Deceptive Silence 50 Miles From Gaza

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

— by Marne Joan

Despite the war in Gaza, life seems to be going on fairly normally in Jerusalem. We have had “only” three alarms.

We have been busy with visiting friends and family from San Francisco, Milwaukee, New York City, Long Island, St. Paul, and Ukraine. Two weeks ago, we watched “The Wizard of Oz” at the semi-outdoor First Station. My daughter, Leora, just finished her month at the Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem. The only change in her summer was that because of the war, the camp field trips were canceled. We are planning a trip to the North for a few days, starting with a Bar-Mitzvah at Kibbutz Hannaton, kayaking on the Jordan River, going to the Galit Chocolate Farm in Kibbutz Degania on the Sea of Galilee, possibly the hot springs in Hamat Gader, and the Saba Yossi Wood Workshop in Kibbutz Ein Gev, visiting friends in Kfar Tavor and in Dalyat Al-Carmel (a Druze town). Meanwhile, we go to parks, the supermarket, birthday parties, etc.

We are not panicky, nervous wrecks. Yes, life is pretty normal. But that is just on the surface.

When outside, I pick walking routes according to buildings I can run into if I hear a siren. I constantly check the news to see if anyone I know has been killed. I could not wait for the Muslim month of Ramadan to be over, because you can never be quite sure if you are hearing gun shots and rioting, or fireworks from the village nearby.

Every alarm puts me on edge. They actually changed the sirens on ambulances so that they would not sound like the air raid sirens.

When Leora goes downstairs to play, my parting words are not “have a good time,” but rather, “If there’s an alarm, I’ll meet you in the shelter.” When she leaves the house, I remind her to run into the closest building if she hears a siren. It took a week of no sirens in Jerusalem before I would leave her home alone, and only because she insisted and reassured me that she would be okay. Again, I remind her, “If there’s an alarm, take your cell phone, lock the door, and go down to the shelter.”

I have also had to make a few minor changes to activities in my daycare. We do not go to the playground, because if we hear an siren, how do I pick up four kids and run into a building? We do not do finger paints, because we have a minute and a half (which is still long compared to the 15 seconds they get in Sderot) to wash hands and go downstairs to the shelter. After the first alarm in Jerusalem, I started doing some of our activities in the shelter, so if, God forbid, we need to go there, it will not be a place of panic and fear; it will be a familiar place where they have already had some fun.

I cannot imagine what it is like for people in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashqelon or Beer Sheva, who have been dealing with daily, and sometimes hourly, rocket attacks for years.

I remember the sounds of Scuds landing daily for almost two months during the Gulf War in 1991, and feeling the windows vibrate every time one landed, or a Patriot missile was launched to intercept the Scuds. It took years before I could enjoy fireworks again. Every time I heard a boom in the sky I would tense up, holding back the tears, as all of the anxiety from the war returned. I had kept my calm during the war, but when it was over, I realized just how much I was affected by it, and the emotions and trauma caught me up.

We are coping with the situation with a lot with humor, and are doing our share for those working to protect us, and for those working to help them.

Leora, the kids in my daycare and I have been making cookies and cards for the soldiers in Gaza, and the hospital staff in Jerusalem, who are working exceptionally hard treating the wounded. The doctors, nurses, social workers, physical therapists and volunteers are being called up at all hours.

Every Friday, I send text messages to the soldiers I know in Gaza with words of encouragement and support, ending with “Shabbat Shalom and come home safely.”

Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Deaths?

july-22-2014-another-enemy-web

No one, least of all Israel, disputes that the deaths of Palestinian civilians is tragic. That’s why Israel did not object to Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge of $47 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza– the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is immense.

If we really believe that Hamas is using innocent people as human shields (we do), if we really believe that Israel is doing all it can to prevent needless suffering (we do), if we are really proud that Israel itself provides humanitarian aid to Gazans (we are and it does), then how can we object to U.S. humanitarian aid?

Israel doesn’t object and we shouldn’t either. For more on Kerry’s  pledge and his commitment to Israel, see Kerry’s exchange with CNN’s Candy Crawley.

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Rosh Chodesh Av: Compassion Over Anger

Residents of a Gaza Neighborhood

Residents of a Gaza Neighborhood

The Jewish calendar sets aside three weeks each summer to mourn for the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is hard to believe that we who are so far from the sacrifices and offerings can sustain a sense of bereavement for so long.

Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one knows that intensity of grief may dissipate, but the empty space left behind is never completely filled. That is a human truth, not unique to Jews.

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If Gaza Were Near the U.S.

— by Steve SheffeyHamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel this week.Can you imagine what the U.S. would do if hundreds of rockets were coming into it from the Delaware Bay? It would not exercise a tenth of the restraint Israel has exercised.Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) spoke for all of us last Tuesday: 

Families in Israel are once again hearing incessant alarm sirens and racing to bomb shelters as Hamas launches hundreds of rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. No nation would, nor should accept such attack without firm response. I support Israel’s right to defend herself against threats to her citizens and efforts to restore quiet to the region

The fundamental duty of any state is to protect its citizens. The reason so few Israelis die from rocket attacks is that Israel does everything it can to protect its citizens from rocket fire. The reason so many Palestinians die from Israeli air strikes is that despite Israeli leaflets and other warnings that attacks are imminent, Hamas launches rockets from hospitals and densely-populated areas, and deliberately keeps civilians in harm’s way.Some people urge a “proportionate” response on Israel. What would that be? Firing dozens of rockets randomly into Gaza?The correct amount of force is the amount necessary to stop the Hamas rocket attacks. If anything, the Israeli response has been insufficient, as the rocket attacks keep coming.The Jewish Federations of North America have issued a statement commending President Obama “for his continuing support of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

You may have seen misleading headlines about White House Middle East coordinator Philip Gordon’s major speech last Tuesday. However, it was a good summary of the U.S. policy on Israel, Syria, Iran, and the peace process:

 

Over the past several days, Hamas and other terrorist groups have launched dozens of rockets at Israeli towns and cities, forcing local populations into their shelters.The United States strongly condemns these attacks. No country should have to live under the constant threat of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians.

We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. At the same time, we appreciate Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for acting responsibly. We, in turn, call on all sides to do all they can to restore calm, and to take steps to protect civilians.

Israel is doing exactly what Gordon urges. The only way to restore calm is to stop the rocket attacks, and Israel is doing all it can to protect civilians.

Unlike previous administrations, the Obama administration has never condemned, threatened, or punished Israel for using military force to protect its citizens. Who can argue with what Gordon said?

Gordon also discussed the specifics of President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, removing chemical weapons from Syria (a huge success that was achieved without firing a shot), and the prospects for peace with the Palestinians, even as rockets are striking Israel. This is where the headlines have been misleading.

I urge you to read what Gordon said, all of it, and decide for yourself if these are the words of a friend or if he is “blasting Israel.”

Jon Stewart 100% Wrong on Israeli Airstrike Procedure

— by Naomi Friedman

In a segment on the Israeli-Hamas war last week, The Daily Show’s host, Jon Stewart, complained about the asymmetry of the conflict.

On the mutual bombing that is taking place, Stewart quipped that Israel is “bomb-better.” The clip of the sketch went viral, provoking wrath within the U.S. Jewish community.

Stewart seemed to want a more even conflict: Maybe a few hundred Israeli deaths would make him feel a little better about the whole situation?

Just how wrong the sketch was, however, only became clear on the July 18 broadcast of “Yoman,” Israel’s Channel One’s weekly news program, hosted by Ayala Hason.

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A Nation Grieves: Israeli Teens Kidnapped by Hamas Found Dead

— by Alex Lipton, Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region

Following extensive searches led by the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Police, the bodies of Eyal Yifrach (19), Gilad Sha’er (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16), who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on June 12, 2014, were discovered today in the area northwest of Hebron.

A community memorial service will be held today, July 1st at 6:30 p.m. at Congregation Mikveh Israel, 44 North 4th Street, Philadelphia.

All of us, who for the past 18 days have been hoping and praying for the boys’ safe return home, grieve today along with their families.

More after the jump.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, referred to the developments at a security cabinet meeting yesterday:

In the name of the whole of Israel, I ask to tell the dear families — to the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the brothers and sisters — our hearts are bleeding, the whole nation is crying with them.

Israel’s outgoing president, Shimon Peres, said that “Israel bows its head”:

For 18 days we hoped and prayed with one voice that we would find the boys safe and well. With this bitter news all of Israel mourns their deaths. Along with our deep sense of loss we remain committed to bringing the terrorists to justice. Our resolve in the fight against terror will only strengthen and we will ensure that murderous terrorism of this sort will not dare to rear its head again.

Hamas Doesn’t Need a Reason to Attack Israelis

— by Alex Lipton, Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region

Israel is engaged in an intensive operation to return the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank by Hamas terrorists Thursday night: Gilad Sha’er (16), Naftali Frenkel (16), who has dual Israeli-American citizenship, and Eyal Yifrah (19), to their families.

The kidnapping validates Israel’s assessment that the pact between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas would strengthen Palestinian terrorist organizations, push peace further away and destabilize the area.

Hamas does not need any reason, excuse or incentive to murder and kidnap Israelis. Terrorist attacks are Hamas’ raison d’être. Dozens of attempted kidnappings have been foiled in the last year alone.

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Israel holds the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Abbas, responsible for the fate of the kidnapped teens and for terrorist activity emanating from the areas under its control. The Palestinian Authority — from whose territory the kidnappers came — must do whatever is necessary to assist in bringing the teens home.

The international community should unequivocally condemn the Hamas attack on innocent Israeli teenagers and demand that Palestinian leadership and security forces cooperate fully with Israeli authorities to ensure that Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali are returned to their families unscathed as soon as possible.

Cartoon reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

Why Does Israel Still Transfer Money to the PA?


In forming this technocratic government, Hamas agreed to conditions it was never previously willing to accept, such as giving Abbas veto power over all ministers and approving the formation of a government in which it has no ministers, which is why this unity government might succeed.

— by Steve Sheffey

The pro-Israel community is concerned about the new Palestinian unity government.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a lifelong advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, a supporter of a two-state solution, and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement on the subject last week:

I remain deeply concerned that the Palestinian Authority continues to move forward with a reconciliation government that includes the internationally-recognized terrorist group Hamas. Hamas continues to advocate violent action against Israel, and its political leadership refuses to recognize Israel.

Hamas’ participation in a unity government raises serious doubts as to the Palestinians’ commitment to a negotiated peace with Israel and raises significant questions regarding future U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

While I support efforts by the Palestinian Authority to form government institutions capable of representing the Palestinian people, a unity government with Hamas, without Hamas agreeing to the “Quartet Conditions,” which includes renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and honoring past agreements, will hinder the peace process and will not result in a future Palestinian state.

President Abbas must understand the two-state agreement can only be achieved through good faith negotiation with Israel. I hope he and his government will take the steps to further the prospects for peace for his people and the region.

More after the jump.
AIPAC called on Congress to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), while Congress “conducts a thorough review of continued U.S. assistance to ensure that U.S. law, which prohibits to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence, is completely followed and implemented.”

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago wrote that the “inclusion of Hamas at any level of a Palestinian government undermines the goal of the United States and Israel for a negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

Israel criticized the decision of the U.S. to work with the new Palestinian unity government. But the White House pointed out that the same day the technocratic Palestinian unity government was established, Israel transferred more than 500 million shekels (about $145 million) to the PA government.

Haaretz reported that a senior White House official said, “It is unclear to us why some in the Israeli political leadership are staking out such a hard line public position that is fundamentally at odds with their own actions.” The official added that the transfer “was no accident and reflects the Israeli establishment’s clear interest in maintaining a functioning and stable PA that can effectively administer Palestinian areas.”

Israel has no interest in seeing the PA collapse and their actions this week reinforce this clear-eyed understanding, despite what some Israeli officials are saying publicly.

Our position has consistently been that the threshold for working with a PA government is that it recognize the Quartet principles and doesn’t include or share power with Hamas. It is against our interest — and Israel’s interests — to cut ties with and funding to such a PA government. A functioning, stable PA serves our interests, Palestinian interests, and Israeli interests.

Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the “U.S. does not recognize a government with respect to Palestine because that would recognize a state and there is no state.”

Hamas is a terrorist organization. It has not accepted the Quartet principles. It continues to call for the destruction of Israel. It continues even as it moves into this new posture. And so we are obviously going to watch closely what happens, but we will… work with it in the constraints that we are obviously facing.

Unless Kerry is mistaken on the facts, the U.S. is not required by law to cut off funding. Kerry said last week that Abbas “made clear that this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of non violence, negotiations, recognizing the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements and the Quartet principles.”

Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate.

The purpose of this technocratic unity government is to administer affairs in the West Bank and Gaza for purposes of having election in six months.

No one disputes that Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist organization. But neither Israel nor the U.S. believes that any of the ministers in the unity government are members of Hamas. Hamas is very weak as a result of restrictions imposed by Egypt, so it is in both Israel’s and the PA’s interests to capitalize on this weakness by forcing Hamas out of power in Gaza by elections.

In forming this technocratic government, Hamas agreed to conditions it was never previously willing to accept, such as giving Abbas veto power over all ministers and approving the formation of a government in which it has no ministers, which is why this unity government might succeed.

If the Palestinian Authority collapses, not only would Israel have to take over administration of the West Bank — which Israel does not want to do — but Israel would also lose the security cooperation that has virtually eliminated terrorist attacks from the West Bank into Israel. Perhaps that is why, despite its rhetoric, Israel continues to transfer money to the PA — and so should we.

Congress should work with the Administration to ensure that we have not been misled as to the composition of this unity government, and to monitor this unity government for acts that would render it ineligible for U.S. aid. Suspending aid now could imperil U.S. and Israeli security and administrative interests. It might be more prudent to suspend aid only if and when we have evidence that continued U.S. assistance would violate U.S. law.

The goal is to remove Hamas from power and create a government that can negotiate meaningfully with Israel, but the risk is that Hamas will use this government to expand its influence. A Palestinian government without Hamas that can negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is the ideal partner for peace. We must be careful not to take rash action.

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Book Review: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was created in 1949, after the Arabs rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine, and five Arab armies attacked the nascent State of Israel and lost their bid to destroy it. However, the UNRWA’s role in enabling the ongoing Arab War on Israel is not readily understood nor publicized.

This is the essence of the new book, Roadblock to Peace, How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNWRA Policies Considered, by David Bedein.

Bedein, a prolific Jerusalem-based investigative journalist, author and director of the Israel Resource News Agency, is eminently qualified to report first-hand the workings of this unique U.N. agency, whose exclusive mandate is for one ethnic group. This stands in sharp contrast to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which works on behalf of millions of refugees from the rest of the world.

More after the jump.
The book is extensively sourced with interviews, citations, graphs, photographs, and footnotes.

Bedein explains that the UNRWA was spawned in response to the displacement of about 540,000 Arab refugees upon Israel’s repulsion of the invading Arab armies between 1948 and 49. Unlike the U.N. mandate for all other refugees on the planet, from its beginnings, UNRWA has avoided any permanent solution to the predicament of these refugees, and instead focuses on their so-called right to “return” to Palestine.

As Bedein says, the UNRWA’s mandate is ostensibly “to provide humanitarian aid (education, health care, welfare assistance, social services) but it has instead absolved itself from any responsibility to resolve the plight of the Arab refugees and their descendants, thus transforming their plight into a political tool.”

This is key to comprehending why the Arabs cannot and will not end the conflict: A theological component, which Westerners often ignore, encompasses a portrayal of victimization and “occupation” by the hated Jews, whom they treat as dhimmi, “proteges,” in Muslim countries.

The assumption that the UNRWA would have a limited lifespan has been proven woefully incorrect. Instead, it is a behemoth, operating 59 refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, Judea and Samaria (defined as the “West Bank”) and Jerusalem. As of 2011, it had 29,000 staff members. By contrast, the UNHCR has 7,200 employees who serve 15.4 million refugees.

The UNWRA is funded through voluntary contributions from 116 donor countries, of whom the U.S. is the largest contributor, with 30% of the money donated.

In 2011, the U.S provided almost $267 million to the UNWRA. Since then, the UNRWA’s budget sky-rocketed to $1.2 billion. This assistance exceeds that of all other refugees in the world.

The number of refugees UNRWA served as of 2011 has swelled to 4.681 million, because unlike how the UNHCR, which counts only the actual refugees, UNRWA counts descendants of refugees as well.

Most problematically, the UNRWA holds that return to their place of origin is considered an inalienable right. This is also in opposite to the UNHCR, which protects the right to find asylum or resettlement in a country of refuge or a third country. The UNHCR’s goal is to help refugees get on with their lives; most consequently are resettled, not repatriated.

Two chapters of the book are potent in particular. In chapter five, “UNRWA Refugees and the Terror Connection,” Bedein writes about how it has circumvented stringent requests from donor nations to weed out Hamas from its ranks.

In chapter six, Bedein describes the UNRWA’s educational system, which uses half of the UNRWA’s budget, and the use of school books which contain material that contradict is professed mission — the ideal of peace.  

With numerous examples, Bedein shows how UNRWA school books often advocate armed struggle against Israel, deny Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state and demonize it. He demonstrates how Hamas maintains control over its staff union and keeps it a hotbed of anti-Israel radicalism.

This type of behavior has been going on for more than six decades, and has clearly contributed to the perpetuation of the conflict. Accordingly, per Bedein, “UNRWA should not continue its policy of absolute submission to the political, ideological and propagandist lines of the host governments in its areas of operation whenever these lines contradict UNRWA’s principles and mission. These are things that UNRWA must not teach.”

As U.S. taxpayers, we should all be very concerned that we are in essence funding terrorism, not peace.

Bedein concludes with sensible policy suggestions on improving UNRWA’s accountability. The status quo, he says, is “neither desirable nor acceptable” and ultimately “detrimental to the long-term well being of the refugees and to the possibilities of peace in the Middle East.”

Bedein’s final moral argument is the most powerful one: It is simply inexcusable and humane for the UNRWA to continue to cultivate expectations of the “right of return” and “confer on them a limbo status that prevents them from getting on with their lives.”  

For anyone truly interested in understanding the UNRWA’s largely-invisible but looming and forgotten role in preventing a genuine reconciliation and peace in the Middle East, this is the book for you.

Lee S. Bender is co-President of the Zionist Organization of America — Greater Philadelphia District, and co-author of Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z (Pavilion Press, 2012).