1. Arab media air Israeli humanitarian ads; Western media refuse
2. Israel to release 170 Palestinian security prisoners
3. New York Times: "Hamas may give peace a chance"
[Note by Tom Gross]
THE BBC REPSONDS
Simon Wilson, Senior Producer, BBC Middle East Bureau, writes from Jerusalem in response to the dispatch of December 17, 2004 (tilted Hamas admit BBC Gaza Correspondent is one of their own): "The allegations against Fayed Abu Shammala are false." Mr. Wilson does not go into further detail.
ARAB MEDIA WILL AIR ISRAELI HUMANITARIAN ADS; WESTERN MEDIA REFUSE
I attach an article below from the Israeli paper Ma'ariv concerning attempts by an Israeli charity to broadcast adverts aboard in an effort to find missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.
Many may not be surprised that, given their long-held antagonistic positions towards the state of Israel, CNN and BBC apparently refused to air the campaign – even though the pan-Arab paper "al-Quds" agreed to run the ads, and both the Lebanese newspaper "A-Safir", which has close contacts with Hezbollah, and the al-Jazeera television network has quoted the campaign. (The ads have also run in Farsi, the language of Iran.)
However, it is not clear why Eurosport, a pan-European sports channel broadcasting in several languages across Europe and the Middle East, would refuse to show a humanitarian commercial such as this.
LAW SUITS CONSIDERED, ALLEGING "PURE ANTI-SEMITISM"
A foundation spokesperson said that: "The Arab media did not hide behind political excuses" for this humanitarian campaign and accused the three western networks of "pure anti-Semitism". The foundation is currently examining the option of filing legal suits against the BBC and CNN.
ISRAEL TO RELEASE 170 MORE PALESTINIAN SECURITY PRISONERS
Today, Israel agreed to release another 170 Palestinian prisoners. I attach a press release about this from the Israeli prime minister's office, below.
NY TIMES OP-ED SAYS: "HAMAS MAY GIVE PEACE A CHANCE"
Some may find it surprising that in a Palestinian election campaign that Hamas are boycotting and trying to sabotage by killing as many Israeli soldiers and others as possible – a Thai worker was murdered by Hamas last week, for example – the New York Times chose to run a prominent op-ed yesterday saying that Hamas were potentially willing to "give peace a chance."
But then again, given the New York Times' very poor track record of getting their analysis right concerning the Mideast – most notably their years' long championing of Yasser Arafat as a vital, indispensable component to achieving Mideast peace – perhaps it is not surprising.
Many in the Western press see a "hudna" as some sort of breakthrough, whereas Palestinian media see it specifically as a chance to rearm after Israel has hit Hamas hard over the last year. The history of the hudna from the time of Mohammad does not suggest Israelis will be living in peace for very long if a hudna is agreed, rather than a real ceasefire.
Ever a place for mangling the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the opening sentence of the New York Times article, instead of just saying Hamas is a terrorist organization, calls Hamas "a group the United States considers a chief sponsor of terrorism."
The writer, Scott Atran, also calls Marwan Barghouti "a beacon" rather than a convicted murderer.
With Arafat gone, Israeli-Palestinian peace may be within sight depending on various factors in 2005, but not without an agreement for a real ceasefire first from the likes of Hamas and Barghouti (who last week called on Palestinians to continue armed attacks against Israelis.)
-- Tom Gross
[With thanks to Ben Green for his research assistance]
CNN, BBC, & EUROSPORT REFUSE TO AIR ARAD CAMPAIGN
CNN, BBC and Eurosport refuse to air Arad campaign
By Eitan Rabin
December 14, 2004
Three major international networks – The BBC, CNN and Eurosport – are refusing to air adds of the "Born to be Free" foundation for the release of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad.
Last week, the state and the foundation formally issued a 10 million dollar reward leading to either the return of Arad, or confirmation as to his ultimate fate. The state took this step after having concluded that it has exhausted all other means at its disposal.
Uri Hen, the foundation director, told NRG Ma'ariv, "We turned to CNN, BBC and Eurosport in a request to air fully-paid adds but they refused."
According to Hen, the BBC did not explain its decision. CNN, however, sent a letter to the foundation stating that the network does not air adds about political issues. Eurosport, says Hen, said it was a religious and political issue.
"Even the Lebanese newspaper "A-Safir", which has close contacts with Hezbollah quoted the campaign. Al-Jazeera interviewed us and the al-Quds publication, which is not a great lover of Israel to say the least, agreed to put up huge adds," Hen added.
"The Arab media did not hide behind political excuses. An Israeli pilot has been in captivity for 18 years and the campaign's aim is to bring him home – there is absolutely nothing political about it," he concluded.
Another foundation official defined the decision of the three networks as "purely anti-Semitic". The foundation is currently examining the option of filing legal suit against the networks.
Last week, a special multi-lingual domain, www.10million.org has been set up, with full information regarding the prize. One of the languages is Farsi. The site has been advertised in major media outlets.
In addition to the Internet, a call center has been set up in Tel Aviv to process all incoming calls. The center has a London area number, to enable people from Iran to contact it. The center will operate 24 hours a day, and Persian speaking personnel will always be on duty.
ISRAEL TO RELEASE 170 PALESTINIAN PRISONERS
Israel to release 170 Palestinian prisoners
December 19, 2004
(Communicated by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser)
The committee on the release of prisoners chaired by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided this morning (Sunday), 19 December 2004, to release 170 Palestinian security prisoners. The committee had convened this morning in order to receive a report on the work of the inter-ministerial committee chaired by Justice Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitz.
In addition to Prime Minister Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan shalom, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Attorney General Meni Mazuz are members of the committee.
Prime Minister Sharon said that the background of the Palestinian prisoner release was, "a gesture of goodwill, friendship and gratitude to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for his decision to release Azzam Azzam (tinyurl.com/59rwl)."
The inter-ministerial committee briefed the ministers on the results of its work and on its recommendations regarding the release of Palestinian prisoners according to parameters that were determined when Abu Mazen served as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister: No prisoners who are in the process of being investigated or of being tried will be released; no prisoners or detainees "with blood on their hands" will be released; no prisoners who were previously tried for security offenses and who were released in the framework of the diplomatic process or in an exchange of captives will be released.
After the inter-ministerial committee briefing, the committee approved the release of 170 prisoners. The release will be carried out at the beginning of next week. The prisoners' names will be published on the Justice Ministry website (www.justice.gov.il/mojHeb/) at least 48 hours prior to their actual release.
NEW YORK TIMES: HAMAS MAY GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
Hamas May Give Peace a Chance
By Scott Atran
The New York Times
December 18, 2004
Two unlikely factors – the maneuverings of Hamas, a group the United States considers a chief sponsor of terrorism, and a widespread fear of chaos among Palestinians – are combining to create some hope in the runup to next month's election to choose Yasir Arafat's successor as head of the Palestinian Authority.
The best news is that Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Arafat's successor as leader of the Fatah faction, has emerged as the candidate favored not only by Israel and the United States, but also by the European Union and, most surprisingly, by Hamas. On Tuesday, Mr. Abbas (who is also known as Abu Mazen) called for an end to the four-year-old intifada, saying that the "the use of weapons is harmful and it should stop."
Hamas leaders, who would be expected to fight against any such compromise, actually worked behind the scenes to undermine the candidacy of Mr. Abbas's main rival, Marwan Barghouti, the jailed intifada leader who is a beacon to the younger generation of Fatah militants. He withdrew from the race on Sunday.
Although Mr. Barghouti is in spirit closer than Mr. Abbas to Hamas, the group's leaders decided that his candidacy was interfering with formation of a Palestinian political consensus and could have led to political anarchy. The fact is, with the intifada bearing little fruit in terms of Israeli concessions, Hamas is now embroiled in infighting. Its West Bank leaders are leaning toward historic compromise, while its Gaza militants want to step up violence.
As Mr. Arafat lay dying, the principal leaders agreed to jettison their longstanding refusal to cooperate with any government that was involved with the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Most significant, the top Hamas leader on the West Bank, Sheik Hassan Yussef, declared that the group should consider an indefinite "hudna" – or pause in armed conflict – if Israel were to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, approve a right of return for Palestinian refugees, release long-term prisoners and raze the wall being built in the West Bank.
While these conditions are of course unacceptable to Israel, the fact that a hudna was offered at all was remarkable. Mr. Yussef, who was released in November after more than two years in an Israeli prison, insisted that he was simply reiterating positions stated in the past by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas founder who was assassinated by Israel in March. But this may be semantic sleight-of-hand: Mr. Yussef told me last week that "hudna" clearly meant that both sides in the lifelong conflict could live in safety and peace as long as it lasts, and that it could even be extended indefinitely.
"We can dream about all Palestine being Muslim – like some Israelis dream of a Greater Israel that includes all our lands – but it is not practical," he said.
Of course, Mr. Yussef faces opposition from within. Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, dismissed the overture, saying that there would be "no talk about a hudna now" and that his group's "strategy is to liberate all of Palestine." Soon enough, Hamas bombs killed five Israeli soldiers in Gaza; that was followed by Israeli Army raids that killed several Palestinians.
But the Gaza faction may be on the wrong side of history. A poll this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed Fatah gaining popular support in Gaza and the West Bank – its favorable rating increased to 40 percent from 30 percent in the last poll, in September – while Hamas's favorable rating fell to 20 percent from about 30 percent. A survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center found that for the first time since the outbreak of the current intifada in 2000, a majority of Palestinians rejected military operations and expressed optimism about the future.
Mr. Yussef seems to represent a chance that Hamas may enter the political mainstream. "We must take responsibility, along with Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority, in taking care of our people," he told me. "And that means we must also negotiate with the Israelis." Israeli and Palestinian intelligence sources have informed me that this sentiment has received strong backing from Hamas prisoners in Israel, as well as from Khalid Meshal, an influential Hamas leader who lives in Damascus.
Isaac Ben Israel, an Israeli Air Force general and leading military strategist, told me that he thinks Mr. Yussef may be signaling a sincere shift in Hamas that Israel could live with. Of course, he stressed that Hamas first had to be severely weakened by the targeted assassinations of its leaders, which has helped bring suicide bombings down to pre-intifada levels. "Paradoxical as it sounds," he said, "attacking Hamas has helped the moderate Palestinian forces."
In the end, it seems clear that Hamas is worn out and so perhaps ready to stop fighting – just like most Palestinians. According to Palestinian Authority figures, 63 percent of households saw their income cut at least in half during the intifada, and 58 percent now live in poverty.
In addition, the human cost of war comes to bear even on militants. I spoke with Mr. Yussef about interviews I did with the parents of suicide bombers, all of whom said they would have done anything to stop their children if they had known of their plans. "Suffering and humiliation make it understandable, even animals defend themselves to the death," he told me. "But God created people to live, not to die. We have to find an exit. We need a dialogue of civilizations, not a clash of civilizations." And he emphasized his belief that Hamas can bring along other Islamic groups "to create a stable international order."
The main problem is that each side demands that the other announce a truce first. "If I advocated a unilateral cease-fire – proclaiming that we will not attack Israelis if Israelis do not attack us – then my political influence would end," he said. And Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is just as much a captive to politics – he too would not survive in his own party if he unilaterally declared a cease-fire.
How to break the stalemate? The United States and Europe, working in tandem with Israel and the Palestinian leaders, could perhaps broker a mutually declared cease-fire, a first step toward indefinite hudna and Mr. Yussef's "dialogue of civilizations." A tall order, indeed, but at least it now seems that Hamas is willing to listen, and wants to give democracy a chance.
(Scott Atran, a research scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and at the University of Michigan, is the author of "In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion.")