Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Saudi employer hammers nails into Sri Lankan maid (& Booth converts to Islam)

October 29, 2010

* 24 nails hammered into her hands, legs and forehead leave Sri Lankan women with permanent injuries. Video below from Al-Jazeera English (but why don’t the BBC and CNN cover this?)

* Moderate Israeli MK cancels trip to Spain where he was invited to attend a peace summit with Palestinians this weekend, after the government in Madrid tells him they would not offer him immunity from arrest for “war crimes”.

* Is Roger Cohen “the Walter Duranty of his day”?



1. Saudi employer hammers nails into Sri Lankan maid
2. One Saudi prince finds he’s no longer above the law
3. Moderate Israeli parliamentarian unable to travel to Spain for peace conference
4. Israeli opposition leader still unable to visit Britain for fear of arrest
5. Pro-Palestinian propagandists given a warm welcome in the British House of Commons
6. Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth converts to Islam
7. Iranian news agency reports chocolate thief to lose hand
8. New York Times’ quote of the week

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


To its credit, Al-Jazeera English has run another report on the incredible mistreatment of many of the millions of foreigners employed as domestic laborers (and in many cases as slaves) in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf. (As I have pointed out before, Al-Jazeera English is in many ways not only more balanced in its Mideast coverage than Al-Jazeera Arabic, but also when compared to the English-language BBC and CNN.)

It is well worth watching this short video from Al-Jazeera of a Sri Lankan woman working as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia who, after complaining about being overworked, had 24 nails hammered into her hands, legs and forehead, which later had to be surgically removed.

A number of senior producers and correspondents, as well as management at both the BBC and CNN, subscribe to this email list, and I am asking them publically: Why aren’t you covering this?

As reported recently in these dispatches, the Obama administration has just agreed on a world record $60 billion arms sale to the Saudi regime. (For details, see note 2 here.)



Last week, a Saudi prince was found guilty in London of abusing and then strangling to death a servant at London’s prestigious Landmark Hotel last February.

The court was told that Prince Al Saud “carried out frequent and ferocious attacks on his aide for his own personal gratification.”

Jurors were also told that the servant “was left so worn down and injured with a ‘cauliflower’ ear and a swollen eye in previous attacks (about which the authorities in Saudi Arabia and Britain did nothing), that he let Al Saud kill him in the final attack without a fight.”

Al Saud’s father is a nephew of the Saudi king and his mother is a daughter of the monarch.



Israeli MK Avi Dichter has canceled a trip to Spain for fear of arrest, after the government in Madrid told Dichter, who used to head the Israeli Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, that they would not offer him immunity and that he might be arrested and possibly imprisoned for “war crimes”.

Dichter, a political moderate from Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party, was invited to Spain by a Spanish organization called The Madrid Coalition, to take part in a peace summit this weekend focusing on the Saudi initiative. Senior officials from the Palestinian Authority, including Mohammed Dahlan – notorious for overseeing the torture of Hamas members and other Palestinian opponents of Hamas – will be attending without fear of arrest.

The Madrid Coalition works in cooperation with the former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.

“It’s absurd that representatives from the Palestinian Authority, who worked within the Palestinian security mechanism with God knows what kind of record, will experience no difficulties when they arrive in Spain,” said Dichter.

Tom Gross adds: Spanish troops have killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and Spain continues to occupy part of Morocco, and (some would say) the Basque country, but Spanish politicians can attend peace conferences in other countries without fear of arrest.



This is not the first time that senior Israel politicians have been forced to cancel trips to European Union countries. For example, an arrest warrant was taken out last year in Britain against Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s center-left Kadima opposition party, over claims she committed “war crimes” when she served as Israeli Foreign Minister. Until this day Livni says she has been unable to visit Britain for fear of arrest. Ironically Livni’s parents, Eitan Livni and Sara Rosenberg, were both arrested and imprisoned by the British government in Jerusalem in the 1940s.

When Livni traveled to Poland to attend a Holocaust memorial event in Auschwitz earlier this year, advertising billboards greeted her as she arrived in nearby Krakow. They read “Livni, wanted for war crimes: 10,000 euro reward for information leading to her arrest.”

Livni is strongly supportive of the peace process and a two state solution, not that this seems to impress anti-Israel agitators in Britain, Poland and elsewhere.

The new British Ambassador to Tel Aviv, Matthew Gould, who is a subscriber to this email list, said that the British government planned to change the law so political leaders like Livni couldn’t be arrested for “war crimes” if they visited the U.K.



In the past, pro-Israel Jews have been barred from meetings such as the one below. One subscriber to this email list tells me “It is a disgrace that these Israel hate anti-Semitic meetings are permitted take place in the British Parliament.”

The following was sent out on a mass email list:

Eyewitness reports from the Viva Palestina convoy, MP’s and architects about the situations in Gaza
Tuesday 2nd November, 7pm, House of Commons, London, SW1A
Speakers include:

* Jeremy Corbyn MP
* Lord Andrew Phillips
* Andy Slaughter MP
* Kevin Ovenden, Viva Palestina
* Richard Allday, Unite the Union
* Amena Saleem, Palestine Solidarity Campaign
* Yara Sharif and Nasser Golzai, Palestine Regeneration Team

Chair: Sarah Colborne, on the Mavi Marmara and PSC’s Director of Campaigns and Operations

Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla - coupled with its war on Gaza and the findings of the Goldstone report - has led to a seismic shift in public opinion in Britain about Israel, with more and more people understanding the daily reality of living under siege and occupation, and wanting to campaign to end injustice and oppression.

This meeting will bring together eye witness accounts from Viva Palestina’s latest convoy, Parliamentary delegations and those involved in building projects in Gaza, together with members of both the House of Commons and Lords, to hear first hand about the situation there and look at what the new government can do.

RSVP essential - please email: to register.


Tom Gross adds:

Will they be hearing from Turkish journalist Sefik Dinc, who was on the Mavi Marmara ferry when the violent clashes of May 31 took place, and who in a TV interview last week confirmed the Israeli version of events?

Dinc, who also recently published a book in Turkey on the incident, contradicted the claim by anti-Israel activists that Israeli forces fired at the ship even before boarding. “I saw with my own eyes that when the soldiers came on helicopters and started landing on the ship, they did not fire,” he said.

“It wasn’t until the soldiers were met with resistance and realized that some of their friends’ lives were in danger that they began using live ammunition.” Naval commandos participating in the operation claimed that until the first team of soldiers landed on deck and were attacked, they had used only paint guns. Only when three members of the team were overpowered by the activists and dragged below deck, did they begin using “selective” live-fire.

Dinc also corroborates Israeli claims that the activists used metal truncheons to attack the soldiers and said that he and others who had not participated in the violence were treated humanely by the Israeli soldiers.



Tony Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth, who writes for The Mail on Sunday, is a frequent guest commentator on the BBC, and is an employee of the Iranian regime’s English language propaganda arm Press TV, has converted to Islam after “a holy experience” while on a visit to Iran.

Booth said she made the decision after visiting the Fatima al-Masumeh Shrine in Qom, the second most holy city in Iran, leading her to convert immediately on returning to Britain, she told The Mail on Sunday and IslamOnline.

The 43-year-old journalist and anti-Israeli activist has previously been given a Palestinian diplomatic status by the Hamas regime in Gaza. She says she will now cover her head with a hijab when she leaves the house and pray five times daily. She also refused to rule out wearing a burka.

As first reported in this email list / website, a few days before saying that the situation in Gaza was just like a “concentration camp,” and that the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza is on the scale of Darfur,” she was photographed shopping in a well-stocked grocery store in Gaza.

In August, Britain’s media regulator ruled Booth’s Press TV program on the May 31 Gaza flotilla raid was so extreme that it breached broadcasting code rules on impartiality.

In 2003, another prominent British journalist, Yvonne Ridley of The Daily Express, converted to Islam following her kidnapping by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

Ridley, 51, who is also now a presenter on Press TV, declared that the Respect Party (a British political party of which she is a member) is “Zionist free” and if they spotted any “Zionist” in the party they would be “hunted down and kicked out”.


Here is a video of Booth announcing her conversion:


British writer Julie Burchill, a subscriber to this email list, writes: “It’s hard to know where to start when describing the sheer ickiness of Booth. That she works as a paid stooge for the murderous Iranian regime’s television channel has to come pretty near the top. A woman, choosing to act a front for a gang of thugs who uphold the punishment of death by stoning for adulteresses! This is surely Stockholm Syndrome gone gaga.”



An Iranian man convicted of stealing chocolate from a Tehran pastry shop will have his hand chopped off.

The official Iranian FARS news agency said that the unnamed man will also serve a year in jail for disobeying police and for damaging the shop from which he stole the chocolate.



“Turkey has its Iran policy about right”

-- Roger Cohen, the former New York Times foreign editor and now columnist for the Times’ “global edition” The International Herald Tribune, approves of “democratic” key NATO member Turkey coddling up to President Ahmadinejad in his latest column.

An increasing number of people are calling Cohen “the Walter Duranty of his day”.

For those who don’t know, Walter Duranty was, like Roger Cohen, a British-born foreign correspondent for The New York Times. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for a set of stories written in 1931 on the Soviet Union, during which he covered up Stalin’s starving to death of millions of people, mainly Ukrainians, and apologized for the Soviet regime.)

For example, in a New York Times article dated August 23, 1933, Duranty wrote, “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”

And on March 31, 1933, Duranty denounced the reports of mass starvation in other newspapers, in a piece titled “Russians Hungry, But Not Starving.” Malcolm Muggeridge, a correspondent for The Guardian (which was at that time a much more respected and respectable newspaper), called Duranty a “liar.”

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

WikiLeaks inadvertently reveals Israel took great care to avoid civilian casualties

October 28, 2010

* “You in the West do not live like human beings. You do not even live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?” Hamas leader in Gaza Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar tells Reuters.

* Whereas in other modern wars we now know that civilians account for an average of 90 percent of casualties, by contrast in last year’s Israel-Hamas Gaza war, less than half of Palestinian fatalities were noncombatants.

* In a just world, the UN would open up an investigation into all 42 countries with combat troops in Afghanistan (and all the other dozens of conflicts around the world), and WikiLeaks would concentrate on revealing human rights violations and government cover-ups in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

* In spite of the fact that Gaza is much wealthier than Haiti, Gaza has been pledged 7.5 times more U.S. aid per capita than Haiti. The toll of dead and injured in Haiti in the last two years is vastly greater than that of Gaza.

Above: Palestinian victims of Hamas in Gaza last week. Did your local paper carry these AP photos?



1. WikiLeaks story reveals Israel took great care to avoid civilian casualties
2. Can’t write about deaths in Iraq without mentioning Rachel Corrie?
3. Poor George Orwell
4. Israel urges UN not to build Palestinian school next to Hamas arms base
5. Did your local paper run these AP photos of Palestinian children badly injured by Hamas?
6. Nigeria intercepts arms shipment bound for Hamas
7. Statistics of the day
8. Palestinian opinion poll: 49% still support killing civilians inside Israel
9. Poll of east Jerusalem Palestinians: plurality prefer Israeli citizenship over Palestinian one
10. “Don’t preach to us, Hamas tells secular West” (Reuters, Oct. 28, 2010)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed that at the very end of its news story on WikiLeaks’s release last weekend of documents detailing tens of thousands of casualties during the Iraq war, The New York Times revealed that for most of the last century, the average civilian-to-combatant wartime fatality ratio has been 10:1.

The Times reported (hat tip: Evelyn Gordon): “Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

Whereas in other modern wars, civilians account for 90 percent of casualties, by contrast in last year’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza less than half of Palestinian fatalities – 39 percent – were noncombatants – and that number would have been even lower had Hamas not stored weapons in civilian institutions and fired rockets from private Palestinian homes which it commandeered.


But although the IDF has managed to avoid killing civilians to a greater extent than almost any other army in conflict – often putting the lives of its own soldiers at great risk in doing so – Israel is obsessively singled out for enquiries into “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” by the UN and its accomplices such as Judge Richard Goldstone and Professor Richard Falk.

(Incidentally, even the most extreme anti-Israeli organizations, whose figures about the number of dead civilians in Gaza are almost always highly exaggerated, don’t claim that 90 percent of all casualties were civilians.)

Meanwhile, European governments (many of whom have combat troops in Afghanistan) and others continue hypocritically to single out Israel for using “disproportionate” force.

In a just world, the UN would open up an investigation into all 42 countries with combat troops in Afghanistan (and all the other dozens of conflicts around the world), and WikiLeaks would concentrate on revealing human rights violations and government cover-ups in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

(I should point out that the civilians killed in Iraq after 2003 were, for the most part, killed by Iraqi, Iranian, and other jihadis, not by Americans; and that the number of Iraqi civilians killed each year since the American invasion/liberation, is lower than the numbers killed on average each year during Saddam’s rule.)



Even among the particularly hostile standards of the British media towards Israel, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a lead columnist for the British paper The Independent, is notorious for her level of prejudice.

In the latest such example, she even drags Israel into her article about the WikiLeaks revelations concerning the actions of Western troops in Iraq. She gives a false description of Rachel Corrie’s death in order to condemn Israel – as though this is in some way relevant to the actions of British and other troops in Iraq.

Alibhai-Brown has a long track record of attacking Israel, as I have noted many times in the past. For example, in this piece in 2002 she called Israel an “ethnic killing machine” and said the Israeli Prime Minister should be “tried for crimes against humanity”.



Last week, another columnist for The Independent, Johann Hari, writing about Afghanistan (in a piece titled “Obama’s robot wars endanger us all”) also uses his piece as an excuse to slander Israel, suggesting the Jewish state has somehow collaborated with President Obama in his drone attacks on militants in Pakistan.

Hari, who won “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” award from Amnesty International, and has also been invited to write for The New York Times and Le Monde, has, however, toned down his language about Israel from the time when he said the Jewish state “smelled of shit,” which he did on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2008. (For more details on that, please see this dispatch)

Hari has been accused by many experts of consistently misrepresenting the truth about Israel. For example, leading Israeli historian (and subscriber to this email list) Benny Morris has said Hari is guilty of “peddling numerous historical errors.”

Hari has also received the highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. Poor George Orwell.

Orwell’s press card portrait, taken in 1933



Israel’s Defense Ministry is pleading with the UN agency UNRWA not to build a new school for Palestinian children next to a Hamas military installation in southern Gaza.

In recent weeks, the Israeli defense ministry, which coordinates materiel entering Gaza from Israel, has approved 70 international projects – including the renovation of a sewage treatment plant, the construction of 151 housing units and eight new schools. (Gaza needs new schools because it has one of the highest birth rates in the world, combined with a low infant mortality rate due to the excellent health facilities Israel helped build there before the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.)

Whereas the Israeli Defense Ministry says it fully supports plans by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency to build new schools, it says that to build a school adjacent to a Hamas military installation would be “shocking and highly irresponsible.”

“Israel attaches great importance to the UNRWA education system in Gaza and will continue to cooperate and assist as much as possible in helping UNRWA,” one senior Israeli official said. “But we will not help Hamas use schools and turn the people of Gaza into human shields.”



In the past, Hamas has cynically placed its bomb laboratories next to schools in the knowledge that Israel will then be extremely reluctant to target them, even during wartime. As a consequence of this, children are regularly maimed when Hamas explosives accidentally explode while the Islamist group is preparing bombs and missiles.

In the latest of several such incidents, last week in the southern Gazan town of Rafah five children and two women were injured according to AP (and 17 children according to Palestinian media) after a device in a Hamas weapons laboratory adjacent to a school accidentally exploded.

Here are some shocking pictures of the children injured in that blast taken by the Associated Press. Most media in the world subscribe to the Associated Press. Did your local paper run these photos (and related editorials), or were they too busy condemning Israel for the most minor infringements, both real and imagined?

Brave Palestinian human right groups have condemned Hamas, but where are the UN, EU and major Western human rights groups?

On August 2 this year another Hamas “work accident” severely injured 58 Palestinians, including 14 children and 9 women, completely destroyed seven houses and damaged another 30. I don’t recall much coverage of that on the BBC or other major Western media though.



Custom officials in the Nigerian capital Lagos have seized 13 containers reportedly holding weapons bound for Hamas. Nigerian officials said the containers held rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives, all of which were camouflaged as construction material to enter Gaza as part of an aid convoy. 107mm rockets and 60mm mortar rounds were among the cache.




It took Viva Palestina, the latest aid convoy spearheaded by former British parliamentarian George Galloway, whose goods were allowed to enter Gaza by land last week, four weeks to deliver 500 tons of aid to Gaza.

In those same four weeks Israel has transported 75,000 tons of aid into Gaza.



In spite of the fact that Gaza is much wealthier than Haiti, Gaza has been pledged 7.5 times more U.S. aid per capita than Haiti.

Collectively, U.S. government programs provided just over $700 million in aid, nearly $200 million less than to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The toll of dead and injured in Haiti in the last two years is vastly greater than that of Gaza.



According to the UNDP Human Index Rankings (which measures income, human well-being, literacy, life expectancy and so on), Palestine has a much higher ranking in its “Medium Human Development” group than countries like Indonesia, Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and so on.

Palestinian Life Expectancy at 73.3 years is the same as European Union member Hungary.

Above: A Gaza water fun park, before it was closed last month by Hamas. There had been reports of mixed male-female bathing.



An extensive new poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) with the support of Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung has revealed that there is still considerable support among Palestinians for killing Israeli civilians inside Israel.

49% said they supported the murder of Israeli civilians inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel, whereas 49.2% opposed this and 1.8% said they had no opinion.

However, were a new intifada to break out, only 16.6% said they would actively help or participate in it.

Another interesting question was:

“From among the countries in the region and the world, which one do you view as the most supportive of the Palestinians and their just rights?”

Turkey 24.5 %
Egypt 17 %
Syria 8 %
Iran 6.9 %
Saudi Arabia 6.5 %
Lebanon 3.6 %
Jordan 2.9 %
Venezuela 2.5 %
Qatar 1.9 %
Iraq 1.3 %
France 1.1 %
Others 6.8 %
No Opinion/Don’t know 0.7 %
No one 16.5 %

The survey results were released on October 24, 2010, and can be read in full here.

The poll was conducted in the West Bank and Gaza between September 30 and October 2. 1,270 adults were interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. The margin of error is 3%.



In another poll – specifically of East Jerusalem Palestinians – also carried out this month by the PSR, when asked about the preference of the majority of residents in their neighborhoods, 44% said they are likely to prefer Israeli citizenship and only 41% said they are likely to prefer Palestinian citizenship.

This seems to be for economic reasons and for reasons of freedom of expression allowed in a democracy such as Israel.

For example, 85% of Palestinians said they were “satisfied with the electrical supply” Israel provides to their neighborhood and 9% said they were “dissatisfied”.

83% said they were “satisfied” with the health care Israel provides to them, and 7% said they were “dissatisfied”.

The PSR said “Interviews were conducted face to face with a random sample of 1,000 adult Palestinians over the age of 18 in 50 residential locations throughout all occupied East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods.”

The full results are here.

A vast majority of those surveyed were also strongly critical of “delays during travel due to the erection of the West Bank wall” and “delays and restrictions at checkpoints”. Perhaps surprisingly, “Israeli settlers” were quite far down the list of their concerns, considerably lower than “corruption in the Palestinian Authority”.


In another poll of Palestinians this month, this time by the Near East Consulting (NEC), 61% of Palestinians said they identified themselves as Muslims first, 20% Palestinians first, 15% as “human being first,” and 3% as “Arabs first.”

The NEC said: “The survey was carried out between the October 2 and 5 on a random sample of 900 Palestinians over the age of 18 from both sexes, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem.”


I attach one article below.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


Don’t preach to us, Hamas tells secular West
By Crispian Balmer
October 28, 2010

GAZA (Reuters) - The West is floundering in immorality and has no right to criticize the Islamist movement Hamas over the way it governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza, a veteran leader of the militant group said.

Hamas strategist Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Reuters in an interview that Islamic traditions deserved respect and he accused Europe of promoting promiscuity and political hypocrisy.

“We have the right to control our life according to our religion, not according to your religion. You have no religion, You are secular,” said Zahar, who is one of the group’s most influential and respected voices.

“You do not live like human beings. You do not (even) live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?” he said earlier this week, speaking from his apartment building in the densely populated, Mediterranean city.

Hamas, which is an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement and means “zeal” in Arabic, won a fair, 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election and then seized control of Gaza in 2007 after routing rival forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas.

It said it acted to pre-empt a Western-bid to oust it and has ruled the enclave ever since, weathering an Israeli military assault at the end of 2008 and rigid economic sanctions tied to its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

Sitting in a cavernous reception room, with an old Mercedes saloon car parked in one corner, Zahar denounced European states, such as France, for recently introducing legislation preventing Muslim women from wearing full face veils in public.

“We are the ones who respect women and honor women ... not you,” he said. “You use women as an animal. She has one husband and hundreds of thousands of boyfriends. You don’t know who is the father of your sons, because of the way you respect women.”


Zahar speaks fluent English and serves as an important contact point between Hamas and Western governments, few of which recognize the group because of its hostility to Israel, but nonetheless have indirect ties.

Hamas has consolidated its control over Gaza, ridding the territory of the lawless clans that used to hold sway and imposing strict order on the 1.5 million residents.

Hamas faces criticism, including from within local society, for enforcing laws seen as “Islamizing” Gaza by measures such as banning women riding motorcycles or smoking water pipes.

The movement sees its brand of political Islam as moderate and has crushed challenges from small groups which have adopted more radical views. The bearded-Zahar defended Hamas laws, but declined to say how far it would go with Islamisation.

“Is it a crime to Islamize the people? I am a Muslim living here according to our tradition. Why should I live under your tradition?” said Zahar, who served as Hamas foreign minister between 2006-2007 and is under constant, heavy protection.

“We understand you very well, You are poor people. Morally poor. Don’t criticize us because of what we are.”

Zahar, a surgeon who taught medicine at Gaza’s Islamic University, said he was particularly incensed that Western nations could denounce Hamas while at the same time enjoying extremely close relations with neighboring Israel.

The United States and European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel, although its leaders say they could live peacefully alongside the country under a prolonged cease-fire.

Hamas rejects the terrorist label, saying it is engaged in a legitimate struggle to free land illegally occupied by Israel.

It already observes a de facto cease-fire, but every month a drizzle of mortars and rockets pop out of Gaza and hit its arch foe. Israel blames Hamas for these random attacks and regularly launches air raids against suspected militant targets.

When we talked about “starvation” we meant plasma TVs and Café Latte

October 19, 2010

Above: a shopping mall in Nablus


* Time magazine, which previously claimed that Palestinians were “starving,” now writes of the Palestinian “multistory villas fronted by ornamental porticos and columns,” the “car dealerships selling everything from BMWs to Hyundais,” and the “state of the art gyms with the latest equipment, classes in spinning, kickboxing and Pilates, a sauna and even a smoothie bar.”

* Leading British newspaper columnist writes from Gaza: “Then there is the use of the word ‘siege’. Can anyone think of a siege in human history, from Syracuse to Leningrad, where the shops of the besieged city have been full of Snickers bars and Chinese motorbikes, and where European Union and other foreign aid projects pour streams of cash (often yours) into the pockets of thousands?”

* One by one, the major media of the world are changing their tune on reporting about economic conditions in Gaza and the West Bank. (Although we’re still waiting for the world’s biggest broadcaster, the publicly-funded BBC – which is under a legal obligation to be balanced – to do so.)

* Upcoming on the next Gaza “aid” convoy: an Algerian militant wanted by Swiss authorities for torture

(I sent the articles below to some people on the days that they were published, but didn’t want to send them in a full dispatch last week since I had already sent four lengthy dispatches and wanted to avoid posting too much.)



This photo, to mark the occasion of the Iranian president’s visit to Lebanon last week, was on the Associated Press wire:



1. A nugget of wisdom from Abbas
2. Plasma TVs and Café Lattes
3. Spinning, Pilates, saunas and smoothie bars
4. “Gaza is the world’s most misrepresented location”
5. “Then there is the use of the word ‘siege’”
6. The plight of Palestinian Christians
7. Hamas is increasingly unpopular in Gaza
8. Among those on the next “aid” flotilla…
9. Electric shocks and other abuses
10. Major study shows fifth of UK children live in “severe poverty”
11. “A national economy – without the nation” (Time, Oct. 11, 2010)
12. “Lattes, beach barbecues (and dodging missiles) in the world’s biggest prison camp” (By Peter Hitchens, The Mail on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2010)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


From a news report in Ha’aretz:

Abbas clarified that the PA would exhibit flexibility regarding the nature of the negotiations, but added that they would not negotiate on issues the Palestinian people consider principal matters.

“If we showed flexibility on these issues the peace agreement would have been signed a long time ago,” Abbas said.



This dispatch is a follow-up to several recent dispatches on Gaza, including The media backtracks on Gaza (Aug. 31, 2010).

In that dispatch I pointed out that Time magazine had just written: “Gaza’s residents will concede that there is no hunger crisis in the Strip. Residents do love the beach, and the store shelves are stocked. But if you’re focused on starvation, they say, you’re probably missing the point.”

But in 2008, Time wrote: “Please spare a thought for the starving Palestinians of Gaza. There are 1.5 million of them.”

In that, and in previous dispatches, I pointed out that several mainstream publications, including The Guardian and major broadcast networks such as CNN, were now backtracking on years of misleading coverage about the economic situation in both Gaza and the West Bank. (Senior staff at CNN and Time have recently subscribed to this list.)

Previously, many in the Western media had misled the public (and policymakers) into thinking the Palestinians lived in the kind of poverty found elsewhere in the Middle East – places Western media aren’t interested in covering, such as war-torn (and American and Saudi-bombed) Yemen, where the number of people living in poverty is vastly greater than that in the West Bank and Gaza.

Now (having changed its tune on Gaza) I am glad to report that Time magazine (using a different correspondent) has also run a lengthy report on the increasingly prosperous West Bank economy.

The information in the Time article (which I attach in full further down this dispatch) will be familiar to readers of this website, but news to readers of Time, which runs a photo of the Nablus shopping mall similar to ones that appeared last year in these dispatches, and also one of the “five-story shopping mall selling luxury items like plasma TVs, opened just outside Jenin.”



Time reports on the “multistory villas fronted by ornamental porticos and columns rising on Ramallah’s hilltops along with glass and marble office buildings,” the “new car dealerships selling everything from BMWs to Hyundais,” and notes that the IMF says the West Bank has one of the highest growth rates in the world.

It informs readers that the “Oxygen Gym on the fifth floor of a Ramallah office center is state of the art: it boasts the latest equipment, classes in spinning, kickboxing and Pilates, a sauna and even a smoothie bar.”

Time writes that “even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed his support” for this progress. But America’s leading news magazine doesn’t mention that it was in fact Israeli politicians from both Likud and Kadima, notably Ariel Sharon, who did his utmost to persuade George W. Bush to encourage the Palestinian Authority to appoint Salam Fayyad (who is not a member of the ruling Fatah party) to the position of Palestinian Prime Minister. And it is Israeli politicians (including Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert), who have been instrumental in helping to create conditions for the current West Bank economic growth.



I also attach a lengthy article below by Peter Hitchens, lead columnist for The Mail on Sunday, one of Britain’s best-selling newspapers, who traveled to Gaza to write his report. Peter Hitchens is among the founding subscribers to this email list over a decade ago, and his editors at the Mail also subscribe to it.

While also making various criticisms of Israeli policy (many of which I share with him) Hitchens makes these observations from Gaza, which he calls “the world’s most misrepresented location”:

“It is lunchtime in the world’s biggest prison camp, and I am enjoying a rather good caffe latte in an elegant beachfront cafe. Later I will visit the sparkling new Gaza Mall, and then eat an excellent beef stroganoff in an elegant restaurant.

“Perhaps it is callous of me to be so self-indulgent, but I think I at least deserve the coffee. I would be having a stiff drink instead, if only the ultra-Islamic regime hadn’t banned alcohol with a harsh and heavy hand…

“In Gaza, there is no way out and morality patrols sweep through restaurants in search of illicit beer and women smoking in public or otherwise affronting the 14th Century values of Hamas.

“So I won’t give the name of the rather pleasant establishment where young women, Islamic butterflies mocking the fanatics’ strict dress code with bright make-up and colourful silken hijabs, chattered as they inhaled apple-scented smoke from their water-pipes.

“Their menfolk, nearby, watched football on huge, flat-screen televisions. Nor will I say where I saw the Gazan young gathering for beach barbecues beneath palm-leaf umbrellas.



Hitchens continues: “Then there is the use of the word ‘siege’. Can anyone think of a siege in human history, from Syracuse to Leningrad, where the shops of the besieged city have been full of Snickers bars and Chinese motorbikes, and where European Union and other foreign aid projects pour streams of cash (often yours) into the pockets of thousands? Once again, the word conceals more than it reveals.”

“Siege? Not exactly. What about Gaza’s ‘refugee camps’. The expression is misleading. Most of those who live in them are not refugees, but the children and grandchildren of those who fled Israel in the war of 1948.

“All the other refugees from that era – in India and Pakistan, the Germans driven from Poland and the Czech lands, not to mention the Jews expelled from the Arab world – were long ago resettled.

“Unbelievably, these people are still stuck in insanitary townships, hostages in a vast struggle kept going by politicians who claim to care about them. These places are not much different from the poorer urban districts of Cairo, about which nobody, in the Arab world or the West, has much to say.”



Hitchens, who also went to the West Bank, writes on the plight of the Palestinian Christian population, saying:

“More than once I heard them say: ‘Life was better for us under Israeli rule.’ … I have also decided not to name another leading Christian Arab who told me of how his efforts to maintain Christian culture in the West Bank had met with official thuggery and intimidation.

“My guide and host reckons there are 30,000 Christians in the three neighbouring municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour and Beit-Jala. Soon there will be far fewer.

“He has found out that 2,000 emigrated between 2001 and 2004, a process which has not stopped. What is most infuriating about this is that many Christians in Britain are fed propaganda blaming this on the Israelis.”



On Israel’s security barrier, Hitchens writes:

“And in this part of the world, political correctness does not exist. Picture yourself on a comfortable sofa in an apartment in a West Bank town. Nearby runs the infamous, absurd, barrier dividing the Arab world from Israel.

“Think about this wall. I acknowledge that it is hateful and oppressive – dividing men from their land, and (in one case) cutting across the playground of a high school. But I have concluded that it is a civilised response to the suicide bombing that led to its being built.”



Hitchens ends his piece by echoing a point I have made repeatedly in these dispatches:

“If outside politicians, more interested in their reputations than in the lives of Arabs and Israelis, would only stop their search for a final settlement, might it be that people – left to their own devices – might find a way of living together, a way that was imperfect, but which no longer involved human beings being dissolved into hunks of flying flesh by high explosive?”



Louisa Waugh of the Scottish newspaper The Herald reports from Gaza on October 10 (in summary):

Shops in the centre of Gaza city are now stocked with Israeli goods, including many major brands. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since it took over the Strip in June 2007, recently opened Gaza’s first shopping mall, where a few gleaming shops sell traditional clothes and plastic toys.

But there is another undercurrent pervading Gazan street life; an atmosphere of tension and unease about the increasingly unpopular Hamas regime.

Many Gazans claim Hamas is becoming more radical and oppressive. Thousands of Gazans who used to work for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza were subsequently sacked by Hamas, and are still effectively blacklisted from any professional jobs there.

Hamas is also pursuing a more rigorous Islamic agenda, raiding venues where mixed parties are suspected.

“What do I think of Hamas – they are good!” one waiter tells me cheerfully. He looks over his shoulder, leans forward and says: “If one of them hears me saying anything about Hamas, then I will be arrested you know. We have become frightened of them.”

Only about 5 percent of Gazans can now travel outside the strip, crossing into Egypt or Israel.



Sources tell me that among those planning to sail on the next “humanitarian aid” flotilla to Gaza is Bouguerra Soltani (also spelled Abu Jerra Soltani), a senior figure in the Algerian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

At a press conference last year, he said: “I will be the first to lead the battalion of young Algerian jihadis if we find the way to jihad in Gaza… We will meet the leaders of Hamas and tell them of our gratitude for their fighting, our support and our solidarity.”

In 2004, Soltani signed a jihadi declaration calling for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and support for al Qaeda detainees, who, he said, had been treated to “savage crimes implemented at… the hands of the Zio-American pact … against humanity in general.”


Soltani is wanted by the authorities in Switzerland for torture.

On October 12, 2009, a Swiss human rights group submitted a criminal complaint to the investigating judge in Fribourg, charging Soltani with organizing torture sessions against Arab political opponents, including Nouar Abdelmalek, who (according to the complaint) suffered multiple instances of torture between 2001 and 2005 and has now been granted asylum in France.

The complaint in the Swiss court reads:

“On the same day, Mr. SOLTANI, went to the room where Mr. ABDELMALEK was detained in order to personally direct a torture session which lasted for about 2 hours. During that session, the victim was subjected to waterboarding, to several electric shocks on the stomach, feet and hands, his ankles were twisted as if to break them and a screwdriver was even introduced into a recent wound on his right foot.”

(More here.)


Another “peace activist” said to be on the next Gaza flotilla is Sinn Fein councilor Toiréasa Ferris, who when interviewed on America’s CBS television, refused to condemn the murder of a man (Jerry McCabe) by the IRA in 1996.

(Her father, Martin Ferris, is a convicted IRA terrorist, who served ten years in prison from 1984-1994 for attempting to import weapons into Northern Ireland.)

It is people like this who are trying to force open Gaza’s sea borders so that goods can flow in without inspection, that Israel is concerned about.



A fifth of young children in the UK live in “severe poverty”, a major report published last week revealed. The government-sponsored Millennium Cohort Study, using researchers from London University’s Institute of Education, tracked 14,000 children in Britain.

The study also showed that almost three-quarters of children whose parents are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin live in poverty.

The number of children living in poverty is likely to rise, said Professor Heather Joshi, the study’s director.

I mention this because the study was released in the same week that it was reported that the cash-strapped British government is considering giving yet more money to the population of Gaza.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]



A national economy – without the nation
By Stacy Perman in Ramallah
Time magazine
October 11, 2010,9171,2022572-1,00.html

This city’s historic landscape of rolling hills and groves of knotty olive trees is undergoing something of a transformation. Multistory villas fronted by ornamental porticos and columns are rising on Ramallah’s hilltops along with glass and marble office buildings. There are newly paved roads. The city’s first five-star hotel, a Mövenpick, is opening this month.

Across the West Bank, similar scenes are unfolding. Building cranes pierce the sky. Outside Nablus, new car dealerships sell everything from BMWs to Hyundais. Inside the ancient city, the first movie house to open in 20 years, Cinema City, is hugely popular. Last year the Hirbawi Home Center, a five-story shopping mall selling luxury items like plasma TVs, opened just outside Jenin.

Consumer goods are only part of the story. Industries from finance to housing to a high-tech sector are developing too. Such activity marks a fundamental political-economic shift among the ruling Palestinian Authority (PA) apparatchiks and the Palestinian business community, upending former PA President Yasser Arafat’s long-entrenched policy of nation first, institution-building later. The current leadership believes that creating a sustainable economy is essential to creating an independent Palestine. “We need to work on the economic front,” says World Bank veteran Mohammad Mustafa, CEO of the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), a quasi-governmental financial institution. “It is part and parcel of the overall struggle toward statehood.”

Indeed, the IMF has reported that the Palestinian economy is on track to grow 8% in 2010. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators may equivocate over peace, but an economy is breaking out in the West Bank. Under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an American-educated economist and former Finance Minister, the PA has spearheaded an ambitious strategy to move away from subsisting on foreign-donor aid and toward attracting foreign direct investment to spur private-sector growth.

Just as important, Fayyad has vastly improved security, sweeping the streets of rogue militants, which has eased the movement of people and goods. Israel has responded by dismantling numerous checkpoints that also inhibited commerce. There’s also an effort to streamline the legal system – a quilt of Ottoman, Jordanian, Israeli and British mandate laws. It has all served to boost confidence in Fayyadism, as the host of initiatives in play is commonly referred to.

Mahmoud Ahmad al-Takruri, regional manager of the Housing Bank for Trade and Finance in Ramallah, says that one of the positive indicators in evidence is the lending climate. “The situation is more stable nowadays, and banks have more of an appetite to make loans,” he says – meaning, specifically, loans to the small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) that are the backbone of the Palestinian economy. They make up roughly 95% of enterprises, 84% of the private sector and 55% of the GDP.


Mazen Shkukani’s oxygen gym on the fifth floor of a Ramallah office center is state of the art: it boasts the latest equipment, classes in spinning, kickboxing and Pilates, a sauna and even a smoothie bar. “We do very good business,” Shkukani says proudly. “We are a very famous gym. We have customers that come all the way from Jerusalem and other villages.” Oxygen is the third of five businesses Shkukani owns that were made possible by a series of loans he was able to obtain.

Born in Kuwait to a Palestinian family, Shkukani returned in 1987 to Ramallah, where he opened a children’s boutique and later worked for his family’s car-rental business. In 2004, a volatile year, the part-time bodybuilder saw an opportunity to import American-made nutritional supplements. Making use of his family’s business reputation and connections, Shkukani, along with a partner, secured a loan of $200,000 to launch his Sportline supplements line. A few years later, having closed out his initial loans, Shkukani opened Oxygen Gym with two partners. Each put in $143,000 and took out a $400,000 small-business loan. It was Shkukani’s largest to date.

Last year, Shkukani obtained three more loans totaling $500,000 to expand his supplements business and to launch a snack-food distributorship, selling items like imported potato chips. More recently he opened Liberty, a used-car dealership. “Loans are for responsible people,” he says. “We help the economy for our country by making a successful business. This is how it is around the world.”

Emblematic of the current commitment to entrepreneurialism, the PIF, along with Abraaj Capital, a Dubai-based private-equity firm, announced a $50 million fund that will focus on SMEs. “We believe that the PIF investment program can have a huge transformative effect on the economy,” says Mustafa. “Moreover, the SME fund is great because the benefits exceed the funding to include the know-how that comes with it from the fund management.” The PIF plans to invest $500,000 to $7.5 million in companies with less than $50 million in revenue or fewer than 250 employees or both.

It’s an acceleration for the PIF, which for five years has very quietly partnered with the Middle East Investment Initiative (MEII), a Washington-based nonprofit formed specifically to stimulate the region’s fragile economies. MEII has been fueling ventures in the West Bank with a loan-guarantee program in excess of $200 million. The process of vetting the loans is heavily monitored not only for a business’s viability but to ensure that the money is not going to finance terrorist groups, money laundering or weapons purchases. In the past 21⁄2 years, MEII has approved more than 322 loan applications totaling more than $63 million in guarantees. While the average loan is about $120,000, the largest, one of $16 million, went to the first competitive cell-phone system in the West Bank.

This being the Middle East, there is always a wrinkle. Because of enduring distrust of the U.S. and cynicism regarding aid, the process is managed so that applicants have no idea their loans are being supported by a third party – namely an American organization.


Behind glass on the third floor of the Burj office tower, 30 people are pressed into a small conference room. They are attending a seminar on open sourcing conducted by a representative from Intel and sponsored by the Palestinian Information Technology Association, better known as PITA. On the same floor, six start-ups share space as part of the Palestine Information and Communications Technology Incubator, or PICTI. There, Emad Ahmad, a filmmaker from Rafah, Gaza, is developing a program to digitize film archives. Emad Ammouri, who earned a master’s in computer science from Texas A&M University and later worked at IBM and Timex, is creating an Internet toolbox to make, as he says, “microchip-embedded systems more friendly.” Ammouri has also begun teaching innovation courses to high school students and launched an innovation camp for fifth-graders. “We can do it,” he says. “Why can’t a Palestinian company innovate for the world?”

With 4,000 engineering graduates each year and a trickle of returning expats, many are looking at tech as a potential economic engine. According to a recent study, the Palestinian IT sector grew from roughly $130 million in 2008 to $231 million in 2009. Significantly, because tech is not dependent on physical movement, it is somewhat insulated from checkpoints, closures and political unrest.

After earning degrees from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ala Aladdin returned to the West Bank in 1996 and started a company, Bailasan (which means flower in Arabic), a Web-development and graphic-design firm. In 1999, Aladdin helped found PITA with a group of 24 companies to lobby for the fledgling sector. Today there are more than 100 companies in PITA, and one of its major accomplishments has been to bring the world’s biggest tech companies to the region. “It was important to transfer know-how and build infrastructure,” says Aladdin. Representatives from companies like Microsoft began to arrive, cautiously, offering workshops. Eventually, those workshops expanded into weeklong conferences. But tech leaders wanted more than seminars; they wanted real investment.

Two years ago, their lobbying paid off. Cisco, the $40 billion U.S. networks company, gave a $10 million grant for seed-funding tech start-ups in the West Bank and Gaza. Initially part of Cisco’s corporate-social-responsibility initiative, the investment turned out so well, the company is converting it from a CSR investment into businesses. Cisco plans to work with Palestinian IT companies to bolster their ability to handle large outsourcing contracts from the U.S. and other countries. Recently Microsoft, HP and others have begun investing too.

The West Bank’s IT sector is also attracting pure venture capital. One fund that has come calling is the aptly named Middle East Venture Capital Fund. The fund, which has a reported $50 million target and some heavy-hitting backers, was started by a pair of high-tech veterans – Yadin Kaufmann, an Israeli, and Saed Nashef, a Palestinian.

Kaufmann went to Princeton and earned a law degree from Harvard before emigrating in 1985 to Israel, where he clerked for the Supreme Court. At the cusp of the country’s high-tech revolution, Kaufmann joined Athena, Israel’s first venture fund. Surveying the Palestinian high-tech landscape, Kaufmann says, “I saw how Israel’s venture business impacted economic development. I started to think about doing something else to help in the region.” Kaufmann decided to launch a fund to invest in Palestinian high tech, but he needed a partner on the other side.

That would be Nashef. Born in Jerusalem, Nashef studied computer science in the U.S. and spent 19 years there, including a six-year stint at Microsoft. In 2006 he returned to Jerusalem and decided to take a year off with his family. That visit stretched into four years and counting. “I saw the beginnings of a technology and telecommunications sector,” he says. “I wanted to build something to contribute.” His tech consulting firm, Equiom, had been outsourcing software engineering to China, India and Ukraine, and Nashef says he thought, “Why not give a piece of that business to Palestinians?” He started with a three-person team in Hebron. The trio eventually replaced a five-person team from India. The math was basic: “They were higher quality and lower salaries.” That led Nashef to make it a permanent move and establish his Ramallah-based spin-off of Equiom, called Nena. “We’re not advancing an economic or political peace agenda,” says Kaufmann. “We are leveraging real opportunities.” Says Nashef: “At the end of the day, we are creating high-value jobs. We are giving people hope.”


While there are promising signs of growth, economic development is no substitute for a political solution. The borders, airspace, water rights and communications are still under Israeli control; so is 60% of the West Bank. “We are not waiting for a political solution to move forward with economic development,” says one Palestinian banking specialist. “But the impact of these efforts is diluted when there is no parallel political movement. It is like a bird flying with one wing.”

The fragile state of affairs is not just contingent on Israel. There is a sharp divide between the Fatah government, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Fayyad, that rules the West Bank and the fiercely Islamist Hamas, which took control in Gaza in 2007. And Carnegie scholar Nathan J. Brown noted in a recent report that economic development has actually impeded some democratic and human-rights reforms. While Fayyadism is roundly praised among many Palestinians and in the U.S. and Europe – and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed his support – its progress stands on a very shaky footing. Says Said Abu Hijleh, managing director of DAI Palestine, a consulting firm: “There are still limits to how far you can go. I wouldn’t call this an emerging economy but a promising economy.” As tenuous as the current state-building is, it rests on the creation of institutions critical to any sustainable economy. And that just might be the start of a genuine Palestinian revolution.



Lattes, beach barbecues (and dodging missiles) in the world’s biggest prison camp
By Peter Hitchens
October 11, 2010
The Mail on Sunday

It is lunchtime in the world’s biggest prison camp, and I am enjoying a rather good caffe latte in an elegant beachfront cafe. Later I will visit the sparkling new Gaza Mall, and then eat an excellent beef stroganoff in an elegant restaurant.

Perhaps it is callous of me to be so self-indulgent, but I think I at least deserve the coffee. I would be having a stiff drink instead, if only the ultra-Islamic regime hadn’t banned alcohol with a harsh and heavy hand.

Just an hour ago I was examining a 90ft-deep smuggling tunnel, leading out of the Gaza Strip and into Egypt. This excavation, within sight of Egyptian border troops who are supposed to stop such things, is – unbelievably – officially licensed by the local authority as a ‘trading project’ (registration fee £1,600).

It was until recently used for the import of cattle, chocolate and motorcycles (though not, its owner insists, for munitions or people) and at its peak earned more than £30,000 a day in fees.

But business has collapsed because the Israelis have relaxed many of their restrictions on imports, and most such tunnels are going out of business. While I was there I heard the whine of Israeli drones and the thunder of jet bombers far overhead.

Then, worryingly soon after I left, the area was pulverised with high explosive. I don’t know if the Israeli air force waited for me to leave, or just walloped the tunnels anyway.

The Jewish state’s grasp of basic public relations is notoriously bad. But the Israeli authorities certainly know I am here. I am one of only four people who crossed into the world’s most misrepresented location this morning.

Don’t, please, accuse of me of complacency or denying the truth. I do not pretend to know everything about Gaza. I don’t think it is a paradise, or remotely normal. But I do know for certain what I saw and heard.

There are dispiriting slums that should have been cleared decades ago, people living on the edge of subsistence. There is danger. And most of the people cannot get out.

But it is a lot more complicated, and a lot more interesting, than that. In fact, the true state of the Gaza Strip, and of the West Bank of the Jordan, is so full of paradoxes and surprises that most news coverage of the Middle East finds it easier to concentrate on the obvious, and leave out the awkward bits.

Which is why, in my view, politicians and public alike have been herded down a dead end that serves only propagandists and cynics, and leaves the people of this beautiful, important part of the world suffering needlessly.

For instance, our Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently fawned on his Islamist hosts in Turkey by stating Gaza was a ‘prison camp’. This phrase is the official line of the well-funded Arab and Muslim lobby, who want to make sure Israel is seen by the world as a villainous oppressor.

Well, Israeli soldiers can and do act with crude brutality. Israeli settlers can and do steal Arab water and drive Arabs off their land. Israeli politicians are often coarse and insensitive.

The treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens is one of the great missed opportunities of history, needlessly mean and short-sighted. The seizure of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 were blunders, made worse by later folly.

But if you think Israel is the only problem, or that Israelis are the only oppressors hereabouts, think again. Realise, for a start, that Israel no longer rules Gaza. Its settlements are ruins.

No Israelis can be found inside its borders. And, before you say ‘but Israel controls the Gaza border’, look at a map. The strip’s southern frontier – almost as hard to cross as the Israeli boundary – is with Egypt. And Cairo is as anxious as Israel to seal in the Muslim militants of Hamas.

Gaza was bombed on the day I arrived in retaliation for a series of rocket strikes on Israel, made by Arab militants. Those militants knew this would happen, but they launched their rockets anyway. Many Gazans hate them for this.

One, whom I shall call Ibrahim, told me how he had begged these maniacs to leave his neighbourhood during Israel’s devastating military attack nearly two years ago. His wife was close to giving birth.

He knew the Israelis would quickly seek out the launcher, and that these men would bring death down on his home. But the militants sneered at his pleading, so he shoved his wife into his car and fled.

Moments after he passed the first major crossroads, a huge Israeli bomb burst on the spot where his car had been. The diabolical power of modern munitions is still visible, in the ruins of what was once a government building.

It looks as if a giant has chewed and smashed it, and then come back and stamped on it. If you can imagine trying to protect a pregnant woman from such forces, then you can begin to understand how complex it is living here, where those who claim to defend you bring death to your door.

For the Islamist rocket-firers are also the government here, supported by Iran and others who care more for an abstract cause than they do for real people. They claim that their permanent war with Israel is for the benefit of the Palestinian Arabs. But is it?

Human beings will always strive for some sort of normal life. They do this even when bombs are falling and demagogues raging. Even when, as in Gaza, there is no way out and morality patrols sweep through restaurants in search of illicit beer and women smoking in public or otherwise affronting the 14th Century values of Hamas.

So I won’t give the name of the rather pleasant establishment where young women, Islamic butterflies mocking the fanatics’ strict dress code with bright make-up and colourful silken hijabs, chattered as they inhaled apple-scented smoke from their water-pipes.

Their menfolk, nearby, watched football on huge, flat-screen televisions. Nor will I say where I saw the Gazan young gathering for beach barbecues beneath palm-leaf umbrellas.

Of course this way of life isn’t typical. But it exists, and it shows the ‘prison camp’ designation is a brain-dead over-simplification. If it is wrong for the rich to live next door to the desperate – and we often assume this when we criticise Israel – then what about Gaza’s wealthy, and its Hamas rulers?

They tolerate this gap, so they are presumably as blameworthy as the Israelis whose comfortable homes overlook chasms of poverty. Then there is the use of the word ‘siege’.

Can anyone think of a siege in human history, from Syracuse to Leningrad, where the shops of the besieged city have been full of Snickers bars and Chinese motorbikes, and where European Union and other foreign aid projects pour streams of cash (often yours) into the pockets of thousands? Once again, the word conceals more than it reveals.

In Gaza’s trapped, unequal society, a wealthy and influential few live in magnificent villas with sea views and their own generators to escape the endless power cuts.

Gaza also possesses a reasonably well-off middle class, who spend their cash in a shopping mall – sited in Treasure Street in Gaza City, round the corner from another street that is almost entirely given over to shops displaying washing machines and refrigerators.

Siege? Not exactly. What about Gaza’s ‘refugee camps’. The expression is misleading. Most of those who live in them are not refugees, but the children and grandchildren of those who fled Israel in the war of 1948.

All the other refugees from that era – in India and Pakistan, the Germans driven from Poland and the Czech lands, not to mention the Jews expelled from the Arab world – were long ago resettled.

Unbelievably, these people are still stuck in insanitary townships, hostages in a vast struggle kept going by politicians who claim to care about them. These places are not much different from the poorer urban districts of Cairo, about which nobody, in the Arab world or the West, has much to say.

It is not idle to say that these ‘camps’ should have been pulled down years ago, and their inhabitants rehoused. It can be done. The United Arab Emirates, to their lasting credit, have paid for a smart new housing estate with a view of the Mediterranean.

It shows what could happen if the Arab world cared as much as it says it does about Gaza. Everyone in Gaza could live in such places, at a cost that would be no more than small change in the oil-rich Arab world’s pocket.

But the propagandists, who insist that one day the refugees will return to their lost homes, regard such improvements as acceptance that Israel is permanent – and so they prefer the squalor, for other people.

Those who rightly condemn the misery of the camps should ask themselves whose fault it really is. As so often in the Arab world, the rubbish-infested squalor of the streets conceals clean, private quarters, not luxurious and sometimes basic, but out of these places emerge each day huge numbers of scrubbed, neatly-uniformed children, on their way to schools so crammed that they have two shifts.

I wish I was sure these young people were being taught the principles of human brotherhood and co-existence. But I doubt it. On a wall in a street in central Gaza, a mural – clearly displayed with official approval – shows an obscene caricature of an Israeli soldier with a dead child slung from his bayonet.

Next to it is written in Arabic ‘Child Hunter’. Other propaganda, in English, is nearby. My guide is embarrassed by this racialist foulness. I wonder how so many other Western visitors have somehow failed to mention it in their accounts.

I was still wondering about this as I travelled to the short distance to the West Bank, where Israel still partly rules. I was the recipient of hospitality in many Arab homes – a level of generosity that should make Western people ashamed of their cold, neighbour-hating cities.

And once again I saw the outline of a society, slowly forming amid the wreckage, in which a decent person might live, work, raise children and attempt to live a good life. But I also saw and heard distressing things.

One – which I feel all of us should be aware of – is the plight of Christian Arabs under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. More than once I heard them say: ‘Life was better for us under Israeli rule.’

One young man, lamenting the refusal of the Muslim-dominated courts to help him in a property dispute with squatters, burst out: ‘We are so alone! All of us Christians feel so lonely in this country.’

This conversation took place about a mile from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where tourists are given the impression that the Christian religion is respected. Not really.

I was told, in whispers, of the unprintable desecration of this shrine by Palestinian gunmen when they seized the church in 2002 – ‘world opinion’ was exclusively directed against Israel. I will not name the people who told me these things.

I have also decided not to name another leading Christian Arab who told me of how his efforts to maintain Christian culture in the West Bank had met with official thuggery and intimidation.

My guide and host reckons there are 30,000 Christians in the three neighbouring municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour and Beit- Jala. Soon there will be far fewer.

He has found out that 2,000 emigrated between 2001 and 2004, a process which has not stopped. What is most infuriating about this is that many Christians in Britain are fed propaganda blaming this on the Israelis.

Arabs can oppress each other, without any help from outside. Because the Palestinian cause is a favourite among Western Leftists, they prefer not to notice that it is largely an aggressive Islamic cause.

And in this part of the world, political correctness does not exist. Picture yourself on a comfortable sofa in an apartment in a West Bank town. Nearby runs the infamous, absurd, barrier dividing the Arab world from Israel.

Think about this wall. I acknowledge that it is hateful and oppressive – dividing men from their land, and (in one case) cutting across the playground of a high school. But I have concluded that it is a civilised response to the suicide bombing that led to its being built.

My host, a thoughtful family man who has spent years in Israeli prisons but is now sick of war, has been talking politics and history. His wife, though present, remains unseen.

Suddenly he begins to speak about the Jews. He utters thoughts that would not have been out of place in Hitler’s Germany. This is what he has been brought up to believe and what his children’s schools will pass on to them.

The heart sinks at this evidence of individual sense mixed up with evil and stupidity. It makes talk of a ‘New Middle East’ seem like twaddle. So, are we to despair? I am not so sure.

Not far from this spot there is an unmarked turning at a roundabout on the route back into Jerusalem. It’s an unnumbered road running south from Route 437. About a hundred yards along, it is barred by concrete blocks. It is a ghost road.

If it ever opens, it will be part of a network of secure roads and tunnels that would link Nablus and Ramallah in the northern West Bank to Bethlehem and Hebron in the south.

It would enable people to do the normal things they want to do – visit relatives, go to work, go shopping. It would not make Arab Palestine a state. It has nothing to do with the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank – a problem made worse by Barack Obama’s call for a moratorium, a demand even the Palestinian leadership had never made.

But it might help create a society in which a happy life was possible for many people. I suspect it is nearly finished. It is not the only sign that the human yearning for normality is strong. In Ramallah, unofficial capital of Arab Palestine, it is a pleasure to visit the busy streets around Manara Square at twilight, with the cafes and the shops invitingly bright.

A few years ago, the bullet-torn corpses of ‘collaborators’ were displayed here. Now the displays are of smart clothes – but not as smart as those in Ramallah’s opulent shopping mall, stocked with designer goods, and with camel rides for the children outside.

Even in notorious Hebron in the south, famous for its massacres and its aggressive Israeli enclave, the mall culture is in evidence three miles from this seat of tension. And on the road from Hebron to Jerusalem stands a cut-price supermarket so cheap that Israeli settlers and Palestinians mingle happily at the cash tills.

I might add that an Arab intellectual, sitting in a Gaza cafe, recalled for me the happy days when Gazan women used to wear short skirts (now they all wear shrouds and veils) and you could get a beer by the beach.

But perhaps best of all was the comment of the Arab Israeli who mourned for ‘the good old days before we had peace’. It may well be that no solution to the problem of Israel is possible, and that it will all end, perhaps decades from now, in a nuclear fireball.

But if outside politicians, more interested in their reputations than in the lives of Arabs and Israelis, would only stop their search for a final settlement, might it be that people – left to their own devices – might find a way of living together, a way that was imperfect, but which no longer involved human beings being dissolved into hunks of flying flesh by high explosive?

62 years on, the continuing struggle to recognize Israel as a Jewish state

October 14, 2010

* It took only six attempts yesterday to get U.S. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

* “Nearly 63 years after the UN recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland, the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state. ‘Israel can name itself whatever it wants,’ said the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, while his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.”

* Lee Smith: “The idea that mandating an oath of allegiance for new citizens is a sign of Israeli fascism is part of the delegitimization campaign against Israel. It fits so well with media blather about the decline of Israeli democracy – and the nightmarish scariness of Israel’s foreign minister – that critics have conveniently ignored the fact that such oaths are normal fare in every major Western democracy.”

* The U.S. oath of allegiance for new citizens, for example, requires new Americans to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty”; promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic”; promise to “bear arms” and “perform noncombatant” service at the direction of the U.S. government; and swear that one takes the oath “freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” in the name of God Almighty himself, all of which makes swearing an oath of allegiance to “the democratic Jewish State of Israel” seem like pretty weak stuff.

* In Bulgaria, persons of very distant Bulgarian origin can become citizens immediately upon arrival in the country without any waiting period and without giving up their current citizenship. The same is true in Croatia. China has a similar policy. And that only takes us through the Cs.



1. “Pulling Teeth at the State Department” (By Rick Richman, Commentary, Oct. 13, 2010)
2. “Negotiations amidst the settlement freeze” (By Michael Singh, Foreign Policy, Oct. 12, 2010)
3. “An End to Israel’s Invisibility” (By Michael Oren, New York Times, Oct. 14, 2010)
4. “Israel’s controversial new loyalty oath” (By Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine, Oct. 13, 2010)



I am glad to report that after years of “Rachel Corrie Studies” being taught to university undergrads and high schoolers in America and elsewhere, my article The Forgotten Rachels is finally appearing on class curricula as a way of providing some counter balance to “the cult of Rachel Corrie”.

For example, here as part of 10th grade homework (for 16 year olds) this fall.


This dispatch concerns the attempt, 62 years after Israel declared independence, to have Palestinians and others recognize Israel as a Jewish state, in much the same way as France is recognized as a French state.

I attach four articles below. I would particularly recommend reading Lee Smith’s article, even though I have placed it last.

-- Tom Gross



Pulling Teeth at the State Department
By Rick Richman
Commentary Magazine (blog)
October 13, 2010

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go – it would be logical – back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: “P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?”

MR. CROWLEY: “We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I – it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.]”

QUESTION: “And do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?”

MR. CROWLEY: “We recognize the aspiration of the people of Israel. It has – it’s a democracy. In that democracy, there’s a guarantee of freedom and liberties to all of its citizens. But as the Secretary has said, we understand that – the special character of the state of Israel.”

QUESTION: “Is that a yes or no?”

QUESTION: “P.J., it’s – do you want to answer his question or – “

QUESTION: “Did you say yes or no to that question from Michel?”


QUESTION: “Michel’s question was a yes or no sort of question. I was wondering whether that was a yes or no.”

MR. CROWLEY: “We recognize that Israel is a – as it says itself, is a Jewish state, yes.”

The original question had a second part to it: “… and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?” After a reporter repeated the question, it took Crowley 162 halting words to respond:

QUESTION: “… Does the U.S. want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?”

MR. CROWLEY: “Look, I will be happy to go back over and offer some – I’m trying – I’m not making any news here. We have recognized the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well. But this is the aspiration of the – what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the – a core demand of the Israeli Government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and that is what they want to see through this negotiation. We understand this aspiration and the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that just as they aspire to a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.”

Why is it so hard to get the Obama administration to reiterate basic commitments the U.S. has made – in writing – to Israel? The Bush letter stated that the U.S. is “strongly committed to … [Israel] as a Jewish state.” This administration has to be prodded six times to answer whether it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and – after an affirmative response is extracted – cannot give a one-word answer on whether it wants the Palestinians to recognize one as well.



Negotiations amidst the Settlement Freeze
By Michael Singh
Foreign Policy
October 12, 2010

In negotiating tradecraft, the distinction between positions and interests is a fundamental one. Parties with divergent interests can unite behind common positions, like the environmentalists and trade unions who opposed NAFTA in the 1990s. Just as often, parties with opposing positions fail to perceive their common interests, like divorcing parents whose acrimony blinds them to what is best for their children.

It is neglect of this vital distinction that now has the United States scrambling to salvage Middle East peace talks, which are threatened by a resurgent dispute over Israeli settlement activity. The Obama administration initially viewed the settlements issue as “low-hanging fruit” – the Palestinians, Arab states, international public opinion, and frankly even many Israelis were against settlement activity, whereas a seeming minority on the Israeli right favored it. Thus, the White House viewed insistence on a settlement freeze as a way to restore confidence in U.S. impartiality while jump-starting the peace process. As is now well known, precisely the opposite occurred – U.S. relations with all sides have been strained, and the peace process has yet to take flight.

To understand what went wrong, one must look past the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ positions on settlements and understand how they define their interests.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a June 14, 2009 speech, provided insight into his opposition to a settlement freeze. In his remarks, Netanyahu asserts that “The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been – and remains – the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to its own state in its historic homeland.” In his view, Arab efforts to eliminate Israel began in 1947 with the United Nations proposal to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, and have not truly ebbed since despite Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. That those efforts began before Israel took the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, and that rocket fire from southern Lebanon and Gaza continued after Israeli troops withdrew from both territories, are to Netanyahu and many Israelis evidence that the presence of Israeli troops in the West Bank is not the cause of the animosity toward them.

It is this interest – defending the continued existence of a Jewish state that has been under attack since its founding – that leads not only to Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians explicitly acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, but also to his rejection of a settlement freeze. If the Palestinians and Arabs will not do the former, Netanyahu and his allies view the latter as pointless at best and at worst dangerous succor to those who would delegitimize Israel. While many Israelis do not share Netanyahu’s position on settlements, they do share his interest in defending Israel’s legitimacy, and thus have reacted negatively to what they view as Washington’s harsh approach.

The Palestinian narrative is quite different. For Palestinians, the events of 1948 constituted a catastrophe which left them scattered and displaced. In the nations which received them, they were – with few exceptions – refugees or guest workers with few rights and little respect, despite the lip service paid to the Palestinian cause. For years, Palestinians themselves had scant voice in that cause, and there was little support among leaders in the region or elsewhere for the independent state envisaged in 1947.

For Palestinians, these twin interests – justice for refugees who have been the region’s second-class citizens for sixty years, and ensuring that the emergence of a Palestinian state remains viable – motivate deep opposition to continued Israeli settlement activity. In their view, it makes little sense to engage in negotiations aimed at satisfying these interests while simultaneously acceding to activity which undermines them.

On Monday, Netanyahu offered to extend Israel’s settlement freeze if the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and the Palestinians immediately refused. Given the interests described above, one can see why Israel made the offer, as well as why the Palestinians rejected it. Israel is ready to modify its position on a settlement freeze if its interests are otherwise satisfied; but Palestinians likewise wish to see their interests fulfilled, and not merely their position on a settlement freeze conceded. For this reason, the Palestinians for their part have insisted that Israel and the United States declare that the basis for negotiations over the borders of a Palestinian state will be the “1967 lines” to ensure a Palestinian state’s viability.

Thus the fight over a settlement freeze is in reality a conflict by proxy over the competing interests of each party. But because those interests will only be satisfied through negotiations, and not conceded by the other side prior to the talks, no sustainable compromise can be found as long as the freeze remains an issue. For this reason, temporarily extending the freeze as the United States is reportedly seeking to do can only postpone a crisis for another day, if that. Moving forward will require that the Obama Administration acknowledge that its early emphasis on settlements was mistaken in order to deflect blame and anger that might otherwise be directed at Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas for changing their stances.

The good news is that while Israeli and Palestinian positions on a settlement freeze are seemingly irreconcilable, the interests underlying their positions are not. Indeed, polling data and anecdotal evidence suggest that the people on both sides are ready for a two-state solution. What’s more, the parties have other interests – such as the desire for peace and quiet for their people and to sideline extremists sponsored by Iran – which enhance the motivation of each to find common ground. This is where American mediation must play a role – helping the parties see past their conflicting positions, and to recognize their mutual interests.

(Michael Singh is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute and an adjunct fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.)



An end to Israel’s invisibility
By Michael Oren
The New York Times
October 14, 2010

Nearly 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland – and more than 62 years since Israel’s creation – the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state. “Israel can name itself whatever it wants,” said the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, while, according to the newspaper Ha’aretz, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erekat were responding to the call by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, enabling his government to consider extending the moratorium on West Bank construction. “Such a step by the Palestinian Authority would be a confidence-building measure,” Mr. Netanyahu explained, noting that Israel was not demanding recognition as a prerequisite for direct talks. It would “open a new horizon of hope as well as trust among broad parts of the Israeli public.”

Why should it matter whether the Palestinians or any other people recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people? Indeed, Israel never sought similar acknowledgment in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is merely making a tactical demand that will block any chance for the peace they claim he does not really want.

Affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness, however, is the very foundation of peace, its DNA. Just as Israel recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland, so, too, must the Palestinians accede to the Jewish people’s 3,000-year connection to our homeland and our right to sovereignty there. This mutual acceptance is essential if both peoples are to live side by side in two states in genuine and lasting peace.

So why won’t the Palestinians reciprocate? After all, the Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the land then known as Palestine and, in 1922, the League of Nations cited the “historical connection of the Jewish people” to that country as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home.” In 1947, the United Nations authorized the establishment of “an independent Jewish state,” and recently, while addressing the General Assembly, President Obama proclaimed Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people.” Why, then, can’t the Palestinians simply say “Israel is the Jewish state”?

The reason, perhaps, is that so much of Palestinian identity as a people has coalesced around denying that same status to Jews. “I will not allow it to be written of me that I have ... confirmed the existence of the so-called Temple beneath the Mount,” Yasser Arafat told President Bill Clinton in 2000.

For Palestinians, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state also means accepting that the millions of them residing in Arab countries would be resettled within a future Palestinian state and not within Israel, which their numbers would transform into a Palestinian state in all but name. Reconciling with the Jewish state means that the two-state solution is not a two-stage solution leading, as many Palestinians hope, to Israel’s dissolution.

Which is precisely why Israelis seek the basic reassurance that the Palestinian Authority is ready to accept our state – to accept us. Israelis need to know that further concessions would not render us more vulnerable to terrorism and susceptible to unending demands. Though recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would not shield us from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.

(Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is a subscriber to this mailing list.)



Under Oath
Israel’s controversial new loyalty oath reflects the reality of sectarian politics in the Middle East
By Lee Smith
Tablet Magazine
October 13, 2010

Sunday the Knesset voted to require an oath of allegiance be administered to naturalized citizens of Israel, swearing to abide by the Jewish and democratic nature of the state. The response has been blind outrage inside Israel and abroad.

“The State of Israel has reached the height of fascism,” says Haneen Zoubi, a member of the Knesset representing Balad, an Arab Israeli party. The oath’s author, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, charges that it is precisely those like Zoubi who make the oath necessary.

Zoubi was aboard the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish-sponsored boat that attempted to run the naval blockade of Gaza. The ship violated international law by refusing to respect a blockade and then attacked an Israeli boarding party, which would make Zoubi, were she a citizen of, say, the United States while it was at war, subject to a number of charges, including conspiracy and treason, and liable to execution by the state.

And she’s not alone: Some of her fellow Knesset members from Arab Israeli political parties have become notorious in recent years for actions that no Western government would tolerate from its citizens – let alone from legislators who are privy to government decisions and counsels.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, served as a close political adviser to Yasser Arafat as the Palestinian leader planned to undermine the Oslo Accords and murder hundreds of Israelis in the second Intifada. Tibi’s colleague, Azmi Bishara, resigned from the Knesset and fled to Syria in 2007 to avoid facing charges of espionage and treason for giving Hezbollah detailed information about optimal rocket targets inside Israel during the Second Lebanon War.

The idea that mandating an oath of allegiance for new citizens is a sign of Israeli fascism is part of the delegitimization campaign against Israel. It fits so well with media blather about the decline of Israeli democracy – and the nightmarish scariness of Israel’s foreign minister – that critics have conveniently ignored the fact that such oaths are normal fare in every major Western democracy.

The U.S. oath of allegiance for new citizens, for example, requires new Americans to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty”; promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic”; promise to “bear arms” and “perform noncombatant” service at the direction of the U.S. government; and swear that one takes the oath “freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” in the name of God Almighty himself, all of which makes swearing an oath of allegiance to the democratic Jewish State of Israel seem like pretty weak stuff.

The fact that Jews who become new citizens under the Law of Return are exempt from taking the oath is wrongly cited as proof of the inherent racism of the proposed new law. Countries that allow individuals not born in the country to establish citizenship on the basis of blood and cultural ties – a doctrine known as jus sanguinis, or “right of blood” – commonly have a different citizenship procedure for those citizens than for other immigrants. Most European countries – and many other countries – rely on jus sanguinis as the foundation for citizenship. In Bulgaria, persons of very distant Bulgarian origin can become citizens immediately upon arrival in the country without any waiting period and without giving up their current citizenship. The same is true in Croatia. China has a similar policy. And that only takes us through the Cs.

But the furor over the loyalty oath is more than just an index of the increasing tension between Israel and its Arab citizens, and of a combination of rancid anti-Israeli sentiment and sheer ignorance that makes news coverage of the Middle East so difficult to read. Because this is the Middle East, the uproar over the oath of allegiance also reveals the true dynamics that are shaping the region.

Many observers have noted that the loyalty oath coincides with Israeli demands that their Palestinian interlocutors acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. This is broadly correct: Israeli leadership expects that negotiations entered into with the Palestinian Authority will lead to a final settlement, that at the end of the process, there will be a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish one, and there will be no interminable haggling over the question of Jewish sovereignty in Israel.

And the reason Jerusalem wants Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad to acknowledge the Jews’ right to a homeland is not merely a feel-good exercise in Middle East tolerance and coexistence, or to salve the national insecurities of the Jews. Rather, the Israeli demand is a referendum on Palestinian sovereignty: If PA officials can’t declare that Israel is a Jewish state without the very legitimate fear of assassination from rivals like Hamas, or state actors like Iran and Syria, then they are incapable of exercising the monopoly on legitimate violence that is the fundamental requirement of nation-building. Jerusalem is highlighting the fact that without the authority to make such a statement, the Palestinian leadership cannot build a Palestinian state; therefore, any treaty the PA signs with Israel is worthless.

It is clear that this logic is lost on Washington. After all, dreamers are not susceptible to disenchantment with the dream worlds that they themselves have built. Even before President Barack Obama came to office, the Americans were pumping so much cash, arms, prestige, and hope into the Palestinian Authority that they convinced themselves that Palestinian institutions would one day lead to a state. U.S.-built Palestinian institutions, like the economy, security forces, and the prime minister, are therefore premised on a questionable assumption: that what the Palestinian people really want is a functioning state side-by-side with Israel.

Statehood represents only one form of political organization; and as the E.U.’s bureaucratic elite will attest, the nation-state is not necessarily the best or even most progressive form of mass politics. But Washington does believe in old-fashioned nation-states, and it is U.S. money and power that gets to call the shots in the Middle East – until the region itself votes otherwise. Yet post-Saddam Iraq is clearly not going to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.

Rather, the wars in Iraq have revealed the sectarian nature of the region, where the designation “Arab” is meant to disguise that there is no unified Arab nation, but rather Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Maronites, Alawites, Kurds, Greek Orthodox, as well as Jews. Often these sects are at war with each other in various levels of intensity within what are now state borders, like Iraq or Lebanon.

The French and British are blamed for the way they drew the post-World War I borders, but these accusations ignore the fact that all borders in the Middle East have always been random and malleable, depending on factors like conquest and population transfers, some voluntary and others not. For all the Middle East rhetoric about land as a birthright, the people of the region know when it’s time to go – because the land will no longer support them or some greater power is threatening to wipe them out.

Right now it is Middle East Christians who are leaving Iraq and Lebanon, but they won’t be the last. Consider the Druze, a sect that started in Egypt in the 11th century and moved to the Levant – Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon, where their population is largest. Lebanon’s Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt believes that the sect’s time there is running out; Lebanon will be left to the Sunnis and Shiites to fight over, and eventually they will draw their own borders. The same will happen in Iraq, and perhaps much sooner, as the country is partitioned, while the Kurds will go their own way as soon as they believe they can weather likely wars with the Turks and Persians.

Someday Alawi rule in Syria will come to an end, and if they’re lucky this minority sect considered heretical by the Sunnis will break away in time to the Mediterranean coast, where they’ve carved out an escape hatch state for themselves. The East Bankers of Jordan know that the West Bankers, the Palestinians, will outnumber them someday and Jordan will become either part or the whole of Palestine.

In other words, Israel’s foreign minister is the one man in the Middle East who is publicly discussing an issue that everyone else in the region is also confronting in the wake of the Iraqi war – internal sectarian conflict where one side threatens to topple the political order. For example, despite the rhetoric of resistance, Hezbollah’s war with Israel on behalf of Iran and Syria that threatens to destroy the Lebanese state is no less treason than Azmi Bishara’s selling information to Damascus. The Arab regimes, regardless of their public criticism of the loyalty oath and Lieberman, are watching closely, because Israel’s treatment of the issue may well shape how they deal with their own sectarian issues – or at least we can hope they learn from Jerusalem rather than Saddam, who laid waste to Iraqi Shia and Kurds.

The choice the Israelis face is maybe not so tough, after all. And even if it is tough, so what? What Frenchman thinks that it is inherently part of his national identity to be fearful of war with Germany? And yet for reasons of geography, ethnicity, and history, it has been so. It would be nice if Palestinians wanted to make peace with Israel on terms that allowed for Israel’s secure existence as a Jewish state, but the recent historical record and regional dynamics offer little assurance that such a blessed day is coming anytime soon. If Zionism must not allow for transferring Arabs or ruling over them, then is it about Jews picking up and leaving when a Jewish state in the Middle East doesn’t look exactly like local democracy in Vermont? Based on the historical evidence, the Jews of Israel will continue to try their hardest to appease U.S. policymakers – hopefully led by those, like Avigdor Lieberman, who understand what it takes to maintain their national existence in the region where they have made their home.

(Lee Smith is a subscriber to this mailing list.)

The government that cried wolf (& other pieces)

October 12, 2010

* Ahmadinejad plans to throw a rock at Israel when he visits Lebanon tomorrow

* Now it’s Obama’s allies who are criticizing him – for offering too much to keep Mideast talks going

* Netanyahu offers settlement freeze in return for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinians say no

* “Speaking as an American who lives in Europe, I feel it is incumbent upon me to describe what people like me do when we hear warnings like the one issued on Sunday by the U.S. State Dept: We do nothing”



1. “The government that cried wolf” (By Anne Applebaum, Slate, Oct. 4, 2010)
2. “Breaking Israel’s monopolies” (By Daniel Doron, WSJ Europe, Oct. 8, 2010)
3. “Ahmadinejad to throw rocks at Israeli border” (Jerusalem Post, Sept. 29, 2010)
4. “Lebanon: The next Iranian base?” (By Samara Greenberg, JPC, Oct. 5, 2010)
5. “Iran to send man into space by 2022” (Fars News Agency, Iran, Oct. 6, 2010)
6. “Netanyahu offers settlement freeze in return for recognition as Jewish state, Palestinians say no” (Ha’aretz, Oct. 11, 2010)
7. “U.S. giving away too much, too early in Mideast talks, some say” (LA Times, Oct. 7, 2010)
8. “Raped under UN auspices” (By Claudia Rosett, New York Post, Oct. 7, 2010)
9. “Fischer wins best bank governor of the world award” (Yediot Ahronot, Oct. 11, 2010)
10. “Israeli study: Milk drinkers lose more weight” (Israel 21C, Oct. 4, 2010)


I attach articles from recent days concerning a variety of Middle East-related topics. You may want to read or glance at some or all of these. (The headlines in capitals are mine, not those of the authors.)

-- Tom Gross


The government that cried wolf
By Anne Applebaum
Slate magazine
Oct. 4, 2010

“The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. . . . Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.”

– State Department travel alert, Oct. 3

Speaking as an American who lives in Europe, I feel it is incumbent upon me to describe what people like me do when we hear warnings like this one issued on Sunday: We do nothing.

We do nothing, first and foremost, because there is nothing that we can do. Unless the State Department gets specific – e.g., “don’t go to the Eiffel Tower tomorrow” – information at that level of generality is meaningless. Unless we are talking about weapons of mass destruction, the chances of being hit by a car while crossing the street are still greater than the chances of being on that one plane or one subway car that comes under attack. Besides, nobody living or working in a large European city (or even a small one) can indefinitely avoid coming within close proximity of “official and private” structures affiliated with U.S. interests – a Hilton hotel, an Apple computer shop – not to mention subways, trains, airplanes, boats and all other forms of public transportation.

Second, we do nothing because if the language is that vague, then nobody is really sure why the warning has been issued in the first place. Obviously, if the American government knew who the terrorists were and what they were going to attack, it would arrest them and stop them. If it can’t do any better than mentioning “tourist infrastructure” and public transportation, it doesn’t really know anything at all.

In which case, why are they telling us about it? Since the warning made breakfast television on Sunday morning, speculation has been rife. So far I have heard at least one full-blown conspiracy theory: Some believe the U.S. government has issued this statement to frighten Europeans into greater intelligence cooperation, and in particular to persuade the European Union to agree to a new system of airline passenger data exchange.

Other rumors say that the CIA believes al-Qaeda, or some al-Qaeda knockoff group, is planning simultaneous attacks on hotels in major European cities, something like the 2008 attacks on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. This information, according to the rumor, is supposed to have come from an interrogation carried out last summer.

Yet even if U.S. intelligence agencies possess information as solid as that – and, I repeat, I have absolutely no evidence that they do – there is still no point in the State Department telling us to remain alert when standing next to any American object, because even if we do it today, we won’t tomorrow.

This sort of thing has happened before. In 2004, the employees of the IMF and World Bank in Washington arrived at work to find themselves the subject of sudden media interest: Maps and detailed plans of their offices had been found on a laptop in Afghanistan, and a warning had been issued as a result. But, of course, it wasn’t realistic to maintain a vigilant watch of indefinite length on a building used by hundreds of people every day, many of them suspiciously foreign-looking. And, of course, the advice was quickly forgotten, and everyone went back to work.

In truth, the only people who can profit from such a warning are the officials who issue it. If something does happen, they are covered: They warned us, they told us in advance, they won’t be criticized or forced to resign. And if nothing happens, then we’ll all forget about it anyway.

Except that we don’t forget about it. Over time, these kinds of enigmatic warnings do al-Qaeda’s work for it, scaring people without cause. Without so much as lifting a finger, Osama bin Laden disrupts our sense of security and well-being. At the same time, such warnings put the U.S. government in the position of the boy who cried wolf. The more often general warnings are issued, the less likely we are to heed them. We are perhaps unsettled or unnerved, but we don’t know what to do. So we do nothing – and wish that we’d been told nothing as well.



Breaking Israel’s monopolies
By Daniel Doron
Wall Street Journal Europe
October 8, 2010

While the world focuses on yet another putative “peace process,” Israel’s internal struggle to break up its concentrated economy receives scant attention. The Bank of Israel’s annual report on the economy published in April included a study showing that “some twenty business groups, nearly all of family nature and structured in a pronounced pyramid form, continue to control a large proportion of public firms (some 25% of firms listed for trading) and about half of market share.” These business groups, the bank warned, show “higher levels of financial leverage – and therefore also of risk,” than stand-alone companies.

Reforming this unproductive economic structure, inherited from the socialists that ruled the country for decades, will have a great impact on Israel’s capacity to initiate peace through economic development. As events in Europe and elsewhere have shown, prosperity can mitigate conflicts and facilitate their resolution. Before the first intifada in 1987, an informal economic peace process had done wonders to reconcile Jews and Arabs.

Given the Israeli economy’s remarkable resilience, some may question the urgency for unraveling these conglomerates. Since a 2005 financial reform liberated Israel from some of its statist rigidities, it has grown by almost 5% annually, despite the world financial crisis. The country boasts more than 3,000 start-ups, more than in all of Europe and almost as many as in the U.S.

But this growth may not be sustainable as long as Israel’s economy remains dominated by about 20 politically connected families that own so much of the country’s traded assets, which they acquired from the government and labor unions in a privatization process with credit provided by the nationalized banks. These cross-sectoral, multi-layered conglomerates have evolved into monopolies that inhibit competition, efficiency, and growth, and choke Israel’s hapless consumers. Israeli citizens – overtaxed and underpaid, and shouldering three years of service in the regular army and a month to 45 days yearly in reserve duty – must also pay monopoly rents of between 20% and 30% on everything they consume, as researchers at Israel’s ministry of finance calculated. All that makes Israelis poorer.

These vertically integrated groups have cross-holdings in both industrial and service companies, and in financial firms. The result is a misallocation of credit to companies owned by these tycoons. Consider that until the 2005 financial market reform, 70% of credit was granted to just 1% of lenders. Meanwhile, Israel’s small and medium-sized businesses – the chief engines of Israel’s economic growth – have been squeezed. Particularly in Israel’s “periphery,” the Negev and the Galilee, smaller firms suffer from a permanent credit crunch.

The largest of these pyramid-style conglomerates is also one of the most powerful and complex. Through his IDB Holdings, Nochi Dankner controls 60 companies through several layers of ownership. Among these companies are Israel’s cement and paper monopolies (Nesher and Hadera Paper), one of Israel’s two largest insurance companies (Clal Insurance), its largest grocery retail chain (Shufersal), its largest cellular-phone operator (Cellcom), one of its largest real-estate groups (PBC), a leading internet company (013 Netvision) – you get the idea. Mr. Dankner controls all these companies, with consolidated assets of $35 billion, through an equity position of around $300 million, or less than 1% of those assets.

Faced with similar pyramidal groups, economists in the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s convinced the U.S. Congress that this sort of economic concentration causes moral hazard, problems of corporate governance, tax avoidance, and excessive political influence. The U.S. government’s response – effective or not – was to tax intercorporate dividends, exempt the liquidations of controlled subsidiaries from capital gains taxes, and to restrict the ability of business groups to file consolidated returns. Later, in 1957, Congress passed the Bank Holding Company Act to prevent investment companies from controlling banks.

Too big to fail but big enough to dominate, Israel’s large, multi-layered conglomerates have acquired huge political clout, enabling them to obtain monopoly privileges and other benefits worth billions of shekels from the government. And that’s even before considering the fact that as the country’s biggest employer and buyer in the Israeli economy, the government naturally tends to favor big business.

This clout also enables the conglomerates to erect a thicket of entry barriers and keep their would-be competitors out. This lack of rivalry, combined with so-called “progressive” labor laws, have contributed to low per-capita productivity (about half that of the U.S.) and in the dismally low wages of Israeli workers.

Despite his understandable focus on foreign challenges, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with his Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, has publicly expressed his determination to address this complex problem. Mr. Netanyahu did not flinch from fierce media attacks demanding that he should focus instead on issues like poverty; as if it were not clear that poverty is in large part a result of consumer exploitation by the monopolies.

Reason demands that Israel’s reformers will proceed with their reforms without delay. But reason does not always influence political developments, not even in Israel. Let us hope for the sake of Israel’s future viability, and for the sake of peace, that this time it does.

(Daniel Doron is a subscriber to this list.)


A workman puts the finishing touches on a billboard of the Iranian president in a stadium in Southern Lebanon.


Ahmadinejad to throw rocks at Israeli border
Jerusalem Post staff
September 29, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to throw a rock at Israel to demonstrate his hatred on his planned trip to Lebanon, London-based paper Al-Quds al Arabi reported on Tuesday.

Ahmadinejad plans to meet with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, as well as other Lebanese officials, on October 13. During the two-day visit, the Iranian president will participate in events near the Israeli border.

One event is the inauguration of a garden in southern Lebanon, during which Ahmadinejad plans to throw the rock, Al-Quds reported.

Another event is the establishment of an Iranian center in the village of Maron A-Ras, where IDF soldiers fought in the Second Lebanon War.

Ahmadinejad is expected to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in a speech in Bint-Jbil, another battle site. Hizbullah operatives are reportedly providing security for the Iranian president on his trip to Lebanon.



Lebanon: The next Iranian base?
By Samara Greenberg
Jewish Policy Center
October 5, 2010

Laborers in Lebanon will soon complete the construction of a mosque resembling the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem only a few hundred meters from the border with Israel in the village of Maroun al-Ras. The mosque, constructed in honor of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming visit on October 13-14, will look exactly like its Jerusalem prototype with the exception of one difference: An Iranian flag will perch its top as a tribute to its sponsor.

The mosque will also include a boardwalk and a lookout point from which Ahmadinejad plans to throw a symbolic stone at Israel during his visit. The president will also inaugurate the mosque, and participate in other events near the Israeli border commemorating the Second Lebanon War. Ahmadinejad plans to meet with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, as well as other Lebanese officials. Hezbollah operatives will reportedly provide security.

Ahmadinejad’s visit is receiving a significant backlash, even stirring controversy among Beirut’s political circles. “The message is that Iran is at the border with Israel,” Fares Souaid, coordinator of the Western-backed March 14 Alliance, told AFP. “Ahmadinejad through this visit is saying that Beirut is under Iranian influence and that Lebanon is an Iranian base on the Mediterranean,” he said. Unsurprisingly, Israel, for its part, asked Lebanon to cancel the visit, as Ahmadinejad’s presence would undermine regional stability and the Middle East peace talks.

The Iranian president’s new mosque in, and visit to, Lebanon should serve as a wakeup call. The regime in Tehran is clearly and openly expressing that it has direct influence over the politically weak country that still struggles to contain the independent militias left-over from its civil war that roam the streets - including Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah.

For the sake of stability within Lebanon and all sovereign nations, every country and international organization – both from the West and the Arab world – should denounce Ahmadinejad’s visit to, and meddling inside, Lebanon. Indeed, the president’s visit is providing the international community with an opportunity to stand up for state sovereignty. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.



Iran to send man into space by 2022
Fars News Agency (Iran)
October 6, 2010

TEHRAN (FNA) - Iran has prepared the necessary technological grounds to send man into space by 2022, Deputy Head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) for Technology Mohammad Mardani said on Wednesday.

“Iran will send man into the space in the next 12 years,” Mardani said on the sidelines of a ceremony to inaugurate an exhibition named ‘Man and Space’ here in Tehran.

He further stressed the need for the development of Iran’s space technology and know-how due to its direct ties with the other political, social, security and defense arenas.

Mardani also announced that Iranian scientists are currently working on the designs of 10 to 15 more Iran-made satellites.

“We have plans for the next 15 years and now we are designing and building a satellite for the 36,000km orbit which will provide service in telecommunication, radio and TV fields,” Mardani added.

Iran has recently taken wide strides in aerospace. The country sent the first biocapsule of living creatures into space in February, using its home-made Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) carrier.

Omid (hope) was Iran’s first research satellite that was designed for gathering information and testing equipment. After orbiting for three months, Omid successfully completed its mission without any problems. It completed more than 700 orbits over seven weeks and reentered the earth’s atmosphere on April 25, 2009.

After launching Omid, Tehran unveiled three new satellites called Tolou, Mesbah II and Navid, respectively. Iran has also unveiled its latest achievements in designing and producing satellite carriers very recently.

Also, Iran has recently unveiled a new generation of home-made satellites and a new satellite carrier called Simorgh (Phoenix).

Iran is one of the 24 founding members of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), which was set up in 1959.



Netanyahu offers settlement freeze in return for recognition as Jewish state, Palestinians say no
By Ha’aretz Service, Reuters and AP
October 11, 2010

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Monday to halt settlement construction if the Palestinians were to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but the Palestinian leadership was prompt to reject the proposal.

“If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension,” Netanyahu said while speaking at the opening of the third session of the 18th Knesset.

“Just as the Palestinians expect us to recognize their state, we expect reciprocal treatment,” said Netanyahu.

“This is not a condition but a trust-building step, which would create wide-ranging trust among the Israeli people, who have lost trust in the Palestinian will for peace over the last 10 years.”

However, Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said a return to U.S.-backed peace talks required a freeze on settlement building by Israel.

“The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter,” Rdainah said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel is willing to make concessions, and that a peace deal and a Palestinian state could be achieved if the Palestinians would be willing to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.



U.S. giving away too much, too early in Mideast peace talks, some say
By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
October 7, 2010

Only a month into a new round of peace talks, the Obama administration is drawing criticism from allies and veteran diplomats that it is giving away too much just to keep negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians from collapsing.

Administration officials have offered an assortment of inducements to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank for two months. Palestinian officials have threatened to break off the talks, perhaps as early as this week, unless Israel extends the freeze that expired Sept. 26.

The U.S. has been wooing Netanyahu for weeks with offers including a squadron of F-35 fighters, support for a long-term Israeli troop presence in a new Palestinian state, and a pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. also is offering access to its satellites that could offer early warning of attacks.

To the Palestinians, the White House is pledging support for their position on the exact location of borders for a future state in exchange for a promise to continue negotiating even if Israel refuses to extend the construction moratorium.

While the Obama administration was expected to eventually dole out incentives to keep the negotiations alive, diplomats and other observers say they are surprised that it has offered so much, so early, for such a small victory – a commitment by both sides to keep talking.

“From the left to the right, people are saying that the administration is looking desperate,” said Robert Danin, a former U.S. official and adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an envoy to the region for the U.N., U.S., European Union and Russia.

The U.S. offers have made waves in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Some Israeli lawmakers have urged Netanyahu to hold out for even more. Others believe the U.S. pledges are so generous that Israel can’t rely on Obama to make good on them.

“Bizarre Bazaar – Haggling over the Price,” was the headline this week in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

The Palestinian leadership has been shocked by the U.S. pledge to support a long-term Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, on the eastern edge of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was “pale and incredulous” when he announced the offer to his team, according to one person close to him. Palestinians were expecting that any agreement on an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley would be negotiated well down the line in the horse-trading before the final deal.

The White House’s willingness to pay a steep price so early in the game reflects the huge stakes for the administration. Obama has said repeatedly that peace in the Middle East is vital to U.S. national security.

“This has become all about American credibility, and that’s why there’s such an effort to keep it going,” said one person close to the talks, who was unwilling to be identified by name because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Netanyahu, who wants to preserve good ties to the United States, appears to be leaning toward accepting the deal to extend the construction moratorium if he can garner enough support from some moderate Cabinet members.

But one Israeli official said the terms haven’t been finalized and that Netanyahu hasn’t made up his mind. “We’re not there yet,” he said.

Obama has vowed that the United States would help broker a peace deal, but also has emphasized that “we cannot want it more than the parties themselves.” Yet observers say the U.S. appears to be in precisely that position.

The U.S. “is projecting the image of wanting it too much, which is not a good place to be in any negotiation,” said Robert Malley, who was a chief Mideast peace negotiator for President Bill Clinton.

If Netanyahu accepts the deal, complaints about the U.S. approach are likely to subside. If he ends up snubbing Obama, an Arab diplomat said, “people in the region will say, ‘You mean you can’t even bring along the Israelis?’ “



Raped under UN auspices
By Claudia Rosett
New York Post
October 7, 2010

Can United Nations peace keeping deliver peace? It sure failed this summer in an eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armed groups went on a spree of gang rape just 20 miles up the road from a contingent of dozens of UN blue helmets. Despite warnings of trouble, it took three days – during which the raping of hundreds of women continued – before a UN patrol showed up.

It took more than a week before the head of the UN’s Congo peacekeeping mission, US diplomat Roger Meece, says he learned of the rapes. And it took almost three weeks before the UN special representative for ending sexual violence in conflict zones, Margot Wallstrom, says she heard about it – from media reports.

The United Nations then responded with a ritual mea culpa. First blaming Congo authorities, a UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Atul Khare, said “Clearly we have also failed . . . We must do better.”

Dream on. The United Nations is forever promising to do better. Instead, what it mainly does is get bigger, especially in the peacekeeping department.

During the UN’s first 45 years, from 1945-1990, it launched a grand total of 18 peacekeeping missions. In the 20 years since, it has initiated more than twice that number. Over the last decade, the number of UN peacekeeping personnel in the field has soared ninefold, to 124,000, involved in 16 operations, and the UN’s annual peacekeeping budget has more than quadrupled, to almost $8 billion – of which the United States supplies 27 percent, or more than $2 billion.

The record is at best one of fitful peace, punctuated by UN scandals and failure to prevent atrocities or even war and genocide. Examples abound, from Somalia to Rwanda, Srebenica, Haiti and Darfur.

Too often, the United Nations serves as a fig leaf for politicians, including American ones, while obfuscating or even perpetuating conflicts. In Lebanon, for instance, the UN has had peacekeepers in place since 1978. Under their noses the Iranian-backed terrorists of Hezbollah stockpiled weapons for the 2006 summer war with Israel. Under the gaze of a now-expanded UN peacekeeping force, Hezbollah is reportedly rearming, with deadlier weapons.

The current round of UN peacekeeping in the Congo dates back to 1999. Since then, the UN has more than tripled the number of uniformed personnel in the field, and since 2003 it has spent more than $7.5 billion on this mission. Yet the assaults, rapes and conflicts among warring factions have continued. This week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon excused UN failures on grounds that “our resources are too limited.”

The real problem is that the opaque and diplomatically immune UN is far better at catering to itself than helping those it proposes – often unrealistically – to protect. UN peacekeeping is a gravy train for UN bureaucrats and for governments of many of the countries providing troops (the top five currently being Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Egypt).

With its multibillion-dollar budget, peacekeeping has been one of the most corrupt arenas of UN activity, a locus of what UN internal investigators in 2006 labeled “a culture of impunity.”

In the field, including the Congo, that UN culture has led to a series of scandals since 2004 involving not just peacekeepers ignoring rape right down the road, but doing it themselves. Despite a policy of “zero tolerance,” the United Nations itself reports more than 200 confirmed cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers since the start of 2007, with findings on another 200 or so allegations still pending, including 35 alleged instances in the first half of this year.

A UN fact sheet euphemistically notes that such abuse “continues to be a major challenge for the peacekeeping family.”

This week, the United Nations announced that together with Congo government forces, its peacekeepers had captured the man suspected of orchestrating the gang rapes this summer. That’s good news, but too late for those who were assaulted while UN troops failed to respond. To keep pouring billions into UN peacekeeping fuels a vehicle with a record of too many failures.

Surely, for the tormented places of the world, it’s time the leaders of the 21st century came up with new coalitions and better ways to pursue and keep the peace.

(Claudia Rosett is a subscriber to this list.)



Fischer wins best bank governor of the world award
By Zvi Lavi
Yediot Ahronot
October 11, 2010

Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer on Sunday won the best bank governor in the world award for 2010 in Washington DC.

Fischer received the award just a day after he was named best regional central bank governor for the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, he was also chosen as one of the seven outstanding central bank governors in the world two weeks ago.

He was chosen by Euromoney a leading international banking, finance and capital markets news publication. Fischer received the award based on the decision of the magazine’s editorial board, which has been giving out the award to the outstanding central bank governor for the last 30 years.

The selection process is a lengthy one and the magazine editors decide on the winner by secret ballot. The title of banker of the year was awarded to him by the chairman of the magazine during the closing ceremonies for the IMF’s convention, which was held at the Willard Intercontinental hotel in DC.

The magazine gave Fischer an honorable mention for his “success in finding the optimal balance between inflation and recession, and supporting the Israeli market’s economic recovery after the international financial crisis. Israel’s durability during and after the financial crisis, proves that Stanley Fischer deserves the honor he receives among the elite of the international financial community”.

The magazine editors also mentioned the “brave steps taken by Fischer in raising the interest rates in September 2009, where Israel was the first country to raise the rates after the crisis. It became evident that this was the right step to take, as it foresaw the future. Later interest increases were well timed and allowed Israel’s economy to grow at a handsome rate of 4.7% in the second quarter of 2010”.

The decision emphasizes that “interest rate increase were implemented while keeping a close reign on the inflation rate – at 1.8%”, and also refers to the governor’s involvement in the foreign currency market, with the massive daily dollar purchase that began on the eve of the crisis. The magazine added that “Fischer’s revolutionary policy, though controversial at the time, was the root of the Israeli foreign currency advantage while stimulating exports.

“Export stimulation was fundamental to the success of the Israeli economy, in spite of political and regional difficulties which Israel endures. Fischer’s policies promoted Israel’s acceptance into the OECD in May 2010” the magazine summed up.



Israeli study: Milk drinkers lose more weight
Israel 21C
October 4, 2010

A new weight loss study conducted in Israel has revealed that dieters who consume milk or milk products lose more weight on average than those who consume little to no milk products.

The two-year dietary intervention study, of 300 overweight men and women in middle age, was carried out by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The researchers found that regardless of diet, dieters with the highest dairy calcium intake - equal to 12 oz. of milk or other dairy products, lost about 12 pounds (6kg) at the end of two years.

Dieters with the lowest dairy calcium intake - about half a glass of milk, only lost seven pounds on average.

The researchers, led by Dr. Danit Shahar, of BGU’s Center for Health and Nutrition, and the Faculty of Health sciences, also discovered that levels of vitamin D found in the blood, also affected the success of weight loss treatments. The results confirmed existing research showing that overweight participants have lower blood levels of the vitamin.

“It was known that over-weight people had lower levels of serum vitamin D but this is the first study that actually shows that serum Vitamin D increased among people who lost weight,” says Shahar. “This result lasted throughout the two years that the study was conducted, regardless of whether [participants] were on a low-carb, low fat or Mediterranean diet.”

Vitamin D increases calcium absorption in the bloodstream and in addition to sun exposure can be obtained from fortified milk, fatty fish and eggs. Americans generally consume less than the recommended daily requirement of Vitamin D which is found in four glasses of milk (400 international units).

The study, which was published in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was part of the Dietary Intervention Randomized Control Trial (DIRECT) held at the Nuclear Research Center in Israel in collaboration with Harvard University, the University of Leipzig, Germany and the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Some 322 moderately obese people, aged 40 to 65, took part in the study evaluating low fat, Mediterranean or low-carb diets for two years.

In earlier findings, scientists discovered that low-fat diets aren’t the best way to lose weight, but that dieters are likely to lose more weight on a Mediterranean diet, or a low-carb diet.

The study was supported by the Israel Ministry of Health and the Israel Dairy Council, the Israel Chief Scientist Office, German Research Foundation and the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Research Foundation.

Because what he said wasn’t true (& How long did this take?)

October 10, 2010

Today’s dispatch (about the sorry subject of anti-Semitism) is split in two for space reasons. This is the second part.

There is an introductory note in the first part, and I recommend reading that dispatch first: “And over here is where the gas chambers didn’t exist…”

According to Professor Robert Wistrich, a world expert on anti-Semitism, Tsarist Russia apart, global anti-Semitism is worse in 2010 than it was in 1910. “Anti-Semitism is continually morphing all the time, which is its strength,” he said.



1. Why the fuss over CNN’s Rick Sanchez? Because what he said was a lie
2. Columbia University, rewriting history
3. Anti-Semitic attacks in the Netherlands double
4. On advice of a Muslim MP, police patrol Amsterdam disguised as religious Jews
5. Holocaust memorials, cemeteries desecrated in southern, central and eastern France
6. French railway company promises to comply with U.S. bill revealing Holocaust role
7. Jewish teacher suspended in France for teaching “too much” about the Holocaust
8. Jewish dancers attacked by Muslim teenagers at a performance in Germany
9. Romanian central bank under fire over commemorative coin
10. New Zealand radio presenter suspended after saying that “Jews are expendable”
11. Top prize for “Hitler” at Australian junior school
12. How long did this take?
13. Czech singer receives 3-year prison term for promoting Nazism
14. “Europe reverts to type” (By Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


CNN host Rick Sanchez was fired last week for remarks he made about Jews.

Many commentators have rushed to his defense. For example, Andrew Sullivan asked “So why the fuss over Rick Sanchez?”

The answer is because what Sanchez said was a lie. As Brian Palmer at Slate wrote, the news networks are not run by Jews:

“If Sanchez was referring to people in the television news business, he’s wrong. Not one of the major television news operations – Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, or NBC News – is currently headed by a Jewish executive. (That includes Ken Jautz, the man who fired Sanchez.) The Internet is littered with rumors about various media moguls being Jewish, but few of those claims are backed by any evidence.”

Jeffrey Goldberg adds: “Rick Sanchez trafficked in a pernicious stereotype that has been used in the past, in various places, to justify violence and discrimination against Jews. But another question also arises: Even if all of the television news networks were indeed run by Jews, would this mean that they were run by ‘The Jews’, by a monochromatic Jewish collective? Does the Jewishness of any given television executive represent the most essential truth of his or her being, the element that consciously or subconsciously shapes an entire worldview, and thus, American journalism? Or is it even worse – are these irreducibly Jewish television executives part of an actual politically-motivated cabal known as the ‘pro-Israel lobby,’ the ostensible subject of the Andrew Sullivan blog post in which Rick Sanchez’s libel is mentioned in casual and dismissive terms?”

As this email list was the first to reveal at the time, CNN fired its senior editor for Middle East news Octavia Nasr in July after she published a Twitter message that said she respected a notoriously anti-Semitic Lebanese Shi’ite cleric.



New York’s prestigious Columbia University’s new Center for Palestine Studies (which officially opened on Thursday to a packed hall of students and professors) seems to exclude all Jewish history from the region. The only scholar listed with a Jewish studies background is Anidjar, whose work mostly focuses on Medieval Spain.

Coming from Columbia University, this is of course predictable, but nonetheless it is highly disturbing as yet more impressionable young minds will no doubt be misled.

Organizers said that the center was created in honor of the notoriously unreliable former Columbia professor Edward Said. Its co-director is Rashid Khalidi, who previously acted as an informal advisor to Barack Obama.

“As a political science student, I’m really excited,” student Samira Khalifa told The Columbia Spectator. “There aren’t enough courses that have anything to do with Palestinian struggles.”

Critics said that with the opening of the center, Khalidi and others at Columbia had “dispensed with the myth of valuing free academic enquiry and turned the classroom into an extension of political struggle.”

Among those academics affiliated with the institute is one professor infamous for being a “9/11 truther” and for still telling students that Israel killed 1500 people in Jenin in 2002 (which is, of course, a complete lie).



Anti-Semitic attacks in the Netherlands nearly doubled last year compared to the year before, according to newly-released police figures. Police said that 209 incidents had been documented in 2009, accounting for about one tenth of all discriminatory incidents in the country despite the fact that the number of Jews is much smaller than the number of other minorities in the Netherlands. This represented a 48 percent rise in attacks against Jews and Jewish sites, including damage to graves of dead Jews and anti-Semitic graffiti on Holocaust monuments.

The Jewish community in the Netherlands numbers around 30,000, less than 0.3 per cent of the country’s population.



The acting mayor of the Dutch capital Amsterdam, Lodewijk Asscher, has deployed undercover police officers disguised as orthodox Jews on the streets in order to identify violent anti-Semites. “Jews in at least six Amsterdam neighborhoods often cannot cross the street wearing a skullcap without being insulted, spat at or even hit,” one Dutch newspaper reported. Secret television recordings by one broadcasting company showed young men shouting and making Nazi salutes and chasing a rabbi in the Dutch capital.

Amsterdam police already disguise officers as decoy prostitutes, gays and old people in operations to deter street muggings and attacks on homosexuals and in the city’s red light district.

The idea of using police officers in Jewish disguise was floated by a Muslim parliamentarian. Ahmed Marcouch, a Moroccan-born Social Democratic member of parliament who immigrated to the Netherlands at the age of ten, told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “I say, send fake Jews to arrest the attackers. Everything must be done to keep the phenomenon of anti-Semitism from growing. It seems like these are small incidents, but this is serious.”



A monument to the victims of World War II in south-western France has been spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti. French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux expressed “horror and sadness” after the discovery of the slogans and Nazi symbols painted in bright red at a memorial to the deportation and resistance in Marmande, which bears the names of Nazi concentration camps.

This incident follows several other recent anti-Semitic attacks in France. For example, in July dozens of Jewish graves, including those of children, were smashed or overturned at the Jewish cemetery of Wolfisheim, near Strasbourg in eastern France. (In January, around 30 Jewish graves were also desecrated in the Strasbourg area, on the same day as the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz.)

And anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas were daubed recently on the walls of the Etz Haim synagogue in Melun in central France, and on the windows and walls of a dozen kosher stores in Paris.



The state-owned French railway company SNCF may finally disclose details about the role it played transporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. The announcement follows pressure from lawmakers in California’s state legislature, where a bill is in process that requires companies seeking state business to reveal any involvement in the Holocaust.

“It is our intention to fully comply with the bill,” said Peter Kelly, an attorney for SNCF, which is working on a bid to win a $45 billion contract to build California’s high-speed rail system.

California legislators said they were not seeking restitution for the relatives of Holocaust victims, but believed that taxpayers had a right to know how their money was spent and companies such as SNCF should “come clean about their central role in rounding up and transporting Jews for death.”

SNCF, as well as other instruments of the French state, have long been accused of covering up their role in the Holocaust.

A 75-year gag order issued by the French postwar government is in place to protect the names of French citizens involved in the round-up of Jews from being made public. A ruling last year by France’s Supreme Court confirmed that the first files from 1940 will become public in 2015, with the remaining documents becoming public over the following four years.



In a case which is dividing France, a history teacher in the town of Nancy has been suspended for breaching “the principle of secularism and neutrality” after the French education ministry concluded that she was teaching “too much” about the Holocaust and had organized trips for her students to see former Nazi camps in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Catherine Pederzoli, 58, was investigated by officials at the education ministry, who released a report about the matter in July. The report accused the teacher of “lacking distance, neutrality and secularism” in teaching the Holocaust.

Pederzoli’s lawyer, Christine Tadic, said that the school authorities were leading a witch hunt against her. “Had the teacher been Christian, no one would have led a campaign against her this way,” she added.

Pederzoli is now getting a lot of support both inside and outside the Jewish community, and her case has become something of a cause célèbre. There is a demonstration in her favor today.



A group of Jewish dancers were attacked with rocks and stones by a group of teenagers during a performance at a street festival in Hanover, Germany over the summer. After one dancer suffered a leg injury, the group canceled its performance. Six German teenagers of Lebanese, Palestinian and Iranian origin, were arrested. They also used a megaphone to shout anti-Semitic slurs such as “Juden raus” [Jews out] during the attack.

Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the newspaper Die Welt that anti-Semitic feelings were widespread in both far-right and Muslim communities in Germany. Noting that one of those arrested was as young as 14, she said “It particularly saddens me that anti-Semitic views can already be seen with such vehemence among children and youths.”



Romania’s National Bank has been strongly criticized after minting a silver coin which depicts the late patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Miron Cristea, who as prime minister stripped 37 percent of the Jewish population of its citizenship in 1939, paving the way for their murder in the Holocaust.

After a complaint from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the bank’s governor, Mugur Isarescu, agreed to review the coin. He added the coin may be scrapped if it is considered to be anti-Semitic, which is illegal in Romania.

Cristea led the church between 1925 and 1939, and was the country’s prime minister from 1938 to 1939. His government amended the citizenship law, stripping 225,000 Jews (over a third of Romania’s Jews at the time) of their citizenship. In a study published in 2004, an international commission of historians said that Cristea had “demonized the Jews” and called for their deportation. 270,000 Jews subsequently died during Marshal Ion Antonescu’s pro-Nazi regime in Romania.

The coin also sparked protest from Romania’s Jewish community. “I can’t understand how the patriarch managed to pass through the filter,” said Robert Schwartz, representative for Jews in the city of Cluj.



A radio presenter in New Zealand has been suspended after saying that “Jews are expendable”. The “Breakfast show” DJ and television personality David Fane told a media event: “Would you roast an HIV person? You’d roast them because they’re expendable, like the Jews. Hitler had a right, you know.”

Fane’s words have caused outrage amongst members of the Jewish and gay communities in New Zealand. Stephen Goodman, president of the New Zealand Jewish Council, said: “While we wish to preserve the rights of freedom of speech, anti-Semitic comments like this go over the line.”

Fane apologized, saying: “There are many faces to bigotry and sadly I have added mine. I am deeply sorry.”



The head teacher of an Australian school issued an apology after a child dressed as Adolf Hitler was awarded a prize for best costume.

At a fancy dress event at the Catholic primary school in Perth, a pupil arrived dressed as the Nazi leader. Staff judged the costume, complete with swastika, as worthy of first place in the competition.

After parents complained, the school sent out a letter describing the costume and prize as “inappropriate.” But the head teacher said it was not “sinister” as the children had been asked to dress as a well-known figure and “Hitler was a fairly famous person.”

(In 2005, Prince Harry, who is third in line to the British throne, was criticized for wearing a Nazi outfit to a party. Picture here.)



The Czech Doctors’ Association says it has drafted an apology to Jewish doctors struck off its books during the so-called Second Republic – the short period between the end of democratic Czechoslovakia in September 1938 and the beginning of Nazi occupation in March 1939. Months before the Germans invaded, a number of Czech professional organizations started banning Jews from their ranks, motivated by a combination of Nazi propaganda and economic self-interest. In Czechoslovakia – as elsewhere in Europe – a disproportionately high number of doctors were Jewish.

Within days of the Munich agreement, the Czech Medical Chamber took the initiative to reduce the number of Jewish members. It was just one of several professional organizations that chose to emulate their colleagues in Germany – bodies representing lawyers, engineers, notaries also took similar measures. Czech Jewish leader Tomas Kraus (who is a subscriber to this email list) said “It’s never too late to apologize, especially now that the anti-Semitic moods that Europe experienced in the thirties more or less are coming back.”

The modern-day Czech Bar Association apologized last year for banning Jewish lawyers in 1938.



An appeals court in the Czech Republic this week upheld a lower court ruling that sentenced a prominent member of the country’s neo-Nazi movement to three years in prison for anti-Semitic song lyrics.

Michal Moravec, lead singer of the band Imperium, was sentenced last year in the southern city of Ceske Budejovice for the promotion of neo-Nazism on the album “Triumph of the Will.” Moravec had appealed the verdict.

The album’s name is the same as a Nazi propaganda film shot by filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. The ruling by the country’s Supreme Court is final. Last year, Czech police detained former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in Prague on suspicion of supporting or denying the Holocaust. Duke arrived in Prague after being invited by local neo-Nazis to publicize the Czech translation of his 1998 memoir My Awakening, which claims that the systematic mass murder of Jews by Nazi Germany never took place. Denying the Holocaust is a hate crime in the Czech Republic.


I attach one article below, by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens (who is a subscriber to this email list, as are Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg who were quoted above).

[All notes above by Tom Gross]



Europe Reverts to Type
The EU’s response to anti-Semitism? “No comment.”
By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
September 14, 2010

If a top European mandarin mouths off about Jews and the rest of Europe’s political class acts like it’s no big deal, does that make them cowards, accomplices – or just politically astute? Probably all three.

Earlier this month, Karel De Gucht, the European Union’s trade commissioner and a former foreign minister of Belgium, gave an interview to a Flemish radio station in which he offered the view that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were sure to founder on two accounts: first, because Jews are excessively influential in the U.S; second, because they are not the sorts to be reasoned with.

“Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill,” Mr. De Gucht said, dispensing with the usual fine-grained, face-saving distinction about the difference between a “Jewish” and an “Israel” lobby. “This is the best organized lobby, you shouldn’t underestimate the grip it has on American politics – no matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats.”

Nor was that all the commissioner had to say on the subject. “There is indeed a belief – it’s difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right,” he said. “And it’s not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.”

Here, then, was a case not of “criticism of Israel” or “anti-Zionism,” the usual sheets under which this sort of mentality hides. Mr. De Gucht’s target was Jews, the objects of his opprobrium their malign political influence and crippled mental reflexes. If this isn’t anti-Semitism, the term has no meaning.

But perhaps it no longer does, at least in Europe. “I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense I did not intend,” Mr. De Gucht said, by way of non-apology. “I did not mean in any possible way to cause offense or stigmatize the Jewish community. I want to make clear that anti-Semitism has no place in today’s world.”

The comment admits of two interpretations: (1) that it is insincere, and therefore an act of political expediency; (2) that it is sincere, and Mr. De Gucht thinks that casually bad-mouthing Jews doesn’t quite reach the threshold of “anti-Semitism” – defined, as the saying has it, as hating Jews more than is strictly necessary.

I suspect the latter interpretation, which has an old European pedigree, is closer to the mark. But whatever Mr. De Gucht’s motives, the more interesting phenomenon has been the European non-reaction. “No comment,” says a spokesman for German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “Our position on anti-Semitism is very clear but we have no comments on other people’s statements,” says a spokesman for Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. “High Representative [Catherine] Ashton is confident [De Gucht] didn’t mean any offense, and that he apologized,” says a spokeswoman for the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. “He made personal comments for which he expressed his personal regret and there is no further comment to make,” says a spokesman for the European Commission.

Now imagine that Mr. De Gucht had made analogous comments about Muslims: What would have been the reaction then? Actually, it’s not hard to guess. For weeks, Germany has been in an uproar over a book by Bundesbank member Thilo Sarrazin that has unflattering things to say about Muslim immigrants and what they portend for Germany’s future. I have no brief for Mr. Sarrazin (who also made a somewhat cryptic comment about Jews sharing “a particular gene”). But why has Mr. Sarrazin been forced to quit the Central Bank and is now being drummed out of his Social Democratic Party at the same time that Mr. De Gucht has been given a pass?

One answer is that there are about 1.5 million Jews in the EU today, as against some 16 million Muslims, and politicians are responsive to numbers. Fair enough. The other answer is that Europe – and not just Muslim Europe – is pervasively anti-Semitic.

If that sounds over-the-top, consider that last year the Anti-Defamation League conducted a survey of European attitudes toward Jews in seven different countries. Do Jews have “too much power in the business world”? In France, 33% said this was “probably true”; in Spain it was 56%. Were Jews to some degree responsible for the global economic crisis? In Germany, 30% thought so; in Austria, 43% did. A separate 2008 Pew Survey also found that 25% of Germans, 36% of Poles and 46% of Spaniards had a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of Jews.

As part of his defense, Mr. De Gucht insisted he was only offering his “personal point of view,” and not those of the European Commission as a whole. He shouldn’t be so modest. He has his constituency. It’s why he remains in office. It’s why Europe’s future is beginning to look increasingly like Europe’s past.

“And over here is where the gas chambers didn’t exist…”

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the latest in an occasional series of dispatches on anti-Semitism. The subject is relevant to the Middle East peace process because it forms part of the Israeli world view. Attacks on Jews elsewhere undoubtedly have a bearing on Israel’s reluctance to entrust the international community with questions affecting its security and even its existence. Can Israel rely on international protection if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, or if the sea border to Gaza is fully open to allow arms to flow in?

The recent increase in anti-Semitism can sometimes be exaggerated. But one shouldn’t use instances of exaggeration as an excuse for neglecting or underestimating the ugly and often horrifying persistence of this problem. All the incidents outlined below have occurred in the last couple of months or so.

This dispatch is split in two for space reasons. The second part of the dispatch (“Because what he said wasn’t true; & How long did this take?”) can be read here.



1. Polish group takes legal action against David Irving for Auschwitz tours
2. British MI6 carried out bomb attacks against Holocaust survivor ships after WWII
3. Britain and Spain, the only two OECD countries to boycott Israel
4. Greek judiciary denounced for siding with notorious anti-Semite
5. Jewish pilgrim stabbed to death near rabbi’s tomb in Ukraine
6. Bomb explodes outside synagogue in Russia
7. Lithuanian Jews outraged as pig’s head placed at entrance to synagogue
8. Bishkek police investigate attack on synagogue
9. “WW2 Britain blew up Jewish refugee ships” (By Andrew Roberts, The Daily Beast)
10. “To equate Soviet and Nazi crimes is dishonest” (By Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


A human rights group in Poland is taking legal action against the British “historian” David Irving for minimizing the scale of Nazi atrocities after Irving last month began giving tours of the Warsaw Ghetto and of former Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Dariusz Gabrel of Open Republic Poland said “Material evidence clearly shows that Irving has broken the law. Poland, the country in which the Nazis committed many of their crimes against humanity, should be especially sensitive to Irving’s kind of crime.”

Irving arrived in Poland last month to lead his much criticized tour of Nazi sites, for which wealthy far-right sympathizers from across Europe are paying $2,650 each.

Irving was convicted of Holocaust denial in 2006 by a court in Austria and sentenced to three years in jail.

The Polish anti-racist group Nigdy Wiecej (Never Again) called on the Polish government to ban Irving from entering the country. The Polish Embassy in London said that Irving could not be barred from the country but said its secret service would closely monitor his movements.

On one tour last week, Irving tried to argue that Treblinka, where almost a million Jews were exterminated on arrival, was a place where inmates were merely held in barracks to perform manual work for the Third Reich.



The British intelligence service MI6 used bombs and covert tactics to try to thwart Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees reaching pre-state Israel in the aftermath of World War II, according to a new book by Northern Irish historian Keith Jeffery on the history of MI6.

This is not some speculative spy story that can be denied by the authorities since Dr. Jeffrey’s book is, in their own words, “published with the permission of The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.”

Jeffery says that the British undertook the effort – dubbed Operation Embarrass – in order to curry favor with oil-rich Arab states upset over Jewish migration to the Middle East. In 1947 and 1948, MI6 planted explosives to disable ships docked in Italian ports before they could transport Jewish men, women and children from Europe to Palestine, which was at the time under British control.

In addition to the direct physical sabotage, the British launched a disinformation and propaganda campaign against Jews to impede the establishment of their state. The British Foreign Office helped in these efforts, according to the archives cited by Jeffery.

MI6 even considered blowing up the Baltimore steamship President Warfield (which later became famous as the “Exodus” ship that “launched a nation”) while in port in France.


Please also see Andrew Roberts’ article on this subject further down in this dispatch. He notes that “The depth of the animosity that Establishment Britain, especially the Foreign Office, felt toward the Jews of Palestine clearly went even further than we had ever imagined, and even 70 years later is by no means extinguished.”



The Israeli paper Ha’aretz and the pan-Arab network al-Jazeera report that the governments of Britain and Spain are the only two in the OECD to announce that they will not attend the OECD tourism conference, which this year takes place in Jerusalem

Their decision comes despite the fact that Israel’s tourism minister has made clear that OECD delegates will not be taken to East Jerusalem in the conference.

Other delegates (including those from countries with governments hostile to Israel, such as South Africa and Turkey) will participate. Apparently hostility to the Jewish state is even greater in the British and Spanish governments than it is in the Turkish one.

The Paris-based OECD is an intergovernmental body committed to democracy, market economics, and sustainable economic growth and world trade.


The British embassy in Tel Aviv tells me that the story above, which was reported in Ha’aretz, al-Jazeera and elsewhere, is not true. The embassy says that while the U.K. is indeed not sending a delegate, the absence is not for political reasons and it didn’t send a delegate to an earlier meeting of the same group that took place in Paris. But it is sending a delegate to another OECD working group meeting in Jerusalem later in October.



Three Greek human rights activists have gone on trial for speaking out against judges who acquitted a notorious anti-Semite and extreme-right politician in Greece.

American Jewish leaders called on the president of the European Parliament to send an official envoy to monitor their trial in Athens and criticized the Greek judiciary for acquitting the self-declared anti-Semite Konstantinos Plevris and for now trying to silence the critics of this decision.

“The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants” said: “Holocaust survivors are appalled that the Greek judiciary has initiated proceedings in which the victims are on trial while a vile hate monger stands as the accuser. Rarely have we seen such a grotesque perversion of justice. For the Greek courts to effectively act as an agent for a notorious Holocaust denier is a disgrace and an indictment of the Greek judicial system. Plevris has called Jews ‘subhuman’ and is an open admirer of the Nazis. We demand that Greece’s political and religious leaders speak out against this monstrous miscarriage of justice.”

Plevris, who is a lawyer, has repeatedly called for Jews to be killed so that “our [Greek] race can survive Zionism.” Plevris is an open admirer of National Socialism, and is author of a book titled “Jews: the whole truth”.

The trial of the Greek human rights activists who condemned Plevris opened on September 22 and has now been adjourned until December.



A young ultra-Orthodox Israeli was stabbed to death two weeks ago near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, a place of traditional pilgrimage in Uman, Ukraine.

Shmuel Tobol, a 19-year old member of the Bratslav Hasidic community, who wear the distinctive dress of ultra-orthodox Jews, was set upon and stabbed to death by local Ukrainians. His brother was also injured.

Rabbi Nachman died of tuberculosis at age 38 in Uman surrounded by a small handful of followers; 200 years later, tens of thousands of religious Jews are influenced by his teachings and try to make a pilgrimage to his gravesite in Ukraine.



A homemade bomb exploded recently outside a synagogue in the Russian town of Tver, 170 km northwest of Moscow. The device damaged the entrance hall of the synagogue and shattered windows in several apartments nearby. Thankfully no one was injured. The Russian news agency Interfax reports that Russian anti-terrorism police have joined crime experts to investigate the incident.

“The explosion was a culmination of repeated attacks on practicing Jews,” the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities said in a statement. “Before this, anti-Semitic slogans had appeared on the synagogue’s walls, anti-Semitic leaflets had been circulated in the city, and 140 gravestones at the Jewish part of the city cemetery were defaced last year.”

No one has been arrested.



Jewish organizations representing the remainder of Lithuania’s once thriving Jewish community have expressed revulsion after a pig’s head was left at the entrance of a synagogue in the country’s second largest city, Kaunas.

Lithuania was once home to a 220,000-strong Jewish community, and Vilnius was known as the ‘Jerusalem of the North’. During the Holocaust, 95 percent of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators and almost all of Vilnius’s 100 synagogues destroyed.

(Please see the related article below by Jonathan Freedland, who reported from Lithuania, where I also visited recently.)



Police in the Kyrgyz capital have opened an investigation into an attack on the city synagogue. An explosive device detonated after it was thrown into the synagogue yard during Jewish New Year celebrations last month.

Nobody was reported hurt in the explosion, which caused minor damage to the synagogue. About 1,300 Jews remain in Kyrgyzstan, the majority of whom live in Bishkek. The rest have left for Israel and elsewhere.


There is also much anti-Semitism in the Arab world. Among recent dispatches on this, please see these cartoons concerning June’s Turkish flotilla to Gaza.


I attach two articles below related to items above, by historian Andrew Roberts and by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland. (Both are subscribers to this email list.)

[All notes above by Tom Gross]



WW2 Britain blew up Jewish refugee ships
By Andrew Roberts
The Daily Beast
September 2010

A new book uncovers shocking secret attacks launched on ships bearing Holocaust survivors en route to Israel. Andrew Roberts on the violent lengths to which post-war Britain went to appease oil-rich Arab states.

As Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, the pitiful remnants of History’s greatest crime, tried to make their way across an often hostile Europe at the end of the Second World War, toward at least a semblance of safety in the Holy Land, they had no shortage of problems with which to contend, including disease and malnutrition, Polish anti-Semitism, Soviet indifference, Allied bureaucracy, and Arab nationalism. Now we discover that they faced yet another peril in the shape of bombs planted on their transport ships by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6.

A new book to be published next week entitled MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949, by the distinguished British historian Keith Jeffery, reveals the existence of Operation Embarrass, a plan to try to prevent Jews getting into Palestine in 1946-’48 using disinformation and propaganda but also explosive devices placed on ships. Nor is this some speculative spy story that can be denied by the authorities: Dr. Jeffrey’s book is actually, in their own words: “Published with the permission of The Secret Intelligence Service and the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.”

When on June 1 this year the British government denounced as “completely unacceptable” the way that the Israelis landed troops on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza we did not know that its predecessor had done much the same, actually blowing up one ship and damaging two more vessels of a genuinely humanitarian flotilla that was trying to bring Jewish survivors of the Nazi death camps to their people’s ancient homeland.

Of course the hostility of the British establishment toward Jewish immigration into Palestine since long before the notorious 1939 White Paper on the subject is well-known – even King George VI wrote that year to say that he was “glad to think that steps are being taken to prevent these people leaving their country of origin” – nonetheless this is the first indication of the violent lengths to which post-war Britain was willing to go in order to appease the oil-rich Arab states of the region.

For it now emerges that in late 1946 the Labour government of Clement Attlee asked MI6 for “proposals for action to deter ships masters and crews from engaging in illegal Jewish immigration and traffic,” adding, “Action of the nature contemplated is, in fact, a form of intimidation and intimidation is only likely to be effective if some members of the group of people to be intimidated actually suffer unpleasant consequences.”

Among the options contemplated were “the discovery of some sabotage device, which had ‘failed’ to function after the sailing of a ship,” “tampering with a ship’s fresh water supplies or the crew’s food,” and “fire on board ship in port.” Sir Stewart Menzies, the chief of the SIS, suggested these could be blamed on an invented Arab terrorist group called The Defenders of Arab Palestine.

Operation Embarrass was therefore launched after a meeting held on February 14, 1947 between officials from MI6, the armed services, the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office, the last represented by William Hayter, the head of Foreign Office Services Liaison Department, a high-flier who later became ambassador to Moscow. I knew Sir William Hayter in later life, but needless to say he never breathed a word about this operation. In his defense, it must be said that Hayter did order MI6 to ensure that arson “must be arranged, if at all, when the ship is empty.”

The Operation Embarrass team was told that “the primary consideration was to be that no proof could ever be established between positive action against this traffic and His Majesty’s Government [HMG].” A special communications network, codenamed Ocean, was set up with a budget of £30,000 ($47,000), a great deal of money in 1947. The operation had three aspects: direct action against refugee ships, a “black” propaganda campaign, and a deception scheme to disrupt immigration from Black Sea ports. A team of former Special Operations Executive agents – with the cover story of a yachting trip – was sent to France and Italy with limpet bombs and timers. If captured, “they were under no circumstances to admit their connection with HMG” but instead claim to have been recruited in New York “by an anti-Communist organization formed by a group of international industrialists, mainly in the oil and aircraft industries,” i.e. to lay the blame on rich, right-wing, unnamed Americans. They were told that this cover “was their final line of defense and, even in the event of a prison sentence, no help could be expected from HMG.”

During the summer of 1947 and early 1948, five attacks were undertaken on ships in Italian ports, of which one was rendered “a total loss” and two others were damaged. Two other British-made limpet mines were discovered before they went off, but the Italian authorities did not find their country of origin suspicious, “as the Arabs would of course be using British stores.” Operation Embarrass even considered blowing up the Baltimore steamship President Warfield when in harbor in France, which later became famous in Israeli history as the “Exodus” ship that “launched a nation.”

The country that ought to be embarrassed by Operation Embarrass – indeed shamed – is Great Britain, which used explosives to try to stop truly humanitarian flotillas after the Holocaust, but now condemns embattled Israel for halting entirely politically inspired flotillas to Gaza despite her rights of legitimate self-defense. The depth of the animosity that Establishment Britain, especially the Foreign Office, felt toward the Jews of Palestine clearly went even further than we had ever imagined, and even 70 years later is by no means extinguished.



I see why ‘double genocide’ is a term Lithuanians want. But it appals me
To equate Soviet and Nazi crimes is dishonest and historically false. Why has this poisonous idea taken such deep root?
By Jonathan Freedland in Vilnius
The Guardian
September 14, 2010

No one wants to live surrounded by death. It’s understandable that people who now live on the spot that was once the Kovno ghetto, where close to 35,000 Jews were herded, starved and eventually led to their deaths, would not want to be constantly reminded of the fact. So I was not too surprised this week to watch fathers pushing baby buggies and mothers carrying groceries on Linkuvos Street, a residential road in modern Kaunas, Lithuania, with just one small obelisk – barely visible amid the traffic at a junction – marking the site where the gates to the ghetto once stood. The wording, in Hebrew and Lithuanian, is brief: no death toll, no mention of the unspeakable suffering that happened within.

I understand, too, why there are no special road signs directing visitors to make the short drive to the Ninth Fort, the place where the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators dug deep, vast pits – into which they shot almost 10,000 Jews, including 4,273 children, on a single day in October 1941, the so-called Great Action. I can see why the people of Kaunas would prefer the Ninth Fort to be seen only by those people who come looking for it.

Memory and history never belong solely in the past; they are contested in the here and now, as freighted with politics as any other aspect of the present. So it is in Lithuania, which, along with neighbouring Latvia and Poland, had a walk-on part in British politics last year, when David Cameron came under fire for partnering his MEPs with assorted ultra-nationalist fringe parties from eastern Europe. This week, searching along with my father for the roots of our family – one branch of which once lived in the Lithuanian village of Baisogala – I had a chance to examine what had once been a faraway Westminster battle on the ground and up close.

I have now seen for myself, for example, that the Ninth Fort includes not only a massive, Soviet-era socialist-realist memorial to the dead buried in those pits, but a newer exhibition hall, covering the oppression of the Soviet years – even though the connection between subject and location is tenuous at best. Of course, I can see why Lithuanians want to remember the era of the gulag and forced exile to Siberia. It was more recent than the second world war; it lasted longer; and it affected families still living in Lithuania. Besides, for four postwar decades to speak of that pain was forbidden, leaving a yearning for commemoration and recognition.

Pushing myself hard, I could almost empathise with the “double genocide” approach, officially endorsed in Lithuania and other former Soviet lands, which holds that nazism and communism were twin evils of the 20th century and ought to be remembered alongside each other – an approach embodied by the Ninth Fort, with its double museums, one recording the horrors of Hitler, the other counting the crimes of Stalin.

After all, this is not a competition – and if it is, it’s not one any Jew would want to win. Jews don’t want or need a monopoly on grief. Tears are not in finite supply: there are more than enough to go around.

But, no matter how great an effort of empathy I make, I cannot go along with the “double genocide”, especially not now that I’ve seen how it plays out in practice rather than in theory. For one thing, the equation of Nazi and communist crimes rarely entails an honest account of the former. The plaque at the Ninth Fort, for instance, identifies the killers only as “Nazis and their assistants”. It does not spell out that those assistants were Lithuanian volunteers, enthusiastically murdering their fellow Lithuanians. In my travels, visiting a whole clutch of sites, I did not encounter one that gave a direct, explicit account of this bald, harsh truth: that Lithuania’s Jews were victims of one of the highest killing rates in Nazi Europe, more than 90%, chiefly because the local population smoothed the Germans’ path. Indeed, they began killing Jews on June 22 1941, before Hitler’s men had even arrived.

Second, even if the theoretical intention is to remember a “double genocide”, it rarely stays double for very long. Take the Museum of Genocide Victims, off Vilnius’s central Gedimino Boulevard. You would think such a place would feature the genocide of which Vilnius was close to the centre, namely the slaughter of the Jews. But you’d be wrong. The Holocaust is not mentioned. The focus is entirely on the suffering inflicted by the KGB. Outside, there are two prominent stone memorials for Moscow’s victims. If you wish to remember Lithuania’s 200,000 slain Jews, you have to wander far from the main drag, up a side street, to the tiny Green House – which is anyway closed for renovation and whose director, under pressure from state officials, is fighting for her job.

It’s the same story with a 2008 change in the law that, in the name of equivalence, banned not just Nazi symbols but Soviet ones too. As if that were not bad enough – banning a veteran of the anti-Hitler resistance from parading his medals – in May, a Lithuanian court held that the swastika was not a Nazi symbol after all, but part of “Baltic culture” and therefore could be displayed in public.

Even if the authorities were rigorous in maintaining a balance, and telling both stories honestly, I would still reject this “double genocide”. For the symmetry here is false. No one wants to top the persecution league table, but nor can one accept that those who were “arrested, interrogated and imprisoned” – to quote the Vilnius museum – suffered the same fate as those Jews who were murdered, despite the exhibit’s attempt to equalise them under the bland umbrella term “losses”. The oppression of the Soviet years was terrible, but it was not genocide: to be arrested is not to be shot into a pit. They are different and to say otherwise is to rob “genocide”, a very specific term, of all meaning.

Finally, there is a sinister undertone to all this equivalence talk. Professor Egidijus Aleksandravicius of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas told me that many Lithuanians like to imagine that if their forebears killed Jews it was only as “revenge” for all that communists (for which read Jews) had inflicted on them. On this logic – warped because Soviet rule hit Jews as hard as anyone else – the “double genocide” in effect says: you hurt us, we hurt you, now we’re even.

Why has this poisonous idea taken such deep root? Dovid Katz, who taught Yiddish at Vilnius University until his contract was not renewed this year, suspects geopolitics: “It supplies a massive stick with which to beat today’s Russia,” he says. Lithuania wants its European Union partners to see Moscow as a genocidal regime that has not made restitution.

He detects another motive too: the nationalist desire for Lithuanians to see themselves as a pristine people, free of stains on their record. Admitting the truth of the wartime past threatens that; insistence on victim status preserves it.

This may inform the action the rest of the world should take. Professor Aleksandravicius calls for a “soft hand”, for outsiders to understand how psychologically difficult it is for people to realise that victims can be perpetrators too, to accept that having suffered in the first Soviet rule of 1940-41, “Lithuanians turned on the weakest people of all, the Jews”.

I respect that approach: memory is a sensitive business. But governments will have to speak more forcefully. Lithuania is in the EU and Nato: its partners in those bodies have a duty to tell Vilnius plainly that it needs to reckon with its past truthfully, no matter how painful that may be. Only then will the haunting spirits of the past let it rest.



Lithuania’s double genocide policy

Jonathan Freedland has done a service in highlighting the disturbing trend in historical memory in Lithuania (I see why ‘double genocide’ is a term Lithuanians want. But it appals me, 15 September), a phenomenon with parallels in rather too many parts of Europe. That said, we should also acknowledge that, however inadequate Lithuanian memorialisation of the Holocaust may be, it is in many ways an improvement on that found in the Soviet Union.

Communist party policy ignored sites of Jewish suffering for decades, attested to most famously by the lengthy struggles involving Yevtushenko, Shostakovich and others for a memorial at Babi Yar in Kiev. Even if eventually constructed, monuments referred blandly to “Soviet citizens” or “victims of fascism”.

By contrast, most killing sites in Lithuania are now at least marked with memorials which explicitly mention the identity of the victims and, very occasionally, the perpetrators. Jonathan is, though, sadly correct in noting that few Lithuanians pay them any heed.

Martin Winstone
Author, The Holocaust Sites of Europe

Lithuania has taken more than a “walk-on part in British politics”. When the European parliament called on its members, in April 2009, to mark 23 August as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, and when the OSCE, in July 2009, adopted the Vilnius Declaration on increasing awareness of totalitarian crimes, we too became party to the equation of Nazi crimes with those of communism in the Baltic states. By accepting the parallelism, we also have excused collaborators, ignored the unspeakable savageries perpetrated in Lithuania between 1941 and 1945, condoned the pardoning of every single Lithuanian war criminal until today, and endorsed the prosecution of Jewish resistance fighters, whose situation remains unresolved.

Professor Tessa Rajak

In global hunt for Dubai “hit men,” the trail goes cold

October 08, 2010


Note by Tom Gross

I attach below a feature investigation from today’s Wall Street Journal concerning the death, alleged by many to be a murder, of Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January in a Dubai hotel room.

Following the death, the Dubai police (aided by others) spent about 10,000 hours poring over footage from some 1,500 security cameras around Dubai. Using face-recognition software, electronic-payment records, receipts and interviews with taxi drivers and hotel staff, they put together a list of 33 suspects who in total, they claimed, used 45 passports from a variety of countries. They publicized this list in a series of carefully-orchestrated press conferences in February and March.

Dubai’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, vowed to pursue the suspects “until the end of time.” At one point he said he was “99%” sure of Mossad involvement, even though two Palestinians had been arrested.

But now, as this Journal investigation points out, the trail has gone cold.

(Incidentally, not mentioned by The Wall Street Journal article below is that while Britain was outraged at Israel over the alleged forgery of U.K. passports supposedly used in the Dubai incident, London was remarkably silent over the forged British passport that the FBI says was used by at least one of the Russian spies arrested in the U.S. in July. There was no summoning of the Russian ambassador in London, nor expulsion of a senior Russian diplomat, as there was in the alleged Israeli case. Nor was there the kind of breathless condemnation of Russia which we saw directed at Israel in the U.K. press. For example, The Guardian newspaper ran 17 articles, many with a furious tone, highlighting the passport accusations against Israel, but only two very mild articles about the Russian spy-ring’s use of British passports.)

-- Tom Gross

Among past dispatches on this matter, please see:

* Is Israel the only suspect over Dubai death?
* Journalism 007: Reporting fiction as fact
* “Only one group could be behind the latest hit -- the Irish Jews”
* Israel has its faults, but apartheid isn’t one of them (& Another hit job on Israel by the FT)


In global hunt for hit men, tantalizing trail goes cold
By Chip Cummins and Alistair Macdonald (with assistance from Joshua Mitnick, Carolyn Henson, David Crawford, Evan Perez, Rachel Pannett and Lucy Craymer)
The Wall Street Journal
October 8, 2010

DUBAI – Soon after the January assassination of a top Palestinian official here, Dubai police stumbled onto what looked like a big break in the case.

They linked a white-haired man with glasses to several suspects caught on security cameras preparing for the murder. Most of the suspects in the case had carried forged passports, but this man had a real British one. It identified him as 62-year-old Christopher Lockwood.

The assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January 2010 in a Dubai hotel evoked mixed reactions around the world. But after a few early leads, the Dubai police have found the trail has gone cold.

A cellphone linked to him had recently been switched on in France. U.K. authorities found his London address. They also discovered that in 1994, he had changed his name from Yehuda Lustig. Mr. Lustig, they determined, was born in Scotland to a Jewish couple from what was then British-controlled Palestine.

The findings raised hopes of nabbing one of the orchestrators of the hit, possibly providing proof for accusations by Dubai police that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad was behind it.

But just as quickly, the trail went cold, a Wall Street Journal examination of the case shows.

British police staked out the London residence, but Mr. Lockwood never showed up, according to investigators. They didn’t find him in France, either. More troubling still, Mr. Lockwood’s prior identity looked to be a ruse: Mr. Lustig was reported killed in 1973 as a young Israeli soldier during the Yom Kippur War, according to official Israeli obituaries. That left investigators no closer to finding out who Mr. Lockwood really is.

“Christopher Lockwood” (Photo courtesy of Interpol)

It has been more than eight months since the murder of top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, whose body was found in a Dubai hotel room Jan. 20. Quick work by Dubai police and a diplomatic furor over the use of dozens of forged passports in the case fed early optimism that at least some of the 30-plus suspects would be found. But a string of apparent dead ends has frustrated international investigators, lengthening the odds that anyone will be caught or that definitive proof of Mossad involvement will emerge.

And despite an initial burst of tough talk from various governments, some international investigators are concerned that politics may be hampering cooperation from some governments that support Israel.

Time isn’t on the side of Dubai, one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. International investigators have been operating under the assumption that, if Israel is behind the crime, the suspects already may have made their way back to Israel, where they’ll be safe from extradition.

“The longer these investigations go on, the more enthusiasms dwindle and the more time for a security service to cover tracks and bury things,” says Nick Day, a former operative in the U.K.’s MI5 security service who isn’t involved in the probe.

Israel isn’t cooperating in the probe. It has said there’s no evidence linking Mossad to the murder of Mr. Mabhouh, one of the founders of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian group that Washington, London and Israel designate as a terror organization. Spokesmen for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment for this article.

Early this year, Dubai’s police chief said he was “99%” sure of Mossad involvement. Still, investigators on the case, including those in the U.A.E., say they are working with an open mind. Early on, Dubai detained two Palestinians, raising the possibility that the killing was orchestrated by Palestinian rivals to Mr. Mabhouh. Since then, several allies of Israel have publicly blamed the country for forging many of the passports used by suspects in the case. That has reinforced the widespread suspicion of Israeli involvement.

Dubai investigators remain hopeful, but are coming to terms with the possibility that the probe could drag on for years. “They realize this might be a long process,” says one person familiar with the probe.

At a press conference in February announcing the first batch of suspects, Dubai’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, vowed to pursue the suspects “until the end of time.”

The lead on Mr. Lockwood isn’t the only one to fizzle.

Two suspects, traveling with forged passports, appeared to have fled to the U.S. shortly after the killing. Their passport details showed up in a U.S. border-control system that collects electronic manifests of international flights and screens them against passenger watch lists, according to people familiar with the probe and to investigation documents reviewed by the Journal. That suggested the suspects had boarded planes bound for the U.S. The information was passed to international investigators involved in the case, raising hopes of a capture.

But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has since said it doesn’t have records of the two suspects in its system.

Prosecutors in Cologne, Germany, sought an Israeli man on espionage charges related to the murder. The man was extradited from Poland on a lesser charge of document fraud. In August, a German court released him on bail. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said Dubai hadn’t provided enough evidence to justify holding him any longer.

The man flew to Israel within hours of his release. By leaving Germany, he revived the German arrest warrant on espionage charges, a prosecution spokesman said. But the warrant is unlikely to be enforced in Israel.

As for the two Palestinians detained in Dubai shortly after the killing, one had been caught on an airport security camera appearing to pass off an item to one of the suspects. But the men haven’t yet provided any meaningful leads, according to people familiar with the probe.

No other arrests have been made.

The U.A.E. was well-positioned to get investigative cooperation from foreign governments. It has emerged as a Western-leaning Arab powerhouse and important bulwark against Iran. It enjoys strong ties with the U.S. and many Western nations, and Washington has courted it in its global fight against terror financing.

The large-scale passport fraud, blamed on Israel, sparked widespread anger, especially in Europe, raising the prospect that governments would make the investigation a priority.

“This has gone beyond the pale,” says one European-based official familiar with the case. The forgeries, he says, raised the question: “Does Israel have to play by any rules, or does it always get a special exemption?”

But from the start, some international investigators and officials were concerned that politics might interfere. They wondered how much help would be forthcoming from countries with strong ties to Israel.

The U.S. and many Western nations have for decades quietly worked with Mossad and other Israeli agencies, benefiting from their intelligence gathering in the Middle East and beyond. The Dubai investigation gathered steam just as Washington was trying to repair relations with Israel, strained by policy clashes earlier in the year over how to restart Mideast peace talks, now under way between Israel and the Palestinians.

Two senior American officials acknowledge the case is unusually sensitive because of Washington’s close ties with Israel and U.S. efforts to improve counterterrorism cooperation with U.A.E. The U.S. is cooperating with Dubai by probing financial transactions of some suspects who used U.S.-issued cash cards.

U.A.E. officials have avoided explicit criticism of other nations. After the release of the suspect by Germany, for example, the U.A.E. issued a mild rebuke, saying it was “concerned” by the decision and had asked Berlin for clarification.

British authorities took an early interest. Of the 45 passports Dubai officials say were used by 33 suspects, 19 were forged or fraudulently issued British ones. That sparked anger in London. It wasn’t the first time relations with Israel were strained over allegedly forged passports. In 1982, an Israeli embassy diplomatic pouch with fake British passports was found in a German phone booth. In 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got an apology after British police found more Israeli-forged U.K. passports.

In late March, London publicly blamed Israel for the Dubai forgeries, but stopped short of accusing it of the killing itself. It expelled an Israeli official in protest. According to a person familiar with the case, U.K. authorities determined that the official worked for Mossad. Australia and Ireland also blamed Israel for forgeries and expelled diplomats. Israel’s foreign ministry said it regretted the expulsions, but didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Hours after the killing, Dubai officials realized they had a high-priority murder investigation on their hands. Initially, it appeared Mr. Mabhouh had died of natural causes. A bottle of blood-pressure medicine was found on the bedside table of his room in the business-class Al Bustan Rotana hotel, near the Dubai airport. There were no obvious signs of a struggle. A preliminary medical assessment at the scene suggested a sudden, natural death.

Mr. Mabhouh’s prominence triggered extra scrutiny. A special investigative unit examined the scene more closely. Things didn’t add up, say people familiar with the probe.

Investigators couldn’t find the shirt that the hotel’s security camera showed Mr. Mabhouh wearing the night of his death. Police looked under the bed and discovered several broken slats, suggesting Mr. Mabhouh had been thrown onto the bed or held down, police concluded.

Police spent about 10,000 hours poring over footage from some 1,500 security cameras around Dubai. Using face-recognition software, electronic-payment records, receipts and interviews with taxi drivers and hotel staff, they put together a list of suspects and publicized it.

In video footage made public by the police, some of the suspects were shown donning disguises, including wigs. At one point, two suspects carrying tennis rackets shared an elevator with Mr. Mabhouh.

A camera outside a hotel caught the reflection of a white minivan with tinted windows pulling up to the building’s entrance. Several suspects approached the vehicle, then pulled back abruptly, according to people familiar with the probe.

Dubai police believe the suspects mistook the vehicle for that of a colleague, then turned back after getting a good look. That suggested to police that an accomplice might be driving a similar vehicle. After sifting through auto-registration and electronic toll-road data, they came up with a make and model, then found a similar minivan. It was rented to Mr. Lockwood.

U.K. authorities determined that the passport Mr. Lockwood used to travel to the U.A.E. was genuine. Dubai asked Interpol to post an international “wanted” notice for him.

But apart from his London address, Mr. Lockwood left little in the way of a paper trail. U.K. investigators couldn’t find any public-health records or tax information about the man, according to people familiar with the probe. He never paid a TV-license fee, mandatory in Britain for anyone who owns a set.

Investigators found other intriguing clues: Two years ago, using a British address, Mr. Lockwood shipped a blue Mercedes van from Sharjah, another emirate in the U.A.E., to Iran, according to people familiar with the probe. Someone else shipped the van to Britain.

But that lead fizzled, too. The vehicle’s registration had lapsed, and the car hasn’t been located, according to a person familiar with the case.

Investigators now believe Mr. Lockwood operated in Europe and the Middle East for years, and that he served as a facilitator to Mr. Mabhouh’s assassins, according to people familiar with the probe.

Dubai officials determined that he had flitted in and out of their city-state, according to people familiar with the probe. But their information was also scarce: a few records showing he rented a car and used a credit card at restaurants. During his last stay, he lived at a short-term, furnished apartment.

Dubai officials believe he bought ferry tickets for two suspects in the murder. Both traveled from Dubai to Iran in Aug. 2009, after what Dubai police believe was a related operation to plot the Mabhouh murder.

The deceased Israeli soldier Yehuda Lustig (Photo courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Defense)

When investigators discovered that Mr. Lockwood was once known as Mr. Lustig, the plot appeared to thicken. Mr. Lustig’s birth certificate indicated he was born in Glasgow on Feb. 23, 1948. Mr. Lustig’s father was a veterinary student who had married in Palestine, then under British control.

Investigators figured he probably changed his name from Lustig to avoid suspicion while traveling in the Middle East, according to people familiar with the probe.

But Mr. Lustig’s military service history – described in six Israeli memorials, including an official obituary posted on the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s website – indicates the man of that name died in combat in a barrage of rocket fire in the Sinai Peninsula.

That clouded the picture – and suggests that an unknown person fraudulently used the dead soldier’s identity to obtain a British passport. Investigators appear to be back at square one in figuring out who that is.