Saturday, March 26

Return of Terror or Moving Forward?

Bashar and Asma al-Assad, President and first-...Image via Wikipedia

The past week has been a week of terrorist scenarios in Israel. The old extremist Islamist groups perpetuate terror whenever they get a chance. It began with the tragic murder of the Fogel family in Itamar on the West Bank, followed by the launching of Grad and Qassam missiles by Hamas-affiliated splinter terror groups resulting in severe damage and injuries against an innocent population in Israel. Naturally, Israel's Defense Forces retaliate and the cycle of bloodshed begins with the loss of Palestinian lives and more tragedy for both sides. What does Hamas hope to gain by this? Israel will not disappear. In fact, according to reports, Hamas does not wish to heat up the situation. It is possible that Hamas is losing control in Gaza to more extremist groups. The provocations in Gaza seems to be coming from Iran. These missiles reached as far afield as Beersheba, Ashdod and Rishon l'tsiyon. The terrible bomb in a suitcase placed near a phone booth and kiosk in Jerusalem was part of an obvious terror campaign against Israel. The bomb exploded, killing an innocent British tourist and injuring numerous Israelis.

The missile terror coming from Gaza and the increase of Islamist terrorist violence must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Those responsible must be brought to justice, and if not, at least, pinpoint attacks against the leadership responsible are a matter of urgency. Every country has a right to protect itself against this threat on its citizens and this includes Israel.

Who hopes to gain by the escalation of this cruel violence against innocent Israelis? The Palestinian Authority has come out straight against the violence. There are a number of factors responsible for heating up the situation. It could be an attempt by Iran to take the heat off human rights and democracy issues in the Middle East and concentrate on uniting the Islamic world against Israel if it retaliates.

The Arab world is embroiled in uprisings against their autocratic, despotic rulers. These uprisings are spreading across the Middle East with a speed that boggles the imagination. The courage of the youth at the forefront is remarkable and they deserve the support of liberal democrats all over the world, including Israel. We must make a distinction between those fighters for human freedom in the Arab world and the Islamist terrorist groups whose purpose is to kill and maim innocent people. The latter is part of the old order, whose patron is the evil Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinajad and the ruling Ayatollahs.

Syria is now showing signs of unrest and the people are taking to the streets in Damascus and demonstrating against the Alawi sect under Bashar Assad who has ruled his people with an iron hand. The disturbances began in Dara'a in a poverty stricken region that had faced discrimination for many years. Four demonstrators were killed there in a mosque. This started the unrest in Syria which is now spreading. It looks as though President Bashar Assad is losing control. The opposition is in the hands of Sunnis, Druze and Alouites. A question remains whether Syrian youth will be able to influence the revolution as their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. The Syrian Authorities have reacted aggressively and killed many Syrian demonstrators.

The Syrian people do not want Iran's proxy - the evil Hezbollah influencing their country. They have made this perfectly clear. Iran seems to be heating up the situation in Gaza by supporting Hamas and various terrorist groups as a digression to unite Islamist extremists against Israel. They do this through Hezbollah by smuggling weapons and missiles into Gaza for the purpose of manipulating the Palestinians and taking the heat off the traditional despots. It is their plan to colonize the Arab world under a bizarre form of Iranian Shiite rule. Iran's record of human rights and democracy is dismal. They wish to fill the vacuum caused by the threatened despots whose power is falling and their way of doing this is to strengthen Hamas in order to increase their influence in the Palestinian world by exploiting Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation in order to dominate Palestine.

Hamas is affiliated to Iran through Hezbollah. The latter also influences Lebanon and it is certain that the Lebanese people do not want to be proxies of Iran or Iranian backed Syria under the Alawi Assad regime any more than the Syrians did. The evil, shrewd secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who hides in his bunker underground and spews out hatred for his opponents with aggressive rhetoric, is losing support. Not only will he remain in his bunker because of his fear and hate for Israel, he will rot there for his love of the despotic Iranian regime which has killed many Iranians fighting for human rights.

We in Israel are not blameless either for the increase in terrorism against Israelis. There is nothing more dangerous than apathy and no movement towards a settlement with the Palestinians. It is essential that negotiations with the Palestinian Authority begin in earnest to end the occupation and that serious steps be taken for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel in secure, well defined and agreed borders. Freezing of settlements prior to negotiations could go a long way to building confidence and trust between the two sides.

The situation is more complicated now because of the uprisings in the Arab world. The direction it will take is still unclear. In Libya, the terrible torture of Kaddafi’s opponents is becoming known. The coalition of Britain, France and the US against the Kaddafi slaughter of his people still goes on and, for the moment, they seem to be getting support from the Libyan people as well as saving many Libyan lives.

It is hoped that the Palestinian people will be influenced by the uprisings and they will revolt against the brutal Hamas regime and their terrorist allies. The Palestinians deserve better in Gaza than the evil Hamas regime which ruthlessly destroys the Palestinian's right for a true democratic state upholding human rights and dignity, justice and decent living conditions. The mantra of the Israeli occupation in the Hamas mind is not an excuse to oppress Palestinians and deny them basic human rights.

Arise! Palestinian brothers, rise up against Hamas! Join your brethren in the Middle East in their just fight for freedom, democracy and human dignity. The occupation serves Hamas interests no less than that of Israel's right wing regime.

It is unfortunate that the right wing Israeli government has been involved in passing anti democratic laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

These laws - the Naqba Bill and the Acceptance Committees Bill were voted into law recently. During the last six months from Sukkoth to Pesach about a dozen bills were introduced that are distinguished by how they sanction violations of fundamental human rights and civil liberties. It is obvious that the targets of some of these bills are Israel's Arab citizens. The bills also have wider ramifications or goals - deligitimization, weakening and silencing those who do not conform to the majority's expectations. The lack of sensitivity towards the Palestinian narrative only serves to widen differences between Israelis and Palestinians rather than using it as a starting point to understand each side better through positive dialogue to reach an understanding and empathy for both sides' historical narrative. History can never be changed, but both sides can learn the lessons of the past to build a better future of understanding and cooperation.

At the helm of these racist laws are Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk of the Israel Beitenu Party. There is no doubt that the present Israeli Government is the most racist government in Israel's history. The Middle East is changing, despots are falling and Israel must adapt to the new situation. Hopefully there will be new democracies arising from the desire of the Arab people. Can we afford to retrogress in our inability to take up the challenges positively?

Israelis and Palestinians need peace. The leadership on both sides is not up to the challenge but we, the people, with our common desire for peace can do it. We are the means that can facilitate our leaders in that direction we all need so desperately.
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Saturday, March 19

Arab Youth Sweeping Changes

The Arab youth of the Middle East proves that they want change. Even their elders who have lived all their lives under autocratic regimes are joining the bandwagon for change.

Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and to a lesser extent, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and even Syria are showing signs of unrest like the tsunami in Japan, its effect will result in change from which there is no return.

The relatively peaceful changes that took place in Tunisia and Egypt are not happening in the rest of the Arab world. The demonstrations in Yemen and Bahrain are becoming increasingly violent. The latter has even called in Saudi troops to put down the demonstrations which are becoming more sectarian. Here the population is mostly Shiite while the monarchy is Sunni. It may not be surprising if Iran becomes involved by backing the Shiite rebels and further complicating the situation in Bahrain.

The most violent rebellion is in Libya. After initial successes by the rebel forces, Kaddafi’s troops are regaining the upper hand and are poised to enter and take over the rebel held second largest town in Libya, Benghazi.

The UN has passed a resolution with the backing of the Arab League, Britain, France, Lebanon, and the US for an immediate cease-fire. This measure was taken to halt the slaughter of innocent people in Libya by the Kaddafi forces. If Kaddafi does not comply, the military option will be applied.

NATO forces are preparing for this eventuality. President Obama and PM David Cameron of Britain have made it clear to Kaddafi that he must cease slaughtering his people or else he will bear the consequences. The next couple of days will be crucial.

In the dramatic scenarios occurring in the Arab world there will be no turning back. The desire for democracy and human rights are strong.  The youth who grew up under the various autocratic and corrupt dictatorships are determined as ever to fight for democracy. Their elders are even supporting them.

As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, all these dramatic changes in the Arab world have not affected this conflict at this stage. There have been no widespread anti-Israel sentiments expressed by the rebels. The anti-Israel mantra that has been a symbol of despotic Arab regimes is not a united calling cry for change.

It is quite possible with the use of Face book and Twitter, the Arab youth are making contact with their counterparts in the democratic free world, including Israel. They are aware of the freedom that others have and what has been denied them. None of the uprisings is religious in nature. The despotic rulers have adopted an anti-Israel stance since Israel was established and have brainwashed their citizens for generations. This is not working anymore.

The uprisings in the Arab world will affect Israel and the Palestinians eventually. Hamas in Gaza rules with an iron fist against all opposition and is trying to introduce sharia (Muslim Law). This is going against the spirit of the Arab uprisings. There is even talk of creating an understanding between Hamas and the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Israelis are viewing the volatile situation in the Arab world with mixed feelings. The gut feeling here in Israel is cautious support for the changes towards democracy in the Arab world. It is still too early to predict how these dramatic changes will move towards stable democratic rule and how it will affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The old mantra - the enemy of my enemy is my friend - could be applicable here. The Kaddafis of the Middle East could result in the rebels becoming better disposed towards Israel. Time will tell whether this is wishful thinking or not.

Now with the UN resolution to prevent a massacre of the Libyan people, and NATO military forces getting ready to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, it is a matter of time before the Kaddafi regime falls. It is not the purpose of the UN resolution to overthrow Kaddafi but that possibility cannot be ruled out.

The Arab world is changing and is presenting Israel with new opportunities which are not without risks.

The problem is also Iran which could take advantage of the instability in Bahrain and try to support the majority Shiite population there against Sunni rule. They are notorious competitors for moving into the vacuum caused by the uprising in Bahrain. This could be a threat to the Saudi regime as well which to date has remained relatively calm.

How should Israel act? They should start with goodwill gestures towards the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank by freezing settlements. Unfortunately the Netanyahu government seems to have its priority in keeping the right wing coalition together by backing the illegal settler enterprise and engaging in double talk. Continuous building in Palestinian lands and paying lip service to a two state solution seems to be contradictory.

Luck is on Israel's side for the time being. There is so much upheaval in the Arab World and the terrible damage to Japan’s infrastructure as well as the heavy loss of lives from the massive earthquake and tsunami, including the radiation danger from its nuclear power reactors. This could be an opportunity for Israel to support the changes going on in the Arab world. After all if the Arab countries do become democratic it could end the old mantras of official hate for Israel which has been a unifying factor in the despotic leaderships of the Arab world.
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Monday, March 14

The Massacre at Itamar

Two terrorists broke into the home of the Fogel family in Itamar in the occupied West Bank early Saturday morning 12 th March 2011 and stabbed five family members to death. This occurred at 1 a.m.

The terrorists murdered Udi Fogel, his wife, Ruth, and their 3 children, Yoav 11 years, Elad 4 years, and Hadas, 3 months.

This is a terrible massacre in cold blood. It is a gruesome tragedy beyond words. The terrorists, who committed this ghastly act, are inhuman. We are all in a state of shock over this appalling tragedy.

Three siblings who were not home at the time and survived are: Tamar 12 years, Roi 8 years and Yishai 2 years. They are staying with their grandparents.

Those terrorists who were responsible for these cruel murders must be found and brought to justice as soon as possible.

Murder of innocent people must be condemned in the strongest possible terms irrespective of whether they are Israelis or Palestinians. There can never be justification for this under any circumstances. Looking for excuses to condone this massacre is morally unacceptable. Killing an innocent family while they are sleeping is despicable.

Having said this, there is no reason to vent one's anger on the Palestinian population. Most Palestinians are against the massacres that occurred and realize that it does not serve their cause.

The cabinet ministers of the Israeli government, who attended the funeral of the victims, stated that they would now support the acceleration of building 400 housing units in the West Bank to increase the Jewish population there.

The funeral of the Fogel family victims was attended by 20000 people. Statements were made of a political nature which could be viewed as a rallying cry of the right to continue building settlements in the occupied territories.

We all know that the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have come to a halt and while much emotion was exhibited at the funeral, there is no place to use rhetoric supporting the building of new homes in the territories. It is childish and vengeful! Even Motti, the brother of the late Udi Fogel, said that he did not want the funeral to be tainted by political messages. Naturally the right wing MKs did not lose an opportunity to make some political capital in support of the occupation.

On the other hand, people who settle in the West Bank, which is occupied territory, are placing themselves at risk. Itamar has been in the news quite often because of the behavior of "hilltop youth" who foment violence and destruction of Palestinian property in the vicinity. There have also been cases of violence being committed against Palestinians even resulting in death.

It is an unfortunate fact that the present Israeli Government as well as their predecessors has done much to encourage illegal settlement in the occupied territories. This is unacceptable and irresponsible.
The encouragement of illegal settlements in the occupied territories amongst a hostile Palestinian population is unfair not only to the Palestinians, but also to the Israelis who wish to build their homes there. Settlers who seek religious justification for living there are putting their lives as well as the lives of their children in harms way. There is no victory in death when terrorists break into homes and murder innocent people who wish to maintain a Jewish religious lifestyle. What advantage is to be gained by putting the lives of innocent people and their children in mortal danger?

The only way to prevent tragedies of this nature is to end the occupation and allow the settlers to return within the pre 1967 borders. This would prevent tragedies of this nature from reoccurring.
At the same time it is essential that movement must be made to restart peace talks with the Palestinian Authority with the intention of creating an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace.

The occupation is bad for Israel and while it lasts there will never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. At this stage, there does not seem to be any signs of revolt by the Palestinian people against their leadership as is occurring in the surrounding Arab countries.
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Saturday, March 5

The Palestinians and Changes in the Middle East

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestini...Image via Wikipedia
The last few months we have all witnessed sweeping changes in much of the Arab world. It started in Tunisia with the overthrow of corrupt President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, snowballing into Egypt with Mubarak's downfall.

Yemen has chronic civil hiccups with its leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the demonstrations there are lower key. Oman is also showing signs of unrest, but that seems under control for the time being. Bahrain is in the game as well with demonstrations followed by an uneasy calm.

The bloodiest and most serious uprising is in Libya where deaths are now running into the thousands with total chaos continuing unabated. Qaddafi is still clinging on to power tenaciously. The Libyan situation has degenerated into civil war. Qaddafi's power base is weakening but the fight will be tedious and long.

It is impossible to predict which Arab country will be next in line for revolution. Even Iran - a non-Arab country - has had some unrest but Ahmadinajad's security forces have succeeded to suppress unrest wherever it has occurred. The Iranian dictatorship is strong and the Basij of Ahmadinajad is cruel and relentless.

How will all these changes in the Arab world affect the Palestinian people? At this stage it is difficult to say. We are all aware that since the uprisings against the oppressive despotic regimes in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been put on the back-burner.
No doubt, the effects of the uprisings will also influence Palestinian thinking and attitudes towards the autocratic dictatorships that are leading them whether it is Hamas-controlled Gaza or the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

The uprisings in the various autocratic states of the Middle East despite their ethnic and environmental differences have the same goals - goals of individual freedom, democracy, improved economic conditions, which have been denied the majority of Arab people in their respective countries and this includes lack of jobs and opportunities for newly qualified professionals. These problems exist in the West Bank and Gaza as well. The leaders of both Palestinian areas are as anti-democratic as their despotic counterparts in the Arab world. Added to these problems are the problems created by the Israeli occupation and the continuing of building illegal settlements in areas designated to be the future Palestinian state.

If there are no peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people then it is hard to imagine how the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians will ever be solved.

A possible scenario that could occur is that if peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians do begin, there could be an insurrection as is occurring in the Arab world resulting in the fall of the non-democratic governments in the West Bank and Gaza. If this happens, there could be chaos and there would be no representatives to negotiate with Israel. On the other hand, an insurrection against Hamas and Fatah could have a positive effect on the peace process as a new order could be more amenable to democracy and steer away from Islamic extremism. The situation is so unpredictable that anything unexpected can occur.

The Palestinian people have had enough suffering and hardships. They all want peace and are tired of the conflict. They want independence from the Israeli occupation as well as achieving democracy like their Arab counterparts in the uprisings against their ruling autocrats. The stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians could be ended when the old despotic Fatah and Hamas regimes are overthrown as in
Tahrir Square
in Cairo.

Israel must also change its attitude and be prepared to end the occupation. Settlements on Palestinian occupied territory must be frozen and the illegal settlers must be resettled within the green line. Any government that takes over after a possible uprising in the Palestinian occupied lands will oppose the oppressive occupation. Israel must be prepared to end the occupation without compromising the security of its citizens. Riding out "the winds of change" in the Middle East is no option. Dialogue must begin now! President Mahmoud Abbas could be viewed as the "Mubarak" of the Palestinians by the Palestinians themselves. If this occurs, the road to peace will be even more complicated if Israel does not change its attitude towards the occupation and take concrete steps to end it. Israel had relied on Mubarak, the dictator, as a broker to maintain peace. Israel like the rest of the world never expected his fall from power.

Now, more than ever before, are opportunities to end the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Failure to do so could be disastrous and another of many opportunities would be lost to the detriment of all parties involved.

Islamic extremism is now not the issue in the Arab world. The Arab people realize that Islamic extremism is against democracy and human rights. Hamas is no less on the firing line than any other despotic regimes in the Arab world. The young people of Palestine also know that like their Arab counterparts, they are being exploited by autocratic religious leaders.

It is hoped that Israel heeds the wake up call and ceases to play into the hands of its right wing, racist extremists, who are part of its macabre visionless, unimaginative coalition.

Why should it be dangerous for Israel if it is joined by new democracies in the Middle East? What is occurring now in the Middle East proves that nothing is impossible.

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