Australia suspends aid to charity over Gaza terror funding charges
Australia said it was suspending funding for major charity World Vision late Thursday, hours after Israeli officials accused the group’s manager in Gaza of funneling tens of millions of dollars in aid money to terror group Hamas.
The decision by Canberra came as Israeli officials fumed over what the Shin Bet security service said was a “systematic and sophisticated mechanism” built by senior employee Mohammed el-Halabi to divert up to $50 million over the years to the group, which rules Gaza, creating fictitious humanitarian projects and doctoring inflated receipts in order to get the funds to Hamas.
“Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored,” the Australian government said in a statement.
Australia has donated some $3.8 million to World Vision in Gaza over the past three years, according to Australian network ABC. Last year, Halabi took ambassador Dave Sharma on a tour through strawberry fields supported by the Australian aid.
The station reported that the foreign ministry in Canberra was treating the probe with the highest priority.
World Vision, an international Christian aid group with headquarters in Washington State and the United Kingdom, works in nearly 100 countries. With a budget of approximately $2.6 billion and nearly 50,000 employees, it is one of the largest US-based relief organizations and has operated in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza since the 1970s.
The organization said in a statement on its website that it was “shocked” by the allegations and said it has “no reason to believe” they are true but will “carefully review any evidence presented to us” and “take appropriate action based on that evidence.”
The Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, an Israel-based legal NGO that initiates court cases on behalf of terror victims, said in a statement it had warned Canberra in 2012 and again in 2015 that World Vision was siphoning money to terror activities, but was rebuffed.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that Kent Hill, a senior official with World Vision, was holding meetings in Israel over the accusations. The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were private.
Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, which acts as a liaison between the Defense Ministry and Palestinians, met with World Vision officials and called on them to condemn Halabi’s actions, according to Army Radio.
He also said the group was responsible for the damage they had caused.
In an Arabic video address, Mordechai said Hamas was to blame for Gaza’s poor humanitarian situation.
“Hamas stole this money and passed it to its military wing to build bases, provide salary bonuses and dig the tunnels of death that have brought destruction upon you and the Gaza Strip,” Mordechai said. “Hamas is burying you and your hope of living a normal life.”
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem called the allegations “lies that may be part of the justification of the blockade imposed by the occupation on Gaza.”
Halabi, who is in his late 30s and from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, was arrested in June as he was crossing from Israel into Gaza.
In a Facebook video posted from the Erez crossing where Halabi was arrested, IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Halabi had confessed to the charges against him, including supplying food to Hamas fighters inside tunnels during the 2014 conflict with Israel.
The Shin Bet said Halabi underwent Hamas military and organizational training in the early 2000s and was “planted” by the group at World Vision in 2005, where he climbed the ranks to become director of the Gaza branch.
“He began to conduct security operations for Hamas’s military wing which was essentially exploiting the organization’s funds for Hamas’s fortification,” the Shin Bet said.
To divert the funds, some 60 percent of World Vision’s budget in Gaza, the Shin Bet said Halabi initiated fictitious projects meant to help farmers, the disabled and fishermen.
He would falsely list Hamas operatives as workers on those projects and write up inflated receipts, according to the Shin Bet. Companies hired to carry out certain projects under fictitious tenders were “made aware” that 60 percent of the project’s funds were destined for Hamas, the Shin Bet statement said, adding that some of World Vision’s budget was used to pay the salaries of Hamas operatives.
The Shin Bet also said Halabi would transfer to Hamas materials such as steel, digging equipment and pipes that were meant for World Vision agricultural assistance. Thousands of packages with food and medical aid received monthly would allegedly be diverted to Hamas operatives and their families rather than reach Gazan civilians.
Beyond arms purchases and tunnel digging, the funds also helped build military bases, including one constructed in 2015 built entirely from British aid money, according to the Shin Bet.
The security agency also said that since his arrest, Halabi divulged intelligence about employees working for United Nations agencies and other aid groups who were also assisting Hamas, without elaborating.
Others also criticized World Vision after news of Halabi’s arrest was released.
“The misappropriation and abuse of international aid is the latest demonstration of Hamas’s contempt of its own people. Instead of building schools and hospitals, Hamas continues to build terror tunnels and rearms in preparation for another attack on Israel,” a statement from the UK’s Conservative Friends of Israel read.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan warned that the links between terrorist organizations and aid groups in the Gaza Strip were substantial, and urged donor states to ensure that their money does not end up in the hands of terrorists.
“I imagine that in the World Vision organization, which is very anti-Israeli, they turned a blind eye,” Erdan told Army Radio. “The connections that were uncovered today are part of a much wider and very serious phenomenon.”
“Israel will not permit this, and we will take action against these organizations and their activists,” he said. “We expect donor countries and international organizations to carefully check the destination of the money.” (the Times of Israel)
(Germany has also suspended aid to World Vision. RW)
The Hamas takeover of World Vision/Gaza
Dir-Gen Gold sent a letter to all his counterparts abroad in which he indicated the danger posed by the Iranian-supported Hamas terrorist organization exploiting money donated to aid Gaza.
(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working in coordination with security representatives in order to convey to states around the world relevant information regarding the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Branch of World Vision, as well as to clarify the severity of this case. Initial information has already been passed on to a number of central states whose citizens donate to this international humanitarian aid organization.
- MFA Director General Dr. Dore Gold has instructed Israeli ambassadors to convey to the foreign ministries in the countries in which they serve details of the case and the danger created by Hamas taking over humanitarian aid systems, as well as to petition for greater supervision over what is done with donor monies.
Last night (Thursday, 4 August), DG Gold sent a letter to all his counterparts abroad in which he indicate d the danger posed by the Iranian-supported Hamas terrorist organization exploiting money donated to aid Gaza.
- The MFA’s Head of Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, Akiva Tor, met last night in Jerusalem with Kent Hill, a Senior Vice President in World Vision to update him with details of the investigation. Bureau Head Tor told Mr. Hill that the organization should carry out a thorough internal inquiry and institute systems to monitor its finances.
- Israel notes with satisfaction the Australian government’s statement according to which it will immediately suspend its aid to World Vision, until a thorough inquiry is carried out.
- The Foreign Ministry calls on World Vision and on all involved in aid efforts in the Gaza Strip to scrutinize themselves and their local partners.
Israel remains committed to aid and rehabilitation efforts in Gaza while carefully protecting its security
Netanyahu rejects Obama’s assertion that Israel now supports Iran accord
Israel on Friday firmly rejected US President Barack Obama’s claim that its officials now support last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. Far from accepting Obama’s assertion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s stance had not changed, while the Israeli Defense Ministry compared the accord to the Munich Agreement signed by the European powers with Nazi Germany in 1938.
Obama said Thursday that Israeli defense officials are now behind the deal signed by world powers and Iran, and that they recognize the efficacy of the accord. The “Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer,” Obama said. “The country that was most opposed to the deal.”
In a statement issued Friday by his office in response, Netanyahu stressed that Israel “has no greater ally than the United States” but made plain nonetheless that Israel’s position on the Iran nuclear deal “remains unchanged.”
What mattered most now, Netanyahu went on, however, was to ensure that supporters and opponents of the deal alike work together for three goals: “Keep Iran’s feet to the fire to ensure that it doesn’t violate the deal; confront Iran’s regional aggression; and dismantle Iran’s global terror network.”
Netanyahu said he “looks forward to translating those goals into a common policy, and to further strengthening the alliance between Israel and the United States, with President Obama, and with the next US administration.”
A top minister close to Netanyahu, meanwhile, directly contradicted Obama’s assertion that Israeli security officials now back the accord. “I don’t know to which Israelis he (Obama) spoke recently. But I can promise you that the position of the prime minister, the defense minister and of most senior officials in the defense establishment has not changed,” Tzachi Hanegbi told The Times of Israel.
“The opposite is the case. The time that has elapsed since the deal was signed proved all our worries that, regrettably, we were justified before the deal was made,” said Hanegbi, a minister who works in the Prime Minister’s Office and who until recently chaired the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
The Defense Ministry used more emotive language to contradict Obama.
“The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on the existing reality, but they have no value if the facts on the ground are the complete opposite of those the deal is based upon,” the Ministry said in a statement.
When the deal was signed last summer between Iran and world powers, Yisrael Beytenu party leader and current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman compared it to the 1938 Munich Agreement, calling the deal with Tehran “total capitulation to unrestrained terrorism and violence in the international arena.”
The Defense Ministry employed similar language in Friday’s rejection of Obama’s claim.
“The Munich Agreement didn’t prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust precisely because its basis, according to which Nazi Germany could be a partner for some sort of agreement, was flawed, and because the leaders of the world then ignored the explicit statements of [Adolf] Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany’s leaders,” the ministry said.
“These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the state of Israel,” it said, pointing to a recent State Department report that determined that Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism worldwide.
The Defense Ministry further said the deal reached “only damages the uncompromising struggle we must make against terrorist states like Iran.”
Some high-level former and current Israeli defense figures have spoken out in sometimes conditional defense of the nuclear deal. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said warily in January that it could present “opportunities” in the future but also raised concerns at the “challenges” it poses. But lawmakers from the ruling coalition have continued to criticize the agreement, citing continued ballistic missile tests banned under an attendant UN agreement, and pointing to Tehran’s continued anti-Israel rhetoric and support for terror groups.
Netanyahu remains openly critical of the agreement, which he says paves Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.
The nuclear agreement “removes the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program based on dates certain, rather than on changes in Iran’s aggressive behavior, including its support for terrorism around the world,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel two weeks ago. “The deal doesn’t solve the Iranian nuclear problem, but rather delays and intensifies it.”
The accord, which began its formal implementation in January, will expire in 15 years.
Obama also said Thursday that those who had been most critical of the deal should make mea culpas and admit they were wrong.
“What I’m interested in is if there’s some news to be made, why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster come out and say, ‘This thing actually worked.’ Now that would be a shock,” he said.
“That would be impressive. If some of these folks who said the sky is falling suddenly said, ‘You know what? We were wrong and we are glad that Iran no longer has the capacity to break out in the short term and develop a nuclear weapon.’ But that wasn’t going to happen.” (the Times of Israel)
Former Israeli minister: Israel-Saudi peace ‘in the cards’
A former Israeli minister, part of an Israeli group that met with a Saudi delegation in Ramallah last month, said Israelis could be able to visit the Gulf state “much sooner than you dream about.”
In a conference call Tuesday with British media hosted by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, Rabbi Michael Melchior said the day when Israelis can travel to Saudi Arabia is “in the cards and it will, as we say Inshallah, ‘with god’s help,’ happen very soon.”
Inshallah is Arabic for “God willing.”
Melchior, a former Knesset member with the One Israel party and former minister for Diaspora Affairs, said his meeting with the Saudis focused on religious issues related to diplomacy between the two countries.
Melchior, currently the chief rabbi of Norway,said: “Religious peace is a way of using another language other than the secular language of the Arab peace plan… religious peace is a way of including those Mullahs who are not yet part of this thinking.”
Asked about Saudi Arabia’s record of promoting religious extremism internationally, he said: “We’re trying to go ahead with the positive side of this. Today there is a big part of the Sunni world — and also the Shia world — who want to be part of the world. Saudi Arabia is investing a lot in getting the Israelis to adopt the Arab peace plan, at least as a basis for negotiations.”
Melchior noted that, while the Saudi-Israeli meeting last month prompted condemnation from Iran and the Lebanon-based terrorist group it backs, Hezbollah, “the Sunni Arab world has neither condemned nor supported it.”
An exception, he acknowledged, is the Arab-Israeli Hadash party, which condemned the visit as “part of the normalization of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran, Syria and resistance movements in the region” and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
“Even the Hamas condemnation was a very soft condemnation, they said it was not the right time for such a meeting but they didn’t really condemn it,” Melchior said. “The only point made by the opponents to the meeting (Hassan Nasrallah and company) was that this was a way to make direct agreements between Saudi Arabia and Israel and circumvent the Palestinian issue, which is an absolute absurdity as the meeting took place in the offices of one of the leading people in the Palestinian authority, and the whole purpose of the meeting was to see how we could include the Arab Peace Initiative [in peace negotiations] and create peace between Israel and Palestine as part of the package.”
During last month’s visit, the Saudi delegation, headed by former general Anwar Majed Eshki, met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and other senior Palestinian officials, in Ramallah. It also met in Jerusalem with Dore Gold, a veteran Israeli diplomat who is director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Jerusalem Post)
It was a Russian drone that invaded Israeli airspace which IDF failed to destroy
A drone which penetrated Israeli airspace three weeks ago was Russian, not Syrian, as initially believed, it was reported on Sunday.
In mid-July, three weeks ago to the day, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) crossed into Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights from the Syrian frontier, and managed to fly some 2.5 miles (4 km) into Israeli airspace before turning back.
At the time, an IDF spokesperson acknowledged that a drone had entered Israeli airspace, but gave no indication as to who was behind the incident. Shortly thereafter, the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon claimed responsibility.
But in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that the drone was in fact Russia’s, claiming that the airspace violation was an accident, the result of human error.
The senior Israeli official cited in the report added that despite three attempts to shoot down the Russian drone, the IDF failed to destroy the intruder.
Two US-made surface-to-air Patriot missiles were fired at the drone, as well as an air-to-air missile launched from an IAF fighter sent to intercept the UAV. Despite the attempts to shoot it down, the drone eventually returned to Syrian territory safely. (Arutz Sheva)
Katsav put on suicide watch after losing early parole bid
Former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav has been placed under closer monitoring in prison over fears he may try to harm himself, hours after a parole board decision earlier Thursday denied him early release.
Katsav will have a guard monitoring him 24 hours a day for an undisclosed period of time, the Israel Prisons Service said.
Earlier in the day, the Israel Prisons Service Parole Board rejected a plea for his early release after a two-hour deliberation. It was the second such rejection this year.
He was also placed on suicide watch after the first rejection, in April.
The board ruled Thursday that the 70-year-old former president will be eligible to file a new request for commutation after he completes six months of in-prison rehabilitation.
Katsav said in a statement that he has “the impression that until people see my blood-covered body strewn in the street, they will not let up.
“I am exhausted and completely broken. I’ve agreed to all the conditions and all the restrictions imposed on me. There’s not been a rehabilitation program in prison I have objected to. I do not know how to pick up the pieces,” he said.
Katsav’s victim, whose accusations led to his being convicted on two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault, said she was satisfied with the board’s decision.
“A sex offender who committed his crimes against many women, and who cannot express regret and internalize the severity [of his crimes] should not be entitled to any relief from his punishment,” she told Channel 2.
In its unanimous decision, the board acknowledged that it had observed “seeds” of repentance in Katsav, who has throughout his incarceration professed his innocence.
An internal prison evaluation presented to the board said that “our impression was that there are initial signs of understanding of his personality flaws, which led him to take advantage of others, harm them, and use his power while serving in a role of power and authority. In our view, this marks a change — even if minimal — from our earlier assessments.”
The prison evaluation quoted Katsav as saying: “I no longer want to prove my innocence, I have no strength to wage a campaign… I’m not waging a campaign… I’m tired, I have no strength for anything.”
The parole board wrote that based on the evaluation and Katsav’s testimony, “those first seeds [of change] were seen” by members of the board.
“However, in the opinion of the parole board, the prisoner’s process [of repentance] has not been completed and he still needs to refine and deepen this [awareness],” the decision said.
Zion Amir, Katsav’s attorney, told reporters outside the prison that it was a “very hard day, a very sad day,” and vowed to appeal the decision.
Amir blamed activists, including female Knesset members, for the parole board decision, suggesting the lawmakers intervened to prevent the ex-president’s release.
Katsav has served five years of a seven-year sentence, and in recent months has been seeking to have his jail time reduced by one-third for good behavior.
Katsav was denied parole in April after the rehabilitation authority and state prosecutors recommended against it. At the time, the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority told the parole board Katsav had not acknowledged or expressed remorse for his crimes, showed no empathy for his victims, and saw himself as the victim in the case, while state prosecutors noted Katsav had not participated in any rehabilitative programs offered by the prison.
Diverging from its stance on Katsav’s previous request for commutation, this time the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority and State Attorney’s Office did not oppose the early release of the ex-president. (the Times of Israel)
Lebanese Olympians ‘refuse to ride in bus with Israelis’
Members of the Lebanese delegation to the 2016 Olympic Games refused to travel on the same bus as their Israeli counterparts in Rio on Friday, with some attempting to block athletes from entering the vehicle, according to a report by an Israeli trainer who claimed to have witnessed the scene.
“I kept on insisting that we board the bus and said that if the Lebanese did not want to board as well they are welcome to leave,” Udi Gal, the Israeli sailing team trainer, wrote in a Facebook post Friday.
“The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the aisle and entrance. The organizers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus.”
So far, no official response on behalf of the delegations was given regarding the incident. The Olympic organizing committee has not yet offered any statement about the incident either.
For the 2016 Olympic Games which officially opened on Friday, Israel proudly showed off its largest delegation ever, with 47 athletes competing in 17 sports. Israel’s delegation also includes 34 coaches and about 25 support staff. (the Times of Israel)
18 things you need to know about Israel at the Olympics
The Summer Olympic Games are here and all eyes are looking towards Rio de Janeiro. The Olympic Committee of Israel is cautiously hoping that Israeli athletes will succeed in stepping on the podium at this summer’s games.
While not a powerhouse sports nation, Israel does have some world-class athletic aptitude.
ISRAEL21c combed through the country’s sports archives to find these 18 things you should know about Israel at the Olympics:
- Israel has won seven Olympic medals — five bronze, one silver and one gold — since it first competed as a nation in 1952. The medalists: Yael Arad (silver, judo, 1992), Oren Smadja (bronze, judo, 1992); Gal Fridman (bronze, sailing, 1996); Michael Kolganov (bronze, canoeing, 2000); Ariel Zeevi (judo, bronze, 2004), Gal Fridman (gold, sailing, 2004); Shahar Zubari (bronze, sailing, 2008).
- Israel will send 47 athletes to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
- All of Israel’s Olympic medals were won during the Summer Games.
- Israel’s physically disabled athletes have won 380 medals at the Paralympic Games.
- Israel will send 30 athletes to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.
- The 1968 Paralympic Games were held in Tel Aviv after the Mexican government cited technical difficulties in hosting the contest alongside the Olympics event.
- This is the first time in 24 years that Israeli athletes are participating in the Olympics without having won at least one medal in the previous Games. The Paralympians, on the other hand, won one gold, two silver and five bronze medals at London in 2012.
- Israeli swimmers inaugurated the pool at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The Hebrew-speaking swim team was the first allowed into the swimming pools at the $38 million aquatics center for the 2016 games.
- Fashion retail chain Castro designed the Israeli Olympic team’s 2016 outfits. Actually, this is the sixth consecutive time that the Israeli fashion house put its mark on the official Olympic uniform. This year’s outfit – a jacket, T-shirt and pants – features blue and white shades of the flag and overlapping triangles that clearly reference the Star of David. (Some critics say the Olympic team looks like El Al flight attendants as opposed to sporty athletes).
- Athletes Donald Blair-Sanford (sprinter, USA), Lonah Chemtai Korlima (marathon runner, Kenya), Linda Bolder (judo, The Netherlands), Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko (triple jumper, Ukraine) and Marharyta Serhiïvna Dorozhon (javelin, Ukraine) moved to Israel for love and then trained to become Israeli Olympians. (Dorozhon was disqualified at the last minute and is not competing in Rio.)
- Sprinter Donald Blair-Sanford’s first Olympics experience was horrific: he had his shoes stolen moments before his race at the London Games.
- Before flying to the competition, Israel’s Olympic delegation always holds a memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by “Black September” terrorists during at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
- Shani Bloch-Davidov is the first Israeli female cyclist to compete in the Olympic Games. The 37-year-old mother-of-three, who came out of retirement to compete in Rio, also holds the honor of being the first Israeli woman to take part in the Tour de France.
- Freestyle wrestler Ilana Kratysh, who will compete in Rio, is Israel’s first female Olympic wrestler.
- Ron Darmon is the first Israeli to compete in the Olympic triathlon. The 23-year-old is not a medal hopeful but hopes to finish in the top half of the athletes swimming 1.5 kilometers, cycling 40km, and running 10km.
- Professional golfer Laetitia Beck is the first-ever Israeli to compete in golf at the Olympics. The sport is making its return after a more than 100-year hiatus from the Summer Games.
- Israel hosts its own version of the Olympics called the Maccabiah Games every four-years. The event, recognized by the International Olympic Committee, started in 1932 and is considered the third-largest sporting event in the world.
- Israel Post issues stamps in honor of the Olympic Games. The 2016 stamp sheets feature judo, sailing, track and field and an Olympic Games Rio 2016 souvenir leaf.
Israeli Team at Rio
Arabs Must Turn a New Page with Israel
by Fred Maroun The Gatestone Institute
We must look at Israel not as foreign presence, which it is not, but as a unique and remarkable component of the Middle East that enriches the region.
The creation of such a Palestinian state under today’s conditions is likely to result in a Hamas-dominated state that is violently hostile towards Israel. The Palestinian Authority must be transitioned into a peaceful and stable entity before it can be expected to run a state.
Binyamin Netanyahu recently suggested an approach to make the peace initiative work, but Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi rejected it out of hand. This is not how harmonious relationships between nations are built.
“We must all rise above all forms of fanaticism, self-deception and obsolete theories of superiority.” — Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, 1977.
There is much that we can do to improve our relationship with Israel — if we want to — and there is good reason to think that it would be in both our short- and long-term interest if we did. The most critical change is in approach. Changing that would start to repair the foundation of the relationship and would provide a basis for mutual respect and trust, without which any solution would remain fragile.
We must see the real Israel rather than the monstrosity that Arabs have been brainwashed to see. We are so afraid to call Israel by its real name that we refer to it as the “Zionist entity”. The name is “Israel”; as written in Haaretz, “Israel has been the name of an ethnic group in the Levant going back at least 3200 years”.
The standard Arab narrative about Israel is that it is the result of Western colonialism. This language has also been adopted by many, who claim that “settler colonialism that began with the Nakba … in 1948”, implying that all of Israel is a colony. This claim is not true, and no healthy relationship can be built while one side keeps repeating lies about the other.
Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, a people with a long and complex history on that land. Attempts to kill them and exile them came from many sources over the centuries, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans and the Crusaders. These are historical facts.
Israel’s then Prime Minister Golda Meir said in 1973, “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs — we have no place to go”. No matter how much pressure Arabs put on Jews to leave, they are not going anywhere; in fact, that pressure only hardens their resolve. Israel is their home.
We must look at Israel not as foreign presence, which it is not, but as a unique and remarkable component of the Middle East that enriches the region.
Not our enemy
We must stop calling Israel our enemy. We deliberately chose to make Israel our enemy when we attacked it, rather than accept the existence of a tiny Jewish state in our midst.
Israel (including the annexed Golan Heights and East Jerusalem) is only 19% of British Mandate Palestine (which included Jordan), on which Britain promised in 1924 to build a “Jewish National Home”. Israel is so small that it would have to be duplicated 595 times to cover the entire Arab world.
We made self-defeating decisions in our relationship with Israel, based on the belief that it is our enemy and that we can only deal with it though force — but the tiny state of Israel is not a threat to the Arab world.
Every year, Palestinians hold rallies, often violent ones, to commemorate the Nakba (“catastrophe”), which is name they give to the Arab loss in the war of 1948/49. They carry keys, symbolizing the keys to homes that their ancestors fled during that war. This commemoration, like much of the Arab rhetoric about Israel, is a one-sided view that demonizes Israel while it absolves Arabs of all responsibility for starting and continuing a conflict that resulted in decades of violence as well as displacements of both Arabs and Jews.
This false narrative does not leave much room for peace with Israel. How can peace be acceptable to Arabs who are repeatedly fed the false narrative that everything is Israel’s fault, when, in fact, “everything” is not “all Israel’s fault”?
Admitting mistakes is never easy, but without admitting them, we are weaving a contrived narrative that contradicts historical facts. Building a positive future requires accepting that the past is gone and cannot be restored.
Despite the Holocaust, Germany is today one of Israel’s closest friends, but this was possible only because Germany admitted its moral failure. Although our refusal to accept Israel is not morally equivalent to the Holocaust, it was undeniably a moral failure, and moving past it would allow us to establish constructive relations with Israel.
Resolving the Palestinian Question
For a successful resolution of the Palestinian question, we must understand the few fundamental issues on which Israel cannot compromise. At present, the Arab world, and particularly the Palestinians, shows so little understanding of Israel’s fundamental issues that the Israeli public’s faith in peace negotiations is low. As reported in the Jerusalem Post, “most Israelis (67.7%) do not believe that negotiations will bring peace in the coming years and less than a third (29.1%) think it will ever yield such a result”.
Israel’s ability to remain a Jewish state and a haven for Jews worldwide is its most basic existential necessity. Without it, Israel would be only a name. For this reason, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated unequivocally that there is “no room to maneuver” on the Palestinian claim of a “right of return” for the descendants of Palestinian refugees. It may be unreasonable to expect relatively small and weak countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to absorb all the refugees residing there, but rich Gulf countries have the ability to help. If Europe can absorb millions of Muslim refugees, why could we not do it too?
A second existential necessity for Israel is its need for defensible borders, as explained in an extensive report. Israel has been defending its very existence against Arab attacks for seven decades. It has been attacked from all sides using all methods imaginable, from missiles to suicide belts to tunnels. Israel does not see the pre-1967 armistice lines as defensible, as was explained as far back as 1977 by then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, widely considered a pro-peace moderate.
A third fundamental point is Jewish access to holy sites, starting with the most important one, the Old City in East Jerusalem. Jews see their win in East Jerusalem in the war of 1967 not as a conquest, but as the liberation and reunification of their historic home since the time of King David, ca. 1000 BCE. Although Israeli governments, both in 2000 and in 2008, offered to give up control over part of Jerusalem, one should not assume that a similar offer will be likely in the future. In June of this year, PM Netanyahu pledged that, “The idea of a divided, split, wounded city is one we will never return to.” Other issues such as borders, compensation for refugees, removal of some settlements, and the level of Palestinian sovereignty appear to be negotiable. Netanyahu further stated, “Israel wants peace. I want peace. I want to renew the diplomatic process to achieve peace”.
But we Arabs must understand that this can only be possible within the constraints of the three fundamental issues.
The Arab League’s Peace Initiative
A peace initiative was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and again in 2007, but this initiative falls short in two ways, first in its substance and second in its form.
The initiative demands that Israel go back to the pre-1967 armistice lines. Not only does Israel not consider those borders defensible, but during the fifty years that elapsed since then, Israel has built large settlement blocks in the West Bank. We Arabs had previously expelled the Jews who were native to that land, and it is unrealistic to expect that Israel would agree to victimize its own Jewish citizens yet again.
The initiative declares that Arab states reject “all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries”, implying that Israel and the new Palestinian state would be responsible for absorbing the descendants of all Palestinian refugees. For the new Palestinian state, it would be a huge burden to add to the task of building a new state, as it would mean an increase to its population from 6 million to 9 million. This would leave Israel to receive the refugees, which it will not do.
Equally unrealistic is the initiative’s causal reference to “the establishment of a Sovereign Independent Palestinian State”. The creation of such a state under today’s conditions is likely to result in a Hamas-dominated state that is violently hostile towards Israel. The Palestinian Authority must be transitioned into a peaceful and stable entity before it can be expected to run a state.
The biggest problem with the Arab League’s peace initiative, however, is the way that it was delivered. It was presented as a fait accompli and was thrown at Israel without discussion. The Arab League did not even respond to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s offer to attend the 2002 Arab League summit. More recently, Netanyahu suggested an approach to make the peace initiative work, but Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi rejected it out of hand. This is not how harmonious relationships between nations are built, especially after decades of Arab animosity towards Israel.
There was no need to write this document at all. All that the Arab League had to do was to declare that Arab states are open to making peace with Israel, accept Sharon’s offer to attend, then send a delegation to Israel as a sign of goodwill. There would be no commitment in such a gesture, but it would show that the Arab League is serious. This is how Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat approached peace with Israel.
Sadat in His Own Words
We should take inspiration from and follow the lead of Sadat, an Arab leader who took a bold step towards peace and achieved a peace agreement that even the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt felt compelled to respect 35 years later.
We should take inspiration from and follow the lead of Sadat, an Arab leader who took a bold step towards peace and achieved a peace agreement that even the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt felt compelled to respect. Pictured: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (right) acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress in which U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords, September 18, 1978. (Image source: Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress)
Sadat knew that taking steps towards peace requires more than simply writing documents and speaking from afar, which is why he went to Israel to present his vision. He said to the Israeli Knesset, “There are moments in the life of nations and peoples when it is incumbent on those known for their wisdom and clarity of vision to overlook the past, with all its complexities and weighing memories, in a bold drive towards new horizons”.
Sadat demonstrated that he understood some of Israel’s fundamental issues when he said, “What is peace for Israel? It means that Israel lives in the region with her Arab neighbors, in security and safety”.
Sadat understood the benefit of peace to all people of the Middle East, including Arabs, and he understood the duty of leaders in making peace a reality. He said, “We owe it to this generation and the generations to come, not to leave a stone unturned in our pursuit of peace. … Peace and prosperity in our area are closely linked and interrelated”.
A New Page
The Arab world has an abysmal record on human rights, is mired in internal wars, and continues pointless hostility towards Israel, a neighbor that is far ahead of us scientifically and economically, and from which we could benefit greatly.
We must take ownership of our past actions towards Israel, and we must make the changes needed to turn the page. In the words of Sadat, “We must all rise above all forms of fanaticism, self-deception and obsolete theories of superiority”. It is up to us.
Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Arab based in Canada, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961-1984, he lived in Lebanon.
‘Anti-Normalization’ Is an Assault on Israelis and Palestinians Alike
by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe The National Post
Anti-normalization activists loathe coexistence organizations like the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict.
The basis of any negotiated settlement is compromise. But what if one of the parties to the conflict simply refuses to talk?
Some Palestinian factions and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have engaged in what’s known as an “anti-normalization” campaign: they are demanding that all contact between Palestinians and Israelis be severed, lest they “normalize” the existence of Israel. The reciprocal response by Israelis and American Jews is denial.
The idea of anti-normalization originated with Arab nationalists during the 1970s and was then picked up by Islamists like Hamas and radical Marxists like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. At every stage of normalizing Palestinian relations with Israel especially during the 1990s, when negotiations were taking place extremist factions opposed the very idea of talking with Israelis. It is now a mainstay of the BDS movement.
That anti-normalization is first and foremost a Palestinian strategy against other Palestinians cannot be denied. Gaza BDS activist Haidar Eid recently complained that the Palestinian Authority was “authorizing pro-normalization American organizations, such as One Voice, Seeds of Peace or the Peace Alliance, which was established after the Geneva Accord, which gave up the right of return of the Palestinian refugees” to operate in Gaza.
BDS leader (and Tel Aviv University graduate) Omar Barghouti went further and lamented that the Palestinian Authority, as well as other Arab states, were not toeing the line against Israel: “If official Palestinian normalization had not reached this level, nobody would have dared to host Israeli delegations in Saudi Arabia, sports delegations in Qatar, trade delegations in the UAE, and delegations in Bahrain, Morocco and so on. Official Arab normalization has reached critical proportions.”
BDS leader Omar Barghouti laments that “official Arab normalization has reached critical proportions.”
In an era when Syrians have died by the hundreds of thousands and Iran is poised to develop nuclear weapons, BDS activists are upset that Arab states have moved on from their cause.
Perhaps because anti-normalization is having no success in the West Bank or the Arab world, it has become the official policy of the BDS movement in the U.S. The National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), whose parent organization, American Muslims for Palestine, was recently shown to be connected to the same American Muslim Brotherhood supporters who funded Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation, has long trained its activists in “Countering Normalization of Israeli Oppression on Campus.”
The New York City SJP chapter’s manifesto states, “We reject any and all collaboration, dialogue and coalition work with Zionist organizations through a strict policy of anti-normalization and encourage our comrades in other organizations to do the same.”
BDS activists in New York have taken this to heart by, among other things, crashing faculty meetings to demand “Zionists off campus.” Their continual harassment of Jewish students and disruption of campus life has prompted New York state legislators to call for their suspension and helped push Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.
Even informal contacts are off limits. Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi made the position perfectly clear in his poem, Normalize This: “No, I don’t want to normalize with you I don’t want to hug, have coffee, talk it out, break bread, sit around the campfire, eat s’mores and gush about how we’re all the same.”
The anti-normalization strategy plays out time and again as SJP chapters have exercised a hecklers’ veto over campus events organized by Jewish and Israeli organizations, including those that highlight Israeli-Palestinian co-operation. Without communication, and normalization, peace is impossible. And that’s precisely their goal.
To see Israeli denial over anti-normalization in action, consider a recent incident where members of the Israeli leftist group Two States, One Homeland entered Ramallah during Ramadan to share an Iftar meal with Palestinians, only t0 have rocks thrown at them and their cars torched.
In response, the group issued a statement saying, “One of the vehicles was apparently set on fire and slightly damaged while it was empty. The Palestinian security services quickly took control of the incident and helped us file a complaint. Despite the reports, we did not at any point feel threatened and our Palestinian friends were horrified by the incident. The scariest thing for those who wish to maintain the status quo is Palestinians and Israelis speaking and working together.”
If rocks and burned cars don’t convince these people that anti-normalization is real, what will?
This co-dependent relationship Palestinians refusing to engage in a dialogue with Israel, in order to make it disappear, and Israeli Jews denying that this is actually a Palestinian strategy works against communication and peace. That it has spread to American campuses, along with low-level violence against Israeli and Jewish groups, is ominous.
Recognizing anti-normalization for what it is repression against the majority of Israelis and Palestinians who genuinely want peace is the first step toward resuming what has been necessary all along: an honest dialogue that’s free of guilt and threats.
Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Alexander H. Joffe, a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum, is a historian and archaeologist.
What the World Can Learn from Israel after July’s Wave of Deadly Attacks – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (Newsweek-Europe)
Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East have been rocked by a growing wave of extremist terror in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, we in Jerusalem have seen this before and we have mastered strategies to deal with this threat.
We must condemn any and all justification for terror. Justifying one kind of terror is justifying it all.
We must fight terror with all the tools in our arsenal – relying on professional teams – but also on the strength, resilience and vigilance of our cities’ residents. In Jerusalem, the public takes an active part in combating terror by being alert at all times and refusing to alter their daily lives. It creates a sense of mutual accountability, puts hundreds of thousands of eyes on the lookout, and builds confidence, which empowers our residents.
Israel has invested in the world’s best signal intelligence and human intelligence which we use to implement a “smart deployment” of our units. Instead of protecting the city after an attack, we put the “bad guys” on the defensive. When terrorists are busy trying to evade our security services, they are unable to dedicate time to planning attacks.
We also seek to strengthen the forces of moderation, making a clear distinction between the majority who foster coexistence between Jews and Arabs, and a small minority who seek to destroy it.
Israel has a rare asset – a large number of veterans. While only 2% of Israeli civilians have gun licenses, by calling on these trained Israelis to carry their arms at times of crisis, we’ve managed to cut down response times to an ongoing attack. Jerusalemites, instead of running from an attack, run towards the scene, reducing the harm a terrorist can cause. In February 2015, my security guards and I did just that.