* Leading African-American student group takes out full page ads in college newspapers calling on anti-Israel activists to stop abusing the term “apartheid”. “Life in the West Bank bares no relation to the terrible way blacks were treated in South Africa.”
* Israeli-built Iron Dome makes world history by successfully intercepting terrorist rockets.
* Israelis and Iranians work side by side in Japan.
* Condition of 16-year-old boy targeted by Hamas in his school bus last week deteriorates rapidly today; he is said to be near death.
* Egyptian military court sentences a blogger to three years in prison for criticizing the country’s military rulers, sending panic waves through Egypt’s pro-democracy community.
* Norwegian Foreign Minister warns those participating in a new Gaza flotilla not to go. “Everything you are bringing, they have already in the shops in Gaza,” he says.
1. Black students group slams “Israel Apartheid Week” abuse
2. Reuters admits Palestinian economy is buoyant in West Bank
3. Odelia Nechama, 14, of Jerusalem
4. European Jews express dismay over Ashton’s latest biased remarks
5. Photos of schoolboy victim of Hamas rocket attack on Israeli school bus
6. In world first, Israeli-produced iron dome intercepts rockets
7. Hamas tries to explain why it hit a school bus
8. Israel tries to avoid new flotilla confrontation
9. Attack on “Hamas arms vehicle” in Sudan
10. Israelis, Iranians working side by side in Japan
11. Iran says it might wipe zeros off its currency in effort to curb inflation
12. Washington quietly halts arms deliveries to Lebanon
13. U.S. lawyers to sue Goldstone over Gaza report reversal
14. Egyptian army vows that Egypt won’t succumb to Islamic rule
15. “How would the left have reacted had Juliano been murdered by Jews?” (By Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz, April 7, 2011)
16. “Israel and the UN” (Editorial, Chicago Tribune, April 4, 2011)
17. “Israeli field hospital carries on inspiring work in Japan” (By Catherine Porter, Toronto Star, April 4, 2011)
18. “The shameful Arab silence on Syria’ (By Michael Young, Beirut Daily Star, April 7, 2011)
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
BLACK STUDENTS GROUP SLAMS “ISRAEL APARTHEID WEEK” ABUSE
A leading African-American students group has placed advertisements in college newspapers strongly criticizing the organizers of “Israel Apartheid week” for their abuse of the term “apartheid”.
In a full page advert titled “Words Matter,” which appeared in newspapers on April 7, the Vanguard Leadership Group, a leadership development academy for top African-American students, accused “Students for Justice in Palestine” of a “false and deeply offensive” characterization of Israel.
“SJP has chosen to manipulate rather than inform with this illegitimate analogy,” states the ad, which was signed by students at a number of historically African-American colleges. “We request that you immediately stop referring to Israel as an apartheid society… decency, justice and hope compel us to demand immediate cessation to this deliberate misappropriation of words.”
The ad appeared in newspapers on campuses that witnessed “Israel Apartheid Week” activity last month, including Brown University, the University of California-Los Angeles, Columbia University and the University of Maryland.
The group added that many of their leaders had visited Israel and the situation bore no comparison with the horrors of apartheid South Africa and to suggest that it did was propaganda.
Vanguard President Michael Hayes said: “Additionally, this rhetoric does absolutely nothing to help Israel-Palestine negotiations or relations. We feel this type of action serves to hinder the peace process domestically and abroad, and have made it our priority to take a stand to shift the tide of understanding.”
He added that “Students for Justice in Palestine’s campaign against Israel is spreading misinformation about its policies, fostering bias in the media and jeopardizing prospects for a timely resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such irresponsibility is a blemish on your efforts.”
* Among recent past dispatches discussing “Israel Apartheid Week,” please see this one.
REUTERS ADMITS: PALESTINIAN ECONOMY IS BUOYANT IN WEST BANK
For years, I have been reporting that major Western media have misled their audience (including Western politicians) by talking of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the West Bank. I am glad to report that last week, Reuters, the world’s second biggest news agency, reported on the economic boom in Ramallah, West Bank’s de facto capital, as follows:
Cafe culture blooms in West Bank’s Ramallah
By Mohammed Assadi
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - While Paris’s Left Bank is famous for its fine restaurants and bustling cafes, Palestine’s West Bank is not. But that might be about to change.
The hilly city of Ramallah, which lies just to the north of Jerusalem, has undergone a massive boom in recent years on the back of Western donor support, with new smart eateries and bars mushrooming alongside a plethora of pristine office blocks.
Latest data says Ramallah and the adjacent town of Al-Bireh that it has utterly engulfed have more than 120 coffee shops and some 300 restaurants, with 50 new diners opening in 2010 alone.
“When I started, I was competing with three to four other places, now I compete with many,” said Peter Nasir, who turned an abandoned family house into a bustling restaurant in 2007, which draws around 150 customers a day.
“Restaurants are good business,” said Nasir, whose popular Azure restaurant lies close to the city center.
Until recently a small town in the occupied West Bank, Ramallah has seen its population double in the last decade to around 100,000, and plays host to a growing army of NGO workers, diplomats and an increasingly wealthy, middle-class elite.
“These people need food, need to sit down and talk, need to hold receptions. This explains the increase in restaurants,” said Mohammad Amin, head of Ramallah Chamber of Commerce…
ODELIA NECHAMA, 14, OF JERUSALEM
The New York Times, misleading its readers as it so often does when it comes to international affairs, described the Jerusalem bus bomb three weeks ago, as a “small bomb” in the opening words in its story. What they, and the rest of the media, haven’t told their readers is that several Israeli children remain injured as a result of the Palestinian attack.
I would like to draw attention to one of them in particular – 14-year-old Odelia Nechama of Jerusalem – because a subscriber to this email list (who is herself a survivor of a coma) knows Odelia and is visiting her and her mother in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital.
Odelia remains in a critical condition, in a coma, blinded in both eyes, and with horrendous burns all over her body. Odelia was a loving and happy girl who happened to be walking next to the bus on her way home from school when the bomb exploded.
As far as I can see, not only has Odelia not been mentioned once in any international newspaper, but the Israeli media has also not written about her.
Among others who were injured in that attack were: Natan Daniel, aged 17, who suffered massive internal injuries and has had a number of internal organs removed; Leah Bracha, 19, who suffered burns to her legs and arms; Shilo ben Ofra, who is 15, and suffered burns and fractures to his legs and lower abdomen; Netanel ben Shlomit, aged 18, who has had surgery for injuries to his abdomen; Elhanan Ovadia, who is 14, and suffered serious injuries to his feet and may not be able to walk again; Daniel ben Nurit, who is 13 years old, and suffered lacerations and shrapnel injuries to his feet and legs; Sasson ben Shulamit, who suffered lower body injuries – this is the second time Sasson has been injured in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem; and several other people.
As I wrote last month, among those injured in the “small” bomb were six Americans, and a British woman was killed – but neither the American nor British media seem interested in mentioning them.
Israeli police search for clues in the aftermath of a Palestinian terror attack
Among my past articles about the forgotten survivors of terror attacks, please see this article in The Wall Street Journal.
EUROPEAN JEWS EXPRESS DISMAY OVER ASHTON’S LATEST BIASED REMARKS
A senior European Jewish leader has expressed dismay at what he called the latest “partisan and ignorant outburst” by EU Foreign Policy Chief Baroness Catherine Ashton of Britain, after she condemned Israeli counter-terrorism measures against Hamas rocket crews firing missiles at Israeli civilians, but did not properly condemn Hamas for launching waves of missiles at southern Israel in recent days.
“We are dismayed by the choice of words chosen by the European Union after the attacks against Israeli civilians and, in particular by the fact that the statement (by Ashton) omits any mention of the firing of an antitank missile on a school bus in southern Israel by Hamas,” one French Jewish leader said.
PHOTOS OF SCHOOL BOY VICTIM OF HAMAS ROCKET ATTACK ON ISRAELI SCHOOL BUS
[I sent this note to some people on the day it happened]
Since many foreign media have declined to print this, here are photos of the school bus hit by a Hamas rocket last Thursday (referred to at the end of the note above).
A 16-year-old boy, Daniel Viflic, was seriously wounded and remains on life support in intensive care. Luckily most of the schoolchildren had already got off the bus at previous stops by the time it was hit.
At least 55 other shells and rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza in a three hour period that afternoon, some targeting the ambulance crew who had come to try and save Daniel Viflic. During last weekend over 120 rockets were fired at civilians in Israel and tens of thousands of Israelis sought refuge in bomb shelters.
Some Palestinian rockets into Israel reached as far as the major southern city of Beersheba.
Today, Daniel Viflic’s condition worsened considerably and his status was upgraded to extremely critical at Beersheba hospital. Viflic suffered severe head wounds. He was en route to visit his grandmother when Hamas targeted him.
An Israeli spokesperson said that “the Kornet missile used by Hamas in the attack has a warhead capable of penetrating the armor of a modern tank. A school bus stood no chance against this advanced weapon. Though it hit the rear of the bus, it injured the driver and young passenger in the front. It was a miracle that the dozens of other children who had disembarked only minutes before were not killed, in what could have been the worst large-scale massacre of Israeli schoolchildren in years.
“The deliberate targeting of the school bus constitutes a war crime, one that should be condemned by the international community.”
Tom Gross adds: The Kornet is an advanced laser-guided anti-tank missile which can easily hit the specific target chosen by its operator. The bright yellow school bus, which travels the same route in Israel every day, was an easy target for Hamas.
IN WORLD FIRST, ISRAELI-PRODUCED IRON DOME INTERCEPTS ROCKETS
For the first time, some of the rockets from Gaza in recent days were intercepted by the new Israeli missile defense system known as the “Iron Dome”. Other countries around the world now say they wish to study the Israeli-produced Iron Dome.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported over the weekend that WikiLeaks-revealed cables sent between Israeli and American intelligence officials estimate that in the next war between Israel and Hamas as many as 36,000 rockets will be fired at Israel, about 6,000 of which will be aimed at Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city.
A poll of 1,270 Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem last week revealed that one-third of Palestinians supported the Itamar massacre last month in which an Israeli couple and their three young children had their throats slit, the Associated Press reports.
HAMAS TRIES TO EXPLAIN WHY IT HIT A SCHOOL BUS
In this Military Communiqué (from its slick European-funded, English language website), Hamas claims (wrongly) that all those injured by its various rockets attacks into southern Israel in recent days were “settlers”:
In fact none of those Israeli injured were settlers (and just in case any readers think Hamas is telling the truth on its website, “the Zionist entity” did not “target ambulance crews, press, mosques” last weekend, as claimed by Hamas).
ISRAEL TRIES TO AVOID NEW FLOTILLA CONFRONTATION
In spite of Israeli efforts to stop weapons’ smuggling into Gaza, huge amounts of arms continue to flow in, mainly from Egypt. There are also attempts to smuggle in missiles by sea, often in the guise of so-called humanitarian flotillas.
“Hamas weapons capability increased four-fold over last five years,” Ha’aretz reported last week, both in terms of numbers of rockets and their range.
A major new “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” hopes to reach the Hamas-controlled territory next month, but the Israeli navy is likely to intercept and search it to stop weapons from reaching Palestinian militants.
On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and asked that he try to stop the planned flotilla. The flotilla is being organized by “extremist Islamic elements whose aim is to create a provocation and bring about a conflagration,” Netanyahu told Ban.
Organizers of the flotilla said participants are expected from Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Philippines, Turkey, the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, the U.K., Italy, France, and Ireland, sailing on approximately 15 boats from a number of ports.
In the past Norway has been quite anti-Israel, but yesterday Norway’s foreign minister warned those thinking of joining next month’s planned Gaza flotilla “not to be exploited.” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told the newspaper VG Nett that “everyone should be aware that” goods carried aboard the ship are already available in Gaza and will likely wind up in the hands of Hamas leadership. He said those interested in participating in the May flotilla are “in risk of being exploited by groups with different interests.”
ATTACK ON “HAMAS ARMS VEHICLE” IN SUDAN KILLS TWO
Two people were killed in an air attack on a car near Sudan’s main port last week. Israel is believed to be responsible although there has been no comment from Jerusalem.
The car was carrying sophisticated weaponry, believed to be destined for Hamas in Gaza.
Sudanese police said a missile fired from the sea struck the moving vehicle in a precise hit, destroying the arsenal of weapons inside and killing the two occupants. The Arabic TV station Al Arabiya reported that one of the occupants was a top Hamas commander.
In 2009, a 23-truck convoy of arms smugglers was hit by unidentified aircraft in Sudan, a strike that some reports alleged was carried out by Israel. (For more on that, please see the dispatch titled “Israel’s Sudan strike targeted weapons capable of hitting Tel Aviv and Dimona”.)
Last month, Egyptian forces blocked a five-vehicle weapons convoy trying to cross the border from Sudan.
ISRAELIS, IRANIANS WORKING SIDE BY SIDE IN JAPAN
Israel was one of the first and most active countries in coming to the assistance of victims of last month’s devastating Tsunami and earthquake in Japan, as reported in the article in The Toronto Star (below). (Within 24 hours of the tsunami Israel had sent more than 50 doctors, 32 tons of equipment, and 18 tons of humanitarian aid, including 10,000 coats, 6,000 gloves and 150 portable toilets.)
But one underreported oddity is that one of the teams of Israeli medical volunteers helping uncover bodies in the Japanese coast found themselves working together with a group from Iran.
“It was only while we were working that we noticed the Iranian flag flying over the food station,” said Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the head of the delegation made up of ZAKA volunteers from Israel. “After the initial embarrassment on both sides, we all put our political views to the side in order to carry out our shared humanitarian effort.”
Iran has armed and funded the Islamic militia Hamas and Hizbullah that have repeatedly carried out terror attacks on Israeli civilians, and the Iranian president has called for the destruction of Israel.
IRAN SAYS IT MIGHT WIPE ZEROS OFF ITS CURRENCY IN EFFORT TO CURB INFLATION
In an attempt to bring down the appearance of inflation without actually stabilizing or lowering prices, Iran’s finance minister, Shamseddin Hoseini, told the state-run IRNA news agency that the rial will soon lose three or even four of its zeros. He said the change would simplify business transactions.
The U.S. dollar currently buys about 10,000 Iranian rials, so even small purchases now cost thousands of rials.
WASHINGTON QUIETLY HALTS ARMS DELIVERIES TO LEBANON
The U.S. has quietly frozen weapon shipments to Lebanon’s armed forces following the collapse of the country’s pro-Western government in January. The Obama administration seems to be seriously concerned about the increasing role of the Iranian proxy militia Hizbullah in Lebanon. It fears that Hizbullah is becoming so powerful it may even take over the Lebanese armed forces.
Hizbullah, which is also backed by the Assad regime in Syria, is classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
The Daily Star in Beirut reported that the arms freeze has been approved by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but the decision hasn’t been publicly announced because of concerns the disclosure could interfere with delicate internal negotiations in Lebanon over a new government’s makeup and policies.
Defense officials said the U.S. is continuing to provide training and nonlethal assistance to the Lebanese military, describing the ties that are active as “robust.”
Since 2006, the U.S. has provided more than $720 million in support to the Lebanese military, including equipment and advanced training.
U.S. LAWYERS TO SUE GOLDSTONE OVER GAZA REPORT REVERSAL
A group of U.S. lawyers has announced plans to sue Judge Richard Goldstone following his acknowledgment that Israel had not intentionally targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead, nearly two years after he claimed they had done so in a report that became a media and political sensation around the world.
The civil lawsuit, to be filed in a Manhattan court, will call on the South African judge to make a public apology to Israel for the allegations, as well as pay a symbolic amount in damages for causing a “blood libel” against the Jewish people.
Judge Goldstone said last week in The Washington Post that he no longer stood by central claims of his controversial report into IDF conduct in Gaza.
* For background, please see last week’s dispatch: Goldstone’s remarkable about-face (& Jeremy Bowen: Mugged by reality)
EGYPTIAN ARMY VOWS THAT EGYPT WON’T SUCCUMB TO ISLAMIC RULE
The Egyptian army won’t allow the country to be ruled by Islamists, it said in a statement. “Egypt will not be governed by another Khomeini,” the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said.
Egyptian liberal and secular groups, as well as Western powers, are concerned about the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other more extreme Islamic groups in Egypt.
The military, which controls the transitional government now in power, reiterated its commitment to transfer power to civilian rule after legislative and presidential elections this fall, and to respect freedom of expression.
However, they have been cracking downs on protestors in recent days. On Saturday, the army beat to death two pro-democracy activists in central Cairo who had called on corrupt Egyptian generals to be investigated for wrongdoings.
And yesterday, an Egyptian military court sentenced a blogger, Maikel Nabil, to three years in prison for criticizing the country’s military rulers. The verdict is sending panic waves through Egypt’s blogging community, many of whom had expected the army-led transitional government to usher in a new era of freedom.
* For background, please see last week’s dispatch: Egypt: The Hangover begins (& Egypt Air wipes Israel off the map)
I attach four pieces below. The final one is by Michael Young (the opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star), who is a subscriber to this email list. Young writes on “The shameful Arab silence on Syria”. I published a piece last week on the shameful Western silence on Syria, which I sent to some people but not to the full list. It can be read here.
[All notes above by Tom Gross]
ISRAEL’S LEFT NEEDS TO WISE UP TO MIDDLE EAST REALITY
Israel’s left needs to wise up to Middle East reality
How would the left have reacted had Juliano Mer-Khamis been murdered by Jews?
By Ari Shavit
April 7, 2011
It is not hard to imagine what would have happened had Juliano Mer-Khamis been murdered by Jews. The murder would receive a huge headline in Ha’aretz. Under the headline, five furious analyses would appear – one of them mine.
The writers would harshly denounce the Jewish murderousness and urge a culture war against Jewish fanaticism. Others would demand not to repeat the mistake made after Baruch Goldstein’s murderous rampage and to evacuate the settlements immediately. Others would demand to look into the goings on in the Hesder yeshivas, which offer Torah studies alongside military service, and the state-run religious education system.
Selected racist quotes would be pulled out of primitive rabbis’ writings, historic comparisons would be made to Emil Gruenzweig’s murder and Yitzhak Rabin’s murder and Martin Luther King’s murder.
Within a day Mer-Khamis would become an icon. On Saturday night thousands would gather holding torches to mourn the peace hero and rise up against the powers of darkness. Mer-Khamis’ murder at the hands of Jews would rebuild the left, reunite it and send it to a new battle against murderous Jewish fascism.
But Juliano Mer-Khamis was not murdered by Jews. So instead of a huge headline he got a story below the fold. Instead of five angry essays, he received only one (beautiful) eulogy.
Nobody talked about racism, fanaticism and fascism. Nobody spoke of education systems spreading hatred and about primitive clergy. Mer-Khamis did not become an icon and thousands of people did not demonstrate.
Mer’s murder raised neither protest nor outrage nor holy rage. The Israeli left, which knows exactly what to do with a murder by Jews, does not know what to do with murder by Palestinians.
The murder of a peace hero by Palestinians has no place on the left’s emotional and ideological map. The murder of a freedom hero by Palestinians is a dogma-undermining, paradigm-subverting event for the left. Mer-Khamis’ murder by Palestinians is a murder doomed for repression.
This is a deep, broad issue that goes beyond just the Israeli left. One of the outstanding characteristics of Western enlightenment in the 21st century is its inability to denounce forces of evil in the Arab-Muslim world. Western enlightenment likes to criticize the West. It especially likes to criticize the West’s allies in the East. But when it runs into evil originating in the East, it falls silent.
It does not know how to deal with it. It is easy to come out against pro-Western Hosni Mubarak, but hard to come out against the Muslim Brotherhood. It is easy to come out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but hard to come out against Bashar Assad. The enlightened West is incapable of fighting Iran’s Ahmadinejad as it fought against America’s Bushes, South Africa’s Botha or Serbia’s Milosevic.
The result is a long line of distortions. The blood of the Marmara flotilla fatalities is thicker than the blood of those who were murdered and hung in Iran. The blood of the people killed in Gaza is thicker than the blood of those killed in Damascus and Dara’a.
A post-colonial complex makes Western enlightenment systematically ignore injustices caused by anti-Western forces. Thus it loses the ability to see historic reality as a whole, in all its complexity. It also makes it act unfairly and unjustly.
It discriminates between different kinds of evil, different kinds of blood and different kinds of victims. It treats third-world societies as though they are not subject to universal moral norms.
It is not yet clear yet who murdered Mer-Khamis. The motive could have been financial, personal, religious or cultural. But it is clear he was not murdered for being an occupier, or an oppressor or a settler. Mer was murdered because he was a free man, who spread freedom in a society that is not free.
This is the hard truth we must deal with. This is the hard truth we must look at straight in the eye. The Western enlightenment and the Israeli left cannot continue to ignore the dark side of Middle Eastern reality.
SO WHERE DOES A NATION GO TO GET ITS REPUTATION BACK?
Israel and the UN
April 4, 2011
In 2009, a United Nations panel led by Richard Goldstone issued a 575-page bombshell of a report. It accused Israel of committing war crimes against the Palestinians in a three-week Gaza invasion. The Goldstone report was a diplomatic bonanza for Israel’s enemies around the world. The report was so damning that some Israeli officials stopped traveling abroad for fear they’d be arrested for war crimes.
On Friday, Goldstone wrote an op-ed about his report in The Washington Post that can be summarized in two words: Never mind.
“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document,” he wrote. Goldstone said he no longer believed one of the report’s most incendiary charges: that Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians during its invasion of Gaza.
So where does a nation go to get its reputation back?
Israeli leaders have complained for years that the UN is biased against the Jewish state, that it judges almost every action of Israel through a Palestinian prism.
And now … evidence. Not just a disastrously wrong report. But evidence that the entire enterprise was skewed against Israel from the start.
Skewed is not our word. It’s Goldstone’s. He writes that he “insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel.”
He writes that he “had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the UN Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.”
That should surprise no one. Israel has hardly been blameless in the decades of Middle East strife, but the UN human rights panel has overlooked slaughter and genocide in places around the world and focused almost exclusively, year after year, on Israel’s alleged misdeeds. The human rights panel once elevated Libya to leadership and coddled the worst human rights abusers around the globe, including Iran and Sudan.
Goldstone was supposed to be the exception: He wasn’t believed to be reflexively anti-Israel.
How did he get it so wrong? Goldstone regrets that his panel didn’t have “Israeli evidence that has emerged” since the report’s publication “explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”
So absent facts, the Goldstone panel reached the conclusion that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians, a sensational accusation. We hope Goldstone continues to elaborate on whatever pressures or politics led to the conclusion.
So what do we know?
Israel didn’t target civilians. Hamas did. It sent hundreds of rockets into Israeli towns.
The report called on Israel and Hamas to investigate their soldiers’ actions. Israel did. Hamas didn’t. A Hamas official told The New York Times that there was nothing to investigate because firing rockets to kill civilians in Israel is “a right of self-defense…”
The UN should formally retract the Goldstone report. But it can’t stop there. The UN needs to acknowledge that it has not been an honest broker in the Middle East. It needs to acknowledge that its human rights panel continues to be an embarrassment that greatly undermines the standing of the world body.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the UN may vote this fall to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The UN would declare the boundaries —and that would put Israel in the position of occupying land belonging to a sovereign state and member of the UN.
The UN does not have the moral authority for such a declaration. It has not been an honest broker. Not even close.
“FORTY COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD APPROACHED JAPAN AND OFFERED THEIR ASSISTANCE. WE WERE THE ONLY ONES TO COME”
Israeli field hospital carries on inspiring work in Japan
By Catherine Porter
April 4, 2011
Three days after the earthquake levelled Port-au-Prince last year, a foreign medical team set up a hospital in a soccer field with equipment and supplies unheard of in the rest of the broken city – an X-ray machine, a blood lab, an ultrasound and two incubators for babies who were born prematurely to traumatized mothers.
Now, at the cusp of Japan’s ground zero, where a whole village was dragged out to sea, the same foreign team has erected seven medical buildings. Equipped with many of the same supplies used by the team in Haiti, they are helping hundreds of survivors.
Your guess: the medical team comes from the United States? France? Canada?
“Forty countries around the world approached Japan and offered their (medical) assistance. We were the only ones to come,” Dr. Ofer Merin told me by phone from the remains of Minami-Sanriku, seven hours north of Tokyo. “It’s a real privilege.”
Merin is a cardiac surgeon at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zadek hospital. He is also the chief of the field hospital for the Israeli Defense Force’s reserve unit. The field hospital, he told me, is on call for national emergencies and since 1979, has travelled internationally on emergency humanitarian missions.
Japan is their 12th mission.
“If you drop our group in the middle of a desert we can work,” says Merin, who spent two years in Toronto a decade ago, working at Sunnybrook hospital.
I heard about the Israeli hospital in Port-au-Prince, but never saw it. It was mythical — while around most of the city, local and foreign doctors were reduced to civil war-era surgeries, cutting off infected legs with razor blades and no anesthetic, the Israelis offered their patents respirators and blood transfusions in specialized tent wards. A CBS reporter called it “the Rolls-Royce of emergency medical care.”
It was the first foreign field hospital on the ground — landing in the middle of the night three days after the Jan. 12 quake, and operating six hours later. Over the next 10 days, the medical team treated 1,100 patients and conducted 242 surgeries.
The situation is very different in Japan, Merin said. Arriving a couple weeks after a four-storey wall of water swept away more than half of Minami-Sanriku’s 16,000 people, the 50-member medical team isn’t dealing with emergencies.
Instead they’ve set up a clinic with expertise not easily found in rural Japan — gynecology, urology, pediatrics, ophthalmology. Given the gasoline shortage, an obstetrical team has been visiting pregnant women in the scattered emergency shelters, ultrasound in hand.
One of Merin’s colleagues, Dr. David Raveh, writes movingly in his blog about the director of the town’s old-age home who appeared at the clinic with her Japanese doctor, two weeks after the receding wave sucked at her legs.
“What strength she had, to overcome the wild shearing force of waves, holding onto a pole,” he writes.
She thought nothing of the cuts on her legs, tending instead to the elderly residents. Now her jaw and neck were tense, her doctor told him.
“I cut him short after his second sentence, my eyes widening. Tetanus, I said decisively to her doctor.”
To each of these patients, the Israelis’ presence must offer some solace. But the greater work being done is diplomatic, Merin says.
“There was a law in Japan that stated non-Japanese people were not allowed to treat the Japanese on their ground,” Merin says. “Hopefully, this will open their minds, that countries should assist one another.”
The Israeli mission follows the Jewish concept of tikkun olam — to repair the world. But Merin has his own personal reasons for helping. In 1942, the Nazis entered a Polish village and loaded the Jews onto boxcars bound for the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Sensing their impending doom, one couple slipped their 8-year-old son off the train. A Catholic woman living in one village over hid him in her cupboard for 18 months.
“Once the war ended, he got out and eventually went to Israel. He got married and had three sons. I’m the second,” said Merin, 50, who has four children of his own now.
“In the Talmud it says, if you save one life, it’s like saving the entire world.”
THE SHAMEFUL ARAB SILENCE ON SYRIA
The shameful Arab silence on Syria
By Michael Young
Beirut Daily Star
April 7, 2011
Many publicists have excitedly described the liberating promise of Arab satellite stations. However, the stations’ utterly inadequate coverage of the current upheaval in Syria, particularly the Syrian regime’s ruthless suppression of peaceful demonstrations, belies that optimistic view. Their failing can be measured in human lives.
Why have the major satellite stations, Al-Jazeera but also Al-Arabiya, been so profoundly reluctant to highlight the Syrian protests? Why have stations like Al-Hurra and the BBC Arabic channel been so much more imaginative, thorough, and professional in pursuing the story? By way of an answer you might hear that the Syrian authorities control journalists very tightly; that there is no independent footage to broadcast; that those opposed to the regime risk arrest when they are interviewed; and so on. Perhaps, but that’s not convincing.
Take last Friday, when Syrian protesters had called for a “day of the martyrs,” in honor of those gunned down by the Syrian security forces in Deraa and elsewhere. The demonstrations were to begin after noon prayers, at around 1:30 p.m. Yet for two good hours, both Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya relegated the Syria story to a brief and distant third in their broadcasts, focusing instead on Yemen and Libya. And when the day was over and the bodies had been counted, Syria was still not a priority. Al-Jazeera’s nightly news satisfied itself with showing telephone videos from the protests, with little commentary.
Since then things have only gotten worse. It has become a rule of thumb for the stations that when they speak to someone opposed to the Syrian regime, invariably off camera, they must also talk to a pro-regime propagandist, usually some member of Parliament or a political analyst. In journalistic terms, hearing both sides of a story is reasonable. Yet how little that rule was applied in Egypt by the same stations during the movement against Hosni Mubarak. And if the Syrian authorities are imposing that stations contact their devotees, interviewers should at least make this known to viewers.
In his speech last week before the Syrian Parliament, Bashar Assad bluntly accused the Arab satellite stations of inciting the rallies against his regime. But what the Syrian president was really doing was sending a message to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar principally, informing them that if they really wanted him to stay in office, they were better off keeping a lid on their satellite journalists. That warning, or threat, appears to have had an impact. Despite purported disagreements within Al-Jazeera (and, I suspect, similar debates at Al-Arabiya) over how to handle Syria, what is going on in the country continues to be treated with troubling reserve.
Nothing prevents these stations from borrowing much more from social media to strengthen their anemic reporting. Twitter is an invaluable resource for keeping pace with the hourly specifics of the Syrian revolt. Facebook is even more essential for the protesters themselves, as they plan their next move. Not surprisingly, quite a few Syrians posting on the site have expressed outrage with the way the satellite stations, Al-Jazeera in particular, have ignored their plight.
Showing telephone videos of people marching, or being shot at, is useful. However, without a context, without an informed explanation of what is going on and what viewers are seeing; without playing these videos on air to Syrian officials and demanding that they explain the murder of unarmed civilians expressing themselves peacefully, the power of media is stunted. One gets a nagging sense that the coverage on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya is an outcome of political compromises, but also, in Al-Jazeera’s case, of the station’s ideological agenda.
To toss Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya into the same basket is entirely justified here, because both Saudi Arabia and Qatar share a desire to avert a breakdown in Syria, fearing that chaos might ensue. Their views are echoed by a majority of Gulf states, whose leaders have called Assad lately to express their backing. Nor is there any quarrel with this in Washington, where the Obama administration has been baldly two-faced – praising itself for preventing human rights abuses by the Gadhafi regime in Libya while offering only pro forma criticism of the shocking number of deaths in Syria.
The hypocrisy of Al-Jazeera, the most popular Arab satellite station, is especially worthy of mention. In Egypt, Libya or Yemen, for instance, the station devotes, or has devoted, long segments allowing viewers to call in and express disapproval of their leaders alongside their high hopes for the success of the revolution. In Syria, nothing.
The reality is that the political allegiances and the self-image of Al-Jazeera make this thorny. Syria is part of the “resistance axis,” and the downfall of its regime would only harm Hezbollah and Hamas. The same lack of enthusiasm characterized the station’s coverage of Lebanon’s Independence Intifada against Syria in 2005. It is easy to undermine Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi, and Hosni Mubarak, each of whom in his own way is or was a renegade to the Arabs. But to go after Bashar Assad means reversing years of Al-Jazeera coverage sympathetic to the Syrian leader. Rather conveniently, refusing to do so dovetails with the consensus in the Arab political leadership.
So the Syrians find themselves largely abandoned today, their struggle not enjoying the customary Al-Jazeera treatment – high in emotion and electric in the slogans of mobilization. The televised Arab narrative of liberty has not quite avoided Syria, but nor has it integrated the Syrians’ cause. As the Arab stations weigh what to do next, they may still hope that the Syrian story will disappear soon, and their duplicity with it. Shame on them.