the Left and Center and the Right, denounce terror, but view it as a derivative of the settlements and of the occupation. They see the occupation as the mother of all sins. The occupation is Kosovo. The occupation is Chechnya.

They follow the pictures on the television screens: destroyed homes, bound men, tanks facing children, crying women. That is how we look in European eyes.

Whereas two years ago we were the darlings of the Europeans, now we look in their eyes like the citizens of an aggressive and pitiless country. What should we do?

Sometimes we are brutal, and that we mustn't do; sometimes we make silly mistakes, and that is unnecessary; sometimes our explanations come too late, and that is unfortunate. But none of that is what determines the Europeans attitude towards, but rather the settlements and the occupation.

Europe's attitude should not determine the Israeli government's policy. It does not even have to influence Israel's policy. We don't owe the Europeans a thing. But we should make a note to ourselves, that at this stage, until further notice, we've lost Europe.

This account ran in the Maariv newspaper on May 3, 2002

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Getting Your Stolen Car Back from PLO hands
Guy Lerer
Transportation Correspondent, Yediot Aharonot

It's not a simple thing to part from one's car, as anyone knows who's ever had to undergo this experience, whether through selling it for upgrading purposes or whether through traumatic circumstances: a lien, theft, or an accident God forbid. The car, a quiet and (generally) reliable partner, has stood by our side all through all lives, from the days of making out in the back seat and sleepless nights and days with Gerber-dripping offspring in safety seats in the exact same place.

How stinging therefore is the sense of powerless that so many of us feel, that sense we feel when faced with an empty parking space, which just a day earlier was occupied by the beloved that is no longer. 71 Israeli citizens, in the course of the last 36 days since Operation Protective Wall began, were privileged to get an unexpected phone call, with the gladdening and somewhat imaginary news: your stolen car, dear citizen, the one you considered lost forever, has been found by a special police force in the heart of Area A, and is now on its way back to its heartbroken owner. The latter are asked to come at once to the police car lot in Talpiot, Jerusalem, for the heartwarming reunion.

However, the excitement citizens feel who yearn for their wheels is short-lived, and in most cases, turns into despondency upon reaching the crowded lot. A collection of ripped metal, piled one almost on top of the other, leaves no room for doubt. The owner has to be twice lucky to go from there home and not to the nearest garage, whether for a total overhaul or to be dismantled, melted down or crushed.

Ask Dudu Yisrael, 28, from Beer Sheva. His Fiat Uno, which was returned to him a few days ago, is at this time parked near the home of his Jerusalem relatives. The worn brakes, the electricity system that doesn't work and the torn tires are just some of its symptoms.

"Do you have a cheap tow truck for me?" he asked us, testimony to his car's mechanical and cosmetic condition, which was liberated by troops on the northern outskirts of Ramallah a moment before being chopped for parts.

"Quite a few cars were almost totally destroyed," said Yuval Hadar, in charge of the Talpiot lot where the cars were brought, this week. "The hardest cases are those cars that were caught in the course of a chase, that usually ends in an accident or a crash. In addition, car turnover in the Palestinian Authority is very high for various reasons, and the owners, who keep them only for a short time, treat them accordingly - they drive them in the mountains, through the fields, and just don't care. Some wanted men change their cars every week, the heavies even every three days.

You don't expect them to take care of them, do you?"

The idea of going into the Palestinian Authority and of returning stolen cars came up in the Judea and Samaria police meeting rooms as soon as Operation Protective Wall began and was implemented thanks to cooperation between the police, the army and the sappers, who checked the cars before they were loaded and taken back home. Police figures show that almost all of the cars were taken to the insurance companies, because the owners had already been paid the insurance money. But some car owners, who had not been compensated because they did not own a comprehensive insurance policy, had their cars returned.

One of these owners is Nissim Yosef, 25, of Pisgat Zeev, whose Subaru was stolen one night last February, and who received a surprising phone call from the police. Yosef: "For me it was like winning the lottery, both because I wasn't insured, and mainly because I just really missed my car."

Question: What condition was it in?

"Let's start by saying that there was a large red keffiya on the dashboard. The gear stick was wrapped in plastic. There were an enormous number of tapes in Arabic inside all over, and someone had ruined the radio-CD player. Instead they put in something else with wires sticking out all over, and huge speakers in the trunk. Actually I listened to some of the tapes, some were pretty good."

Question: The police say that all sorts of things happened to these cars.

"Like what?"

Question: Some were used by senior PA officials, some were used to move wanted men in the trunk and some were used as escape cars.

"Well, as far as that goes, I don't have to worry, since there's no way any senior PA official would dare show their face in a car like mine. As for the trunk, this was a coupe and in these models, almost the entire back is exposed and no one can be hidden there. And chases? I wouldn't think so, with the noise my engine makes and how it heats up, they wouldn't get too far. But I noticed that they changed my engine and you know, ever since it got back, I think the brakes work a lot better too."

Citizen Yosef is not the only one who thinks himself lucky. A.G., also of Jerusalem and the owner of a Hyundai stolen just a month and a half ago, was called one afternoon and rushed over to Talpiot. "I was very curious to see what had happened to my car, and when I saw it, I went into shock. I couldn't say anything for a long time."

Question: What had happened?

"The entire car had been painted a lemony yellow, and it turned out that they had made it into a taxi. It's funny, it had been full of scratches and I was thinking of taking it to a body shop, but I had never thought of painting it, certainly not this yellow."

Besides taxis, some cars were also made into official cars and were used by various senior functionaries in the Palestinian Authority. These cars, usually a Mazda 626 (a real status symbol in Ramallah) came back full of accessories and were beautifully polished. "One Mazda that came here that was used by a very senior and well known official," said a worker in the police lot. "It was accessorized to the last detail and it was in shape as good as new. Of course there were no pictures of shahids stuck on the dashboard, like in other cars. I waited to see who it belonged it, but the insurance company came and took it. I felt sorry for the original owner who probably would have been very happy to have gotten it back."

In addition to the relative economic consolation resulting from this operation, senior police sources also note the need to deter and to punish in those areas that until not long ago were considered inaccessible. That is why, in the course of the operation, they not only collected stolen cars, but also were also strict about arresting their new owners.

Dep. Cmdr. Itzik Rahamim, commander of the Binyamin police station: "As far as stolen Jewish property, what goes on in Area A is complete lawlessness. My rough and unauthorized estimation is that about half of the cars there are stolen. The industry of stealing cars and making them Palestinian is so entrenched, it's hard to believe sometimes how easily it's done."

Question: Do you intend to make more of these kind of operations to return stolen cars?

"It's not just up to us. We can only take action inside PA areas when the army is there, and as it looks today, this is not going to happen frequently, certainly not permanently. If we can, we'll act, and with vigor. After all, everyone knows that stealing cars is a real plague and hurts everyone and affects the economy in general. If this action or similar ones in the future can make even a small change or deter the other side and the number of thefts go down even a little, then we've done something."

This account ran in the Yediot Aharonot paper on May 3, 2002

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