a different side of Israel

Tag: Jewish-Arab Relations

Enter: Muslim Brotherhood

With the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February, Israel’s relations with Egypt have been turned on their head. It is a game of waiting. Will a treaty between Egypt and Israel hold? Will Muslim Brotherhood take more than 50 percent of Parliament seats? If yes, does it mean direct threat? Imminent danger for the Jewish State? Is everything going to be alright after all?

Ahead of legislative elections, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has reportedly joined forces with 17 Egyptian political parties – both liberal, secular and religious alike – to concretize a mutual platform. Involved in the joint platform are such political parties as Brotherood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the more liberal Wafd party, the leftist Tagammu and the brand new Salafi (Muslim Fundamentalist) Noor party.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – which took the governmental reins after Hosni Mubarak was ousted – has set the parliamentary elections for a date in September.

Despite these signs of modernity and democracy from the Brotherhood, Chairman Mohammed Badie held an interview on Egyptian television, indicating as Caroline Glick paraphrased:

“That the Brotherhood will end any thought of democracy in Egypt by taking control over the media. Badie said that the Brotherhood is about to launch a public news channel,” committed to the “ethics of the society and the rules of the Islamic faith.”

Mr. Badie recently said in an interview:

“Mubarak tries to black mail Obama by using Muslim Brotherhood name to remain in charge of on going chaos. All 1.57 billion Muslims are part of Muslim Brotherhood excluding Mubarak, he is member of Israel Brotherhood, he can go Israel and live there.”

Jerusalem Post in February reported Badie saying:

“Asked on CNN if his organization would support the maintenance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Mohamed Morsy, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, dodged a direct answer but said Israel had failed to honor the treaty. He said it would be up to the Egyptian parliament to decide on the fate of the treaty, and that the parliament would reflect the will of the people.”

With Satan In The Driver’s Seat, Peace Is Nowhere To Be Found

Jerusalem, nay, the Middle East is a place where everyone thinks they have authority over the ‘other-guy’, yet the situation is proverbially out-of-control.

Led by Hezbollah member, Raed Salah, the Northern Branch-Israeli Islamic Movement has demanded all Mezuzot be taken off the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Salah said:

“This is a disgusting attempt to Judaize the Arab and Islamic heritage of the old city…and all Islamic institutions are called upon to act quickly to remove the Mezuzot.”

(Judaize the Jewish State? I don’t know you guys!)

Spokesman for the Al-Aqsa “institution” Mahmoud Abu Atta, says:

“The only religion who owns Jerusalem is Islam…The old city of Jerusalem to the Arabs forever.”

Jerusalem Little Kotel Meanwhile, in a different part of the Old City, the Jerusalem Development Authority opened its Muslim Quarter site – ‘Little Kotel‘ – to Jewish prayer. Scaffolding was removed from under an arch supporting Palestinian homes.

According to the Ateret Cohanim Website, students at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim pray every Friday in the courtyard, where no disturbances a have been recorded in recent years.

This move does not come in response to Palestinian groups last month claiming the Western Wall is not a Jewish holy site, and instead, is sacred to Muslims.

And then, in an unrelated story, Gaza’s health sector seems to be on the verge of collapse due to a lack of medicine.

Medical care, said Medhat Abbas, general director of the Ash-Shifa medical complex in Gaza City, must be separated from political disputes.

Gaza’s Health Ministry has blamed its counterpart in Ramallah for a shortage of medicine in the Strip. Health Minister of Hamas, Bassem Naim, said Gaza was lacking 40% of basic medicines which he accused the PA of withholding.

Meanwhile, Israeli spokesman, Ofer Gendalman, warned Hamas to stop firing projectiles into southern Israel.

Dozens of projectiles have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the start of 2011. The launches have been the work of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the National Resistance Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad.

PRACTICAL PALESTINE POLICY: Pushing Pragmatism Under the Magic Carpet

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research has conducted a new poll which revealed that the vast majority of Arabs who are living under the American-backed Palestinian Authority are opposed to attempts by the PA to prevent them from working construction jobs in local Jewish communities.

This was brought to Western attention last winter in the first laps of the settlement freeze by publications such as The Christian Science Monitor and – that is the sheer lack of pragmatism behind the freeze.

The Palestinian Authority prohibition on working in Jewish communities, such as the boycott of local Jewish products, was essentially designed to augment the effect of the 10-month settlement freeze forced down the Middle Eastern throat by one US President, Barack Obama last September. The catch is that a high percentage of Arabs living under the Fatah-led PA earn their livelihoods, sometimes solely from local Jewish construction projects.
Therefore, as writes independent Israeli reporter Avi Yellin in the

“They have been some of the most unrecognized victims of the politically-motivated building freeze…”

In addition to the cruel scarcity of construction work – that is the main source of income for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, which has resulted from the US-imposed building freeze, the PA boycott on Jewish products is being ardently enforced by PA security forces. Troops trained by United States Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, have been working to furrow out Arab merchants suspected of violating the boycott.

According to the poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, the vast majority of Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the Hamas-controlled Gaza region are opposed to being kept from working construction jobs in Jewish towns. Contrary to the staunch song sung by the press portraying Palestinian nationalists set on driving Israel from Judea and Samaria, the majority of Palestinian Arabs just want to provide food for their families.
According to the poll, the majority, that is 60% to 38% of all Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza oppose the prohibition. Deducting ancient Gaza, where Jewish citizens may no longer roam, support for the ban drops to 34% percent.

Fear and Loathing in Oslo

Oslo, NorwayJews in Oslo were taken aback over the weekend when the leader of the local Jewish Community, Anne Sander criticized haredi Judaism, the Chabad movement, the settlements and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The remarks came in an interview with the Dagbladet newspaper, on the milieu of the situation between Jews and Muslims in Norway.

Only 1,100 Jews live in Norway today, most of them in Oslo. They live alongside more than 70,000 Muslims. Anti-Semitic incidents from the past few years include harsh statements made by Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen, a plan by local Muslims to murder the Israeli ambassador and gun shots fired at an Oslo synagogue.

The journalist who interviewed Sander has in the past compared former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Nazi leader Hermann Göring. The interview began with a poetic description of “the Israeli war machine”.
Sander said:

“Both sides are right. It’s something that we must learn to live with, accept the fact that we disagree…There is a radical polarization in the Jewish world today…You have the liberals, and on the other side you have the ultra-Orthodox – which look as if they may become dominant. We don’t like it. What’s happening is very dangerous. This is Judaism from the inside like in all other religions. Extremism exists everywhere, among us as well.”

She also shed a negative light on the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in her country, which seeks to spread kabbalistic and Chassidic Judaism, as well as the practice of basic mitzvoth, to non-practicing Jews around the world:

“The ultra-Orthodox movement, Chabad-Lubavitch, has been in Oslo for four years. It represents a more distant side in religion than we are able to accept.”

She said that the movement’s values “are completely different than the average. It’s a movement which mixes religion and politics and has an anti-democratic structure.”

Sander mentioned that the movement supports a Greater Israel:

“from Egypt in the West to ancient Babylon in the east, between today’s Iraq and Iran. We are busy with democracy, with volunteering and with being socially responsible, and this conduct is completely destructive towards the environment, and as I said – very dangerous.”

Sander explained that people in Norway were wrong when comparing the country’s Jews to Israelis on all matters:

“Naturally, we have a lot of cooperation on cultural exchanges and similar things, but I don’t engage in politics. That’s the embassy’s responsibility.”

On the topic of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, she said:

“I think he has bad advisors, he received false information, he knew only half of the story, he responds emotionally and he talks with his local audience. No one can hit people in the head and call them anti-Semites just because they criticize what the State of Israel does, even if anti-Semitism is hidden undoubtedly in some of the criticism against Israel.”

She said that Jews benefit from West Bank settlements, like Palestinians benefit from suicide bombings:

“When it comes to settlements, I just can’t understand it. It’s completely incomprehensible to me, completely incomprehensible. It’s supposed to be in Israel’s favor. This is not the situation, like suicide bombings for the Palestinian side.”

Rabbi Shaul Wilhelm, who manages the Chabad House in Oslo, told Ynet that Sander’s remarks put the city’s Jews in danger:

“She is simply putting the security of Jews living here in risk. Such statements are a type of incitement. We have been feeling very uncomfortable since the article was published, and so far no one has taken these remarks back…”

The remark about Chabad, said Wilhelm:

“is not true and it’s particularly dangerous when it is said by a central Jewish public figure. Comparing Jews to radical Islam in a country with some 100,000 Muslims is terrible, especially when there is not a lot of sympathy for Jews and Israel in the media.”

Another Jewish resident of Oslo claimed an objection as well:

“There is no problem with Chabad. They are working for the sake of the community like in any other place. I view this as an internal and dangerous political dispute.”

Eric Argaman, a 30-year-old Israeli who has studied in Norway and lives in Oslo, said:

“It’s a product of internal hatred. What’s Chabad got to do with it? It’s an apolitical body. We are working here to prevent anti-Semitism and a person comes along and destroys it. It’s not easy being a Jew here as it is. She did injustice to everyone…Some guys working in security at the Jewish center have resigned. In Israel she wouldn’t have stayed in office. It’s enough that people are looking for reasons to hate the Jews here.”

International Temple Mount Awareness Day

Israeli law prides itself on two cardinal principles of democracy: freedom of access to places of worship, and the freedom of worship to practitioners of all religions.

Israeli government has always cited the Jewish Country’s unflinching assurance of the freedom of worship for Muslims and Christians in the city of Jerusalem. This fact is vitally presented in its case to maintain Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli sovereignty.

Temple MountThe irony is this: in the heart of Jerusalem lies a piece of real estate which has been granted de facto some sort of extra-legal, extraterritorial status, a sort-of “wild West” where the rule of law does not exist and the most basic and inalienable democratic rights are not honored. That is the Temple Mount.

The facts are as such: The Muslim Waqf, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, has been granted absolute say over the administration of the Temple Mount. Illegal destruction of archaeological findings from the first and second Temples takes place on a daily basis, and so does illegal construction. The Waqf’s unambiguous aim of this policy is the transformation of the entire Temple Mount plateau into one massive Mosque, thereby achieving exclusivity to the site for Muslims.

No less pernicious is the manner in which non-Muslims are treated both atop the Mount and upon approaching it. The discriminatory policy is enforced by the Israeli police, go figure. Non-Muslims are simply not allowed to carry with them a Bible or prayer book and are not even allowed to pray. Jews who ascend the Mount, in accordance with Jewish law are singled out and discriminated against in a derogatory fashion. They are detained at the security booth, identification cards inspected and given oral instructions on what they cannot do.

Furthermore, unlike any other group of human beings ascending the Temple Mount, Jews are not allowed to be in gatherings of more than 10 or 20 at a time, and they are accompanied during the entire duration of their visit by police officers and a Waqf official to ensure that they do not violate the prohibitions. It is needless to say, prayer books, the Tanach, tefillin or a tallit are forbidden.

In recent rulings, the Supreme Court has categorically upheld the right of Jews to pray on the Mount, and has had to reprove the police for not honoring this law. If the danger exists that Jewish prayer on the Mount could be met by a disturbance of the peace, then freedom of worship is denied.

The Temple Institute has declared this coming Tuesday, March 16, the first of the month of Nisan, to be International Temple Mount Awareness Day. Supporters are called-upon to petition the government of Israel for change.

More Trouble in Paradise: The Unruly Neighbors

Pisgat ZeevThe Adhan is the Muslim call to prayer. Five times a day it gets broadcast from the loudspeaker of mosques. In Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, residents have complained that the volume of the Adhan has been unnecessarily loud, creating an annoying nuisance, and that Israeli police have not done anything to fix the situation. Especially at 4 a.m., it does not seem reasonable that a call to prayer need be THAT loud; and according to residents of Pisgat Ze’ev, it has been getting louder and louder since Ramadan.

One Pisgat Ze’ev resident named Yehudit Raz told the Jerusalem Post:

“It’s as if they took the speakers and put them inside my bedroom…and it’s not from one mosque or two mosques – we’re talking about tons of speakers going off, one after the other, every morning…everyone is shirking their responsibility…all we want is for them to turn their speakers down. How would they feel if we did the same thing to them?”

Also problematic for Jewish residents, were wedding celebrations featuring fireworks and gunshots in the neighborhoods of Shuafat, Anata, Beit Hanina and Hizme.
“Why must they wake up the whole neighborhood with the noise?” she went on. “Can’t they just get alarm clocks?” asked Raz.

Yael Antebi is the City Councilwoman who represents Pisgat Ze’ev at City Hall and she is a resident. Antebi says that she knows exactly what her fellow residents are complaining about and said that she has been bringing the matter to the proper forum, with the municipality.

One reason that the police may be touchy about addressing such a taboo issue as this is due to recent rioting and unrest at the Holy sites in the area. They do not want to rile the dogs anymore than they have to, so to speak.
Antebi was quoted as saying:

“These mosques are violating noise ordinances…and the police are refusing to get involved…it’s easy for us to say that now isn’t a comfortable time to deal with this issue, but we can always say that…meanwhile, people can’t sleep. This is affecting people’s everyday lives.”

Other complaints have been recorded by Jerusalem residents from Mount Scopus to Gilo. One anonymous Jerusalem resident said:

“When my wife and I lived near the,Mount of Olives cemetery, the speakers were always going off, and loudly…we realized after some time that it was a recording – an mp3 file or something – because a few times, really early in the morning, I guess they had turned the speakers on before they turned on the computer, and the music that comes on when Windows starts up would just blast, really loud, through the whole neighborhood.”

Benny A., a resident of Gilo, told the Jerusalem Post “We hear it [The Adhan] every morning. People get woken up, they can’t get back to sleep, and then they show up to work just exhausted…what I don’t understand is that if this is a religion that says it preaches tolerance, why aren’t they being tolerant here?”

More like tolerable. He continued, “I’m all for freedom of religion and I think they should be able to practice their religion openly, but when it comes to tolerance, they’re forcing their religion into our lives, and we’re their neighbors!”

In defense, Jameel Sanduka, the Mukhtar of Shuafat told the Jerusalem Post last week;

“We were living here long before Pisgat Ze’ev even existed…and this is just a continuation of all the troubles that have been going on on Jeruslaem, and on the Temple Mount.”

He continued:

“It’s not the noise that bothers these people; Islam bothers them. But there are things that bother us, too. The [security barrier] that has been put up in Shuafat, the checkpoints – these things disrupt our daily lives. So I say, if they have a problem with the noise, it’s their problem.”

Sanduka says that he has been contacted several times by the police, but while they have slightly lowered the volume of the Adhan, for religious reasons they cannot altogether make it cease. Sanduka suggested:

“If they would like to come here, as neighbors, and sit and drink coffee, my hand is always open…when there was trouble between the two communities in the past, I personally went to Pisgat Ze’ev and met with leaders there. I’ve been to their community center, I have a number of friends there…but people who want to start trouble – what can I tell you? They’re going to start trouble.”

The police in Jerusalem certainly have bigger fish to fry; but who the REAL trouble makers are, is a question which certainly should raise eyebrows.

Their little State of Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally put forward the concept of a Palestinian State in his address Sunday night before a packed audience at the BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University. In his carefully worded address, much shorter than the one U.S. President Barack Obama had given in Cairo a week before, Netanyahu said that he supports the idea of a Palestinian State alongside a Jewish one. “I come to you, the Palestinian People – come, let us have peace together and develop the region together”.

Netanyahu SpeechHe noted that this state, when created, must abide by a number of principles; including being fully demilitarized and not allowed to have an air force, navy or mechanized army, and that they would only be allowed to have enough small arms to maintain law an order and preserve their national security. “We are prepared to let the Palestinians live in their designated areas but we don’t want to have their missiles landing on our cities such as Kfar Sava and Petach Tikvah, as well as our international airport” he continued.

The Prime Minister pointed out that Israel will remain a Jewish State with an undivided capital in Jerusalem. He said that the lands upon which the Palestinian claim as their national homeland is also Jewish homeland with a historical connection going back 3,400 years. He added that these lands are the ones given by God to the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and as such “will remain as an indispensable part of the Jewish Homeland”. He added that one of the conditions of the Palestinians being allowed to have “their little state” would be their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. He was quick to add that the Palestinians would be allowed their national identity and religious freedom within their own borders. “We don’t want to impose our religion, flag, or national identity upon them” he said.

In reference to what President Obama had said about “the state of Israel being created as a result of the horrors of the Holocaust”, he pointed out that Jewish claim to this land goes back more than 3,500 years. He further pointed out that had a Jewish state been established earlier (at the time of Balfour Declaration for example) “there might not have been a Holocaust as Jews would have had a place to go to prior to the onset on WWII.

The question of Palestinian refugees was also mentioned and this issue would not be acceptable within the borders of Israel. “A solution will be found for these refugees, but outside Israel’s borders”, he added.

Netanyahu both began and ended his 30 minute speech by offering to reach out to the heads of all Arab states who are interested in having peace with Israel. “I am prepared to meet with Arab leaders anytime, anywhere, including Beirut, Damascus –even Jerusalem”. He specifically mentioned that he would not meet with terrorists, but did say that his government would make the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit “a top priority”.

He ended his speech by calling upon leaders of the Arab World “to continue the path of Menachem Begin and (slain Egyptian president) Anwar Sadat in making peace with Israel. “We must not forget the sacrifices they made for peace” he said, and ended by quoting a passing from the biblical Book of Isaiah: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they commit war anymore”.

Now the ball is in the Palestinian’s court.

Pure Escapism

This week, the Broadcasting Authority (who controls “Channal 1”) has chosen Achinoam Nini — known internationally as Noa — and Mira Awad to represent Israel in the upcoming 2009 Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow, Russia.

Choosing an Arab / Jewish pair to represent Israel in these days of bitter conflict seems like pure escapism. Indeed, several Arab-Israeli artists have made a public appeal to Mira Awad, asking her not to take on the role of Israel’s “fig leaf” while atrocities are being committed in Gaza.

Personally, I think sending this pair can only do good to Jewish – Arab relations inside Israel. We need any glimpse of hope that could help us believe, still, that this land has a future — a viable future, for all its human inhabitants.

Noa & The palestinian singer Nabil Salameh performing together “Centro del Mundo” at Rome in 2002

Festivals of Past Years

Since this year’s Acco Festival has been postponed (ie. canceled), I want to present you with two examples of short acts that had been featured in the festival in previous years. I chose two videos that contain no words, one by an Arab ensemble, and one by a Jewish ensemble. Enjoy!

For and Against the Cancellation of Acco Festival

As you may have heard, during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) violent clashes between Jews and Arabs erupted in the northern city of Acco. An Arab driver drove through a Jewish neighborhood during the holiday, offending the local population and igniting riots and backlashes. The driver claims he was driving his family back home, only passing through the Jewish part of town. Other eyewitnesses claim he drove wildly, risking all the children who had been playing out on the road, while listening to loud music in his car.

Whichever version hits closer to the truth doesn’t matter now. He was being highly provocative in his actions, and the anger in well understood. Nevertheless, it’s saddening how the actions of one individual can sweep whole populations into conflict.

As a result of these riots, the mayor of Acco, Mr. Shimon Lankri, decided on Friday to cancel the upcoming “Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theater“, which takes place during Succot each year. This annual festival has proven itself to attract a large amount of visitors, and is considered to be one of Israel’s best fringe theater festivals.

I was looking forward to visiting the Acco Festival myself this year, and am very disappointed that it was canceled in the last moment. Many artists and politicians alike have been urging the mayor of Acco in the past few days to call off the cancellation, and use the festival as a way to calm down the tensions.

Port of Acco
Image via Wikipedia

Is canceling this year’s festival the right thing to do? Well, personally, I can understand the mayor’s agenda. He says he cannot guarantee the visitors’ well-being while the racial tensions are running high, and I can certainly agree with this argument. Moreover, even though he did not express it explicitly, I believe that the cancellation is a sort of punishment for both sides. The festival is one of the city’s most successful cash-cows, and postponing it has an immediate effect on many of the residents. It’s as if Mr. Lankri warns his residents, “If you can’t get along, you’ll only be hurting your own livelihood. So next time think twice before you turn this town into a war zone!” And frankly, he’s got a point. Sometimes people need incentives to play nicely together, and this sort of move also puts the pressure on community leaders to be mature and responsible, instead of hot-tempered and provoking.

On the other hand, perhaps resuming everyday life as fast as possible is the best remedy in order to put behind this “incident”. Perhaps the mere act of announcing cancellation has been enough of a warning, and now it’s time to announce the festival is back on track. After all, it’s well known that tourism equals peace.

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