Saturday, November 25, 2000

Ceasefire anyone?

Friday, November 24, 2000

As you probably all know by now, on Wednesday a large car bomb exploded in the centre of the Israeli coastal city of Hadera, north of Netanya. Two civilians, 20-year-old Shoshana Reiss and 34-year-old Meir Brami, were killed and 62 were injured, several seriously.
Wednesday afternoon at about 4:50pm I was on the verge of sending out another letter when I decided to wait until after the 5pm news, just to see if there were any new developments. By 5:25pm the news was winding down with reports on the US elections and the usual end-of-bulletin lighter items. Just then one of Channel 2's correspondents appeared in the studio, glued to his mobile phone, as the news anchor said something about preliminary reports of an explosion in Hadera.
Even from those initial reports it was clear that this was a big bomb, heard from miles away, rattling windows in every corner of the town. Here we go again, I thought. I didn't need to see the pictures from the scene. Sadly, like all Israelis and many Jews around the world, I know it by heart: the burnt-out cars and buses, the shattered windows, damaged shops with their smoke-blackened wares scattered over the bloodied pavement and, in the midst of it all, the wounded trapped by twisted metal or sitting dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk where only seconds earlier they had been going about their business. Once again Palestinian terrorists have brought death and destruction to the very heart of ordinary Israel, to a typical sleepy, middle of the road Israeli town.
This isn't the first time that Hadera has been bombed. Earlier this year a small bomb went off near the town's shuk (market) wounding 21. I remember clearly the bus bombing perpetrated by a Hamas suicide bomber in 1994. It was April, on Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for all those who have fallen in the many wars and terrorist attacks which have been our lot since even before the state was founded. Jason had proposed to me less than a week earlier and we were eagerly discussing wedding plans. All around Israel the bus terminals were crowded with people going to memorial ceremonies and students and soldiers going home for the next day's Independence Day holiday. I was in Jerusalem that morning, on a bus on the way to meet Jason. The driver usually has the radio on in Israeli buses, and I wasn't really listening that carefully, but suddenly the announcer's voice changed, reporting that a bomb had gone off in Hadera's central bus station. Five people were killed in that bombing, and dozens more were injured.
On Wednesday another Palestinian bomber returned those scenes to Hadera, with its drab concrete low rise buildings, sun-bleached pavements, small stores and sea breezes. Like almost every population centre in Israel, Hadera is within easy reach of Palestinian-controlled areas. Hadera also has many Israeli Arab neighbours, such as the village of Baka el Gharbiya, who have traditionally had friendly relations with the town. As with the Jewish villages in the area, residents of nearby Arab villages come to work in the town, shop there and rely on Hadera's services. Some own shops and businesses there too.
Among the Israelis injured by Wednesday's bomb were Husam abu Husain and his baby daughter Thara, who suffered burns over 15% of her body and is currently in critical condition at the special burns unit in Haifa's Rambam hospital. Her father has been moved from Hadera's hospital to Haifa to be near her. The two had gone to Hadera for pizza, and were in the pizzeria when it was destroyed by the blast. Seventeen year old Avihai Peretz, who was working in the family pizza shop, was also critically injured. He was airlifted to Haifa's hospital with severe head injuries. Tzafrira Levi, aged 72, who owns a household goods store on the same street, was also among the seriously wounded. Her shop, her life's work, was damaged beyond repair. In total thirty shops and businesses were damaged, along with 100 homes. Several buildings were so seriously damaged that they will have to be pulled down.
Each day's news brings new tragedies. On Thursday an Israeli soldier, Lt Edward Metchnik, 21, of Be'er Sheva, was killed and two of his comrades and a Palestinian police officer wounded when an explosion took place in the Israeli section of the joint Israeli-Palestinian liaison office (DCO) in Neveh Dekalim, Gaza. The DCOs are staffed by Israeli and Palestinian officers, whose role is to coordinate arrangements for humanitarian situations and the like. Despite the current troubles, these liaison offices have continued to operate, with relations between the Israeli and Palestinian staff remaining good, often friendly.
At about noon Thursday, the Palestinian officers suddenly started leaving their side of the DCO building, some complaining that they didn't feel well. One Palestinian officer, who was meeting with the Israelis at the time, saw his colleagues running away and suggested to the Israelis that something may be wrong. He and the Israeli officers started leaving the building when the bomb went off. It appears that the bomb was planted on the wall separating the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the office. Israel's regional commander Col. Shlomo Dagan called the attack "disgraceful", as the DCOs are the primary remaining channel for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, in particular on humanitarian matters. Israeli deputy defence minister Ephraim Sneh remarked that the DCOs are among the few places where Israeli and Palestinian flags fly side by side, with all that symbolises, and now the Palestinians have blown up the Israeli side. In response, Israel concluded it could no longer trust its counterparts in the DCOs and asked the Palestinians to leave the buildings, which they have refused to do. Israel has said it will not force the issue.
In another incident Thursday an Israeli soldier, Sgt Samer Hussein, 19, from the Galilee village of Hurfesh, was killed and his comrade critically wounded by Palestinian gunfire shot from Palestinian-controlled Gaza at an Israeli position on the Israeli side of the perimeter fence. Israel returned fire, killing a Palestinian policeman and wounding another. Earlier that day two bombs went off in the same area, near the fence of Kibbutz Erez. Israeli soldiers opened fire on the bombers, killing one and injuring another who was later captured.
On Tuesday an Israeli civilian was killed only a few dozen meters from the site of Monday's bus bombing near Kfar Darom. Itamar Yefet, 18, was hit in the head by a single shot from a Palestinian sniper hiding in roadside bushes as he drove from his home village of Netzer Hazani to Kfar Darom to pay a condolence call to the families of Monday's bombing victims.
Last night Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala resumed their assault on Gilo, hitting seven apartments. No one was wounded, though there were some close calls. Other Jewish residential areas which have come under Palestinian fire in the last few nights include Psagot, Beit El, Elon Moreh and the fishing village of Duggit in northern Gaza. The Jewish holy site of Rachel's Tomb, near Gilo, was fired upon from Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem.
Several Israelis were wounded over the last three nights when their vehicles were attacked by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Last night Palestinians threw firebombs at two Israeli buses travelling near Samuel's Tomb north of Jerusalem, injuring two yeshiva students. Two nights ago a firebomb was thrown at an Israeli bus as it passed the Israeli Arab village of Majd el Krum, en route to the Jewish town of Karmiel in the Galilee. Two passengers were wounded. Four passengers were hurt when a train was stoned by Arabs while passing through an Arab neighbourhood of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Ramle, west of Modi'in. Two Israeli civilians were wounded by Palestinian rock throwers when their car was hit on the road to Beitar Illit south of Jerusalem. On Wednesday night a resident of Psagot was lightly wounded when bullets hit his car as Palestinians in the Palestinian-controlled town of El-Bireh opened fire on the Psagot access road. Last night two roadside bombs were detonated as a bus drove past on the tunnel road, south of Jerusalem. Fortunately the bus was empty, though the driver was lightly wounded. These are only a selection of the dozens of attacks which take place every night on Israeli vehicles travelling near Palestinian and some Israeli Arab areas. Thankfully most attacks miss their targets, while many Israelis manage to escape with "only" a rock-smashed windshield or a bullet-riddled car or bomb-damaged bus, but that doesn't make the sheer volume of attacks any less serious.
Over the last few days the Israeli army has succeeded in preventing several attacks and in capturing their perpetrators. For example, on Tuesday soldiers of the Golani brigade discovered a Palestinian terror cell planting a roadside bomb near the Kisufim crossing in Gaza. The other night Israeli soldiers managed to capture the Palestinian gunmen who have been firing upon Jewish vehicles near Kalkilya and Alfei Menashe. Israeli police have also arrested several Palestinians responsible for rock throwing and firebombings in the Shomron area, west of Nablus/Shekhem. Among those caught were a Palestinian police officer and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the more radical factions of the PLO.
On Tuesday morning Israeli soldiers set up a roadblock near the Jewish village of Morag in southern Gaza, in the hope of catching other wanted militiamen responsible for attacks against Israelis over past weeks. When a car whose occupants were identified as Fatah Tanzim militiamen tried to charge the checkpoint the soldiers opened fire, killing the Tanzim men. I was shocked to see foreign news reports describe this as an unprovoked Israeli attack on unarmed Palestinian civilians, and portray the killing of these armed terrorists running a roadblock as morally equivalent to the killing of Israeli civilians on Hadera's main street.
In what is becoming a familiar pattern, Arafat last night hinted that he might be interested in a ceasefire. Deputy defence minister Ephraim Sneh met secretly with senior Palestinian officials, including Arafat's chief of staff, to discuss a possible ceasefire, possibly along the lines of the plan that US secretary of state Madeleine Albright presented to Yasser Arafat. One point of the Albright plan proposes buffer zones between Israeli and Palestinian-controlled areas. The Americans have yet to clarify what this means:who would maintain these buffer zones? Obviously the Palestinians would not accept an Israeli presence, and in recent days Israel has lost all faith in the Palestinian security forces. It seems Albright may be considering a multinational force under US auspices, akin to what Arafat has been demanding for the last two months, to "protect" the Palestinians from Israeli "aggression". Israel is vehemently opposed to such an arrangement. Previous experience with such forces, for example in Lebanon, has shown that they do nothing to prevent attacks on Israelis, while intervening when Israel tries to defend itself against attack. They are used by the other side as human shields from which to attack Israel, while Israel cannot respond for fear of hitting the international observers. If this is what Albright has in mind, it is the equivalent of rewarding the Palestinians for starting this campaign of violence. Why should aggressors get "protection" against the people they're attacking?!
Will there be a ceasefire? Who knows. A pattern seems to have developed whereby after a major Palestinian attack, which may be expected to draw an Israeli response, Arafat suddenly indicates interest in a ceasefire. Israel calls off its response and pulls back its forces, only to see the Palestinians take advantage of the lull to improve their positions and resume attacks with greater vehemence. Quite frankly we no longer trust Arafat nor have any faith in his ceasefires, and many Israelis doubt whether we'll ever be able to reach a peace agreement with him.
On a more positive note, on Wednesday morning the mukhtars (community leaders) of several Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem visited Gilo to express solidarity with the local residents who have come under Palestinian sniper fire for weeks now. The visit was organised by Ayoub Kara, a Knesset Member from the right-wing opposition Likud party. Kara, a member of the Israel's Arabic-speaking Druze religious minority, has been instrumental in developing cooperation between Jewish and Arab community leaders in Jerusalem. The delegation was led by Zuhair Hamdan, mukhtar of Sur Baher, an Arab village adjacent to the Jewish neighbourhood of Talpiot, with which Hamdan worked to foster good relations. Hamdan has also been a leading figure in resisting Prime Minister Barak's plans to hand over Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, as proposed during July's Camp David talks. Hamdan has called for a referendum allowing Jerusalem Arabs to choose whether they want to be ruled by Arafat or remain under Israeli sovereignty. In general, Jerusalem's Arabs have not participated in the current violence against Israelis, with many of the incidents in Jerusalem perpetrated by Arabs from Palestinian-ruled areas.
Other mukhtars on the Gilo visit were from Beit Hanina, Anata and Bet Safafa. Bet Safafa adjoins Gilo and enjoys warm relations with the Jewish neighbourhood. The house of Bet Safafa's mukhtar was recently firebombed by Palestinians who resent his friendship with Israelis. The mukhtars called for an end to the suffering of the residents of Gilo and Beit Jala, neighbouring areas which traditionally have had peaceful relations, and called upon Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to return to negotiations. They hope to visit Palestinian-controlled Beit Jala as well. It's heartwarming to see community leaders work for peace in this way. Hamdan said he thinks it's important for local leaders to do their part in easing tensions.
As I finally conclude this letter, the radio just reported that an Israeli civilian was shot and killed by Palestinians who ambushed his car near the Jewish village of Migdalim southeast of Shekhem/Nablus. He was shot in the stomach. His name has yet to be released as his family have not yet been notified.
Shabbat Shalom,

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

School bus bombing

Monday, November 20, 2000

This morning we in Israel woke up to the terrible news that the Palestinians finally succeeded in blowing up an Israeli schoolbus in Gaza, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding 9 others, including 5 children. The Palestinians have been planting Lebanon-style remote controlled roadside bombs on the roads in Gaza for weeks now, but by a miracle no Israelis had been killed or seriously injured, though there were several very close calls. This morning, as Noga Cohen, the mother of three of the wounded children said, "the miracles ran out." The powerful bomb, which incorporated a large artillery shell and a gas canister, was detonated just after the bus had picked up schoolchildren and teachers in Kfar Darom en route to school in Gush Katif, a Jewish area of Gaza. The blast was so forceful that pieces of shrapnel ripped through one side wall of the reinforced bus and went straight out the other side of the bus. Most of the injuries were to people's legs and torsos.
The dead are Miriam Amitai, a 35-year-old mother of four from Kfar Darom who taught at the girls high school in Gush Katif, and Gavriel Biton, a 34-year-old father of six, also from Kfar Darom, a maintenance worker at the school. Only last week Biton narrowly escaped injury when Palestinians fired bullets into his bedroom and living room.
Among the seriously injured are three siblings: Tehilla Cohen aged 8, her brother Yisrael aged 7 and her sister Orrit aged 12. All of them had to undergo amputations. Orrit, who lost part of her leg, is due to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah next month. At the time of writing (11:30 pm), Tehilla is still undergoing surgery which began at 9:00 this morning, as doctors fight to save her legs. Two years ago, the three narrowly escaped injury in a similar attack when Palestinian gunmen attacked two Kfar Darom schoolbuses. Their older brother Avraham was late for the bus this morning, saving him from today's attack, after two weeks ago he had narrowly missed injury in a similar schoolbus bombing. Two other children and four adults were injured, including a pregnant woman and the bus driver.
The official Palestinian Authority reaction said they oppose "all forms of violence," but denied responsibility for the attack and declined to condemn it. Meanwhile, several Palestinian organisations rushed to claim 'credit' for the bombing. Israeli intelligence presented the government with clear evidence that members of the Fatah Tanzim militia, a group indirectly under Arafat's command, were in fact responsible. The Israeli cabinet met for three hours to discuss plans for what was called 'a strong response'. This evening, Israeli helicopters and patrol boats fired missiles at nine Palestinian Authority military targets across Gaza. Targets included the headquarters of the Palestinian Navy, of Arafat's Force 17 presidential guard, of the Tanzim militias and of Mohammed Dahlan's Preventive Security Forces, one of whose officers carried out a fatal attack on an Israeli guard post in Kfar Darom on Saturday.
On Saturday morning Baha Said, a senior officer in Mohammed Dahlan's Preventive Security Forces, infiltrated Kfar Darom by digging under the perimeter fence and making his way through the greenhouses to the guard post. There he opened fire from close range on the Israeli soldiers who were changing over shifts, killing 21 year old Sgt Barukh Snir Flum of Tel Aviv and seriously wounding his comrade Sharon Shitubi, also 21, of Ramle, who today died of his wounds. Other soldiers returned fire killing the assailant. Fatah leaders praised Said, who was a member of the Fatah Hawks militia, as a hero and a martyr'.
Just the day before Arafat, for the first time, made a public call on Palestinian radio and TV for his people to stop shooting - but just from areas under full Palestinian control, in particular from populated areas. Once again our hopes were raised that maybe, just maybe this time the Palestinians meant it. Israeli commentators were quick to pick up on what the statement didn't say. The implication was that it was OK to continue and even escalate attacks targeted against areas under Israeli jurisdiction, such as the main roads and the Jewish communities bordering Palestinian areas. Attacks such as last week's fatal drive-by shooting and today's bus bombing took place in areas under full Israeli control adjacent to Palestinian controlled zones. Other explanations for Arafat's statement may be that the Palestinians are running low on ammunition.
The Israeli media went on and on about the decline in attacks on Saturday and Sunday, and once again there were serious discussions about when and where negotiations might resume, with Israeli government leaders indicating that if the "decline" in attacks continued Israel would be prepared to return to negotiations at the point at which the Palestinians broke them off at Camp David this summer. In the wake of this decrease in attacks the Israeli army yesterday reopened the Kfar Darom junction to Palestiniann traffic, the same road on which this morning's fatal bus bombing took place.
In certain areas there was a decline in the number of attacks, but not in their ferocity. This is what counts as a "decline" in attacks: yesterday (Sunday) and last night Palestinian gunmen shot at Psagot, at various Israeli towns and army positions in Gaza, at a border guard base near Tulkarem east of Netanya and at a patrol near the Jewish village of Ofra north of Jerusalem. Jewish vehicles were attacked by Palestinian snipers near the Karni crossing and Netzarim in Gaza, between Kalkilya and Alfei Menashe and in a drive-by shooting near Na'aleh and Talmon, north-east of Modi'in. Israeli buses were firebombed by Palestinians near the Jewish village of Shiloh, north of Ramallah and in the Jordan Valley, near Jericho. Five Israeli civilians were injured in rock throwing attacks on Israeli vehicles. Palestinians rioted in various parts of Gaza and the West Bank. To cap it all off, yesterday morning the Israeli vice consul in Amman, Jordan, was shot and wounded in a drive by shooting near his home in the Jordanian capital.
Time and again reporters ask residents of places which have come under repeated attack, such as Kfar Darom and Gilo, why they don't just pick up and leave. 'Don't your children ask you why you stay in such a dangerous place?' they ask. There is something sickening about this ritual. It's not the first time Israeli towns have been attacked. For decades the Jewish villages along the border with Lebanon have suffered cross-border attacks. Before the 1967 Six Day War the Israeli towns bordering Gaza, Jordanian-held sectors of Jerusalem, and many areas of the West Bank suffered regular sniping and shelling, along with terrorist infiltrations. In the 1948 War many Jewish villages were besieged by enemy troops, but their residents held firm until either Israel triumphed, or, in places such as Kfar Darom and Kfar Etzion, they were overrun by Arab forces. Had Israelis run away every time their homes were attacked, there would be no state of Israel today. The determination to stand firm, to protect Jewish homes and the Jewish homeland, is what has enabled Israel to survive all these years. Residents of Kfar Darom, which was rebuilt after Israel retook Gaza in the 1967 war, are particularly determined to stay put, rather than once again be driven out by the enemy.
Yossi Hadad, whose greenhouses in Kfar Darom were the scene of Saturday's Palestinian attack, today suffered another tragedy, when his daughter Rahel was wounded in the schoollbus bombing. Sure enough, reporters asked him, "Aren't you afraid? Why don't you leave? Don't you children want to leave?" He responded, "I didn't hear about Tel Avivians running away when Dizengoff [a major shopping centre] was bombed.... My daugher Rahel knows why we live here. She knows about Zionism and Israel. She knows why her grandparents came from Tunis and the USA to live in this land."
On a positive note, last week the Israeli army arrested fifteen Tanzim gunmen who have been responsible for recent sniping attacks, including last week's fatal drive-by shooting of Israeli civilians near Neveh Tzuf. Over recent days the army has also successfully defused several roadside bombs similar to the one which went off this morning.

I feel that Israeli public is running out of patience. The government decided not to respond militarily after last Monday's Palestinian ambushes which killed four Israelis. The hope was that exercising restraint would encourage the Palestinians to do likewise. With Arafat's call for a reduction in gunfire, this strategy seemed to be paying off. Israeli leaders were even prepared to overlook Saturday's attack, treating it as an exception to the general decline in the number of attacks. All these hopes were dashed by this morning's bombing. There has been a sea change in Israeli public opinion, as well as the tone set by many of our leaders. More and more Israelis are saying that they have had enough of the strategy of restraint in the face of the continuing Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets, civilian and military alike. This afternoon there were spontaneous demonstrations at squares and junctions all over Israel in which the dominant slogans were "We want security" and "Let the army defend us". Many Israelis have come to feel that seven years of the Oslo peace process have only brought us more Palestinian attacks and more bloodshed. That isn't what Israelis expected from a "peace process".
As many Israelis are saying these days: Laila tov v'shaket. Good night, and may it be a quiet one.

Monday, November 20, 2000

Arab Israeli dilemma

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by some Israeli friends to join them on a visit to an Israeli Arab village not far from here, the first time since the troubles began that I've been to an Israeli Arab village. In more peaceful times I had visited this village on a few occasions to shop in local stores, just as I would visit a Israeli Jewish village. Strangely though, despite the recent violence I did not feel overly worried about visiting this village, even though it was the scene of rioting only a few weeks earlier. 

On that Sunday it was quiet. No other Jewish Israelis ventured into the village, and locals told us that business is suffering terribly, as customers from local Jewish towns and villages are the prime markets for local stores. What struck me most though was the 'Palestinianisation' of the town. I noticed a number of Palestinian flags and nationalist graffiti.

Some local women invited us to join them for coffee. In the course of our conversation I sensed confusion about their place in the region. On the one hand much of their leadership was encouraging them to identify as Palestinians and to support the Palestinian revolt. On the other hand they are citizens of Israel, paying taxes to and receive services from the state of Israel. They work with Jews and use medical and other facilities in nearby Jewish towns. They themselves seemed stunned by the ferocity with which Israeli Arab youths had rioted in sympathy with the Palestinians. That evening on the news I heard a speech by the mayor of the same village, supporting the intifada and Yasser Arafat in the name of the residents. It felt strange to think that I'd been sitting and chatting with people in that village only a few hours earlier.

Arab citizens of Israeli continue to undergo a public identity crisis, trapped in the middle of this conflict. Many of the Israeli Arab members of Knesset and other community leaders continue to express their support for the Palestinian revolt. Knesset Member Mohammed Barakeh actually called on the Arab citizens of Israel to join in the intifada. There continue to be sporadic rock throwing attacks against Jewish vehicles near certain Arab villages in the Galilee, especially in the Wadi 'Ara/Nahal 'Iyron area which is close to Palestinian-controlled areas.

Over recent nights, youths from the Arab village of Arabeh in the Galilee have ambushed Jewish vehicles driving near their village. Last Tuesday, several residents of Arabeh came to the aid of the Jewish victims. In return, their property was vandalised and some were beaten up. The Jewish head of the Misgav regional council was quick to assert that the youths causing trouble in Arabeh are a minority, that police and local residents know who they are, and that the troublemakers will be arrested. However, police say the local Arab leadership is not cooperating fully in efforts to calm the situation.

One of the few Israeli Arab leaders to publicly reject support for the Palestinian intifada is the Mayor of Shfar'am, Orsan Yassin. In an interview with Israeli radio, he condemned the rioting and attacks on Israeli Jews by Israeli Arabs and called upon the Arab citizens of Israel to respect the law. He also condemned Israeli Arab members of Knesset for encouraging the intifada, saying that he views the anti-Israel incitement of certain Israeli Arab Knesset members very gravely and blames them directly for the recent riots by Israeli Arab youths. He added that it is wrong for people who receive their salaries from the state of Israel, who have pledged allegiance to the state and who serve in Israel's parliament to turn against the state and applaud those who burn the Israeli flag. 'If we demonstrate, we should be carrying the Israeli flag, because this is also our flag, the flag of the country of which we are citizens,' he said. Yassin also noted that he knows many Arab mayors who agree with him but are nervous about voicing their opinions in public. Perhaps there should be an independent Palestinian state, but it is not for us, the Arab citizens of Israel, to be a part of it because our home is Israel and we are Israelis'.

As hard as it is to be a Jewish Israeli right now I think that perhaps it is even harder for many Arab citizens of Israel, caught as they are between so many conflicting loyalties and emotions in this conflict. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

And the terror goes on

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Once again I have been trying to write something for several days, but each time I think that I'm ready to send a letter something worse happens. In the last few days, six Israelis - two civilians and four soldiers - have been killed by Palestinian gunfire. With the controversy over the American elections and the floods in Europe I gather that Israeli news doesn't make headlines overseas, but unfortunately the attacks continue here. Far from subsiding, every few days we are faced with new 'escalations' in Palestinian violence. In particular, the focus has shifted from mass riots to what Israeli leaders have begun to call a guerrilla war of attrition, characterised primarily by automatic gunfire at Israeli civilians and soldiers near areas under full or partial Palestinian rule.
Late yesterday afternoon, three Israelis were killed and seven injured when Palestinian terrorists opened fire with automatic weapons at two Israeli vehicles on the main road between Jerusalem and Nablus/Shechem, at the junction with the Neveh Tzuf road. The terrorists first overtook an Israeli car, killing a woman passenger, 42-year-old Sarah Lisha, and wounding two others. Lisha, a mother of 5 from Neveh Tzuf, was a high school physical education teacher returning from work. They then drove past a bus carrying soldiers on their way to guard duty at nearby Jewish villages. They sprayed it with over 50 bullets, killing 19-year-old Amit Zaneh of Netanya and 18-year-old El'ad Wallenstein of Ashkelon. Five other soldiers were injured. The gunmen are believed to have fled south towards Palestinian Authority-controlled Ramallah. Ziyad Abu 'Ein, a senior official of Fatah, Arafat's faction of the PLO, released a statement on behalf of the organisation saying the the shootings were legitimate actions in the intifada against Israel.
Later that evening, an Israeli truck was shot at near the Kissufim junction not far from Palestinian-controlled Gaza. The driver, 36-year-old Gaby Zaguri, a father of 3 from Netivot, was killed. A car travelling just ahead of the truck narrowly missed being hit by the gunfire.
I feel like our luck just ran out during the last few days. Over the past six weeks, so many Israelis have avoided death or serious injury by millimeters. Time and time again, we've seen bullet-riddled Israeli homes and cars, windshields smashed by rocks, and bomb-damaged busses, the occupants miraculously escaping with no more than minor injuries. Israel Television reporter Benny Liss remarked that for every roadside bomb which explodes, there are several which either fail to detonate or are defused by Israeli patrols, and therefore go unreported. The Palestinians have carried out over 1,400 shooting attacks against Israelis during this time, with scores of bullets fired in many of the attacks. It was only a matter of time before they hit their targets as accurately as they did yesterday.
Though drive-by shootings at Israeli vehicles have become increasingly common over recent weeks, there has been a further escalation in the last few days. Last night Israeli cars were fired upon near Shilo, just north of the afternoon's fatal shooting, and near Alfei Menasheh, close to Kalkilya. The night before, two Israelis were wounded when shots were fired at their car on the road near the Jewish town of Neveh Tzuf, west of yesterday's shooting. And last week, two Israelis were wounded near Ma'aleh Levona, just north of yesterday's attack. Israeli intelligence suspect the same terror cell may be behind all these attacks in the same area.
Saturday night, a civilian Israeli bus was fired upon north of Hebron; the vehicle was damaged but no one was hurt. Israeli vehicles have also come under Palestinian fire throughout Gaza - including the fatal shooting of an Israeli woman on Wednesday - as well as near Kalkilya, near Hebron, on the tunnel road south of Jerusalem, and near Jericho, among other places.
There has been little respite from Palestinian gunfire in the southern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo. On Sunday, gunfire attacks on Gilo took place in midmorning, while schools were in session. Children were relocated to classrooms not facing the Palestinian-controlled cities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, though this was difficult, as many classroom windows face the pastoral valley and picturesque villages from which the Palestinian gunmen launch their attacks.
Other Jewish communities targeted by Palestinian gunmen over the last few days include 'Utniel, Susia and Beit Haggai south of Hebron, the Hebron Jewish Quarter, Psagot and Beit El near Ramallah, Kadim and Ganim near Jenin, Itamar and Brakha near Nablus/Shekhem, Kokhav Hashahar and Vered Yeriho near Jericho and Neve Dekalim, Kfar Darom and other Jewish communities in Gaza.
When I last wrote about Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, the Israeli army had decided to open the site to Jewish worshipers for the traditional commemoration of the death of the biblical Rachel last Thursday, after it had been closed for the last six weeks. When the day arrived, though, the army reversed itself, explaining that there had been reliable warnings of terrorist attacks on Rachel's Tomb, making it too dangerous to allow visitors to the site. This ruling triggered two different reactions from Jewish religious authorities: many rabbis accepted it, saying that the risk to people's lives was more important than memorial prayers at Rachel's Tomb. Others disagreed, arguing that by announcing that the site would be closed if terrorist attacks were expected, Israel was effectively encouraging the terrorists, in the long run risking more lives. They feared that the Palestinians would be encouraged by their success last month in evicting the Jewish yeshiva (seminary) from Joseph's Tomb in Nablus/Shekhem, which they subsequently ransacked and rebuilt as a mosque. Statements in the Palestinian press have expressed the hope that Rachel's Tomb would be the next Jewish holy site to be claimed for Islam.
In place of the traditional prayer memorial event at Rachel's Tomb, a substitute ceremony was planned at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Not everyone was satisfied with this, though, and scores of worshipers gathered at the southern exit from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem in hopes of making their way to the tomb. The army enforced its decision to close the site and prevented people from approaching. As the day progressed, though, and the area around Rachel's Tomb remained quiet, the army agreed to allow a delegation of religious Knesset Members to enter the site. They were transported to and from the tomb on a bulletproof bus with army escorts. Only ten visitors were allowed, just enough for a minyan (prayer group). But at least the traditional memorial prayers were held. The Fatah faction of the PLO, which has been at the forefront of the current attacks, issued a statement congratulating itself on the successful attempt in frightening away Jewish worshipers from the site.
Before long it became clear why the army was so concerned about security at Rachel's Tomb: later that day not far from Bethlehem, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Hussein Ebayyat, an active terrorist in the Fatah Tanzim militias, killing him by firing on his car from a helicopter while he was en route to an attack in the Bethlehem area, according to Israeli intelligence. Ebayyat has been responsible for many attacks on Israelis in the Bethlehem area over the last six weeks, including the murder of Max Hazan on October 2, the killing of David Hen Cohen and Shlomo Adashina last week, and shooting attacks on the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, including the one in which border policeman Shimon Ohana was severely injured. (Ohana, who was checked into the hospital in a state of clinical death with a bullet in his heart, last week made a miraculous recovery and is doing well.) Today, Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said he believes the most effective military response to the Palestinian attacks is to directly target the perpetrators.
On Friday morning Palestinian gunmen once again opened fire on Rachel's Tomb, killing an Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Shahar Vakrat from Lod. Saturday night, however, the situation had calmed down and Jewish worshipers were again allowed to visit the site, traveling on bulletproof buses. Sunday night, Palestinian gunfire on Rachel's Tomb resumed.
On Saturday, two Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli patrol jeep near Gush Katif, a Jewish area of Gaza, killing Avner Shalom, a 28-year-old reserve soldier from Eilat, and wounding one of his comrades. The Israeli soldiers returned fire on the gunmen's car, killing them. A four-hour gun battle ensued with Palestinian snipers, who tried to prevent the Israelis from investigating the incident. When they eventually reached the gunmen's vehicle, the Israeli soldiers discovered that the assailants bore badges of the Palestinian Police, though they were operating in civilian clothes. The road where the incident took place is a major access route for Jewish residents in the area. It had recently been reopened to Palestinian traffic as part of the Peres-Arafat ceasefire understandings. It didn't take the Palestinians long to take advantage of Israel's ceasefire compliance to attack Israeli traffic on the road.
The other night Jason spoke to a cousin in the town of Kfar Saba, a typical Israeli suburban town north of Tel Aviv, but just a few hundred metres (yards) from Palestinian-controlled Kalkilya. She was tense, describing how the sounds of gunfire from Kalkilya keep her awake at night, as Palestinian snipers attack Israeli checkpoints in the area. Israelis living in the nearby villages of Kokhav Yair (prime minister Barak's home town) and Tzur Yigal have been forced to take lengthy detours, as their main road to Kfar Saba passes by the edge of Kalkilya and is a frequent target of Palestinian attacks. The prime minister no longer uses the helicopter pad near his Kokhav Yair home because it has come under Palestinian fire. Furthermore, the only reasonable detour route for residents of Kokhav Yair and Tzur Yigal runs straight through the Israeli Arab town of Tira, which despite decades of peaceful relations has suddenly turned hostile to their Jewish neighbours, with residents occasionally stoning Jewish through traffic.
Israelis continue to be injured in Palestinian rock-throwing attacks. A baby required hospital treatment Sunday after she was hit in the head by a rock thrown at the car she was travelling in near Beitar, southwest of Jerusalem. The main road from Beitar to Jerusalem has been the frequent target of Palestinian rock-throwing attacks, in which several Israeli civilians have been hurt and many cars damaged. Also Sunday, an Israeli ambulance was hit by stones near Hizme, northeast of Jerusalem. That stretch of road has been closed several times due to similar attacks.
On Saturday night, along the Trans-Samaria Highway east of Petach Tikva, Israeli civilians were wounded in several rock-throwing attacks near Elkana, Oranit and Ariel. Among the injured were two children. A few nights ago an Israeli woman was wounded by rocks thrown by Palestinians on the tunnel road south of Jerusalem. Last night two Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rock throwing north of Jericho, while they were travelling on the Jordan Valley highway, one of Israel's chief north-south arteries which connects Jerusalem with northeastern Israel. This road has also become one of the main foci for Palestinian attacks over the last six weeks. On Sunday Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein suffered a smashed windshield east of Beit Shemesh, but emerged otherwise unharmed from the attack. These are just some of the rock-throwing attacks in recent days, most of which resulted, fortunately, in lucky escapes.
Basically, we have a guerrilla war going on down the road from us. Prime Minister Barak and his ministers continue to advocate restraint in response to the Palestinian onslaught. They want to avoid anything which might lead to a further escalation, giving Arafat an excuse to call for international intervention or bring other Arab states into the conflict. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in particular made belligerent comments about Israel in his recent speech at the conference of Islamic states in Qatar this week.
Absurdly, despite the intifada, Israel continues to transfer tens of millions of dollars to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in accordance with the economic agreements in the Oslo Accords. Much of this money is siphoned off into private bank accounts belonging to Arafat and other senior PA officials. Very little of it makes its way to the Palestinian Authority treasury, let alone to the Palestinian people. Arafat even has a slush fund account at the main Tel Aviv branch of Israel's Bank Leumi, but Israel has not even threatened to freeze this bank account. The same Palestinian leaders who orchestrate the campaign of attacks against Israelis continue to enjoy the use of their VIP passes, which allow some of them to travel freely throughout Israel and to avoid most security inspections. While many Palestinian civilians have been unable to enter Israel to go to work and have been suffering considerable economic hardship, their leaders live comfortably off their considerable slush funds. Many in Israel believe that freezing the assets of Palestinian leaders would help pressure them to return to negotiations, without harming the Palestinian civilians. The government disagrees, arguing that economic sanctions would be perceived as acts of siege and portrayed as harming civilians, whether or not that is actually true. Furthermore, Israel fears undermining Arafat, lest an even more hostile leader take his place.
In addition the PA owes millions of dollars in unpaid bills to the Israel Electric Company, but Israel has not threatened to disconnect the electric supply to Palestinian-controlled areas, for humanitarian reasons. Israel's Dor Energy corporation, which has the exclusive contract to supply the PA with fuel, continues to do so unhindered. This is the fuel which powers the cars used in drive-by shootings, the vehicles used by Palestinian militias and police to transport gunmen to and from attacks, the plane Arafat travels on to world capitals and in which, according to Israeli intelligence, he smuggles weapons and ammunition for his fighters. Residents of the southern Israeli village of Kfar Maimon protested today at the Dor Energy terminal which supplies Gaza, blocking the trucks from leaving the terminal. Israeli police dispersed the demonstrators and let the supplies through, in accordance with government policy.
I can't believe it's been almost seven weeks. All the attempts to negotiate an end to the attacks - the Paris talks, the Sharm el-Sheikh international conference, meetings with President Clinton and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Peres's trip to Gaza to meet Arafat - all the supposed ceasefire agreements have resulted in nothing but more Palestinian attacks and more Palestinian demands.
Meanwhile, on the news tonight we saw film which was broadcast on Palestinian Television, showing a group of eight-year-old boys training how to attack Israelis. While one of them dressed up as an Israeli soldier, the rest were shown how to assault him, how to throw rocks accurately and how to evacuate their wounded. It doesn't look like the Palestinians are preparing for peace any time soon. I wish I could be more optimistic, but the end doesn't seem to be in sight.

Thursday, November 09, 2000

Israeli civilians under fire - what else is new?

Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Dear Family and Friends,
The lead story in Israel today is overwhelmingly the American elections. The continuing Palestinian attacks have been pushed further down the news broadcasts over the last few days. This is less because things have quieted down, though they have somewhat, and more because shootings, stonings and firebombings have now become routine unless someone is killed, God forbid. Otherwise, the day's events are summarised in a brief update. For those whose communities continue to come under attack night after night, this waning attention must be very frustrating. But in Israel's main population centres, their troubles seem a world away.
Among the targets of Palestinian gunfire have been civilian cars and buses. This morning an Israeli woman was killed and her passenger, her nephew, wounded when their car was shot at on their way to work at the Rafiah border terminal between Israel and Egypt. The woman lost control of the car and it overturned into a ditch, trapping the occupants. The bullet-riddled car and its wounded occupants were discovered and the emergency services notified by a passing Israeli civilian who works at a bank at the border terminal. The ambush took place close to the Palestinian airport at Dahania, which Israel had yesterday allowed to reopen after closing it due to threats to Israeli personnel working there. Israel has reclosed the airport and the Rafiah border crossing in response to the killing.
Pinhas Levin and Omra Raven of Ma'aleh Levonah were injured Sunday night in a drive-by shooting not far from their home as they drove past a Palestinian village. Levin was seriously hurt in his legs and hip. Raven, a mother of 11, suffered minor wounds and was released from hospital Monday afternoon. Raven's husband is a paramedic and discovered that his wife had been injured when he and other emergency teams rushed to the scene. Raven said that she was amazed to be alive after intense gunfire ripped into the car, leaving 30 bullet holes. In an interview Monday evening the couple described how they do their best to live normally under the circumstances, going to work, sending the kids to school and not allowing the gunmen to succeed in intimidating them. They noted that they met in Lebanon, and that while Israel may have pulled out of Lebanon, events indicate that the Palestinians have brought Lebanon to Israel.
Among the Jewish communities to be targeted by Palestinian gunfire in the last few days: Hebron's Jewish Quarter, Psagot near Ramallah, Bet Haggai near Hebron, Nitzanei Oz near Tulkarm, Nahal Elisha near Jericho, Kadim and Ganim near Jenin, Jewish communities in Gaza including Kfar Darom and Neveh Dekalim. Military posts and checkpoints have come under Palestinian gunfire near Elon Moreh, Beit El, Susia, Tulkarm, Ariel and Kalkilya, and throughout Gaza. An attack on the Israeli checkpost on the road from Palestinian-controlled Kalkilya to Israel resulted in the closing of the road to the nearby Israeli village of Eyal, close to the town of Kokhav Yair where Prime Minister Barak lives.
Israeli civilians have also been injured in shootings near Jericho and Yitzhar. Yesterday there was another attack on an Israeli schoolbus in Gaza, this time near the Jewish village of Kfar Darom; fortunately no one was hurt. In addition, in Gaza and the Hebron area there have been several roadside bombs which have been detonated by remote control when Israeli vehicles drive past. Palestinian rock throwing continues in many areas. Just Monday night an Israeli civilian was hurt when a rock hit his car on the main Modi'in-Jerusalem road via Beit Horon.
There have also been more attacks on Israeli orchards and greenhouses in Jewish villages bordering Palestinian-controlled areas. The cherry orchards of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel in southern Jerusalem were vandalised with trees uprooted or slashed. In Ro'i, north of Jericho, there have been repeated assaults on the community's hothouses where they grow herbs. Yesterday Ro'i farmers said that their entire year's crop had been destroyed, with plants trampled or uprooted, irrigation systems cut and plastic sheeting on hothouses slashed. Arabic graffiti on one greenhouse read, 'Allah will win'. Farmers expressed shock that their Palestinian neighbours could do such things. They had previously enjoyed peaceful relations with local Palestinian villages, employing many of their residents in the farms of Ro'i.
Similar incidents have taken place in Vered Yeriho south of Jericho, with orchards uprooted, greenhouses smashed and irrigation hoses cut. In addition, some of the fields belonging to two Vered Yeriho farmers can be accessed only via areas handed over to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords. The agreements guarantee Israeli farmers access to their crops, but during the current troubles it has become too dangerous. Local Palestinian authorities have made it clear that any Jew entering the Palestinian-controlled Jericho area will not leave alive. Gershon Richter, one of the farmers affected, says he has been left with no income and with his life's work in ruins. Not only were his fields sabotaged, but he has no access to them to repair the damage or to tend what remains.
In a new type of attack, possibly inspired by the bombing of the USS Cole near Yemen, a booby-trapped fishing boat exploded Monday night near an Israeli patrol ship off the Gaza coast. The bomb went off too far away to cause damage or injuries, but reports say the explosion was powerful and could have been devastating. The fishing boat was coming from across the Egyptian border, but it's not clear who was behind the attack.
A Syrian infiltrator armed with knives climbed over Israel's border fence Monday morning and was on the loose in the southern Golan Heights for about twelve hours. Jewish communities in the area were under curfew during the manhunt. Such infiltrations are very rare; the Golan is one of Israel's quietest borders. Army trackers traced the infiltrator to the area between the villages of Nov and Avnei Eitan. The man, who was finally captured near the kibbutz of Lahavot Habashan, said he had crossed the border in order to help the Palestinians with their intifada.
Rachel's Tomb, the Jewish holy site on the northern outskirts of Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem which has been a Jewish pilgrimage site for centuries, has been closed to worshipers since the Palestinian attacks began five weeks ago. The site is under Israeli control according to the agreements with the Palestinians, and has been the constant target of Palestinian riots and sniper attacks. Remarks in the Palestinian media have indicated that they aim to force Israel to abandon the site, as happened with Joseph's Tomb in Nablus / Shekhem.
As tomorrow (Thursday) is the anniversary of Rachel's death, calls have been heard to open the site at least for the day, a traditional occasion for special prayers there since the site was restored to Jewish control in 1967. Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has been among those calling for access to the tomb to be restored. On Monday, a group of thirty Jewish women and children from Hebron met in Gilo in southern Jerusalem and walked towards Rachel's Tomb, just 500 metres (yards) away. When they arrived, the befuddled Israeli soldiers guarding the site weren't sure how to respond, and let the group enter. Some of the women decided they would camp out there until Thursday to make sure it would be open to visitors for the memorial day. The Israeli police and army believed it would be unsafe to let civilians stay there overnight, and a few hours later sent troops to forcibly evacuate them, baby buggies and all. The act of protest had its desired effect, though, and it has been decided that Rachel's Tomb will be open on Thursday after all.
Heavy gunfire resumed last night at the southern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo after several days of quiet. Palestinian gunmen directed machine gun fire at southern streets of Gilo from the nearby Palestinian-controlled towns of Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. The Israeli army returned fire with automatic weapons and anti-tank missiles targeted at the sources of the gunfire. The pause in attacks at Gilo over the last few days has been attributed to a secret Cairo meeting over the weekend between Avi Dichter, head of Israel's General Security Services, and Jibril Rajoub, head of preventive security for the Palestinian Authority, at which Rajoub pledged to stop the gunfire towards Gilo. It has been suggested that the renewed gunfire is a Palestinian attempt to reverse by violence the Israeli decision to reopen Rachel's Tomb to worshipers on Thursday.
While things have been slightly quieter lately, this is clearly not the ceasefire that we were promised at the beginning of last week. The Tanzim militias claim that they have not received orders from Arafat to halt their attacks, and indeed many of the shooting attacks have been carried out by uniformed Palestinian police and security forces. There is no indication that they have received orders to "lower the flames". Still, Israel is cooperating with the American efforts to set up an international "fact-finding commission" to investigate recent events, even though the commission was to begin operation only after the ceasefire was in effect.
Now that the American elections are over, the months from now until the January inauguration may be difficult for Israel diplomatically. President-elect Bush (assuming he survives the Florida recount) won't want to have to deal with messes overseas right away, while Clinton will no longer have electoral considerations to restrict his actions. Both might be satisfied for Clinton to take advantage of the interval to put pressure on Israel to compromise its positions. That way Bush will have certain decisions out of the way without having to take responsibility for the consequences. Something similar happened in 1988, when the Reagan administration, over the objections of the Israeli government, opened an unprecedented dialogue with the PLO after the November elections, having quietly consulted with the incoming Bush administration. The difficult situation Israel is now in could become even more difficult until January 20.

Saturday, November 04, 2000

Imaginary ceasefire

Thursday, November 2, 2000

I don't know if this has made the international news, but a car bomb went off about 20 minutes ago in Jerusalem on a narrow side street near the Mahane Yehuda market. Reports are so far 9 wounded, 7 of which are lightly wounded and 2 dead, most probably the terrorists themselves.
It appears that the terrorists were planning to bomb the busy Mahane Yehuda market, but police noticed a suspicious vehicle and gave chase and the terrorists tried to get away by driving down a narrow side street where the bomb went off. Thank God the bomb exploded in this side street, lined on either side with the thick stone walls of tradtional Jerusalem buildings which absorbed the blast and prevented a major tragedy.
The Mahane Yehuda market is Jerusalem's main food and produce market and on a typical Thursday afternoon it is at it's most crowded with people from all over the Jerusalem area doing their pre-Sabbath shopping trips.
Just want to let you know that we're all fine.

Friday, November 3, 2000

We went to bed late Wednesday night with the determined statements of Israeli leaders resonating in our ears. Following the killing of three Israeli soldiers in fierce Palestinian attacks Wednesday, the cabinet met in special session to authorise the army to launch counterstrikes against strategic Palestinian targets. Commentators spoke of the escalation in Palestinian attacks, and it looked like Thursday would be another difficult day.
By the time we woke up, the prognosis had been reversed. Some sort of ceasefire understandings had been reached at a late night / early morning meeting in Gaza. Cabinet minister Shimon Peres and senior Barak aide Gilad Sher agreed with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat to make another attempt at implementing the ceasefire arrangements brokered two weeks ago at the Sharm a-Sheikh summit - arrangements Arafat never bothered to implement the first time. Among the first steps, Israel was to withdraw its army from strategic positions near Palestinian-controlled areas which it had moved to in response to the Palestinian attacks. Then, a joint announcement was to be made at 2pm, when Barak and Arafat were to separately issue identically-worded statements calling for an end to violence.
Some Israeli experts said they believed the Palestinians were running low on ammunition, as indicated by a shift in their firing patterns. They used to shoot almost at random, spraying gunfire in all directions; lately, they have been firing more precisely and, unfortunately, more effectively. They have also been refraining from ceremonial gunfire at funerals and demonstrations, as well as the traditional celebratory gunfire at weddings. The ammunition situation may explain their readiness to accept a ceasefire, though it also calls into question Israel's judgment in seeking one. Lifting the blockade on Palestinian towns may facilitate their restocking on ammunition and other weapons.
Israel carried out its side of the bargain early in the morning, repositioning its tanks and lifting the blockade in place around some Palestinian cities. Meanwhile, attacks on Israeli targets continued, though at a lower intensity than in recent days. Palestinians attacked the holy site of Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem with stones and firebombs, and rioted in the village of Hizmeh near the Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Ze'ev.
At the Karni crossing between Palestinian-controlled Gaza and Israel, Israeli troops fulfilled the ceasefire terms by relinquishing to the Palestinian police a position overlooking a main road into Gaza. Before long, Palestinian rioters stormed the road, attacking the Israeli checkpoint with rocks and firebombs, while the Palestinian police looked on from their new strategic position and even assisted them. A group of 90 rioters tried to push down the Gaza perimeter fence and break through into Israel. The road, the only access route to the Jewish village of Netzarim in Gaza, came under complete control of the Palestinian police and the street gangs. Netzarim has been under siege; residents and supplies can come and go only via army helicopter. This is apparently Israel's repayment for honouring the ceasefire.
Palestinians also rioted near the Jewish village of Neveh Dekalim on Gaza's southern coast and tried to push over the village's perimeter fence. In an attempt to honour the ceasefire, Israeli soldiers responded only with tear gas. Uniformed Palestinian police, however, shot at an Israeli army patrol near Neveh Dekalim, just minutes before the ceasefire declarations were to be issued.
From the start, it was not clear what the ceasefire terms entailed. Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab (he considers himself to be a "Palestinian citizen of Israel"), a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and a former advisor to Yasser Arafat, said he thought the ceasefire just called for the Palestinians to stop shooting, but that they have every right to continue with their rock throwing revolt, which he termed "popular demonstrations of rage". This man, who sits in the Israeli parliament, votes on and proposes legislation, defends the right of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to continue attacking Israeli Jews.
At about 3 pm, with the Israeli media on standby for the announcements, which had been delayed for unclear reasons, the bomb went off near Jerusalem's busy Mahane Yehuda street market. At the time of writing yesterday it wasn't clear who the dead were. We now know that the terrorists escaped and the two bodies were those of innocent bystanders. One victim was 28-year-old Ayelet Hashahar Levi, daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Levi, head of the National Religious Party. She has just moved to Jerusalem and was moving into an apartment on the street on which the bomb went off. The other victim, 34-year-old lawyer Hanan Levi (no relation), worked in the Klal office building across the street and was caught in the explosion on his way back from lunch. The number of injured now stands at 11, mostly minor wounds. Among the wounded were a woman who lives near the site of the bombing, and her 3 grandchildren, who were staying with her in the centre of town where they felt they would be safer than at home in the neighbourhood of Gilo, which has come under Palestinian gunfire in recent weeks.
The Palestinian news media didn't bother reporting on the Jerusalem bombing, just as they never ran the gruesome videotape of the lynching of the Israeli soldiers in Ramallah two weeks ago, or the ransacking of Joseph's Tomb. With this kind of portrayal of the Israeli position, it's no wonder they accuse us of being the aggressors. All they ever see is reports of Israeli counterattacks, but not the Palestinian attacks Israel is responding to. Meanwhile, Palestinian television and radio continued to play songs glorifying war, while encouraging people to continue what they now call the "Intifada for Peace" - their term for attacking Israeli positions with rocks and firebombs.
What had happened with the ceasefire announcements? Apparently the two sides were far from agreed on the content and form of the declarations. Israeli sources said they were expecting personal appeals by Barak and Arafat, on both radio and television, in which they would call for violence to cease without engaging in recriminations. Arafat apparently refused to make a television appearance. The announcements were delayed from 2pm to 4pm, and then to 6pm. Israel was apparently willing to settle for a radio announcement by Arafat, but this was not forthcoming either. The Palestinians indicated that while they were willing issue a statement calling on Israel to stop the violence, they would not call on their own people to do so. In the morning the Palestinian Authority had issued a faxed statement in that spirit, calling on the "Intifada for Peace" to continue - meaning rocks and firebombs - while blaming Israel for the violence. The Palestinians said that this statement should be sufficient, that they would issue no further such statements, and that they were waiting for Israel's announcement. By the end of the day Israeli leaders were saying that what mattered was not the announcement but the implementation. Essentially, Israel had already given up on the Palestinians' first ceasefire commitment. The ceasefire understandings had collapsed before they had even started.
Implementation of the ceasefire, though, was almost nonexistent. Not long after the bombing in Jerusalem, explosive devices were thrown at Israeli patrols in Hebron and frenzied rioting was reported at the Ayosh junction near Ramallah. By the late afternoon the by now 'usual' Palestinian evening shooting attacks were in progress: heavy gunfire directed at the Jewish village of Psagot east of Ramallah, which has been shot at almost every night since Rosh Hashana, and shooting at the Jewish communities of Gush Katif in Gaza. Palestinian gunmen also opened fire on the Israeli side of the Palestinian-Israel liason office in Bethlehem. By 7pm Palestinian snipers had resumed their nightly assault on the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo and by 8pm they were also shooting at Rachel's Tomb, at the Jewish communities of Brakha and Kfar Darom and at the Jewish Tel Rumeida neighbourhood in Hebron. A Jewish couple were injured when their car was shot at on the main road not far from the Jewish town of Ma'aleh Efraim. A firebomb was thrown at a civilian bus near the Jewish village of Shavei Shomron, west of Nablus/Shekhem. In total there were 18 Palestinian shooting attacks yesterday, not exactly the sort of 'ceasefire' we were hoping for, though not quite as bad as the night before.
Overall, life here continues to be unpleasantly eventful. I have accumulated a list of incidents which seemed important at the time, but which I haven't had a chance to mention because they have been overshadowed by other events. For example, on most nights this week firebombs or rocks have been thrown at vehicles on roads near Arab villages in the southern Galilee. Herut Lapid, a prisoners' rights activist who has been defending Arab asylum seekers in Israeli courts, was returning home from a court hearing in Jerusalem to his kibbutz in northern Israel this week when his car was hit by rocks near the Palestinian-controlled village of Ouja. The windshield was smashed, leaving a gaping hole. "It's lucky we weren't going faster, since we would have lost control of the car and been killed," he said.
Among the overshadowed events was another bomb which went off in Jerusalem Wednesday evening. A pipe bomb exploded near the Jerusalem Theatre in the heart of a residential neighbourhood. Two people were injured, though fortunately the street was mostly empty at the time of the explosion.
On Channel 2 television the other night, we were treated to an interview with Palestinian children, no older than 10 or 12, who were filling bottles with petrol. "What's that?" asked the Arabic-speaking reporter. "Molotov cocktails," responded the kids. "What are you going to do with them?" "Throw them at the Jews, the Jews!" "Aren't you afraid?" "We're not afraid. They're dogs!"
One of Jason's co-workers commutes from the northern port city of Haifa. One day this week said morning traffic had been a mess due to security roadblocks on the highway. He said he heard from a friend that there was a major security alert in Haifa. A terrorist with explosives was believed to be loose in the city preparing a major attack, God forbid. Security was at a maximum throughout the city and surroundings. Apparently, word had gotten out, because people in Haifa were staying at home. Shopping malls and other public places were virtually empty. Thursday's paper reported that a suspect, a resident of Gaza, had been arrested in Nazareth, though no explosives were recovered and security forces remain on high alert. This story was carried on page 22.
In local news, the Modi'in area continues to be quiet for the most part, even though we are also very close to Palestinian areas. The main difference, from what I can see, is that the Palestinian-controlled areas we border are what is known as Area B, which means that the Palestinian Authority is in charge of civilian affairs but security is still in the hands of the Israeli army. This means we don't have Palestinian police and their gunmen stationed just a kilometre or less from here, though from time to time rock-wielding Palestinian civilians have attacked Israeli vehicles passing near their villages, causing a number of injuries.
The Palestinian village of Beit Sira borders the Israeli town of Makkabim, a neighbour of Modi'in. Youths from Beit Sira have thrown rocks and tied burning tires to the Makkabim perimeter fence, and have attacked passing cars on the road which passes between Makkabim and Beit Sira. They have also stood outside Makkabim yelling threats about how they are going to kill all the Jews.
We also discovered recently that one of the perpetrators of the lynch in Ramallah, the man seen in the infamous picture waving his bloody hands to the crowd and smiling, lives in the nearby Palestinian village of Beit Likia, a neighbour of Beit Sira. Like Beit Sira, its residents work and shop in the nearby Jewish towns of the Modi'in region.
Many Israelis, especially those in areas bordering Palestinian-controlled regions, say they feel like sitting ducks. The term comes up time and again in interviews with ordinary citizens, whether in Gilo, Gaza, Vered Yeriho or even central Jerusalem. People feel they're expected to sit still and be shot at, stoned and bombed, while our government looks for ways to resume negotiations and offer more concessions to the people attacking us. Our leaders are afraid of striking back for fear of being portrayed again as the 'aggressors' against 'defenseless civilians'.
In contrast, Palestinians seem to have become more brazen. Today, during midday Friday prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, Palestinian flags were flown over the mosque during the services, a regular phenomenon in recent weeks. What was different today was the addition of flags of the Hamas and Hizbullah Islamic movements, organisations which proudly oppose Israel's right to exist and perpetrate terror attacks. By flying their flags, worshipers explicitly threaten Israelis, expressing their support for terrorist acts and their unwillingness to consider negotiations and compromise. Palestinian religious leaders have led the call for Muslims everywhere to attack Israelis and Jews wherever they may be. Every Friday after midday services, crowds of Palestinian worshipers stream out of their mosques, fired up by virulently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sermons, ready to attack Israelis. This religious war is evident in attacks on Jewish holy sites and archaeological sites as well. It's hard to see how this religious enmity can be moderated by any conceivable political agreements.
I don't know how this is going to end. Arafat's track record shows that he's broken every ceasefire agreement he's every made and used the truce to improve his strategic position. Maybe we just have to wait for the Palestinians to run out of ammunition.
Shabbat Shalom,

Thursday, November 02, 2000


Wednesday, November 1, 2000

A month ago we were a nation hopeful that we were reaching peace agreements with our neighbours and now we are a people reeling from one body blow after another, licking our wounds each day and praying that tomorrow we will wake up from this nightmare and discover that after all it was only a very bad dream.
I hope and pray that I am wrong, but it's hard to be optimistic.

Today has been the hardest in a series of hard days. Lately people have started asking us whether the situation has calmed down, since they haven't heard much on the news recently. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Events escalate from day to day. Incidents that once would have made major headlines are overshadowed with each new escalation and become absorbed into the daily routine. It is now virtually taken for granted that residential areas near Palestinian-controlled towns are the constant targets of Palestinian sniper fire, and that Israeli vehicles driving near Palestinian, and sometimes Israeli Arab, villages will be the targets of rocks and firebombs. There were over 3200 attacks against Israeli targets in October, including over 600 shootings. Such events are reported briefly as part of a tally of the day's incidents, while broadcasts focus on the newest developments.
Today, for example, Channel 1 reporter Alon Ben-David rattled off the list of Jewish communities which came under attack during the day: Gilo, Psagot, Vered Yeriho, Elisha, Netzer Hazani, Netzarim, Nitzanei Oz, Givat Hadagan in Efrat and the Jewish quarter in Hebron. And then there were the day's assaults on Israeli civilian vehicles, as well as army bases, checkpoints, patrols, etc. To top it off, Palestinians opened fire on the holy site of Rachel's Tomb, an Israeli-held enclave in northern Bethlehem. Last night, an Israeli ambulance en route from Betar Elite to Jerusalem was stoned passing the Palestinian village of Husan. The driver was hit in the eye and required hospital treatement. Several Israeli buses were shot at in recent days; yesterday, an Israeli passenger was injured near the Palestinian town of Kalkilya when shots were fired at a bus en route to Alfei Menashe.
But today's big news was that three Israeli soldiers were killed and four wounded by Palestinian attackers near Jericho and Bethlehem. Palestinians in Jericho opened fire on soldiers guarding the Elisha outpost, killing a reserve officer. Palestinian gunmen based themselves in the Jericho casino and an adjacent hotel. In response tonight, Israel fired a tank shell at the casino, for the first time causing extensive damage to the building. The casino and hotel have served as regular sniper bases in recent weeks, from which Elisha and the nearby Jewish village of Vered Yeriho have been targeted. On a nightly basis, Palestinians from the Jericho suburb of Ouja attack Jewish travelers on the highway which runs through their village, setting up roadblocks which sever one of Israel's main north-south arteries. Last night, local Palestinians also set fire to orchards and banana groves belonging to Jewish villages in the area.
In the Bethlehem area this afternoon, Palestinian gunmen, including uniformed police, in the Palestinian-controlled village of El-Khader, ambushed an Israeli patrol with automatic gunfire near the archaeological site of Solomon's Pools. Two soldiers were killed in the initial attack and four injured. Heavy Palestinian fire made it difficult to evacuate the wounded. The army had to bring in tanks, an armoured personnel carrier and an attack helicopter to provide cover for the evacuation under heavy fire. It took three hours to get the wounded to safety. Later in the battle, a Palestinian police officer was killed, in response to which the Palestinians intensified their fire and broadened the front to include attacks on the Israeli army base in Shedma south of Jerusalem.
By the late afternoon, the Palestinians had opened fire on almost every Israeli position near Bethlehem. The main focus of the attacks was the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, which came under fire from residential buildings in nearby Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. Today's attack on Gilo was more intense than previous ones, with barrages of automatic gunfire aimed at Gilo from several different angles and in broad daylight. The assault lasted for three and a half hours. By a miracle no one was hurt, though bullets hit an elementary school which was in session, along with several apartments and parked cars.
One Gilo resident described suddenly hearing gunfire, and looking out the window to see armed Palestinians shooting towards him from only a hundred metres (yards) away from his office. On Israeli children's television this afternoon, children from Gilo were among the callers to the daily phone-in computer game competition. One of the first reports of the shooting came from a contestant, who said he was watching the show while lying on the floor for fear of flying bullets. The next caller, also from Gilo, was in the middle of her birthday party. Half her class were sheltering in their homes and couldn't show up because it was dangerous to walk in the street..
Diane Suhai runs a day care centre in her Gilo apartment. Early this evening she was talking on the phone when she heard gunfire and ducked. Just then, a bullet slammed into the wall where her head had been seconds earlier. She told the news reporter she now stands to lose her income, as parents are frightened to leave their children in her apartment. She hopes the Jerusalem city council will be able to offer her safer premises for the day care centre, though she has no intention of leaving her home. In a previous attack, a bullet struck her balcony.
Gilo residents were told to stay indoors in back rooms, avoiding any parts of their homes that face Beit Jalla or Bethlehem. Those on the roads were to drive without headlights. Streetlights were turned out and a blackout is in effect. Television reporters hid behind walls and filmed their reports illuminated only by handheld flashlight. In contrast, lights were on in Beit Jalla and Bethlehem.
In response, Israeli troops took up positions on the edge of Gilo and in the valley between Gilo and Beit Jalla, returning fire with heavy machine guns. Once they identified the house which was the source of the heaviest fire, they fired an anti-tank missile at the room in which the gunmen were based. However, the Palestinians continued firing from other rooms and other locations. Eventually attack helicopters were brought in to try to stop the gunfire.
Channel 1's Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Ya'ari described how the Palestinian Fatah Tanzim militiamen purposely take up positions in civilian homes. "Tanzim men come and bang on your door, choose the window they want to shoot from, even if it's the room your kids are sleeping in, and they open fire on Gilo, knowing it will draw fire on innocent civilians in Beit Jalla."
The deliberate use of civilians as cover for military attacks has come to typify Palestinian military operations against Israel. Last night, Palestinians opened fire on the Jewish village of Psagot near Ramallah from inside the offices of the Red Crescent, the Arab affiliate of the Red Cross. In another incident, shots were fired at Psagot from within a Red Crescent ambulance. In both cases, the Israeli army did not return fire so as not to be accused of targeting medical emergency services. There are also indications that the Palestinians have used ambulances to transport weaponry.
In general, the use of civilians is part of the overall Palestinian military strategy. Arafat has learned from his war against Israel in Lebanon that our weakest point is fighting in civilian areas. Israel takes every precaution to avoid harming civilians, both for moral reasons and because of the repercussions. As such, Israel is fighting with its hands tied behind its back, while the Palestinians have no qualms about shooting at Israeli civilians, ambulances, welfare offices, holy sites, or any other target which should be out of bounds according to accepted ethics of war.
This is part of the reason for the escalation in the Bethlehem area, an area with a large Christian population which has generally had peaceful relations with nearby Jewish areas. The Palestinians hope that by placing their snipers in close proximity to civilians, especially Christian civilians, as well as Christian holy sites, Israel will in self-defence accidentally damage churches and inflict civilian casualties in one of Christianity's holiest cities, stirring Christians the world over to come to the Palestinians' defence.
In general, one of the Palestinians' main strategic goals is to draw Israel into attacking civilian areas used as military positions, with the hope that the accidental deaths of Palestinian civilians will demonstrate to the world that the Palestinians need international protection against Israeli "aggression". The Arab states have already begun pushing for United Nations peacekeeping troops to be sent to defend the Palestinians.
Arafat is apparently not satisfied with the terms Israel is offering for a negotiated peace agreement, so he wants to change the rules of engagement. Apparently, Arafat hopes that a war of attrition will force Israel to make an even more generous offer than the unprecedented concessions offered at the Camp David talks in July, concessions Arafat rejected out of hand. In fact, fighting has intensified over the last few days even as Israel has resumed diplomatic contacts with Arafat. Earlier this week, Barak phoned Arafat to ask that he call off the violence. Then, cabinet minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak met with Arafat along with Barak advisor Yossi Ginosaur. Tonight, despite the huge escalation in the Palestinian offensive and the killing of three Israeli soldiers, cabinet minister Shimon Peres and senior Israeli negotiator Gilad Sher went to Gaza to meet with Arafat in person - though Barak insists they were not negotiating but merely trying to convince Arafat to end the violence. The more desperately our government tries diplomacy, the more the Palestinian attacks intensify.
Frustration is running high in Israel. Who would have imagined that a neighbourhood of Jerusalem could be the target of enemy gunfire for even a day, let alone weeks on end, while the Israeli authorities stand by helplessly? Israel's most severe military responses have involved destroying empty buildings after warning their residents, the Palestinian security forces, who easily found new premises. The Israeli government seems determined not to close the avenue of negotiations, even as it becomes ever clearer that Arafat sees this conflict as his moment of glory, as the means to achieve his political ends. Though Israel and the Palestinian Authority were well on the way to negotiating terms for Palestinian statehood, Arafat would rather hundreds of Palestinians die in a needless but "glorious" war than achieve statehood through peaceful negotiations with Israel. It's hard to be see what Israel's eagerness to return to negotiations will achieve, beyond convincing the Palestinians that violence will gain them further concessions. We do not want war, but neither can we stand by and allow ourselves to be used for Palestinian target practice day after day, week after week.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I dread the hourly news reports on the radio and yet I cannot help but listen to them all, alternately saddened by news of more incidents and relieved, but anxious, when the news reader turns to trivial things like whether the budget will be approved and the results of a football match. It's amazing that when this all started the radio stations were on 24-hour news-only emergency broadcasts. Now that we have become used to being attacked day in, day out, regular programming has resumed, though with extended evening news broadcasts.