Israel Resource Review 16th November, 2001


In the Shadow of 1914: The Current Situation
Rand Fishbein
President, Fishbein Associates Inc.,
former staff member U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittees
on Defense and Foreign Operations

With each passing day, the political landscape across the globe looks increasingly like August 1914. Then, it took only the assassination of an Austrian archduke by a Bosnian-Serb nationalist to ignite the First World War.

The second decade of the century was a time of fear and deep suspicion, of secret alliances and dark conspiracies. Militarism was on the rise and great-power rivalries dominated world politics. For a young, naïve generation the promise of modernity was about to collide with the forces of an older, more-sinister world. It would be a costly fight.

Eighty years later, another assassin is on the prowl. This time he's an Islamic fundamentalist with dreams of a Middle East free of Western influence. His goal is nothing less than a resurgent Muslim civilization and a new world order that no longer includes the United States at its helm.

The weapon of choice for Osama bin Laden is not the bullet, but commercial jetliners, and possibly biological toxins, targeted at the heart of American cities. With his vast resources and a network of committed followers, he may just have initiated the first global conflict of the 21st century. Such is the power of terrorism.

Two months after the attacks of September 11, all the pieces are coming together. A coalition of antiterrorist countries, led by the United States, is being formed on one side. A loose coalition of rogue states and committed terrorist organizations has formed on the other. Each side has issued ultimatums from which it cannot comfortably retreat.

Propaganda and patriotism have aroused popular anger. Armies are on the march. The antagonists have a clear and uncluttered vision of what's right. Each has a global reach. Each has weapons of mass destruction. Each has God on its side.

President George W. Bush has declared a global war on terrorism. His spokesmen have acknowledged that the fight may yet extend to 60 or 70 countries, each home to an underworld of crime and subversion. It could take years before the scourge is eradicated. The United Nations has been mobilized with every state being asked to weigh into the fight. "Either you're with us or you're against us," is the battle cry out of Washington.

As always, the Middle East remains a flash point for conflict. Its nations are restless, frightened and poised for war. Terrorism has reached a crescendo in Israel, with scores of Israeli citizens and Palestinians being killed and injured each week. A senior Israeli minister has been assassinated. The prospect of peace has all but vanished. Oslo is dead. Both the Israeli and Palestinian societies are at a breaking point. Each has warned the other that a single act of violence could unleash a chain of events leading to a regional meltdown.

In Egypt, the government has said it will not stand by if Israel mounts a major offensive against the Palestine Liberation Organization inside of territory it controls. Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, continues to probe Israel's northern defenses, attempting, yet again, to drag Jerusalem into the Lebanese quagmire. Other terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are itching for an opportunity to strike at Israeli urban centers in the hope of demoralizing the population, instilling panic and bringing about the collapse of the Jewish state.

Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, finds itself on the verge of disintegration. Rising popular anger over the U.S. campaign against Afghanistan coupled with mounting social unrest, economic collapse and increasing religious militancy could lead to widespread destabilization across Southeast Asia.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's president, ominously has warned that the nation is in danger of becoming the "Balkans of the East." She said, "If [violence] continues, we will split into lots of small races, into lots of small countries, all of which will be weak in the face of outside forces."

To build its antiterror coalition, the United States has looked first to NATO, invoking Article Five of the Atlantic Charter for the first time in history. Old rivals of the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance now are joined against a new enemy. An attack on one is an attack on all.

Great Britain has committed its largest force to battle since the Falklands War. London joined Washington in launching the first strike on Afghanistan, using submarine-launched cruise missiles while also dispatching SAS commandos.

French support of Operation Enduring Freedom consists of intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance aircraft and mine-clearing ships. The Germans are providing 3,900 troops along with airborne medical craft, armored reconnaissance vehicles and nuclear/biological/chemical detection equipment. The Italians have offered an aircraft carrier and up to 2,700 soldiers. Canada is committing 2,000 troops, six ships, six aircraft and a commando unit.

The Australians, too, have rallied to the allied battle standard with troops and equipment. Always eager for a good scrum, the Aussies once again find themselves up against a Muslim foe. Afghanistan may not be Gallipoli, but its defenders are equally ruthless and the terrain just as challenging.

In what is their first overseas deployment since World War II, Japan is providing military support to the U.S. antiterrorist effort. Many Chinese are worried that this could signal the beginning of a remilitarized Japan. Beijing has moved troops to its westernmost province as a precaution and closed its border with Afghanistan.

Russia, too, is on heightened alert, its leaders mindful of the fury of radical Islam and its potential to spread chaos well beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The Kremlin is concerned that U.S. forces operating within its sphere of influence in Central Asia may not leave after the fighting. No less than seven of the former Soviet republics have pledged their support for the war effort. Some are allowing U.S. troops to be based on their soil. Naturally, the Kremlin is nervous. Once again, the "Great Game" is being played out in Asia.

There may yet be a popular backlash in those countries bordering Afghanistan - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan - where dissident Muslim minorities are displeased with offers made by their governments to aid the U.S.-led coalition. The signs of a geopolitical collision are everywhere.

Popular discontent and a mounting refugee crisis threaten to topple the government of Pakistan, which has the second largest Muslim population in the world. Were this to occur, the Pentagon is set to launch a commando raid to seize the country's stockpile of an estimated 23 nuclear weapons. Sympathies for the Taliban run deep within Pakistan. Across the Muslim world, thousands of recruits are heeding the call to jihad and flocking to Afghanistan, via Pakistan, for a millennial fight against the infidel. Iraq, like the proverbial Cheshire cat, waits quietly in the wings.

Rising disaffection within Saudi Arabia could bring down that regime, throwing into chaos a significant portion of the world's oil supply and leaving unresolved the future of Islam's holiest shrines. The same is true for Egypt, where not since the 1940s has the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed such broad, popular support. Today, university students, the country's middle class and the Egyptian intelligentsia have joined with the impoverished masses in a growing wave of opposition to the Hosni Mubarak regime.

The Great War erupted in 1914 when mass discontent and old political rivalries led small states to challenge the composition of the existing social order. Then, as now, terrorism merely was the catalyst for chaos, a pretext for settling old scores.

But the price the great powers paid for their blunder into global war was more than they ever had imagined. Fratricidal destruction, economic ruin, the beginning of the end of empire and the collapse of monarchical rule across Europe brought closure to a world that had emerged with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and ended in the trenches of the Somme.

To be sure, World War I was bitter medicine. Yet, it did clear Europe of its strangling undergrowth of petty autocracies and many of its protected monopolies. Ultimately, the war led to the growth of modern governmental institutions and the triumph of democracy in Europe.

Much as in August 1914, many U.S. allies in the Muslim world are undergoing social and political convulsions. Several may not outlast the current turmoil. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia fear that, whichever way they turn, the ides of March may be upon them. Embrace too closely the U.S.-led war effort and the Muslim world will see this as a betrayal of Islamic unity. Show only lukewarm support for the coalition and these countries may find themselves at odds with Washington.

These are unsettling times, a period when the destinies of countries are shaped by historical currents outside their control. To its credit, the Bush administration has come to understand that the war in the Middle East is more than just a fight to defeat terrorism. It is a fight to determine the shape and political composition of the region for the next 100 years. For the United States, this is a defining moment, a historical contest over whether our ideas of democracy, freedom and modernity will reign supreme in the new century or whether anarchy and asceticism will assert its hold over great swaths of the world.

To be sure, the assassination of one archduke reasonably cannot be compared to the murder of more than 3,000 innocent people, but its consequences can. Punitive strikes against those responsible for the worst foreign attack ever on American soil certainly are justified. An expanded war beyond the borders of Afghanistan may be a necessity. Yet, in marshaling a highly militarized world into a broad antiterror coalition, there always is the risk that events could ignite a global conflict that quickly could escape our government's control.

U.S. policymakers must remain mindful of history in all they do. The guns of August 1914 have awakened to our drumbeat. The memory of a lost generation hangs heavy over the world tonight.

This article appeared in Insight Magazine , December 10, 2001 issue.

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How Is Israel to Respond When They Attack Our Airports?
A Strategic Analysis Towards Powell's "PLO State Speech"
Caroline B. Glick
Correspndent, Makor Rishon Newspaper
Author's translation from original Hebrew

On Monday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver a speech at the University of Louisville in which it is expected he will set forth an American plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In a meeting with European leaders this past Tuesday, Secretary Powell announced that he was wrong last spring to have accepted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's demand that a total cease-fire of seven days precede any resumption of negotiations or freeze in Israeli building activities in the Jewish towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Powell now publicly sides with the Arab view that Israel must enter negotiations while its citizens and cities remain under constant attack. The ramifications of this US position shift are that the Bush Administration now apparently accepts the Palestinian- Pan-Arab view that terrorism against Israelis is a legitimate way for Palestinians to express opposition to Israeli policies.

The American adoption of this Palestinian - Pan-Arab position, together with President Bush's embrace of the call for the establishment of an independent state of Palestine raises a number of questions for Israeli military strategists. What is the strategic significance of the establishment of a state abutting Israel that overtly engages in terrorism and other forms of violence against the Jewish State? How will an independent Palestinian state differ from the Palestinian Authority from a military perspective?

How will an independent Palestinian state impact the regional military balance between Israel and its Arab neighbors? How will international backing of Palestinian terrorism impact Israel's ability to ensure its survival? Finally, how must the answers to these questions impact the government's policies regarding Israel's positions in negotiations that will take place under fire and under increasing American pressure to establish an independent State of Palestine as quickly as possible?

According to retired IDF Major General Meir Dagan, former terrorism advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and military affairs advisor to Ariel Sharon during his tenure as Opposition Leader, "After a year and two months during which the Palestinian Authority has actively waged a terrorist war against Israel, there can be no room for doubt in anyone's mind that the Palestinian entity that will be established will be hostile to Israel and as a result, Israel will have to relate to this state as an enemy state."

Although it is now clear that the new State of Palestine will be hostile, what will be the practical significance of this hostility? Last week, the Ariel Center for Policy Research published an analysis entitled, "The Palestinian Security Forces: Capabilities and Effects on the Arab-Israeli Military Balance." The author, IDF Lt. Col. (res.) Gal Luft, who is now completing his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, served as a battalion commander in the Gaza Strip and West Bank throughout most of the 1990's and in that capacity worked closely with the Palestinian forces. Luft judges that Arafat has amassed a regular military force of 46,000 troops. In addition he estimates approximately 40,000 additional personnel are members of the PLO's Tanzim militia, augmented by several thousand additional forces in the Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist organizations. Because many members of the regular security forces also serve in the Tanzim militia, it is difficult to arrive at the precise number of Palestinian forces.

Arafat's regular forces are disbursed among thirteen separate and distinct security organizations, the largest of which, the National Security Forces, numbers some 14,000 soldiers who are organized into brigades and battalions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This body, which constitutes the backbone of the Palestinian fighting forces, has yet to take part in the fighting against Israel. In an interview early this week Luft explained, "The most reasonable explanation for this is that Arafat decided not to have his main force take part in the fighting in order to continue to enjoy the image of the underdog fighting a fierce, professional army. The problem is that no one seems to notice that his main force has been standing on the side watching. When the IDF invaded six cities in the Palestinian controlled areas and met with zero resistance, it seems that the lesson the army took away is that it can come and go as it pleases - like a knife cutting through margarine. The truth is that the Palestinians made the decision not to resist us. If they decide otherwise, the picture will look completely different."

Luft contends that the term "Police Force" that was attached to the Palestinian forces is a misleading distortion of reality. "There is no Palestinian police force here," he says. "There is a Palestinian army. It is organized as an army, trained as an army and carries out the fighting functions and operations of an army."

When the Palestinian Authority was first established, everything seemed different. Israel armed the Palestinian forces and ensured they were adequately trained. According to Brigadier General (res.) Dov Gazit, who served as the first Coordinator of Activities with the Palestinian Police for the IDF, "We operated from the assumption that they were supposed to provide us with security and quiet. During the initial phase, when they first came into the field, things looked promising. Aside from some isolated incidents, the daily cooperation went smoothly." On the other hand, the built-in contradiction between the Israeli expectation for cooperation and the Palestinian national aspirations was clear to anyone who wished to see. "They did not confiscate illegal arms as they were treaty-bound to do. They also absolutely refused to implement other key elements of the security accords such as extraditing suspected terrorists to Israel and they had difficulty carrying out arrests of terrorists. We accepted this state of affairs at the time because we understood that they were just getting organized and they had a need to be sensitive to their public opinion," Gazit recalls.

According to Luft, the first big fault-line in cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian forces developed in September 1996, in the wake of the Israeli Government's decision to open a subterranean tunnel under the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority's decision to react to the action by firing on Israeli forces caught the Israeli army by complete surprise. Luft contends, "For us the battles were a partial eye-opener because they showed our forces in the field just how quickly our relations with them could turn from cooperation to confrontation. On the other hand, we still didn't understand that we had to stop viewing the Palestinian forces as a police force and had to start looking at them as a military force."

For their part, the Palestinians viewed the battles of September 1996 as a total military victory and a true watershed event. Luft notes, "The Palestinians refer to the battles as 'The September War.' In three days of fighting they killed more of our forces than we killed of theirs, and among our casualties, they killed a Colonel and moderately injured another Colonel and a Brigadier General." Luft continues that in the aftermath of what the Palestinians considered an unvarnished success, they embarked on a vast build-up of their force levels and worked intensively to improve the quality of their forces and their battle-readiness. Palestinian commanders were sent to Pakistan, Egypt, and other countries to receive advanced training.

These commanders then returned to the Palestinian Authority to train the troops in the field. Luft points out that the improvement of the Palestinian forces was demonstrated when, "Shortly before the current so-called intifada began, the Palestinians conducted a brigade exercise and they didn't look bad at all."

Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres promised that the Palestinian State that he will help establish would be demilitarized. Luft rejects the Foreign Minister's announcement out of hand with a mixture of derision and anxiety. "All the talk about demilitarization is just hot air. Such talk is more a sedative for the Israeli public than a statement with any real substance. If until now the Palestinians broke every promise and breached every commitment they took upon themselves regarding limitations on their force levels, type and quantity of weaponry and cooperation in destroying the terrorist infrastructures and organizations, what evidence exists that they will behave differently as a sovereign state? To the contrary, the Palestinians will have much less to lose by breaching their signed commitment and we will have much greater difficulty enforcing our positions once they have their state. If for instance the Palestinians place heavy artillery on the heights commanding the West Bank and aim their guns toward Ben-Gurion International Airport, what will Israel do? How will we explain to the world that we attacked a sovereign state that everyone supports because its actions were a clear provocation and we needed to defend ourselves? In the Versailles Peace Treaty, the Allied governments limited the German army to one hundred thousand troops. Twenty years later we had the Whermacht. All these announcements about a demilitarized state are cheap demagogy - an attempt to hide the truth from the Israeli people." While Luft is concerned with what he views as the IDF's underrating of the already existing Palestinian forces, he does not believe that the Palestinian Army will be able to mount a serious threat to Israel in a conventional war between the two countries. The greater danger that he foresees is the role that the Palestinian army will play as part of a coalition of Arab states in a regional war against Israel. "The most problematic scenario for Israel is the highly likely possibility that the Palestinians will participate in an Arab coalition against us. They have an interest in such a war and they will have the capacity to sabotage our mobilization of our reserve forces and are liable to damage the IDF's ability to move forces and tanks to the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights.

Here then, the Palestinian military threat is transformed from organized terrorism to a blow on Israel's strategic capabilities to prevail in a regional war."

Luft agrees with Major General Dagan that no doubt exists that signing a peace treaty will in no way reduce the Palestinians' hostility toward Israel or lower their level of motivation to fight Israel. He explains, "We have to understand that the key to a state's military strength is its perception of the threat arrayed against it. Without a doubt the Palestinians feel threatened by Israel. In addition to the threat perception you must add the huge mobilization potential of the Palestinian army because 75 percent of Palestinians are under the age of 35. We also mustn't forget the fact that Palestinian society is highly militaristic." In summary, Luft concludes that granting sovereignty to a Palestinian state will increase the maneuvering room of an already existing enemy army, while at the same time reducing Israel's ability to enforce its positions and ensure its security.

Major General (res.) Yom Tov Samia, until recently the Commander of the Southern Command of the IDF, explains that in his view, it isn't the Palestinian regular forces who manifest the primary threat to Israel but rather "the commingling of regular forces and terrorist squads and the backing that the terrorists receive from tens of thousands of regular forces." From Samia's perspective, "We have to reach a situation where in the framework of a Palestinian state, there won't be armed militias operating at the side of the Palestinian army. There will be a need to demand that their forces are consolidated under one command hierarchy and one Chief of Staff who will not be Arafat or his successors."

General Dagan agrees with General Samia's assessment and in his view, it is not the Palestinian forces at their current levels that constitute the paramount threat to Israel from the Palestinians, but rather the integration of terrorists and terrorist doctrine into the Palestinian regular forces that manifest the greatest danger - a danger he views as a threat to Israel's very survival. "The Palestinian state will constitute a strategic threat to the survival of Israel because of the absorption of terrorist doctrine into its fighting forces. The sense the Palestinians have now, that they can operate from bases in close proximity to Israeli population centers without fear of Israeli military reaction will only be amplified after they receive independence. From their territory the Palestinians can destroy the whole fabric of life in Israel, to an extent that will make life here completely unbearable over time. They will be able to repeatedly and continuously sabotage our electrical grids, our telecommunications lines and infrastructures, and they will be able to deplete our water supply and pollute our environment - lowering our air quality, polluting our soil and our streams. They will be able to terrorize our citizenry with mortar and Katyusha rocket attacks on our urban centers. In short, by creating a reality of a war of attrition, they will embitter our lives to an extent far greater than what they have accomplished until now, and over the course of time, bring about the disintegration of the State of Israel. Plainly, from their actions and behavior up to now, one can conclude without any reasonable doubt that not only will they have the ability to do this, they also have the desire to do this."

Generals Samia and Dagan also agree that in addition to the Palestinian terrorist threat, from a military perspective, the Palestinian state must not have the ability to raise a true conventional army. To prevent this, both insist that Israel must ensure it retains complete and sole control over the international borders of the Palestinian state.

According to General Samia, in a future accord between Israel and the Palestinian entity, "Israel must insist that the Palestinian army will not be an army in the full sense of the word. It must be a limited force without heavy weaponry. In order to ensure that this is the case, it must be agreed that for the next fifty years, Israel will be the sole party responsible for ensuring security against foreign threats. The only armed force that can be deployed west of the Jordan River is the IDF."

General Dagan adds, "I am not so much bothered by the term 'sovereignty' as I am concerned by the content behind it. If, from a purely military perspective the Palestinians retain more or less what they have today, then we can live with it. The damage they can do to us in a regional war will be point specific, limited - temporary control over an isolated settlement or delaying the movement of our heavy equipment to the Jordan Valley for a few hours. Things like these will not, at the end of the day, influence the IDF's ability to win the war. The main problem will arise if they are granted control over any international border. Then they will automatically become a regular member of an Eastern front arrayed against us that will include Iraq, Syria and Jordan. If this is allowed to happen, then, in the event of war, we can have our first engagement of Iraqi armored forces not on the Jordan River, but in Ramallah, ten kilometers from Jerusalem. This is the real danger. On the other hand, if we can limit their sovereignty in a way that will ensure our control over the lateral roads that cross the West Bank to the Jordan Valley and we continue our sole control over the international borders, we can live with it."

After Secretary of State Powell's address on Monday, Israel will be forced to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians from an extremely weak bargaining position. By not seizing the diplomatic and military initiative in the wake of September 11th, the Israeli Unity Government enabled the Arab bloc to link the establishment of a Palestinian state to their support for the American war against Islamic terrorism. Powell's latest announcement that he is removing America's backing from Prime Minister Sharon's position that negotiations cannot be undertaken under fire creates a situation unprecedented in its bleakness. It deprives Israel of international support for its claim that the granting of Palestinian statehood must be conditioned on that state living at peace with the Jewish State.

It can be reasonably assumed that the international community, led by the Bush Administration, which now openly differentiates between the right of other sovereign states to self-defense and the right of the State of Israel to act to ensure its survival, will reject the views expressed by Generals Samia and Dagan, and Lt. Colonel Luft's assessments regarding the military threats to Israel emanating from a Palestinian state. Given the current international climate, insistence by Israeli negotiators that Israel retain control of all international borders even after the establishment of the Palestinian state is liable to cause a major crisis in Israel's relationship with the United States. However, as the experts explain, Israel has no choice. In the words of General Dagan, "The establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, in the full sense of the word will be catastrophic for the State of Israel."

This article ran in the weekly newspaper, Makor Rishon, on November 16, 2001

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A Profile:
Rabbi Arik Ascheman
of the Rabbis for Human Rights

The Rabbi Who Favors a Binatinal State
Pat McDonnell Twair is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles

Viewers of CNN news probably are familiar with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the tall, thin bearded man who places himself before Israeli bulldozers on their way to demolish Palestinian homes or olive groves. There he stands-until Israeli soldiers drag him away.

The American-born, Harvard-educated idealist explains that he had an epiphany during the sixth and seventh months of the current intifada. It was then that he graduated from protesting the war against civilians to performing acts of resistance, such as defying bulldozers and trying to refill ditches blockading Palestinian villages.

"I've moved to a different space," he said recently in Los Angeles, which he visited as part of a nationwide American tour. "I am trying to get through to the average Israeli, to make him understand the wholesale war that is being waged against the non-combatant Palestinian population."

Ascherman stressed that RHR works for the human rights of Jews, Palestinians and foreign workers alike. It has condemned both Israelis and Palestinians, he explained, but contends that it is Israel who holds most of the power.

"The work I do isn't fun," stated the dedicated humanitarian, speaking to a small audience at the Workmen's Circle in Los Angeles on May 9. "As a rabbi and a Zionist, it's not a great pleasure to work in the deepest, darkest secrets of Israeli society that most would rather think do not exist."

Rabbi Ascherman first locked horns with Israel's Catch-22 mentality in his attempt to preserve the house of Saleem Shawarmah. The modest house has come to symbolize Israel's policy to make it nearly impossible for Palestinians to receive legal building permits. Then, when they are forced to construct a house without a permit, their homes are demolished for having been built illegally.

Shawarmah built his house in 1996 in the West Bank village of Anata.

"Anata is the biblical Anatot, home of Jeremiah the Prophet," Rabbi Ascherman noted. "I wonder what he would have to say about all this if he were here today."

The house was demolished in July of 1998, rebuilt, and demolished again in August 1998. In the summer of 1999, the house again was rebuilt and dedicated.

"Israel lives in a bubble in which it claims every action is carried out according to law," Rabbi Ascherman said. "It is important to step back and look at the big picture-that no Palestinian is getting a permit-and then step forward and recognize the absurdity of the micro view that questions the legality of the decision."

When it questioned the reason for the demolition of the Shawarmah house, RHR was told that the family had no permit to build on agricultural land, that the house was on a slope with a steep incline, or was too close to a strategic road.

"When all these excuses resulted in bad public relations, the government floated a trial balloon that two co-owners of the land had failed to sign a permit to build," the rabbi continued. "We replied, 'Fine, tell us who the two co-owners are and we will get their signatures.' The civil administration stated it couldn't release this information, then it claimed it had lost the file. Finally, we signed up everyone in the village and we never found these two co-owners.

"Thirty days ago," the rabbi told his audience, "the Israelis bulldozed Saleem's home again. I was arrested for trying to prevent the demolition. I believe his house was targeted because it has become a symbol of the struggle against house demolitions.

"Micro or macro," he pointed out, "the political decision is not to let Palestinians live in Area C."

Area C, Rabbi Ascherman explained, is West Bank land under total Israeli control; still-to-be-negotiated Area B is under Palestinian civilian and Israeli military jurisdiction; and Area A is Palestinian-controlled land.

Nonetheless, he said, he believes RHR's efforts have helped the Palestinians, and that house demolitions diminished drastically since the organization, as a member of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, became involved in 1998. He qualified this, however, by noting that, three months after the onset of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, the Israeli army and civil administration resumed demolishing Palestinian homes.

Since Ariel Sharon came to power in March, the rabbi added, there have been three days of massive demolitions, and more have been ordered.

All Jewish Israelis, he said, were angry when, in October, Israeli Arabs protested in sympathy with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. "There was anger when Israelis had to turn on the radio to learn what roads were safe inside the Green Line," Ascherman recalled.

"Yes, the Palestinian protests inside Israel were violent, but there was no use of arms," he specified. "High unemployment was a major factor in the demonstrations. Testimony at the commission of inquiry has highlighted excessive use of force and the fact that some of the demonstrations were taking place peacefully inside villages. Twelve of the 13 Israeli Arabs were killed in an area under the command of Alec Ron," the rabbi noted, "whom the Palestinians identified as racist."

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem has released a report documenting that, across the Green Line, Palestinians only took up firing arms after Israeli security forces shot to kill rock-throwing youngsters. This report, he stressed, revealed that, in some cases, Israelis were firing in self-defense, but that in many others, excessive force over and beyond military regulations was exercised. According to B'Tselem, ambulances, medics and humanitarian workers dispersing medicine and food were targeted by Israeli soldiers and prevented from carrying out their emergency work. Photos provided by the Israeli army to back up allegations that Palestinian ambulances were running guns were not of ambulances at all.

Turning to the failed Camp David peace talks, Rabbi Ascherman noted that "the average Israeli says [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak offered more to the Palestinians than any other Israeli leader." Although Barak had "moved the peace negotiations forward by light-years," Ascherman added, "before too many crocodile tears are wept, look at how the Palestinians perceive this.

"We had warned for a long time that the Palestinians had tuned out on negotiations between the leaders because actions speak louder than words," he continued. "Parallel to the negotiations, the Palestinians were victims of a quiet war of settlement expansion, tree uprootings, unfair water allocations, and withholding the freedom of movement. They didn't perceive this as a peace process. This quiet war against the Palestinians is something for which we Israelis must accept responsibility."

Israeli Media Blackout

Ascherman decried the Israeli media's near-blackout on the work of RHR and other Israeli peace organizations. Allowing that the situation has improved slightly, he lamented the scant coverage of what is happening to Palestinians during their intifada.

"Every hour, Israelis hear about Palestinian attacks," he said, "but they don't know the rest of the story-the targeting of medics and health workers, the uproooting of 30,000 olive trees, the humiliations, blockades and excessive force against unarmed protesters.

"When I talk to Israeli reporters," he said, "they ask if my source is Palestinian or the army. When Palestinians are automatically discounted as a legitimate source…something is wrong."

At the onset of the current intifada, Ascherman said, one of RHR's first important efforts was to help Palestinians prevented by the siege from leaving their villages to harvest their olives. "When we were there," he recalled, "the army protected us from the settlers and the media showed up."

Israel is mowing down Palestinian olive trees, the rabbi said. The systematic destruction of a staple of the Palestinian economy-its olive trees, some of which are hundreds of years old-Ascherman finds particularly egregious. RHR is seeking international donations to support families whose trees have been uprooted. In addition to replanting saplings, RHR is trying to support families who will suffer economic losses for six to 10 years, until new trees bear fruit. Palestinians estimate this loss at $75 per tree per year. In addition, RHR is selling olive oil for families who can't sell their oil because they are forbidden from transporting goods into Israel or across borders.

The residents of Deir Istia appealed to the Israeli high court against a plan to destroy 1,500 olive trees. The army wanted to remove the trees after an Israeli woman was seriously injured by stones thrown from an olive grove.

"We won, and only 10 trees were cut down," Ascherman said. "What is really going on," he acknowledged, "is wholesale pressure against the Palestinian people."

"I'm not saying the Palestinians are angels," the rabbi added, "but Israel is the dominant power, it holds all the cards. As a rabbi, it is my duty to talk to Jews about injustice. In the year 2001, we have the scientific technology to disperse crowds, even riots, without using lethal force.

"The assaults on Palestinian civilians have been so massive that it has forced me to move to another level," he said. "The bottom line is I have a two-year-old daughter and I want to be able to say the right thing in a few years when she asks, 'Daddy, what were you doing when the Palestinians were being assaulted?'"

Rabbi Ascherman is married to Rabbi Einat Ramon, the first Israeli-born woman to be ordained as a rabbi. They hold the distinction of being Israel's only rabbinic couple.

Despite death threats from right-wing extremists who charge RHR with harming Israel's best interests, Ascherman says his efforts to break down Palestinian stereotypes are in Israel's long-term interests.

"It's almost like deja vu when I call on families living in tents or caves and the parents waken their children to introduce them to us," Rabbi Ascherman related. "Even though these are humiliated people whose homes have been destroyed, they tell their children they want them to meet religious Jews who are helping them."

During the question-and-answer period, the rabbi was asked if the Conservative and Reform Jewish movements have been active in RHR.

"They tend to concentrate on their struggle for recognition in Israel," he relied, "and don't want to get involved as movements." He pointed out, however, that RHR is the only Israeli rabbinical organization comprising Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist rabbis and students. Many Conservative and Reform rabbis, he added, become involved as individuals.

When asked about the right of return for Palestinian refugees, Rabbi Ascherman was silent for a good half a minute before responding that his personal belief is in one secular democratic state in which everyone has the right of return.

"I believe that in the long term, we need a world without borders or nation states as we know them today," he explained. "However, I don't believe it will work to do this in Israel/Palestine alone, or that such a solution is workable in the short term."

He qualified this by stating that there are only a handful of Israelis willing to consider this premise, because "this can only be done when a state is no longer necessary to guarantee the physical and cultural safety of Jews in our historic homeland."

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A Profile:
When A Social Worker Who helps Terror Victims
Becomes a Terror Victim

Mrs. Osnat Sasson, a Social Worker
at the Bituach Leumi (National Insurance Institute) Unit That Provides Services for Terror Victims

Sam Finkel
Jewish Communal Service Professional

Scenes of terrorism in newspapers and television have the same effect on me: they inspire shock and anger. There are the pictures of the ambulance crews, the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial Society) workers literally "picking up the pieces" and the sobbing relatives and friends at the funerals. Then it's on to the next news story.

Yet the tragic effects of terrorism don' t end at death or even at the funeral. What has been ignored has been the debilitating psychological trauma on the surviving victims and their families,as well as the struggle to recuperate and return to a normal life.

For many victims, the story begins just as they start to recuperate.

National Insurance, known as Bituach Leumi covers most Israelis. Due to the grim facts of life here, there is a special department of "shikum" (rehabilitation) specifically designated for victims of terrorism. Mrs. Osnat Sasson, a sephardic woman in her thirties, with olive complexion and jet black hair, is one of the social workers in that department. For six years she has helped people get through the trauma, the confusion, shock, and disruption of their family life.

Osnat is a neighbor of my sister, a resident of Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim in Gush Etzion.

Never did she dream that one-day she would also have to go through the rehab process herself.

She confided that she always had fears that her husband Tsachi might be lost to her.

Tsachi was of course in the Israeli army reserves like every other Israeli.

He was called up once a month like all other Israeli men to serve his country.

Osnat was often apprehesive that he could get hurt during army service.

It never dawned on her that it would come from terrorism.

And then the unthinkable occurred.

Tsachi was on his way home to Gush Etzion on February 10th of this year.

As he exited one of the tunnels just outside Jerusalem, he was shot dead by a sniper from area of the Arab village of Beit Jala (under Palestinian Authority control.)

An Israeli ambulance appeared on the scene within minutes. The PLO snipers kept firing at the ambulance while the ambulance paramedic driver leaped into Tzachi's car. There was little that he could do.

Tzachi had been killed instantly.

Now, many months later, you would never known what had happened by calling Osnat at her home.

If you would get the answering machine you would hear the taped message of the soft-spoken voice of her husband Tzachi saying something about the electrical services he provides.

Osnat had been married to Tzachi for 7 ½ years. She is now widowed with 2 young children.

Not long after the murder she was interviewed by CNN. It happened that on the same day of her husband's death, Israel Defense Forces killed three Palestinians.

The reporter asked her how she felt about their deaths.

She was outraged. The Palestinians were killed for shooting at Israeli soldiers.

Had they not fired, they would have been left alone.

Her husband's "crime" was that he driving home from work.

Such a moral equivalence enraged her.

Her children are slowly coming to realize that their abba (father) will never be with them for the holidays and for other family activities like tiyulim (outings, hiking).

I was amazed at her composure and serene demeanor.

What goes on in her social work office?

In November a terrorist opened fire on a bus in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood, killing two school children and wounding over 20 other people.

The first stage was to hold a debriefing for those present.

They recall events and express their feelings in front of others so that they know that they are not alone in what they are going through.

After the families of those murdered sat the traditional seven days of mourning (Shiva) special assemblies are held in the school over a period of time to help the students cope with the loss and their own fears and insecurities.

The wounded are taken to the hospital for treatment.

The social worker then visits the hospital to determine the needs of the entire family- for their life has now been disrupted.

If, for example, a father is hospitalized, that means that the mother/wife has to visit and leave the children at home.

Jerusalem is home to many very traditional Orthodox families with many children.

In one case, Ms. Sassoon helpd with a father of 14 children whose wife had to attend to him.

The family needed a babysitter to watch the kids, and a housekeeper to take care of cleaning, shopping and cooking.

Money was needed to pay for transportation to the hospital and medical clinics.

The mother needed guidance on how to manage under stress, and how to handle her husband when he is released.

She is nervous, angry, worried, and afraid and prone to let it out on her children.

Even when the father returns, it won't be like it was before.

At time like this, everyone needs more attention and without proper outside intervention the tensions could escalate into a never-ending cycle of frustration.

After the horrific explosion at the Sbarro eatery in Jerusalem, Osnat met with a 17 year old waitress who normally works behind the counterthat moved out of direct danger the last minute. Her hand was injured from the blast.

Osnat visited her in the hospital, then she met afterwards with her parents.

The waitress suffered from loss of sleep and appetite, grew increasingly impatient with her family, and had frequent crying spells.

The parents were alarmed at the change in their daughter's behavior and seeming change in personality.

The parents were reassured that this behavior was normal.

This lowered they fear of her symptoms.

The bombing took place three weeks before she started her studies in school.

By the beginning of the school year, she was calm enough to go back to school and start her studies. It takes on average of six weeks to get through the initial period of shock.

Psychological aftereffects include: insomnia, anxiety, fear of revisiting the scene of the incident, fear of entering a bus or any other activity associated with the event, and obsessive recall of the trauma. Some feel guilt: Why did I say this or do that to him/her before they died??

People who are sensitive have trouble returning to work. Others, who have lost a dear one, need to undergo grief counseling once a week for the next six months.

Many of the families instinctively reach out to other families who have already gone through this experience. Israel is a small country and it doesn?t take long to find and contact others for support and assistance.

In short, the act of terrorism has a ripple effect that affects the spouse, the children and relatives, the job, friends, and schoolmates. It affects business establishments that lose customers and Israel as a whole that loses tourists and investors.

For Osnat Sassoon, faith played a big role in helping her cope with life.

"Tsachi is in a good place . . . There are no 'accidents' . . . Since I have no control I give it over to G-d. I have questions, but if I know that G-d is above, then I can manage below.".

I was amazed at Osnat's faith and level of acceptance.

Faith seems to be the main ingredient that allows Israelis to carry on, whether they be religious or secular.

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