|Israel Resource Review
||31st May, 2007
Sderot under attack
We visited Sderot yesterday. Leaving Nitzan we gave a lift to a Gush Katif student learning in the Sderot Hesder Yeshiva combining Torah studies and army service.
"How are you holding on?" I asked.
"Okay. It's a little easier for me and other Gush Katif students. We lived through rocket attacks. Boys from other parts of Israel find it more difficult when they hear the 'Red Alert' warning and hear the explosion just fifteen seconds later. We study, eat and sleep in the shelter. It's not great, but it's a fact of life in Sderot."
"Do the students help out in the city?"
"Yes, we visit families and play with the children in the shelters. People from abroad sent toys and games, so we have what to do with the kids. They sure need help. They're so scared. Many sleep with their parents. Others wet their beds. We try to give them courage to continue living in this town. We lived like this in Gush Katif. We grew up like this. We know what they are going through."
We dropped him off at his Yeshiva and met with Noam Bedein, head of the Sderot Information Center for the Western Negev, who provides information in English to foreign journalists and operates a website, www.SderotMedia.com His aim is to let the outside world see the human tragedy in Sderot.
"The foreign media isn't reporting the story of the devastation of Sderot. They just write about Israel's retaliation. Even the Israeli press doesn't get worked up over the attacks. The Kassams are dismissed as 'homemade' bombs. Come, I'll show you homes that have been hit."
Just then the 'red alert' was sounded and we rushed into a security room with steel doors securely locked. I didn't hear any explosion.
"I guess it was a false alarm" I said. I couldn't have been more wrong.
As Noam drove me around the city we spoke of the work I could do for Sderot. Noam was swamped and my assistance could help. One by one we passed homes -- lovely, spacious homes -- parts of which had been destroyed by the 'homemade' rockets.
I had seen bomb damaged homes in Gush Katif but was totally unprepared for the destruction caused by these highly advanced, powerful Kassams. 'Homemade' is part of the mythology of Arab resistance to 'the occupation'. These rockets were not being made by elves in a primitive underground workshop. These precision-made rockets were coming from Iran via Egypt, and were more devastating than anything we had seen in Gush Katif.
The damage to property is bad enough. The damage to people is worse. They are in shock. They function at the lowest level, so traumatized from the constant attacks that their only concern is buying food and returning to their homes.
The 'red alert' warnings are most often heard in the early morning, late afternoon, and middle of the night. People have seconds to scurry to a shelter, if there is one nearby. The elderly and the infirm don't bother making the effort.
"During the months of the so-called ceasefire" Noam explained, "the government made no response at all to the hundreds of attacks. It drove people crazy. You are willing to be brave when your government is fighting for you. But no response at all leaves you feeling helpless and abandoned."
Noam showed me a school building with a concrete security roof. "But the roof covers only a third of the building" I exclaimed.
"In that school," he replied, "only the first, second and third grades are protected. Children beg to be put back to third grade so they'll be safe."
Noam pointed to a huge concrete wall protecting one side of a school building. The other side is unprotected. The protected classrooms are dark and airless.
"A teacher," Noam jokes, "asked the children why snails have shells. One child said the shells are protection against Kassam rockets.
On Jerusalem Day the homemade Western Wall was filled with notes begging G-d to stop the Kassam rockets.
During the math matriculation exam a 'red alert' sent students rushing to a shelter. Fear replaced concentration."
Store after store had closed. A once vibrant town is shutting down. Fear keeps people from wandering outside.
I saw glass-fronted shops that had been renovated after a rocket attack had devastated an entire shopping center.
"Why glass?" I asked a shop-owner.
"This glass is shatterproof" she replied.
"Do you believe it?"
"Do you have any customers?"
"I haven't had a customer in three weeks. People don't buy clothing. Just food. I'm going to have to close down soon."
The community center has closed down. It has no protective roof. The mental health center is unprotected, making trauma victims even more fearful.
"Hi, Noam!" a young man called out. "Did you see the damage caused by the rocket that fell a half hour ago?"
We made our way to a dilapidated housing project. On the top floor of a four-storey building two elderly ladies, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, sat in shock, crutches and a walker propped against a nearby wall. Shards of glass, smashed crockery, splinters of wooden cabinets lay in a pool of water in their devastated kitchen, where the Kassam had exploded.
Walking up the narrow stairs in the crowded housing block gave me an opportunity to meet the residents. Each floor, each open doorway, each shattered apartment told a story of stoic people nearing the end of their patience.
Glass and debris-filled floors surrounded two infants in car seats perched on a shredded couch. One couple had put their cat, a beautiful red-furred animal, into a carryall to send to safety.
"How were two invalids supposed to run to safety?" cried one woman.
"Where is the government? Where is the army? Why are we abandoned?" shrieked a woman clutching a toddler to her breast.
Israel radio and television reported the attack, stating there were no injuries or damage. The damage was all too visible. The injuries no less so.
I had lived through rocket attacks for five years in Gush Katif. All I could do was hug the people of Sderot and promise to tell their story. Perhaps people living in their safe neighborhoods will come out and demonstrate and cry "No more!"
Please pray for the people of Sderot. They are your family.
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Repackaging Ehud Barak : Shades of Nixon?
In the Israel Labor Party primary held on Monday, Ehud Barak led the field of candidates to head the Israel Labor Party, to become Labor's leading candidate for the next Prime Minister- assuming that Barak beats out former Israeli intelligence chief and former Israel Navy Commander Ami Ayalon.
Barak ran a campaign by taking no stands on any issues, with his PR people repeating over and over that "there is a new Barak" - not the Barak who was voted out of office in a special election in February 2001 - after only 17 months of office.
Americans who lived through Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign may recall the 1968 Nixon campaign spin that there is a new Nixon.
Yet in reality there was no new Nixon, only a new packaging of the same
Philadelphia journalist Joe McGinnis traveled with the Nixon campaign and later wrote the best seller, THE SELLING OF THE PRESIDENT 1968 , chronicled how Nixon's handlers plotted every step of the campaign to repackage Nixon and make him look good, while he said nothing.
Could Israel possess its own version of Richard Nixon repackaged: Ehud Barak repackaged ? Well, there is much to repackage.
Besides leading colossal failures in diplomatic negotiations with Syria (In Shepherdstown) and with the Palestinians (In Camp David) , Barak will always be remembered for ordering the sudden withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon, while abandoning strategic positions, tanks, and tons of surveillance equipment, all of which fell into the hands of Hizbullah - not to mention Barak's desertion of Israel's Christian allies - the Southern Lebanese army. The Hizbullah made efficient use of Barak's gifts last summer.
Yet the icing on the cake for Barak's credibility remained the annual report of the Israel State Comptroller, issued on January 30th, 2000. The highest arbiter of integrity in the Israeli government asserted that the 1999 campaign to elect Ehud Barak as prime minister of Israel in 1999 had established no less than 23 fictitious non-profit organizations to channel illegal contributions to Barak's campaign coffers.
These fake organizations, with innocuous names such as "Hope for Israel", "The Movement for Better Taxi Service", "Citizens from Right and Left" and "Doctors for Immigrant Absorption" were established in 1998 and 1999 as bonafide health, education and welfare organizations; and duly registered as such in the Israeli government registrar of non-profit organizations.
The Israeli State Comptroller documented that these groups were transformed into clandestine conduits for Barak's election campaign in the spring of 1999.
These groups never maintained appropriate book-keeping procedures under the bylaws of the Israeli government registrar for non-profit organizations and they were all stricken from the record.
Some of these organizations maintained organizational ties to the Israel Policy Forum, a lobbying group in Washington.
Most of the groups used the services of Attorney Yitzhak Herzog, , son of the late Israeli President Haim Herzog, as a liaison to the Barak camp in Jerusalem.
Herzog, now a senior cabinet member on the Israeli government, was identified by the state comptroller as the attorney of record who registered these non-profit organizations on behalf of Barak's election.
After the official publication of the state comptroller report, the Israeli attorney general at the time, Dr. Elyakim Rubenstein, now an Israel Supreme Court Justice, ordered a police investigation to review the Barak campaign allegations, to address the question of Barak's accountability which has shades of the challenge to Nixon in the 1973-74 Watergate committee: What did he know, when did he know it and was he directly involved? Barak did not get off to a good start. Barak's immediate reaction to the State Comptroller report was that he was never directly engaged in fund-raising activities.
Barak had apparently forgotten about his March 25, 1999 personal appearance at a $10,000 a plate dinner given on his behalf in Los Angeles, hosted by California industrialist Haim Saban and reported on the wire of the JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, on March 28th, 1999.
JTA's Tom Tugend affirmed that he had covered the event where Barak had personally solicited funds from wealthy American supporters.
American citizens who make non-profit contributions that wind up in political coffers are aware that this is a felony which violates IRS law.
Another factor that the Israeli police wanted to know about, concerned the involvement of the Clinton Administration. The Israeli police wanted to know who was paying the bills for Barak's campaign advisor Tal Zilberstein, who was retained by Washington political strategists James Carville and Stanely Greenberg, the same team retained by Clinton.
The Israel State Comptroller noted that Zilberstein was paid in foreign currency. From where? From private citizens? Or from funds traced to the Clinton Administration itself?
Israeli political campaigns had previously witnessed foreign campaign contributions, not all of which had been entirely legal. That was not new.
What was unprecedented with Barak was that that the Registrar of Israel's Non-Profit Organization Authority and the Israel State Comptroller both issued parallel scathing reports concerning another subject entirely about the twenty three fictitious health, education and welfare organizations were spawned by the Barak campaign overnight, all of which laundered funds to the Barak campaign.
Barak had violated an unwritten rule in the Israeli public sector, which is that no one should use non-profit organizations as a conduit to funnel money for Israeli political candidates, let alone create them for that purpose.
Barak broke that cardinal rule.
Non-profit organizations have helped to build the social infrastructure of the state of Israel, channeling generous contributions to the Jewish state from Jews and non-Jews who have wanted to make the young state of Israel flourish, so that it could fulfill its national purpose, which is to gather in Jews from the four corners of the globe.
Herein lies the scandal of how Barak was elected in 1999.
What did Barak know, when did he know it and was he directly involved in the indiscretions of his 1999 campaign?
Barak is not saying. No reporter is asking him
What happened to the police investigation of Barak's campaign?
No one knows.
The Fraud Division of the Israeli police did summoned Attorney Yitzhak Herzog for questioning. Herzog chose to remain silent and not answer police questions. Since then, in January, 2003, Herzog was elected to the Knesset, where he enjoys immunity from prosecution. He has since served as Housing Minister and Tourism Minister of Israel, and now services as Minister of Social Welfare.
It is no coincidence that Herzog was instrumental in engineering Barak's meteoric return to Israeli politics.
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