Wednesday, January 05, 2011

As in, "Does it ever end?"

Arlene Kushner

The Shin Bet released information on Sunday regarding plans by two Jerusalem Arabs to fire an anti-tank missile into Jerusalem's main stadium -- Teddy Stadium, which has a capacity of 21,000 -- during the course of a soccer game.

Two friends, Nusa Hamada, possessing Jerusalem residency papers and living in the Sur Baher neighborhood, and Bassem Omed, a full Israeli citizen living in Beit Safafa, had visited a number of nearby hilltops to determine the best launching site for the attack. They had bought several handguns and attempted to secure other weapons (or, according to one source, had secured them for others involved). Hamada had visited Saudi Arabia several times in recent years, where he met with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was provided with money for weapons and asked to gather intelligence on Jerusalem's strategic sites.

Ultimately, the plan to bomb the stadium was dropped because it was "too complicated."


Sur Baher was in the news today for another -- not unrelated -- reason that makes it clear that Hamada's terrorist inclinations hardly arose in a vacuum.

On December 10, 2010, Palestinian Media Watch picked up a documentary broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV, run by Hamas. This documentary, entitled "The Shahid's (Martyr's) Wedding," showed how children in Sur Baher's Islamic Riyad (Gardens of) Al-Aqsa School were taught to sing:

"May the glory of our religion return, and may our blood be shed."

As well as, "How precious is the land of Al-Aqsa. I shall give up my life for its sake."

You can see it here:

Fine and good to say Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem can teach Arab culture. But that monitoring is so non-existent -- or indifference so great -- that this can go on inside our city? Some hard questions must be asked.


At the same time that the stadium plot was revealed, the Shin Bet released information on a growing Hamas presence in Jerusalem: Hamas, which is attempting to establish a foothold on Har Habayit (the Temple Mount), is funding maintenance in the Islamic complex there and sponsoring school trips.


It must be mentioned, as well, that both Jerusalem Arabs were employees at the UK consulate in eastern Jerusalem. Although as maintenance men they did not have security clearance, this does raise questions about the vetting procedure at the consulate.


While visiting an army base in the south today, Defense Minister Barak said Israel has an obligation to do everything in its power to "reignite" the "peace process."

This definitely merits a "sigh" for its foolish approach. Barak puts the onus on Israel for something that is impossible.

And what does he say? "The international community tends to adopt the Palestinian point of view..."

Well, good morning!


Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Abbas have been at it, in an exchange of accusations regarding who is at fault for the lack of negotiations. Another sigh.

On Saturday, Abbas gave an interview on Palestinian TV in which he said that a peace treaty could be signed in two months if Netanyahu showed "good will."

To which Netanyahu replied on Sunday that "I'm willing to immediately sit privately for direct, continuous negotiations with,,,[Abbas] until white smoke emerges." (The white smoke is an allusion to the process for selecting a new pope.) "...we will know very quickly if it is possible to reach an agreement."

Needless to say, Abbas did not take Netanyahu up on his offer. And so, by yesterday, in addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, our prime minister referred to the Palestinian Arabs' new "three nos": no to recognition of Israel as the Jewish state; no to dropping the demand for "right of return;" and no to agreed-upon security arrangements. (This is a reference to the infamous Khartoum declaration of the Arab League in 1967, regarding "no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no negotiations with Israel.")

All of which leaves us nowhere with nothing -- except for a bunch of words and some historical allusions.


Bil'in is an Arab village not far from Ramallah, where PA headquarters are located; with many employed by the PA living there, it has been described as an "ideological stronghold" of Fatah. It sits adjacent to the Israeli security fence (with Modi'in Illit not far away on the other side). For five and one-half years now, the people of Bil'in -- assisted by activists from such exploitive and reprehensible groups as the International Solidarity Movement -- have held weekly anti-security fence demonstrations.

One such demonstration was held this past Friday. As was not uncommon, the demonstration was accompanied by some crowd violence at the fence, and utilization of tear gas by the IDF.

Subsequently, the PA announced that one demonstrator, Jawaher Abu Rahma, 35, had died from "respiratory failure after gas inhalation."

According to Jawaher's mother, Subhiye, she complained of chest pains and difficulty in breathing at the demonstration. She allegedly left, but collapsed on the way home and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Yet in spite of intensive care treatment, she then died.

The PA, however, at first refused to turn the medical records over to the IDF, and declined to cooperate with the IDF on an investigation. That was the first sign that something was amiss.

Said Subhiye: "It is painful, but we are continuing on this road to have freedom for all our lands and to get rid of the wall from all our lands."

"We hope to have peace," she maintained, but admitted she didn't see how this was possible when Israel was killing Palestinians and taking their land.


By yesterday, the IDF had secured Jawaher's medical records, which did not definitively state a cause of death. The closer the Israelis looked, the more they confronted inconsistencies. There had been no post mortem performed and burial was accomplished with unusual haste. Her brother Samir said that she had had dizzy spells and headaches for several weeks, and had undergone a brain scan just four days before she died. But this was not mentioned in the medical records given to the IDF.

At this point, not only is it not clear that she died of inhalation of tear gas from the demonstration, it is not even a certainty that she was actually at the demonstration. Needless to say, the statements of activists there may be lacking in necessary veracity.

This would hardly be the first instance in which the death of an Arab from causes quite separate from Israeli involvement was subsequently blamed on Israel.


And here we have another sigh.

MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said about Jawaher Abu Rahma's death: "She was killed by the poisonous gases of the racism military.

"Resisting the occupation is not only the right of people under an occupation, but also their duty. Popular resistance is a must and Bil'in is a symbol of the resistance that we all salute."

I know, I speech and all that. But I would love to see this member of the Knesset shipped to the other side of the security fence, where he rightly belongs.


With all this, it's possible to end with promising news. We've been waiting for a couple of weeks:

Tonight, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was in the Knesset for a debate on his administration, informed those present that he had received a letter from Jonathan Pollard requesting that he intervene publicly with the president, and seek his release.

After detailing the efforts made for Pollard over time, he said:

"After 25 years that Jonathan has spent in jail and after 15 years of failed efforts to release him, I have decided to grant this request and I do this openly, here, from the Knesset podium in a step that represents and unites all the people of Israel."

Then he read the letter that has been sent to President Obama. In short order I imagine the entire text of the letter will be available, but what I present here is a summary:

Netanyahu accepted Israeli culpability for what transpired with regard to Pollard, and expressed on-going regret. He said he had discussed the situation with US officials and many support Pollard's release.

Pollard has served more time in prison than any other person convicted in the US on charges of passing classified information to an ally, Netanyahu wrote, and he is currently in very poor health.

"Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful."


Word via a French news agency is that senior US administration officials have said that Obama will review the letter. There is some reason to assume that Netanyahu would not have gone this route, had he not received some assurances that there is reasonable likelihood that it might be successful.

It is not only possible, but very likely, that Netanyahu worked with experts in protocol and the fine points of diplomatic language with regard to the drafting of this letter. We must assume that every point -- the admission of culpability, the expression of regret -- was honed for maximum effectiveness. The allusion to the US as a nation of fairness, justice and mercy strikes a positive tone, as well.

Perhaps, too, an expression of eternal gratitude on the part of Israel was thought to be necessary. Cynic (or realist?) that I am, however, I cannot help but wonder if Obama will expect to call in a quid pro quo, should he release Pollard. And, what is more, if the expression of eternal gratitude was Netanyahu's veiled way of offering that quid pro quo.

There is nothing to do at this point but pray that the letter is positively received. Then we'll see what comes down the road and handle it as we must.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution .

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