Israel Resource Review 30th September, 2001


The JTA Slant That Needs Balance: Reflecting on the Writings of JTA Bureau Chief, David Landau
David Bedein

On Erev Yom Kippur, perhaps the time has come for the JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that is funded in part by the Jewish Federations, to reconsider its ideological orientation and to allow for equal time to balance the one-sided news coverage that the JTA Israel bureau chief David Landau reports from Israel.

Landau, who is also the editor of the left wing HaAretz English edition, was the co-author of THE NEW MIDDLE EAST, which he wrote together with Shimon Peres as the seminal book to promote the Oslo Process.

Our news agency, which covers the Palestinian Authority, bases its news stories what the PA spokesman declare in the Arabic language - Landau, as a matter of policy, does not quote the PA in its own language.

If, for example, Landau's bureau had been listening to the PA' s VOICE OF PALESTINE on Sunday, September 9, he would have heard Arafat's radio station praise the death of two Israeli pacifists at the Naharia train station. calling them "illegal settlers in the illegal settlement of Naharia". Naharia lies on Israel's Lebanese border and is defined by the PLO as an illegal settlement since it absorbed neighboring abandoned Arab villages after the 1948 war,

Landau's latest piece cries out for rebuttal.

Especially on Erev Yom Kippur.



Peres-Arafat meeting embroiled in competing post-terror forces

By David Landau

JERUSALEM, September 25 (JTA). It is too early to tell whether the long-awaited LONG AWAITED IS A TERM USED FOR MESSIAH and controversial DOESN'T SAY WHY meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President SINCE WHEN DOES LANDAU DESCRIBE ARAFAT AS A "PRESIDENT"?. THIS IS A PLO TERM WHICH HINTS THAT HIS STATE HAS ALREADY BEEN ESTABLISHED. since Yasser Arafat will produce a true cease-fire NO CEASE FIRE HAS BEEN FELT AT ANY TIME IN THE PAST FOUR MONTHS and a resumption of peace negotiations between the two sides. But whatever its outcome, the meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Erev Yom Kippur, made its mark even before it was held. It almost brought down Israel's unity government, with intense arguments raging about whether to hold the meeting at all. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon found himself awkwardly placed between his government's rightist LANDAU COULD HAVE SAID NATIONALIST. "RIGHTIST" CONNOTES FASCISM IN THE JEWISH WORLD faction and Peres, his Labor Party foreign minister. LANDAU "FORGETS" TO MENTION THAT ARAFAT'S FATAH MOVEMENT TOOK CREDIT FOR THE DRIVE-BY MURDER OF SARIT AMRANI, SHOT IN FRONT OF HER THREE LITTLE CHILDREN AND ARAFAT'S REFUSAL TO ABIDE BY SHARON'S REQUEST TO ORDER THE ARREST OF SARIT'S MURDERER. And it became entangled in a web of diplomatic maneuvering by the United States to form an international coalition against terror. If the Peres-Arafat meeting does prove a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the course of events in this troubled land is markedly changed, the catalyst will have been the terror attacks on America and the diplomatic aftermath. The Palestinians say the armed intifada is now effectively over THIS IS NOTHING BUT A FABRICATION AND/OR A FIGMENT OF LANDAU'S IMAGINATION. THE RADIO, TV AND NEWSPAPERS OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THE ARMED WAR AGAINST ISRAEL AT ALL OPPORTUNITIES . or at least greatly reduced. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? WITH THE IDF REPORTING MORE THAN 300 ATTACKS IN THE PAST WEEK, WHAT DOES "REDUCED" MEAN? They cite the categorical orders issued publicly by Arafat, in Arabic, last weekend to military and paramilitary groups under his command to cease their attacks on Israel and Israelis and to rein in the opposition and fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. IF LANDAU WERE TO DO HJIS HOMEWORK, HE WOULD HAVE SEEN THAT ARAFAT NEVER ASKED FOR HIS TROOPS TO CEASE THEIR ATTACKS They cite, too, the fact, confirmed by Israeli military sources, that the level of violence, though not completely halted - Palestinian gunmen carried out two fatal ambushes of Israeli women driving on West Bank roads - has dropped considerably during the past week.

Israeli sources IN OTHER WORDS, LANDAU''S IDEOLOGICAL BUDDIES FROM THE NEW MIDDLE EAST also say that Arafat, for the first time since the intifada began exactly a year ago, is acting in earnest to restrain would-be terrorists. RESTRAIN? WHEN HE WOULDN'T ARREST MURDERERS OF TWO WOMEN AND WHEN HIS FATAH TOOK CREDIT FOR MURDER?

Arafat's decision to end the violence is seen as a direct response to the popular Palestinian reaction LANDAU FORGETS TO MENTION THAT THIS POPULAR REACTION MEANT MASSIVE CELBERATIONS OF THE PA. THAT WERE ORCHESTRATED BY ARAFAT'S TROOPS that followed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Palestinian and outside observers say Arafat and his top leadership were appalled by the scenes of public rejoicing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. PERHAPS ARAFAT WAS "APPALLED" BY THE US REACTION?

For the Palestinian leadership, these scenes, captured by Western media despite the Palestinian Authority's strenuous efforts, evoked memories of Arafat's dalliance with Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War and the huge price, in terms of Western support and popularity, that the Palestinian cause paid for that blunder.

Indeed, American public support for the Palestinians fell dramatically after September 11, according to polls.

Arafat knows, say analysts, that if the Palestinians' standing continues to plummet in American public and governmental opinion, there will be powerful forces in Israel that will move to exploit his weakened situation, perhaps even by removing him and his coterie altogether.

On the Israeli side, that is precisely the sentiment one hears on the political right - much of which is represented in Sharon's Cabinet.

"If I was hesitant before September 11 about a Peres-Arafat meeting, but did not act to block it," says Eli Yishai, the Shas Party leader, "after September 11, I see no reason to proceed with it. It will only strengthen Arafat and weaken us."

Yishai cited top Israeli intelligence officers who had warned that such a meeting would give Arafat legitimacy in American eyes and enable him to be part of the anti-terror coalition being built by the Bush administration.

Early in the week, Yishai swung his considerable political weight against the meeting - and succeeded in having it delayed.

Without saying so explicitly, Yishai plainly agreed with hard-liners in Israel who believed that the new world configuration against terror immediately following September 11 presented the Jewish state with a golden opportunity to defeat and perhaps even remove Arafat.

After all, Arafat had encouraged - or at least not prevented - acts of indiscriminate terrorism perpetrated against Israel over the past 12 months.

Another powerful player on the right, with influence over Sharon, is former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a slew of statements since September 11, Netanyahu openly compared Arafat to Osama bin Laden and said Israel should take this opportunity to get rid of him.

The former premier is plainly preparing his political comeback, preparing either to directly challenge Sharon for the Likud leadership or to lead a right-of-Likud alliance of parties to topple the premier.

Political pundits IN OTHER WORDS, LANDAU here attributed much of the prime minister's apparent zigzagging about the Peres-Arafat meeting to the Netanyahu effect.


For his part, Peres was livid that the meeting with Arafat that Sharon had approved on Saturday night had been canceled on Sunday morning. He told his Labor colleagues he was going "on holiday" and muttered threats about quitting his job, since "I am not prepared to be a truncated foreign minister."

The next day, Sharon and Peres breakfasted together and patched up their quarrel, agreeing that the meeting would take place if 48 hours if quiet elapsed. LANDAU FORGETS TO MENTION THAT QUIET DID NOT ELAPSE.

Peres' view, diametrically opposed to that of the hard-liners, is that the trauma of September 11 provides a new opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians to set aside violence and return to diplomacy.


FOR SUCH A COMPLIMENT TO HIS CO-AUTHOR Peres also feels Israel must, for its own national interests, respond favorably and promptly to Washington's request that it do its part to resume peace talks as its indirect contribution to the evolving anti-terror coalition. COULD IT BE THAT PERES SEES HIS POLITICAL FUTURE AND HONOR TIED TO THE CREDIBILITY OF ARAFAT AND THE OSLO PROCES?

Peres on Tuesday mocked Netanyahu - "Who is he? The president of America?" - for assuring Israeli TV viewers that there was no U.S. pressure on Israel to hold the meeting with Arafat. Peres broadly implied that in fact the opposite was the case: There was massive pressure from Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. THE US GOVERNMENT DENIES THAT IT BROUGHT PRESSURE TO BEAR

Beyond the considerations of party and domestic politics, Sharon seems genuinely torn between his gut sympathy for the hard-liners and his realization that this position is out of synch with the U.S. administration, now girding itself for war. Bush and his team, whatever their personal views of Arafat, clearly do not wish to extend their anti-terror war to include the Palestinian leader, or even the Palestinian radicals, at least at this initial stage.


What they do want is quiet on the ground and progress, or at least the impression of progress, in the long-stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. LANAU COULD HAVE SAID ASCRIBED THE REASON: A WAR DECLARED BY THE PLO TO LIBERATE ALL OF PALESTINE. This, they reason, will make it much easier for moderate Arab states to align with the U.S. anti-terror effort . Given the Palestinians' record on terrorism, that American perspective is not easy for Israelis to swallow. WHAT IS THE PALESTINIANS' RECORD ON TERRORISM? WHY NOT SAY THE PLO'S RECORD ON TERRORISM? On the Israeli left, it is made more palatable by the hope that an evolving "new world order" and an America newly energized internationally will spell new prospects for a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli peaceniks recall that Bush's father dragged A PEJORATIVE TERM. SINCE BOTH SIDES OF THE ISRAELI POLITICAL SPECTRUM APPRECIATED THIS PROCESS, WHY DOES LANDAU DENIGRATE IT? the then-Likud government to the Madrid peace conference, in the wake of the Gulf War, which ultimately led to the Oslo peace process.

For the Israeli right, the same recollection and the thought of new pressures in the aftermath of an American military campaign - perhaps as payback to the Arab states - is all the more worrisome.



(Jewish Telegraphic Agency Inc. The above information is available on a read-only basis and cannot be reproduced without permission from JTA.)

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

A Journalist Visits the "Rabbis for Human Rights":
A Test of Credibility
Adriana Marin Grez
Independent Journalist from Germany

The "Rabbis for Human Rights" continue their cooperation with Palestinians on another level. As Rabbis, so director Rabbi Arik Ascherman, they work for a greater force than the State of Israel. The existence of the State of Israel is not to be maintained at all costs, says the controversial rabbi.

The "Rabbis for Human Rights" organization was founded in 1988 during the first intifada. It was a protest of religious bodies within Israel against government policy of breaking the bones of Palestinian children, to prevent them from throwing stones at Israeli security forces.

Currently, the "Rabbis for Human Rights" are involved with two major campaigns.

One is the "Committee against House Demolition". Within this project, they cooperate with a range of different organizations. One of them is "Gush Shalom", a radical Israeli group that advocates the forced expulsion of all Jews who live beyond the 1967 cease fire lines.

Another is the Palestinian "LAW" - an NGO designed to give legal support to the Palestinian Authority. Among "LAW" causes is the extensive campaign to indict Ariel Sharon in Belgium, on charges of war crimes against the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. "LAW" is also active on having Israel declared an Apartheid State with the resulting economic sanctions imposed by the UN. Rabbi Ascherman denies that "LAW" calls Israel an Apartheid State, even though "LAW" has these campaigns publicly on their website. The other project of the "Rabbis for Human Rigths" is the "olive tree campaign".

Around the village of Hares, based in Area B - under Palestinian control for civil affairs and under Israeli control for security reasons -, a certain amount of olive trees have been either uprooted or cut down.

According to information received from Hares liason officer and P.A. ministry of social affairs employee Nawwaf Souff, the trees were cut down on different occasions.

According to Souff, there are trees that have been uprooted by the Israeli Defense Forces using bulldozers and trees supposedly cut down by Israeli settlers living near by. So far no independent source could be found, to confirm the statements made by Nawwaf Souf.

At a visit in the village of Hares, it was evident, that the "Rabbis for Human Rights" director Rabbi Arik Ascherman had never been in the olive tree fields himself, prior to this occasion. Thus it must be assumed, that the whole campaign was mounted on the grounds of other people having reporting things to the "Rabbis for Human Rights".

The person who did report back to the Rabbis, it was discovered, was one Neta Golan, a woman activist who had previously spent a week within the village of Hares. Her main activity has been to contact peace groups in Europe and America and to monitor volunteers of such organizations being placed in the line of fire in houses in villages like Bet Jalla or Bethlehem. This action has been done to prevent Israeli Defence Forces to retaliate for Palestinian attacks for fear of killing international civilians and thus involving other countries in the conflict. It must be assumed that this was done in order to draw even military intervention in support of Palestinians.

Yet according to Nawwaf Souf, the uprooted trees were replanted the very next day by the inhabitants of the village Hares.

Thus, a current visit reveals hardly any uprooted tree. The trees that have been cut, are already sporting new greenery and it is clear that they will completely recover from the cutting. Nawwaf Souf explained that depending where a tree is cut, it may recover.

The resulting assumption must be, that either who cut those trees was ignorant enough not to know that the trees would recover, or that the person who cut them, did not want to harm the trees on a long term basis. A possible explanation is delivered by Rabbi Arik Ascherman himself.

Those trees, he informed, have been used in the past by Palestinians as a cover to throw stones and attack Israelis at nearby roads. Thus, it can be understood, that the Israeli Defense Forces have removed the problem.

According to Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the Torah states clearly, that one is not allowed to cut down fruit trees even in war. Because they provide the opponent with food and once a war is over, this also may be an obstacle in the relations between both people. This rule of nor cutting trees is the main reason, so Rabbi Arik Ascherman, why the "Rabbis for Human Rights" got involved in the "olive tree campaign". But seeing how the trees were cut, one has to give recognition that they were cut down in a way maintaining two Torah principles to save lives and not to destroy fruit trees. There are some trees which have been removed, to make way for road construction and installation of electricity plants.

The "Rabbis for Human Rights" have raised 70 000 Dollars for the "olive tree campaign". These funds are not intended to replace trees, as the organization stated while fundraising. The funds are going to be paid to Palestinian families in cash. The "Rabbis for Human Rights" have no list of families who's trees have been damaged. Palestinian contacts are in complete charge of the money distribution. The "Rabbis for Human Rights" hand over the 70 000 Dollars to their contacts. The contacts are for one the secretary of the "Committee for Land Defense", Issa Samandar, as stated by himself in a telephone interview, and Nawwaf Souf, as witnessed while bills were exchanged between him and Rabbi Arik Ascherman in Soufs family house.

The "Rabbis for Human Rights" trust their Palestinian contacts completely and thus see no need to control what actually happens with the money, once it has been handed over. At this moment it is not yet known what is purchased with that money.

Issa Samandar made it a point to stress that the families should have the feeling that they are not receiving charity as not to hurt their dignity. So far no answers have been provided as to how the "Committee for Land Defense" achieves this purpose.

The "Rabbis of Human Rights" have received extensive support for their "olive tree campaign" from within the Palestinian society. They have been exempt from the general ban pronounced by the Palestinian umbrella organization for NGO's - "PNGO" against Israeli NGO's. They have also received, so Arik Ascherman, considerable backing from P.A. officials. As far as monetary support is concerned, they were able to fund raise successfully from the "Rabbinical Association of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements.", "Not In My Name", the "Shefa Fund" and the "New Israel Fund". In Europe, donations are said to be coming from Christian communities in Germany, Holland, Switzerland and England. "The Economic Cooperation Foundation" has sponsored some ads in the newspapers for the "Rabbis for Human Rights" campaign and they do have regular meetings with each other. In consideration of the actual political climate, following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, it has to be seen if the "Rabbis for Human Rights" will continue to receive as much support from international sources. So far, Rabbi Ascherman does not seem to want to discontinue the work they have been doing in the area. The olive trees are a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. They are actively used to claim or deny land on both sides of the fence. While Palestinians are trying to defend their trees against Israeli destruction, as well as using them as a weapon against Israelis, it seems that there is also a campaign organised by the "Committee for Land Defense" to register land in Area C (under complete Israeli control) and to try to regain this land for Palestinians, even prior to any final settlements on land ownership and border outlines between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

The olive trees and the money collected by the "Rabbis for Human Rights" are thus not merely a means to provide a family with an income, but rather a political weapon being used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

Go to the Israel Resource Review homepage

The Israel Resource Review is brought to you by the Israel Resource, a media firm based at the Bet Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, and the Gaza Media Center under the juristdiction of the Palestine Authority.
You can contact us on