* Saudi court sentences 75-year-old woman to 40 lashes and four months imprisonment for “mingling”
* Even Saudis express doubts as the West rushes to pour money into Gaza
* Israel advances to tennis quarterfinals as Swedish extremists riot outside
(Some of these items are follow-ups to previous dispatches on this website. Please refer to past dispatches for background information.)
1. Riots as Israel plays tennis match in Sweden
2. Jewish center bombing investigator kidnapped, tortured in Argentina
3. Arab-Jewish duo chosen to represent Israel at Eurovision
4. Former Israeli president to be indicted for rape
5. A record number of women in the Knesset
6. Woman arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving
7. “No relative dared go to his funeral”
8. “The national unity government will not recognize the Zionist entity”
9. Donor conference exceeds goal for Gaza reconstruction
10. Israel submits letter of complaint to UN on continuing rocket fire
11. Rocket hits synagogue
12. Israel concerned as White House fails to condemn bulldozer terror attack
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
RIOTS AS ISRAEL PLAYS TENNIS MATCH IN SWEDEN
There were riots in the Swedish city of Malmo over the weekend against Israel being allowed to play tennis in Sweden. Even though this was prominently reported by the world’s largest news agency, The Associated Press, to which most media subscribe, it has barely been mentioned in most international newspapers.
Over 1,000 police were deployed in Malmo to keep the protesters, estimated at 7,000 strong by the AP, from entering a closed arena where Sweden and Israel were playing a Davis Cup tennis match.
Below is some footage of the riot from one part of the stadium:
Here is a report from Danish TV news:
Sweden’s Left Party leader Lars Ohly told the crowd that “Europe and the whole world should boycott the racist regime in Israel.”
As reported in my dispatch of Feb. 19, 2009, no spectators were allowed inside the stadium because of the fear of violent attacks by anti-Zionist protestors.
ISRAEL WINS MATCH
On the court, Israel defeated seven-time Davis Cup champion Sweden 3-2 to advance to the Davis Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1987. Israel will play Russia in the quarterfinals on July 10-12. (The other countries to reach the quarterfinals are Argentina, the Czech Republic, the United States, Croatia, Germany and Spain.)
Last month, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) finally allowed the Israeli player Andy Ram to compete in the men’s Dubai Tennis Championships after the UAE was widely criticized for disallowing the Israeli women’s champion, Shahar Peer, from competing the week before. Andy Roddick of the United States was among the players to withdraw from the Dubai tournament, saying he wouldn’t participate in any tournament where Israeli Jews were banned.
JEWISH CENTER BOMBING INVESTIGATOR KIDNAPPED, TORTURED IN ARGENTINA
One of the senior investigators in the 1994 Iranian-Hizbullah bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was kidnapped and tortured in Argentina over the weekend, by assailants trying to coerce him into disclosing documents relating to the case.
The masked attackers grabbed Claudio Lifschitz from his Buenos Aires home at midnight on Friday, threw him into the trunk of a van and violently interrogated him for several hours.
The massive truck bomb attack on the “AMIA” Jewish center in 1994 killed 85 people and wounded over 200. Following a lengthy investigation, Interpol issued arrest warrants in March 2007 for five Iranian government officials and a Lebanese national suspected of organizing the attack.
Lifschitz’s attorney told Argentina’s C5N television that during this weekend’s kidnap ordeal, the kidnappers covered Lifschitz’s head with a garbage bag, punched him and carved the case file number onto his arm and the letters A-M-I-A onto his back.
“They questioned me a number of times about tapes that tie Iran to the terror attack,” he said. “They told me ‘you can relax, we won’t murder you.; you’ll live until we decide otherwise’.”
ARAB-JEWISH DUO CHOSEN TO REPRESENT ISRAEL AT EUROVISION
The Israeli public has voted for a Jewish-Arab duo to represent Israel in the Eurovision song contest in May.
Achinoam Nini, a Jewish singer better known outside Israel as “Noa,” and Mira Awad, a Christian Arab Israeli, will perform a peace song. They received the most votes in text messages from the Israeli public after a contest was held on Israel’s state-owned Channel One television.
The song has lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Awad has been criticized by some Palestinians, both for singing with a Jew and for being a woman. Fundamentalist Islamists have banned singing by women.
The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition in which countries across Europe and beyond participate and is one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world. This year’s Eurovision will be held in Moscow.
Awad, 33, who was born in the Galilee and now lives in Tel Aviv, appeared to enthusiastic reviews in a popular Israeli television sitcom last year. She will be the first Arab to represent Israel at Eurovision. Arab Israelis have previously represented Israel at Miss World and other competitions.
FORMER ISRAELI PRESIDENT TO BE INDICTED FOR RAPE
Israel’s attorney-general, Meni Mazuz, announced yesterday that former President Moshe Katsav will be indicted on rape charges, allegedly committed when he was serving as Israel’s Minister of Tourism, and on sexual harassment charges from when he was serving as president.
Katsav is accused of rape and sexual harassment against several women who worked closely with him. Mafuz also filed obstruction of justice charges against Katsav.
Katsav said he was not surprised by decision, and was “eager to have the chance to prove his innocence in a court of law.”
Following growing public and political criticism over rumors about sexual misconduct, Katsav resigned as president in June 2007 and was replaced by Shimon Peres.
Israeli women’s groups hailed Katsav’s indictment yesterday.
The trial will show, once again, that alone among the countries of the Middle East, Israel is a fully functioning democracy where no politician is above the law.
A RECORD NUMBER OF WOMEN IN THE KNESSET
Yesterday, Israel proudly celebrated International Women’s Day – in contrast to the Arab world.
In recent years, women have made notable advances in Israeli society. For example, over 50 percent of doctors qualifying in Israel are now women. In the recent Knesset elections, a party headed by a woman (Kadima) garnered most votes and a record number of twenty-one women (including Arab women) were elected to the Knesset.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday: “Even though Israel is proud of the accomplishments it has made towards the advancement of women, there is still much to be done, including putting an end to violence against women, trafficking in women and discrimination in various fields. We still need to struggle to ensure women gain complete equality in the workplace.”
WOMAN ARRESTED IN SAUDI ARABIA FOR DRIVING
Police in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca last Wednesday arrested a woman for violating the country’s ban on women driving, according to the Saudi English-language daily Arab News.
Police spokesman Maj. Abdul Mushin Al-Mayman said the woman was turned over to the Saudi Prosecution and Investigation Commission for investigation.
Last year, more than 125 women signed and sent a petition to Saudi Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, asking that the ban on women driving in the kingdom to be overturned. Women can be lashed with a whip for what the Saudi regime considers to be offensives against Islam.
For example, the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Watan reports today that an elderly woman has been sentenced to 40 lashes for “mingling”. Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, 75, also faces four months imprisonment followed by deportation from the despotic kingdom to her native Syria.
Al-Watan said the religious police had found two male family friends in her house. Both of them have also been sentenced to receive lashes.
Last week, the religious police detained two male authors for questioning after they tried to get the autograph of a female writer, Halima Muzfar, at a book fair in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
“NO RELATIVE DARED GO TO HIS FUNERAL”
I have on several occasions criticized The New York Times and its sister paper The International Herald Tribune for downplaying, or failing to report at all, human rights abuses (unless somehow Israel could be blamed). It is therefore welcome that the Tribune ran the following news report on March 6 prominently on page 1. (The New York Times ran it only on page 6.)
The report, from the Swat district of Pakistan which has just been handed over to the Taliban, began:
“The Taliban and the Pakistani Army signed a truce last month in Swat, the once popular tourist area just an hour north of the capital. But far from establishing peace, the pact seems to have allowed the Taliban free rein to expand their harsh religious rule.
“Just days after the truce was signed, a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his mountain village, having received assurances from the government that it was safe. He was promptly kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured and murdered. The militants then erected roadblocks to search cars for any relatives who dared travel there for his funeral. None did.
“This week, two Pakistani soldiers who were part of a convoy escorting a water tanker were shot and killed because they failed to inform the Taliban in advance of their movements.
“On Wednesday, the provincial government signed an accord with the local Taliban leader that imposes Islamic law, or Shariah, in the area, and institutes a host of new regulations, including a ban on music, a requirement that shops close during calls to prayer and the installation of complaint boxes for reports of anti-Islamic behavior. Local residents are skeptical that girls’ schools will be allowed to reopen.
“…There was no mention of the future of girls’ education in the accord on Wednesday, an ominous sign, said opponents of the Taliban. The militants have burned hundreds of girls’ schools in Swat in the past year, and banished the students to their homes.
“… Rahmat Ali, the man who was killed after returning home to his mountain village, Mandal Dag, was abducted and held for five days, ‘There was no skin on his back [when we found him],” [a relative] said. ‘We had advised him, ‘You shouldn’t go, you shouldn’t trust the Taliban.’”
OBAMA PLAYING WITH FIRE
Tom Gross adds: But amazingly trusting the Taliban is what Barack Obama seems about to do. In an interview with The New York Times yesterday (in a piece titled “Obama Ponders Outreach to Elements of the Taliban”), Obama indicated he would open talks with the Taliban.
The Swat region of Pakistan which has now been handed over to the Taliban, is not some small province, but an area in which millions of people will now be subjected to the horrors of Taliban rule. Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled the area in recent months.
Swat was historically a tolerant, princely kingdom. Until recently it attracted much tourism. Surprisingly, European donors have budgeted money for development in Swat.
“THE NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT WILL NOT RECOGNIZE THE ZIONIST ENTITY”
Hamas leader Dr. Mahmnoud Al-Zahhar has reiterated in an interview with the UAE-based Al-Khalij newspaper that “a Palestinian national unity government would not recognize the Zionist entity.” (i.e. Israel)
“The Zionist entity is an alien body and should be removed from Palestine,” he said.
Several western governments and left-wing Israeli Jews have said they would welcome a Palestinian unity government. Apparently they think the relative moderates of Fatah rather than the extremists of Hamas would gain the upper hand in any such government.
DONOR CONFERENCE EXCEEDS GOAL FOR GAZA RECONSTRUCTION
Last Monday’s donors’ conference in Sharm A-Sheikh succeeded “beyond expectations,” according to an Egyptian official. Eighty-seven nations and financial organizations were represented at the Sinai resort town as the pledges poured in. While the target goal was about $3 billion, $4.4 billion in new funds was pledged. When added to pledges previously made this year to the Palestinian Authority, the total exceeds $5 billion in donations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “a very productive conference.”
Israel’s Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu, however, voiced serious reservations about cash going into Gaza Strip before the rocket fire on Israel has stopped.
Surprisingly, one of the few discordant Arab voices sharing Israel’s reservations, was Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, who said rebuilding Gaza would be “difficult and foolhardy, so long as peace and security do not prevail there.” Hamas attacked his remarks.
Mark Kirk, a Republican member of the U.S. Congress was among those criticizing Clinton. “For the U.S. to give $900 million to Gaza, and let’s say Hamas was only able to steal 10 percent of that, we would still become Hamas’ second-largest funder after Iran,” he said.
ISRAEL SUBMITS LETTER OF COMPLAINT TO UN ON CONTINUING ROCKET FIRE
In the wake of continuing rocket and mortar fire from Gaza at civilians in southern Israel, a letter of complaint was submitted last week by Israel to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to the President of the Security Council.
The letter began: “On 1 March 2009 alone, twelve Qassam rockets were fired at the Israeli city of Sderot from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. One day earlier, on 28 February 2009, an advanced Grad rocket hit a school in Ashkelon, destroying classrooms and spraying pieces of shrapnel in all directions. Two civilians were wounded in the attack. Had the school building not been closed for the Jewish Sabbath, there almost certainly would have been many more casualties. Since Israel declared a unilateral hold-fire on 18 January 2009, there have been nearly 100 rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip…”
The UN has yet to respond to Israel’s letter.
ROCKET HITS SYNAGOGUE
Six more rockets were fired at Israel this weekend as Hamas said it welcomed the record amounts of money foreign governments pledged last week to pour into Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Last week civilians in southern Israel endured a further barrage of short and long range rockets fired from “cash-strapped” Gaza. The long range rockets included several with increased range and penetrating power.
One rocket hit a synagogue in the town of Netivot, causing damage to the building. Even though news editors were aware of the attack on the synagogue since Reuters and The Associated Press reported on it, few western media bothered to tell their readers or viewers about it.
Representatives of ten schools and 22 kindergartens in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon pleaded with the Israeli government yesterday to reinforce their premises with even thicker roofs to try and protect children from incoming missiles.
ISRAEL CONCERNED AS WHITE HOUSE FAILS TO CONDEMN BULLDOZER TERROR ATTACK
On Thursday, a Palestinian driver rammed his bulldozer into a bus and a car at one of Jerusalem’s busiest intersections, injuring two Israelis, before he was shot dead by an alert Israeli policeman.
Reuters reported that an open Koran, the Muslim holy book, was found in the driver’s cabin, at a page extolling the “virtues” of “martyrdom.” The driver shouted Koranic verses as he carried out the attack. This detail was omitted by many of those western news outlets that did bother to report on this latest bulldozer terror attack. Last year, several Israeli men and women were killed in a series of terror attacks carried out by Palestinians driving bulldozers.
Video from a traffic camera showed the bulldozer carefully lowering its front shovel, maneuvering round, before striking a car, rolling the vehicle across the intersection, flipping it over and smashing it into a bus. The bus was not empty, as incorrectly reported by some media, but filled with youngsters in Purim holiday dress. Miraculously none of the children was seriously hurt. One of the Israeli policemen injured by the terrorist was an Israeli Arab.
Riyad al-Malki, information minister for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s western-backed government, described the incident as a “traffic accident.”
Hamas welcomed the attack saying it was a “natural response to the policies of the Zionist entity.” The attack took place on a major traffic intersection close to the city’s largest shopping mall.
Israeli officials expressed astonishment that the White House failed to swiftly condemn the Jerusalem attack. This seems to mark a departure from the practice by previous U.S. administrations of immediately condemning terrorism against Israelis. President Bush had condemned the previous terror tractor rampages.