Sunday, October 1, 2000

Shabbat-O-Gram, October 2000

 Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach,

I apologize for the length -- but much is happening. I'm sending it in two parts, for your downloading pleasure: 

Shabbat Shalom service -- 6:15 PM
Family Shabbat-Sukkot Dinner -- 7:00 PM (reservations are no longer being accepted)
Shabbat - Festival Services -- 8:00 PM

Shabbat morning -- Shmini Atzeret Services begin at 9:00 AM -- NOTE SPECIAL TIME...
the services will include a partial reading of the book of Ecclesiastes, Yizkor (sometime around 10:30, but it's anyone's guess), the prayer for rain and....Mazal Tov to Emily Lessen, who will become Bat Mitzvah tomorrow!!!  Childrens' services at 10:30 as usual.

Simchat Torah: 6:30 Saturday evening, 9:30 Sunday morning (with the Torah procession at about 10:15).  Special goodies will be given out at both services.  On Sunday morning, we'll likely do some dancing with Torahs outdoors too!  Simchat Torah morning is loads of fun (we'll also have children's programming).  For those who normally don't get the chance to do this when it falls on a weekday, don't miss this one.  We'll also be having a special lunch after the service on Sunday.

Now more than ever we have to become active voices for good within our community and around the world.  Help us do that at this important organizational and planing meeting for the congregation's social action arm.


1)      Our community will gather in support of Israel on Sunday night at 8:00 PM, at Congregation Agudath Sholom.  I urge people to come, even if it means missing an inning or two of the World Series.  The program will not be a long one.  We'll be hearing from an particularly inspiring speaker, an Israeli journalist, who will update us on the situation.

2)      I've just sent out a letter to all parents of Religious School and Beth El Bi-Cultural students, giving guidance on how we might discuss the current situation with our children.  An important point I make in the letter is that, as much as we need to keep our children (and ourselves) informed of events, it is even more essential that we provide them with positive Jewish experiences, so that being Jewish not be seen by them as something that evokes sadness, anxiety and fear (as it did for many of us growing up).  This weekend is the Simcha of Simchas, Simchat Torah, and we'll also be celebrating a Bat Mitzvah and having a large Shabbat dinner tonight.  Unfortunately it is now too late to sign up for the dinner (and we have about 150 attending), but all these other activities are still open to all, including the Shabbat Shalom service this evening that will take place before the dinner, and especially our Simchat Torah services Saturday night and Sunday morning too. 

3)      Here are some ways for you to find out first-hand what's happening in Israel:
The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English language newspaper, has
recently launched its own Internet radio station.  24 hours a day; news,
and exclusive interviews:

Here is the International Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers home page:

Other News Sources:

There is a dearth of good and accurate information in the US. The best way
to get information is from the Jerusalem Post. Its web page can be accessed
at  Sources such as National Public Radio,(NPR) are
especially poor and unreliable. Of the three major networks, ABC is the
least accurate and NBC is the most accurate. US News is tightly controlled
and many major stories are left out. Therefore it is valuable to turn to
the web and to receive accurate news from a number of sources.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site  - for official statements
and documents from the government of Israel:
NOTE: You can subscribe to Israel Line,’ a summary of the Israeli press
prepared Monday through Friday by the Israeli consulate in NY, at this
Israel Wire - for the latest updates direct from Israel:
Haaretz  - for more in-depth reporting, analysis, and commentary on the
current situation in Israel:
The Jerusalem Post - for more in-depth reporting, analysis, and
commentary on the current situation in Israel:
The Jerusalem Report - for an additional point of view read about the
political situation in the Middle East, as well as politics and society
in Israel, in Israel’s bi-weekly newsmagazine:
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
Read about bias in media coverage:

AIPAC - check out how America’s Pro-Israel lobby is responding to the
crisis and the steps you can take to help affect the political process
and public sentiment:
ADL “Anti-Defamation League” see the ADL’s perspective on anti-Israel
violence, as well as good information about security:


from “The Innocents Abroad,” by Mark Twain, recounting his visit to Shechem
and the Holy Land in 1867:
“...About a mile and a half from Shechem we halted at the base of
Mount Ebal before a little square area, inclosed [sic] by a high stone
wall, neatly whitewashed. Across one end of this inclosure [sic] is a tomb
built after the manner of the Moslems. It is the tomb of Joseph. No truth
is better authenticated than this.
“When Joseph was dying he prophesied that exodus of the Israelites
from Egypt which occurred four hundred years afterwards. At the same time
he exacted of his people an oath that when they journeyed to the land of
Canaan they would bear his bones with them and bury them in the ancient
inheritance of his fathers. The oath was kept...  Few tombs on earth
command the veneration of so many races and men of diverse creeds as this
of Joseph... Samaritan and Jew, Moslem and Christian alike,revere it, and
honor it with their visits.  The tomb of Joseph, the dutiful son, the
affectionate, forgiving brother, the virtuous man, the wise Prince and
ruler. Egypt felt his influence the world knows his history.”


Dear VJ Members,

It is noon in Jerusalem, and there is a sense of great uneasiness in the
city. Fridays, the day when Muslims converge on the Temple Mount for
prayers, are always fraught with tension. Reports coming out of the Old
City at this time, indicate that Israeli police are preventing anyone
under forty years-old from entering the Mount as information was received of intentions by young men to cause disturbances after prayers. Naturally, this is leading to feelings of anger and frustration amongst those barred from attending prayers.
Adding to the tension are reports from Israeli police that terror attacks are expected in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. We have been told to carry on our usual activities but to be on the lookout for suspicious objects or people.
Finally, we are all rather anxious over the outcome of the ‘Al-Aqsa’s
Intifada Summit’ for leaders of Arab countries, going on in Cairo today.
What will the outcome be?

Last night I watched three different news broadcasts on the terrible
events that took place on Mount Eval.  To watch events on CNN and the BBC,
one is lead to believe that armed settlers set out for Mount Eval in order
to open fire on Palestinians who were innocently picking olives on the
hillside.  They explained that settlers did indeed open fire and that the
Palestinians merely shot back to defend themselves.

Switching to Israeli news channels, the story was quite different!
Thirty-seven men, women and children (residents of the West Bank),
apparently with IDF permission, set out by bus to hike around the area of
Mount Eval. After visiting Joseph’s Overlook, to see the recently
destroyed Joseph’s Tomb, the group then decided to walk a path that leads from the overlook toward Nablus and the Askar refugee camp. At this point, Palestinians in the refugee camp opened fire on the group.
This is just one example of the anti-Israel bias that emerges daily. We
have received hundreds of letters from VJ members outraged by the media
bias they are seeing on television or in the press.  Instead of feeling
helpless to act against it, we urge you to encourage people you know to
sign up to our Special Edition newsletters and to write directly to the
agencies who are responsible for the bias:

*CNN e-mail contacts:
CNN Tel: 1-404-827-1500
Fax: 1-404-827-1784

*BBC email contact:
We will bring you more contact information as we receive it.
Visit our Presswatch forum for more:

**Settlers, Palestinians clash over version of Mount Eval shooting
Saying that they didn’t do anything that could be seen as a threat,
settlers who had been part of the day-trip at Mount Eval, where a
gun-battle broke out, added that they didn’t even approach the Nablus
area. Palestinians, however, claim that they were acting in self-defense
against settlers they said attacked Palestinians and torched a house in
the Askar refugee camp. Yoav Noyman, who along with his wife participated
in the trip, said, “We have an obligation to live our lives here with
maximum routine and normalcy, and routine during the Sukkot holiday, from
our point of view, includes trips like this. Once the trip was authorized
by security forces, there was no indecision about it at all.”

**Last night’s clashes: Rafah, Ramallah, Gilo, Gush Katif Junction
A gunbattle raged last night between Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and
Palestinians slightly north of the Rafiah, on the Egyptian border. There
were no injuries. In Ramallah, shots were fired at the Psagot settlement.
There were no injuries there as well. Shots were fired into the Gilo
neighborhood in Jerusalem from the neighboring Palestinian village of Beit
Jala. The shots were aimed at IDF tank positions near the Jewish
neighborhood. No injuries or damage was reported, though the Home Front
Command continued to carry out defensive work near the homes on the
southern side of the road in an effort to shield them from gunfire.
Residents, however, claimed that these protective measures are
insufficient as the shots struck at the upper levels of the buildings.

**EU wants milder UN resolution on Mideast violence
UNITED NATIONS - The European Union tried to soften a UN General Assembly draft resolution condemning Israel for excessive use of force against Palestinians ahead of Friday’s scheduled debate. The resolution, which the United States opposes, is expected to be adopted at the end of a special emergency session of the 189-member assembly that began Wednesday and resumes late Friday with a briefing by Secretary-General Kofi Annan followed by some 40 speeches.

**PA, Clinton react to Mount Eval shooting; PM weighing response
Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced yesterday that the shooting in Mount
Eval, near Nablus, yesterday was a blatant violation of agreements with
the Palestinian Authority, but senior government sources say he is still
considering the exact components of a harsh retaliation. Barak did however renounce settler protests that he did not permit the IDF to use full force to evacuate the slain Israeli, Rabbi Binyamin Herling.

**For more headlines, visit

**Send greetings of support to your loved ones in Israel:


It is very easy to put on blinders in a situation like this, especially with such misinformation going around.  In war, as they say, the first casualty is truth.  That's why I present the following as another perspective, this written by an Israeli Jew who has dedicated his life to fostering dialogue between Arabs and Jews.  In the end, that will be the only answer.  So it's important to hear his perspective, even as we are in the heat of a battle which, because of the forces arrayed against Israel, requires that we often lost contact with the complexity of the issue.  This will help us to understand what the Palestinians are thinking.  The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information - IPCRI - is an Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank working to advance peace between Israel and Palestine and in the region.

Thursday, October 19, 2000

Dear friends,

For all of those who are interested to know how we have been facing the current situation, the following is a bit of an update and a bit of analysis on the present situation.  This analysis is my own and although, to a great extent it is shared by Zakaria, he is not here right and and I will not speak on his behalf  but from extensive discussions of the situation  I believe that we pretty much see eye-to-eye (which is quite different from most Israelis and Palestinians who are talking about “eye for eye”).

The IPCRI Office

Getting to the IPCRI office in Bethlehem can only be done now by taking considerable personal physical risk.  On Wednesday of last week, one day before the lynch of the Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, I was stopped at a Palestinian check point in Bethlehem and told to wait in front of the check point.  Within minutes about 6 young men in civilian dress holding weapons surrounded my car and began interrogating me. I explained to them who I was and that I had an office in Bethlehem.  I gave them my ID and asked to use my phone.  I called Zakaria, who was in the office and he spoke to the officer there.  The officer told Zakaria that they were taking me to the headquarters of the Preventative Security in Bethlehem  something that I didn’t want to happen.  Zakaria immediately began searching for Jabril Rajoub while I convinced the officer not to take me there but the call the head of Preventative security for Bethlehem who was in our office just 2 days before.All of this conversation taking place in my less than perfect Arabic. During the next 15-20 minutes (that felt like hours) I was held there on the side of the road with 6 Palestinian armed soldiers telling me I shouldn’t be afraid  I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be afraid as well (it only worked partially).  Finally a call came from the head of Preventative Security for the Bethlehem area.  The officer asked if I was from IPCRI  I said yes. He reported back and closed the phone.  He then gave me back my ID Card and told me that he had instructions to escort me wherever I needed to go.  I was leaving Bethlehem so I received a military escort out of the city  until the Israeli check point in Beit Jalla.
The next morning we decided that I would travel into the office with Zakaria in his car. There was a complete closure on the territories and the entrance of Israelis to the PA areas was forbidden.  Under normal circumstances when there is a closure there are about 200 ways in and out of Bethlehem  and we know all of them.  We had been using some of them since the beginning of the latest uprising to come and go to the office.  However, on Thursday morning, every entrance was blocked.  The Israeli army had dug ditches in the roads and placed huge boulders and dirt at every entrance. I remembered that the Talita Kumi school has an entrance on a road that was open and also has a back door into Beit Jalla on a road that leads directly to our office.  We spoke with the headmaster of the school who said that we could leave Zakaria’s car in the school.  We then called our landlord in Bethlehem to pick us up at the school.

Our landlord’s uncle is the commander of PA Military Intelligence in the Bethlehem district and is very well known.  All of the roads in Beit Jalla and Bethlehem were filled with Palestinian soldiers awaiting an Israeli invasion.  We made it to the office without any problem.

At 11:00 we received a phone call from someone in Ramallah that 2 Israeli soldiers were captured and killed there just a few minutes ago.  At 11:45 there were the first reports on the incident on the internet.  At 12:30 the Israeli radio reported the incident without any great detail. It was still quite unclear what had happened there.  At about 1:15 we saw Palestinian soldiers leaving the Bethlehem military headquarters in full gear and carrying lots of equipment.  They entered the olive fields around our office that are across from their headquarters. Several minutes later we heard on Palestinian radio that the Israelis said that they would be attacking Palestinian military installations in Ramallah and in other places. Shortly afterwards, several friends of IPCRI from the area came to our office and told us that it was time to leave  they got no argument from us.  We called our landlord who swiftly returned us to Talita Kumi.  Zakaria, Birgit (our office manager) and I went to my house in Jerusalem for a cup of coffee and to see the news on TV.  When the first attack by Israeli helicopters took place Zakaria was clearly nervous and felt that tempters were so high he better get home as soon as possible so that he wouldn’t get caught in a lynch by angry Israelis.  He got home in about 15 minutes and I called him to make sure that he was safe and that nothing happened to him on the way home.
So now the office is off limits until things calm down.  Fortunately we have an Israeli teachers training taking place that began yesterday and will go on until tomorrow. It is a great testimony of commitment and hope that this teacher training is even taking place.  Our Peace Education staff of Marwan Daweish, Anat Resiman-Levy, and Nedal Jayousi earn a great deal of credit for making this happen as do the 60 Israeli Jewish and Arab teachers who are participating.  Unfortunately, the Palestinian teachers could not participate due to the closure.  Nonetheless it is quite difficult to talk about peace education when the ground is burning.  A major part of the training is aimed to allow the teachers to talk about the situation and to try and understand what is actually happening and why. It is also aimed at allowing them to vent their anger and fears.

What else have we been doing?

We have been involved in organizing meetings between Israeli and Palestinian politicians aimed at keeping channels of communication open. The Most important of these attempts was a meeting we organized between Avshalom (Abu) Vilan and Musi Raz from Meretz and Jabril Rajoub on Sunday night October 1  three days after the Sharon visit to Al Aqsa.  Abu Vilan is very close to Barak having served as an officer under him in the past. Abu brought a message from Barak to Arafat and requested to deliver it to Jabril and we were requested to organize the meeting. At one point in the meeting we had Barak on one phone and Arafat on the other.  Abu Vilan asked Jabril Rajoub what Arafat wanted to put an end to the violence. Rajoub called Arafat and was dictated a list of seven conditions.  They mainly focused on returning to the situation that existed prior to the events as well as a demand to establish an international investigation to examine the events of the riots and deaths on the Haram el Sharif-Temple Mount after the Sharon visit and after the Friday prayers.  Six of the seven conditions were acceptable to Barak.  There was full objection to any international involvement in examining what happened.  Barak’s office also wanted to check the information from another channel that opened up ½ an hour before our call to Barak.  Rajoub proposed a Barak-Arafat meeting right there to reach an agreement and put an immediate end to the escalation.  Barak refused and instead sent his confidante  former deputy director of the Shin Bet and Arafat’s business partner  Yossi Ginosar (Known to the Palestinians as Joe) to meet Arafat.  The Ginosar-Arafat meeting turned out as a disaster with mutual screaming and recriminations. We pleaded with Barak’s office to accept the Rajoub offer and to give Rajoub the credit knowing that if there would be an agreement, Rajoub would have to take responsibility to bring quiet to the streets. Rajoub was all ready to make the preparations to bring Arafat to his office. Barak was in Cochav Yair in his private residence.  All that is now history.

What happened and why?
It seems very unlikely that the Sharm el Sheikh declaration will take hold and be implemented.  The declaration is extremely unpopular on the Palestinian streets where most people believe that they have paid a very high price for a very small return. It will be very difficult for Arafat to impose his will (if in fact his will is to bring about quiet) on the forces in the streets  both those from Fatah and those from the opposition Islamic groups. It seems to me that Arafat’s strategy is based on his conclusion that the Israeli offers from Camp David fell far short of what Arafat believes he could accept and sell to his people and to the Arab and Islamic world  particularly concerning the Haram al Sharif and the refugees’ right of return. The Palestinian position since November 1988 has been based on the claim that they have accepted international law and Security Council Resolutions and that the international community has to insure their implementation in the face of Israeli violations and disrespect of the international community.  In Oslo in 1993, the Palestinians said that they have made an historic compromise and that in the final status talks Israel would have to make its historic compromise. The Palestinians refer to their acceptance of the State of Israel within the June 4, 1967 borders  meaning that they have given up their claim to 78% of historic Palestine  but they would not make any compromises on the remaining 22%.  In Camp David, Barak proposed to withdraw from 90% of the West Bank. Arafat offered Barak 2% for free and another 2% in land exchanges.  This was a very unpopular move by Arafat amongst Fatah activists and Tanzim (the former leaders of the fatah during the years of the intifida who come from the West Bank and Gaza) leaders. In fact a fistfight broke out between members of the Palestinian delegation at Camp David over this issue.

Arafat has always wanted the international community to act in Palestine as they acted in Iraq (Kuwait) and in Kosovo.  Furthermore, he was inspired by the lessons of the Hizballah victory in bringing about an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon through a guerilla war of attrition. In this few, some 2000 Hizballah fighters defeated the mighty Israeli army. Why can’t Palestinian resistance target key sensitive places such as Rachel’s Tomb, Joseph’s tomb, Netzarim, Kfar Darom, Psagot and other isolated places in the same way that Hizballah did? Recognizing the difference between every other place in the world and Israel, Arafat believes that without great Palestinian casualties the world will not take notice of the need to intervene and impose international law on Israel.  Arafat wants the international community to send troops to Palestine to protect the Palestinian people and to force Israel to accept Security Council Resolution 242.  Understanding this strategy is also the main reason for the strong Israeli objection to the international investigation panel which would have given an official entry into the region and could lead to further international intervention.

Al Aqsa and the Sharon Visit

At Camp David, one of the Israeli proposals for Jerusalem involved the establishment of a small synagogue on the Haram al Sharif in exchange for some form of dejure Islamic control (not Palestinian). At the same time Israeli newspapers reported that the chief Rabbinate in Israel was examining Jewish law with regard to the issue of holding Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.  When Sharon announced his intention to visit the Temple Mount, rumors began to spread throughout Palestine that the Israelis were planning to take over Al Aqsa and to divide it between Jews and Muslims as the Cave of the Patriarchs is in Hebron. Barak agreed to Sharon’s visit for internal Israeli political reasons and thereby led to the catalyst that set the region on fire.  There was clearly a lack of understanding of the intensity of Islamic sensitivities and fears regarding the Haram al Sharif.  There was also a lack of understanding of the frustration of the Palestinians on the ground and the fears of losing their rights through compromises in the peace negotiations.
Another very basic problem in my view emanates from the lack of democracy in Palestine and the tragic relationship that has developed between Israel and the Arafat regime serving the very narrow and short-sighted interests of a small group of people on both sides.  The dwindling support for Arafat amongst Palestinians is a reflection of the contempt that most Palestinians feel towards the Palestinian authority and Arafat and towards the Oslo Process.  This also reflects limits that Arafat has had in getting the public into the streets to support him in the past as well as the limitations that he now faces on trying to control the streets.  Israel and the US hold a lot of responsibility for the nature of the PA regime  the subject of which I will devote another letter.

Where to from here? 

It seems to me that there will not be a complete reduction of violence and that the potential for terror is very high.  There will most likely be new elections in Israel and a very weakened Barak has little chance of winning. It seems that in recognition of the fact that Israelis and Palestinians will continue to live here, Israel is likely to take unilateral steps towards forced separation while the Palestinians will take unilateral steps towards sovereignty and statehood.  The two sides will try to find a modus vivendi of regulating varying levels of violence between them.

IPCRI will continue to reevaluate the situation to examine ways to keep communication and dialogue open. We are now trying to get the US Ambassador to host a series of high level meetings in his home which we would facilitate.  If this will not work, we will approach several EU Ambassadors to do the same.

We appreciate your support and interest and will keep you informed of our activities.


Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.


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