DEJA VU TO 1995:
On September 20, 1995, I was in attendance at the House International Relations Committee hearing that took place on Capitol Hill. As the press liaison for the Institute for Peace Education, LTD, I was asked to present the Committee with videotapes and transcripts of Arafat's lectures to his peole in Arabic, as recorded and transcribed by the Institute.
The overall subject of the MEDFA hearings was sensitive: whether and how to allocate funds to the PLO's fledgling Palestine Authority, within the framework of the proposed MEDFA legislation which would allocate $100 million a year to the P.A. for a period of five years.
Congress raised concern for two reasons: There were serious doubts as to the nature of Palestinian compliance with the Oslo accords, and if the P.A. held assets of the PLO that it could draw upon.
Though the fact that such a hearing took place has been widely discussed, the content of that meeting has been scarcely reported.
MYTH ONE that pervaded the hearing and the subsequent reports was that the session was promulgated by some kind of Likud lobby on Capitol Hill. However, what I discovered was that there exists no Likud lobby on Capitol Hill. Moreover, the American branch of the Likud is broken into two factions and is not currently functional in the US Meanwhile, the Likud in Israel expressed no interest in organizing, let alone funding, such an activity on Capitol Hill. Rather, several former officials from the previous Likud gov't CAME TO WASHINGTON ON THEIR OWN during the summer months, as expert witnesses on the credibility of the PLO. They came at the urging of several American Jewish constituent groups, and at the specific request of key Congress people. These former officials, were: Yosef Ben Aharon, who served as Prime Minister Shamir's Chief of Staff; Yigal Carmon, Shamir and Rabin's former Chief Advisor on Counter Terrorism, and Yoram Ettinger, who served under Shamir as the head of the Israel government Press Office and later as the Congressional liaison for the Israeli embassy. None of them were even in the United States at the time of the hearing, although Carmon did have the opportunity to provide a private security briefing to the chairman of the House International
Relations Committee at his vacation spot in Upstate New York in mid-August, at which time Gilman viewed the much publicized videotapes of Arafat's recent speeches to his own people in Arabic that were recorded by the Institute for Peace Education in Tel Aviv.
MYTH NUMBER TWO about the hearing was that its purpose was to halt any possibility of funding the PLO. That the PLO would get promised American funding was a given the question was how and when and under what conditions.
Gilman was concerned that the US Congress had not had any real opportunity to review the data concerning PLO compliance, especially since there was a clear Congressional legal requirement for PLO compliance as a prerequisite for funding by the Palestine Authority - a requirement that was also in Israel's interest. For that reason, Gilman requested that experts and concerned constituents be given the opportunity to testify on the subject. Gilman also asked Congress people to view the Arafat tapes.
Both the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Israeli consulate in New York contacted Gilman and implored the New York Congressman not to conduct the hearing.
A senior official of the Israeli embassy was particularly upset at learning that the Arafat tapes were going to be aired at US Congress. That same senior Israeli embassy official had previously reported to Congress and to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that such tapes do not exist. In July, the embassy official's story changed a bit. He claimed that the tapes do exist, but that they may have been forged. After Arafat himself attested to their accuracy in a meeting with Israeli media on August 10. 1995, the position of the Israeli embassy was that "some of Arafat's remarks hurt the peace process".
MYTH NUMBER THREE It had been widely reported that those organizations that testified for tougher PLO compliance were attacking the peace process and the Israeli government.
It is as if to say that anyone who criticized Yassir Arafat now casts aspersions on the State of Israel.
Yet House Committee member Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York pointedly asked each organizational representative who testified if they supported the Israeli government and peace process.
Every organizational representative at the hearing, including the president of the Zionist Organization of America, responded to Ackerman that they supported the peace process and recognized the Oslo accords as an irreversible international accord. Their expressed concern was that both sides keep the accord. The Congressional record of the testimony show that not one witness criticized the Israeli government.
MYTH NUMBER FOUR mentioned by Arab American activist Jim Zogby, in the Boston Globe of September 28, 1995, was that he was the only Arab organizational representative invited to attend the hearing: The fact was that thirteen Arab organizations were invited, including the PLO, but only Zogby accepted the invitation.
Yet several newsworthy occurrences went totally unreported: UNREPORTED "MEDFA" HEARING NEW ITEM NUMBER ONE; "The P.A. and its record with escaped terrorists".
The representative of "Peace Watch", the organization that monitors compliance of the accords, presented a detailed report of the Palestine Authority's sorry record on the subject of the pursuit of terrorists: How, for example, the P.A. has refused to turn over escaped killers who are now in its jurisdiction, how the P.a. has issued weapons to armed militias opposing the peace process, and how the P.A. has firmly refused to conduct mass confiscation of illegal weapons. When Committee member Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana pressed the "Peace Watch" rep for an overall assessment of the P.A. record on extradition of murder suspects to stand trial in Israel, Peace Watch's representative answered curtly, "It looks like the P.A. is 0 for 11".
UNREPORTED "MEDFA" HEARING NEW ITEM NUMBER TWO: THE GAO's STARTLING ADMISSION ABOUT PLO ASSETS AND THE CIA's CLAMP ON HIS TESTIMONY. The head of the GAO, General Accounting Office, appeared as one of the expert witnesses at the Congressional hearings. The GAO had been specifically asked by Congressman Gilman to provide a detailed investigative report concerning PLO assets, before the US Congress would consider aid to the Palestinian Authority. At least half a dozen Congresspeople at the hearing quoted British intelligence reports that estimated PLO assets in the billions of dollars.
When the head of the GAO arrived at the Congressional hearing, with a briefcase full of documents detailing the assets of the PLO, the GAO head surprised the Congress by saying that the CIA would not permit him to reveal the contents of his briefcase to the US Congress. A hum went through the committee room.
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen approached the microphone and asked for an explanation. "The explanation has also been declared classified by the CIA".
After some bursts of laughter were heard through the committee room, the Congresswoman persisted with a pointed question, asking, "Isn't it the case that such classification would occur only if and when American national security is violated. How in the world would the publication of PLO assets affect American national security interests?" The GAO head responded only that he could not answer that question.
The US State Department went one step further.
Journalists in Washington reported that a source in the American intelligence community asked that the Washington press corps not cover the Sept. 20th hearings because of the "sensitive testimony" that would take place that day. News agencies that had confirmed that they would attend did not appear.
As a result, the actual testimony of the September 20th hearing was not reported in any major wire service or news outlet in Washington.
Not the tapes of Arafat's incitement. Not the Peace Watch testimony on the P.A.'s Arafat terror pursuit record. Not the admission of the GAO that the PLO has assets but that the CIA will not let him disclose them. The Israeli embassy in Washington got its wish. It was as if the hearing never took place.
In a parenthetical note, the Arafat tapes were indeed shown at the Congressional hearings. But due to pressures that were brought to bear by the State Department and the Israeli embassy, the committee agreed to hear only one minute of the tapes, where Arafat called for "Jihad", a holy war on the Jewish state, which Zogby would later explain away as "dedication to a struggle". Segments of Arafat praising terrorists or declaring that the Oslo accord was only a temporary agreement were not screened for the Congressional Committee.
The Palestine Authority's response was not long in coming. On September 23, 1995, the P.A. issued a statement attacking the US Congress, saying that they had no right to add conditions to the aid package.
Throughout October, 1995, discussions continued, and further screenings of the Arafat tapes took place in Congress, even though they went unreported in the American press.
By the end of October, 1995, the date by which the aid to the PLO had to be extended, Congress had not agreed to a formula that would tie the MEDFA legislation to the necessary standards of compliance for the PLO and the P.A. to abide by.
On October 31, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin appeared at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee and expressed doubt as to whether the peace process could continue. Rabin also predicted a war with Syria on the horizon. Five days later, Rabin was murdered. During the aftermath of Rabin's funeral, the Israeli embassy in Washington was able to get the funds for MEDFA reinstated.
Pollard: Israel AG Conspired to Obstruct Justice
Israeli Attorney General Eliyakim Rubinstein conspired to provide false testimony to the U.S. Justice Department, according to Jonathan Jay Pollard.
The former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States, made the charge in papers filed on Sept. 18 with Israel's Supreme Court.
Pollard is seeking to bar Rubinstein from representing the Israeli government in a case now before that court. He wants the court to force the Israeli government to reveal details of its relationship with him during the period in which he was supplying it with classified U.S. material. He is also demanding the release of the full text of the commissions on inquiry appointed to investigate the Pollard affair.
According to Pollard's attorney, Larry Dubb, there is a "strong reason to presume that these documents establish definitively that [Pollard] was an Israeli agentx and not part of a rogue operation." The case is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 29.
It was Dubb who submitted Pollard's petition to disqualify Rubinstein from representing the government on the grounds that he participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Pollard case.
On Nov. 21, 1985, Rubinstein was deputy chief of mission at Israel's Washington embassy when Pollard attempted to enter in order to avoid arrest. He was refused entry and immediately taken into custody by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Pollard's quest to force the Israeli government to acknowledge that he was a formal, official agent lies at the heart of his current legal strategy. If he was an official agent, he and his attorney will argue, Israel has a legal obligation to secure his release. Since his arrest, Israel has sought to blame the operation on a "rogue" element within military intelligence, and to deflect responsibility from the top political echelons.
This latest twist in the long Pollard affair comes as a confidential State Department document sheds light on the tense relations between Washington and Jerusalem that followed Pollard's arrest and the decision to promote his Israeli contact, Aviam Sella. The cable was released to Pollard under the Freedom of Information Act and has been made available exclusively to the New Jersey Jewish News.
During the period after Sella had been indicted by the Americans and promoted by the Israelis, the Israeli government was portraying the intelligence services and air force as virtually out of control.
The March 1987 cable on "Pollard Case Aftermath" was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to then secretary of state George W. Shultz. The cable details the record of a March 11, 1987, discussion between the U.S. deputy chief of mission, in effect the embassy's number two man, and a senior Israeli official or politician.
Arthur Hughes, now retired, was the embassy's DCM in March 1987. The identity of the senior Israeli is not known; the individual's name was blanked out of the FOIA-released document. Although Pollard expressed surprise that a member, or participant, in an inner cabinet meeting would "spill his guts" to the Americans, a high-level U.S. source has indicated to NJJN that the working lunch was routine.
The discussion came a little over a week after a federal indictment was handed down against Sella on March 3, 1987, charging him with three counts of espionage. Eighteen days after the meeting, Israel would announce that Sella would not be promoted to the command of the Tel Nof Air Force Base.
The Israeli who met with Hughes was sufficiently highly placed to have come to the embassy straight from a lengthy crisis meeting of the inner cabinet. The discussion took place "over a crackers-and-cheese luncheon," after the Israeli failed to keep a "restaurant luncheon date with DCM, [because] the prime minister had asked him not to leave until the inner cabinet meeting on the Pollard affair was over."
In March 1987, Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister, heading a national unity government that included the Labor Party. Members of the inner cabinet included Shamir, Moshe Arens, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, among others. Traditionally, aides and advisers are also present at such meetings.
According to the cable, the senior Israeli believed "that the Pollard case had the potential to bring down the national unity government. If Sella were fired, he would become a folk hero, as has Pollard, and the public outcry could lead to collapse of the NUG [the national unity government]. GOI [the Government of Israel] is coming under increasing public pressure because of mounting dissatisfaction with the way the Pollard affair and its aftermath have been handled and some kind of official inquiry would be the best way of dealing with it. The domestic Israeli aspectsxhave the precedence over the U.S.-GOI aspects."
Pollard's charge against Rubinstein stems from evidence in a new book by Leonard Garment, the Brooklyn-born attorney who served in various capacities in two administrations, including as president Richard M. Nixon's confidante and White House counsel.
The key evidence supporting Pollard's charge is found on pages 369-374 of Garment's book Crazy Rhythm (Random House Publishing, 1997).
Following Pollard's arrest, Garment was retained to represent Sella, the Israel Air Force colonel who had helped "handle" Pollard. During a trip to Israel to meet with Sella and his circle, Garment was told two contrasting versions of Sella's role. The "official" version, favored by Sella's Israeli team, essentially dismissed Sella's role. On the one occasion when Garment spoke at length with his client alone, however, he received Sella's account of his extensive involvement and took notes.
In June 1986, Sella's Israeli team arrived in Washington and told Garment they wanted him to give the Justice Department their version alleging Sella's non-involvement. Rubinstein was one of the Israelis at the critical meeting at Garment's home.
Garment's proposed draft was overruled and the Israelis insisted that theirs would be the one handed to Justice. Garment told the Israelis he would have no part in it because it "was demonstrably false, and the U.S. prosecutors could prove it."
The Israelis demanded to know how Garment could be so certain that his version of events was correct. When he read them his handwritten notes from his conversation with Sella, they heatedly demanded that he hand them over. He refused. After some shoving, the Israelis huddled, then told Garment that he was fired. Now that he was no longer Sella's attorney, they continued, he had no claim on, and no need for, the notes. Garment stood his ground and the confrontation subsided.
As a result of his having been there at the time, says Pollard, Rubinstein "was involved in a conspiracy in 1986 to obstruct justice in the U.S."
According to Garment, Israel "tried to keep Sella's name out of the investigations, [because] U.S. intelligence experts would have known that if an officer of his importance was involved in the operation, it would never have taken place without high-level approval."
Sella was the up-and-coming IAF star who had commanded the 1981 bombing of Iraq's nuclear facility in Osiraq; following Pollard's arrest, Israel initially denied that he had a senior Israeli handler. Meanwhile, Sella was promoted and assigned to command the Tel Nof base.
This infuriated the American government. U.S. government sources intimately familiar with the Washington-Jerusalem dialogue at the time have confirmed to the NJJN the substance of the March 11 cable.
The senior Israeli complained that "the government had to figure out a way to keep the intelligence services under control, but he was not sure how that could be done" - a comment that implied that in the Pollard affair, the top political echelons had not known what the intelligence services were doing.
For the Americans, it was "intolerable" that Sella should be promoted and that LAKAM chief Rafi Eitan, Sella's senior, also received a plum new assignment. If Pollard was a rogue agent, they argued, why promote his handlers? The American message to the Israelis was: Resolve this.
According to the cable, the senior Israeli felt the government was "in a squeeze with respect to Sella" and "thought that some kind of inquiryxwould diffuse the situation and allow things to cool off. Moreover, it would relieve the government itself from the tough decision of what to do about Sella. If the result of the inquiry was that he or others had to go, then no one could blame the government."
The senior Israeli said "the government had to figure out a way to keep the intelligence services under control, but he wasn't sure how that could be done."
The DCM replied that if, as Israel maintained, Sella and Eitan "had violated policy andxhad ignored procedures," they should be "punished. The symbolism of Sella and Eitan being rewarded not only would give encouragement to others in the future to engage in similar operations, but was a major contributor to the difficulties at present between our two countries. The advancement of Sella was a clear contradiction of Israel's commitment to the U.S. that individuals involved in the Pollard case would be dealt with accordingly. Sella and Tel Nof were now off limits, as far as we were concerned."
Pressed on Sella's promotion, the Israeli "again referred to the possibility of the government falling if it were to fire Sella. He blamed [then defense minister] Rabin for getting the government into this mess because he had not stood up to the Israel Air Force and Chief of Staff Levy in quashing Sella's assignment as Tel Nof commander." The Israeli "said that Rabin's reputation as a strong Minister of Defense with strong relations with the forces was 'no more.'"
The fact that the Israeli underscored a close tie to the prime minister, and then blamed the intelligence services for the Pollard affair and the air force for imposing the Sella promotion on a weak defense minister indicates the possibility that he was delivering a message from the prime minister to the U.S. secretary of state, sources said.
In the event, the strategy of appointing inquiry commissions to get the government off the hook backfired. According to Pollard, the Eban and Rottenstreich-Tzur commissions "pointed a finger at the Ministry of Defense, all way to the top."
The Eban committee report, most of which remains classified, stated that the "decision to run Pollard and all the stages of implementation were made by officials of the state who drew their authority from the government and, more accurately, from the intelligence services of the State of Israel."
Pollard, however, said those responsible for his espionage included the top political leaders. "Some tasking orders bore the stamp of the military adviser to the prime minister," he said. "It was not a 'rogue operation,'" Pollard insisted. "My material was discussed in the cabinet."
In trying to limit the damage, Pollard said, the Israeli government "submitted fraudulent testimony" about Sella "designed to obscure the fact this was an official operation."
Pollard believes that Israel's Sella strategy brought Washington's full "wrath" on his own head. "The U.S. government was hysterical about Eitan and Sella being promoted, and they took it out on me."
View from Fourth Circle:
Cloak-and-dagger-style assassination attempts, urban car chases, midnight releases from jail, rumours of detainee swaps, and on-again,off-again diplomatic negotiations dominate the news headlines in the Middle East these days - but don't be fooled, for the real contours of our region's history are to be found elsewhere.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has become almost marginal to most Middle Easterners by any measure of accounting, and appears to be inching towards a clumsy compromise that promises to fully satisfy no single party.
It is possible that the sort of Arab-Israeli peace being negotiated these days will be a replay of two other flawed peace accords in recent memory - the U.S.-Vietnamese peace treaty of 1973, and the May 1993 Lebanon-Israel accord. Both unravelled or were never implemented, because they did not achieve a balanced and fair compromise; rather, they institutionalized the prevailing power imbalances and chronic humiliations that plagued one of the key parties. The Arab-Israeli peace process may follow a similar route, though I personally hope that things will not prove so gloomy.
The more interesting trend these days throughout the Middle East, especially in the Levant area, is how so many people from all walks of life appear to have put the Arab-Israeli conflict aside or even behind them, in terms of their day-to-day preoccupations. This is not because they feel it has been resolved - rather, they feel it is unlikely to be resolved fairly, and so more and more people in the region focus their energies on equally pressing but more attainable issues.
Consequently, and broadly speaking, Arab passions are steadily subsiding over traditionally hot and often humiliating issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict and the encounter with Western imperial and colonial powers. The main issues that drive ordinary people's concerns and mobilise them politically are domestic, often very local - issues about social and legal equity, economic well-being, family security, personal respect and freedoms, and a wide sense of human dignity. The pressing power relationship on the minds of most ordinary Arabs, I would suggest, is not vis-a-vis Israel or Western powers, but rather vis-a-vis our own central governments and domestic political powers.
Three Arab countries are particularly worth watching in this respect - Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. They may offer a glimpse into whether domestic political attitudes are likely to promote future political stability or turbulence in this region. All three countries have opened up sufficient political space for the free expression of ideas, ideologies and identities, and what we witness in these lands is instructive.
In Lebanon, the former leader of the Hizbollah organisation, Sheikh Subhi Tufaili, has launched a civil disobedience drive that he calls "the revolt of the hungry." His mass movement, centred on the economically depressed Bekaa Valley and Hermel regions, aims to check the deterioration in many Lebanese people's living standards and basic education, health and employment conditions. Even the rightist Phalangist leader Karim Pakradouni has warned that the Lebanese government's focus on laissez-faire economics and its lack of attention to rising poverty threaten to spark massive social and political unrest. He has warned that the continuing shrinkage of the Lebanese middle class and the advent of 30 per cent of the population living in poverty are promoting anger and disillusionment that are not confined to the Shi'a poor, but also plague other Lebanese Muslims and Christians. An estimated 200,000 people are impacted by the economic recession in the Baalbek-Hermel areas in Lebanon.
In Egypt, a potential mass movement against the government has been sparked by the implementation of a new law that lifts long-standing rent controls on agricultural land. The law allows landowners to renew their leases with tenant farmers on terms much more favourable to the land owners, or to terminate the leases (with compensation) and throw the peasant farmers off lands that they have worked for decades. Violent and peaceful protests against the new land law have already resulted in deaths, injuries and imprisonment. Up to five million Egyptians may feel the consequences of the new land law.
In Jordan, a combination of stringent economic adjustment policies, the still controversial peace accord with Israel, and increasingly vocal concerns about the quality of political liberalisation has sparked a potentially powerful but still slightly diffused opposition coalition comprising leftists, pan-Arab nationalists, Islamists and Transjordanian nationalists. About 20 per cent of Jordanians are thought to live at or below the poverty line. Not surprisingly, the expressions of discontent and fear by ordinary Lebanese, Jordanians and Egyptians have generated economic and political resistance that is being tapped by a new breed of political activists in all three countries. Coincidentally, also in all three states the International Monetary Fund and World Bank continue to issue upbeat reports on the potential benefits of impressive macro-economic adjustment. Expressing the common dilemma that their central governments can routinely call on built-in majorities in their national parliaments, opposition forces in all three states are attempting to mobilise new constituencies comprising alliances of the economically poor, the socially marginalised and the politically discontented.
At stake here is not only the immediate material well-being of citizens and their families, but also the fate of law-based political cultures based on foundations of respect, trust, dialogue, and consensus-building. Even though all three states enjoy open, democratising political systems that permit public expression of opposition to state policies, the three systems have also repeatedly failed to achieve workable compromises on important domestic socio-economic issues such as food subsidies, employment, education, medical care, low-cost housing, and other such basic needs issues.
The slow shift in people's concerns at the grassroots level from Israel and imperialism to bread and jobs looms now as the single greatest test of these and other Arab states' political capacity to respond to their citizens' mounting concerns in an effective, peaceful and sustained manner. The worst-case scenario danger is that continued tension and stalemate in addressing real-life socio-economic needs may result in corrosion in political trust, discrediting of democratic pluralism, widening disparities in living standards and political power, and polarisation of society into bitter and violent camps of haves and have-nots. The corresponding opportunity is to accept the expressions of discontent as genuine manifestations of real, indigenous concerns by loyal citizens, and to respond to them through a strengthening of democratic consensus-building and the political culture of reasonable compromise and power-sharing.
Algeria, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and other fractured Arab states stand as frightening reminders of what can happen when the opportunity is missed and the danger is activated - when power elites and political systems ignore or only pay lip service to the early warning signs of genuine domestic discontent rooted in socio-economic disparity. The real historic events taking place in the Middle East these days are only marginally related to the Arab-Israeli peace-making process that dominates the headlines; they are more centrally anchored in contentious political, social and economic contests and trends within individual countries.
Hamas Chief Rantisi
Excerpts from interview:
"When Mr. Arafat kissed me, it was a routine kiss, not a political kiss", said Hamas's political leader in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, smiling.
Rantisi was referring to the now famous photograph that captured him being embraced by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a Palestinian "National Unity" conference. ... the image has since been used by Netanyahu as evidence that Arafat is more interested in "embracing terrorism" than "fighting" it.
Rantisi cuts a remarkably relaxed figure .... That may be because he knows he is unlikely to be netted in the PA's current sweep. ... the PA's Gaza head of Preventive security, Mohamed Dahlan, declared that there would be no mass arrests ... and that Rantisi was not on the PA's "wanted list."
There are reasons for the PA's reticence.
One is Rantisi's pedigree of struggle. Born in the Palestine village of Jibna in 1947 ... Rantisi has been a refugee since 1948 and is a pediatrician who has spent the better part of the last decade in Israeli prisons. In 1992 he acquired international renown as the spokesperson of the 415 suspected Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters Israel expelled to ... South Lebanon.
But a stronger reason is Rantisi's position in Hamas. By common assent, he is the Islamist's most senior political leader in Gaza and probably throughout the Occupied Territories. He is credited with healing the breach that appeared between Hamas's Gaza and Jordan based leaderships after the mauling the movement received at the hands of the PA following the 1996 suicide operations.
Over the last six months Hamas partially reactivated its network of social services throughout the Gaza Strip and, following the collapse of the Oslo process, scored impressive political victories in elections for Gaza's UNRWA and Engineers' staff associations ....
Unlike some Islamist intellectuals, he [Rantisi] has little time for talk of alliance with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement to unite Palestinian ranks at a time of national crisis. "I see Fatah as part of the PA," he says, "I hope Fatah will soon realize its mistake in supporting Oslo." Nor is he overly troubled as to whether suicide bombings hurt or help the Palestinian cause. "I don't know if the military operations [suicide bombings] make Palestinians stronger or weaker", he says. "I only know what every Palestinian knows [namely] that without revenge, Israeli attacks like the massacre in Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque will be repeated."
Rantisi's overall vision for liberating Palestine is similarly basic. "We must wait", he says. "Israel's occupation of Palestine has lasted 50 years, which is not a long time in the life of a state. Palestinians must be patient until they and the Arab and Muslim world are strong again."
that Baseball is Not a Religion?
Having just finished Yom Kippur in Israel, I read a thoughtful internet news column by a Rabbi Rami Shapira, who appealed to South Florida's Jewish community to respect Yom Kippur more than the baseball playoffs that took place on the same day between the Florida Marlins and the Atlanta Braves.
As an observant Jew, I would agree that Rabbi Shapira's point is well taken, except that the Rabbi goes on to make an inappropriate comment, which is that, after all, "baseball is not a religion".
I beg to differ.
On the eve after Yom Kippur, the time has come for some true confessions.
Yes, I have sinned with my mitt and scorecard in place.
You see, I grew up in Philadelphia, a place where the Phillies never won. Prayers never helped. And then 1964 came, the year after my Bar Mitzvah, when my chabad teacher had told me that it was now up to me to keep Mitzvot or not. I was of age.
The Phillies looked like they were going to win.
I put in a special prayer for the Phillies on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, reciting the lineup and even the bullpen when the ark was open for special prayers.
But I decided that the second day of Rosh HaShanah would require a personal pilgrimage to Connie Mack Stadium.
So after I heard the Shofar at Overbrook Park Congregation I quietly moved to the back of the schule, feigning a tummy ache to my little brother and sister.
I had five crisp one dollar bills that wouldn't jingle, which I had saved from my summer paper route for the Inquirer and I looked this way and that, feeling like Moses who had just killed the Egyptian and made a dash from the bathroom near the old men who were talking in the back, and calmly walked two blocks to the bus that took me to 69th street and then the subway.
Wearing my bar mitzvah suit, I was on my way to Connie Mack, in line for great unreserved seats behind home plate.
I had thought of everything: My Phillies Hat was in my Talis bag.
I kept the machzor with me and had it set next to my score card. The Phillies were playing the hapless Mets. 12 games left in the left in the season. six and a half games ahead. In the Fifth inning, mincha time, Frank Thomas, The Phillies much-needed right handed power whom they had recently acquired, was on first. Thomas routinely sprinted to second base on an infield ground ball.
Suddenly, Frank Thomas slides head first into second base, breaking his finger. That never happens.
I heard Richie Ashburn, say on the radio that the Thomas would be out for the season. Ashburn, the Phillies star turned play by play announcer who died last month, has been a Whiz Kid in the last Phillies victory and he represented the past and the future for the Phillies. Richie died last month, and that reminded me of 1964.
The Phillies lost. I made it back for Maariv to Overbrook Park. Or that is at least what I told my mother.
Little did I know that this would be the beginning of the Phillies ten game loss, and I felt that I had junxed them, since it began on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Everything that could go wrong in those ten days went wrong for the Phillies. By Yom Kippur, there was no joy in Philly mudville. I remember my despondency that Sukkot, when the World Series Yankees of on Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford were not facing our holy Phillies. So I phoned a call in show on WCAU, then the CBS affiliate in Philly, to ask the last Richie Ashburn what had gone wrong. Ashburn gave me an answer that I felt like a reproach for going to the ball game on second day Rosh HaShanah. Richie said that a great lesson is never to be overconfident and not to do things that you shouldn't do. He was referring to Phillie manager Gene Mauch overplaying his star pitchers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short.
I thought he was referring to my Overbrook Park Congregation escape to Connie Mack stadium.
Baseball as a religion? It has all the trappings.
Two Myths Surrounding the Events
Preceding Rabin's Murder that Need to be Debunked
Two events haunt Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from the anti-Oslo protests: the "Rabin in Gestapo Uniform" poster in Zion Square and the "Rabin Coffin" at Raanana Junction. And while both are frequently raised by Netanyahu's opponents, there is a critical difference between the two incidents.
In the case of the posters - really legal sized photocopies of a photomontage - unless Netanyahu is Superman in disguise, there is no way on this God's earth he could have seen it from his position on the balcony. And when one considers GSS agent provocateur Avishai Raviv's role in the Zion Square story it takes on the stench of a "dirty trick" to discredit the nationalist camp.
This is not the case with the "Rabin Coffin" story. There's no question that then candidate Netanyahu came to Raanana Junction and there's also no question that a full size mock coffin was paraded around Raanana Junction while he was there. Not only that, the coffin was not intoduced to the scene by some mysterious unknown group. Similar coffins were used as props by the group demonstrating at Raanana Junction for many weeks.
But here's where coverage of the story goes awry. And it all starts with the label which has been given to that coffin - "Rabin Coffin". Because it wasn't Rabin's coffin. Period.
Take a look at the pictures from Raanana Junction and you'll see for yourself. There were two slogans on the coffin. One side read "Rabin is burying Zionism" and the other side declared "Rabin is killing Zionism."
That's right - the coffin wasn't Rabin's coffin - it was Zionism's coffin!
Please recall, the slogans were not in some obscure foreign tongue - they were in Hebrew. And the lettering was large enough to be clearly read in the photographs which have been published of the "Rabin Coffin" in various newspaper articles.
Whether or not Rabin's policies would ultimately spell the end of Zionism is of course subject to debate. But it certainly was a legitimate position.
Yes, the message of the protest focused on Prime Minister Rabin rather than his administration, but that's nothing unusual. The papers today are full of political advertising attacking the man Netanyahu - including a new ad sponsored by Yuval Rabin's own Dor Shalom group.
Was the use of a coffin as a protest prop at Raanana Junction something radically new to Israel? Far from it. Just a few examples:
Back on December 20th 1992, Israel Military Industries workers blocked Kaplan Street in a huge protest of the planned firing of 2,500 IMI workers. A few demonstrators carried a coffin, which they said symbolized the government's recovery plan for the industry - and they burned it!
On January 20, 1993 over 1,000 Jews and Arabs marched in Jerusalem with a black coffin representing peace at the head of the procession.
Coffins continue to be used as props in demonstrations after the Rabin murder.
On May 16, 1996 Tel Aviv University students carried a coffin representing higher education in protest against a proposed tuition hike.
I don't expect Leah Rabin and her children to be able to discern this simple truth when they peer at the photographs from Raanana Junction through their veil of anguish and hatred. But there's no excuse for the likes of Ehud Barak and others from the opposition.
There are enough legitimate sources of strife within Israeli society today. The time has come to bury the "Rabin Coffin" myth.
Dr. Aaron Lerner,
Comments for Yom Kippur
First two quick comments about the operation in Jordan: When President Clinton commented that its illegal for the U.S. to send agents to knock off people there was an implied air of moral superiority.
Let's think back to 1989. The U.S. wanted to put the leader of Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega, out of business. So instead of sending a hit team to kill one man, the United States invaded Panama. The cost in Panamanian lives has been estimated at over two thousand, with 10,000 wounded and property damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The operation also cost the lives of more than 20 American soldiers.
It's far from clear to me that America took the morally superior route.
Did all the talk from the Left against covert hit operations convince the Israeli public? Far from it. Last Monday Shvakim Panorama did a special survey of adult Israeli Jews for Israel Radio on the Jordan incident. They found that only 35% would oppose sending a hit team to Washington D.C. if a Hamas leader lived there.
I'm an optimist at heart and when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright issued a statement on the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations something encouraging struck my eye: Albright mentions "further redeployments in accordance with Secretary Christopher's letter of January 17, 1997 and the U.S. Note for the Record."
Now in case you've forgotten, the Note for the Record was written by Dennis Ross to seal the redeployment from Hebron. It was considered the crowning achievement of the Netanyahu Administration because, Netanyahu claimed, for the first time there was clear and indisputable linkage between Israeli and Palestinian compliance.
Israel was going to carry out the redeployment from Hebron and the Palestinians were going to immediately - the word "immediate" is in the text - set about to take care of a whole laundry list of problems including amending their Charter, cutting their so-called police force down to size, seizing illegal weapons etc.
But the Note doesn't talk about the second redeployment. So when Albright mentioned the Note, I thought that that must mean that she wanted to reiterate the fact that the redeployments are linked to Arafat taking care of his side of the Ross note.
I checked with David Bar-Illan, Director of Netanyahu's Policy Planning & Communications Office and he agreed that the interpretation made sense because otherwise it made no sense to mention the Note.
I asked Bar-Illan if Israel would carry out a further redeployment without first getting Palestinian compliance and he reminded me that there is a cabinet decision not to move an inch until the PA cracked down on the terrorist infrastructure. He went on to explain that the illegal arms, number of police and extraditions are all part and parcel of the requirement to crack down on terror. So I felt pretty good. That is, until I heard the PM office's response today to concerns raised about further redeployments and a settlement freeze. Netanyahu's Office said that these concerns were baseless. That's comforting. But then they went on to claim that Netanyahu never hurt the settlements in the last year. Now I am nervous again.
Because Netanyahu did hurt the settlements in the last year. The redeployment from Hebron was a botched job and the first redeployment also was not necessary. Netanyahu also pushed through approval of the first further redeployment. And each time he did this he turned his back his holy principle of reciprocity. Now its one thing to make mistakes. But its hard to correct them if you refuse to admit that you made the mistakes in the first place. If Netanyahu claims now that he didn't do it when he buckled to pressure in the past and forfeited Israel's legal and moral right to insist on reciprocity I have no way of knowing if he won't pull the same stunt in the future.
The last couple of days Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin has been talking about Israel having to end the occupation if it wants peace. But it seems that most reporters don't want to ask the obvious question: what does he mean by "the occupation"?
I don't speak Arabic, so I didn't talk with him. But Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who heads Hamas in Gaza and is his confidant, speaks a terrific English. He told me, and I quote, that when Sheikh Yassin says "the occupation" this means the occupation of all of Palestine.
By the way, I asked him what he thinks should happen to all the Jews who moved to Israel from Europe, the Arab countries, Russia, etc.. Now this is his reply. Word for word:
Rantisi: I will tell you something. I feel that it is justice for us to do with Jews as they did with us ... In the same way that they dispossessed our people. They killed thousands of Palestinians in tens of massacres and they destroyed homes. So I think it is just to do with them as they did with us.
Sometimes there are obvious questions with obvious answers. But the questions should still be asked.
Here is an example:
This Monday I was talking with Dr. al-Za'bout, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council associated with Hamas, and he told me that he is convinced that Hamas would be realistic and would have to rethink its position if there was a Palestinian state - even one limited to the West Bank and Gaza.
Well, what if the situation changes - I asked him. What if the balance of power turned against Israel's favor?
I know the answer is obvious. But sometimes its seems some of us forget. So here it is: "Believe me, all the time the policy depends on the strength of the countries. So I don't know what the future holds. Right now if the Palestinians can establish a state in part of Palestine and achieve their rights then I think that Hamas will accept it. But as for the future - we don't know what will happen."
Dr. Aaron Lerner,
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