Sunday, December 07, 2008

7-Dec-08: A surfeit of "moderation"

A timely, polite reminder to everyone out there still laboring under the misguided perception of a "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas (a noted Holocaust denier) leading a "moderate" Fatah regime, aka the Palestinian Authority.

Khaled Abu Toameh, the Jerusalem Post's well-connected and extraordinarily courageous (and therefore largely ignored outside Israel) writer, and himself a Palestinian Arab, describes today how Al-Jazeera has recently been banned from reporting inside the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority. And the media manipulation certainly does not end with Al-Jazeera.

The outrage if the Israeli authorities ever decided to impose an anti-democratic ban like this can only be imagined.
PA bars Al-Jazeera journalists from Mukata
The Palestinian Authority has decided to ban a number of journalists from entering the presidential Mukata compound in Ramallah. The decision is aimed at punishing the journalists because of their criticism of the PA leadership or for reporting about the activities of Hamas leaders. Al-Jazeera reporters and TV crews are among those who now appear on the PA's blacklist. They have been denied access to the Mukata for the past two weeks. Other journalists working for Arab and Western media outlets have also been told that they are no longer welcome to visit the compound... The decision to ban Al-Jazeera came after the popular TV station failed to carry a live broadcast of a speech given by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in front of the PLO Central Council in Ramallah... Al-Jazeera has thus far refrained from reporting about the PA's decision to boycott the station. A source in the station said that the decision not to report about the ban was taken after the PA warned Al-Jazeera that publicizing the issue would only cause more damage to its reporters.
Earlier this week, the largest Palestinian news agency, Ramattan, decided to suspend its work in the West Bank after the PA leadership also banned its reporters from entering the Mukata. The agency also accused the PA security forces of raiding its Ramallah offices, arresting its workers and confiscating a mobile broadcast truck...
The PA has, over the past few years, become less tolerant toward "unfriendly" journalists, especially Palestinian newsmen who report about financial corruption and abuse of human rights in PA-controlled areas. Seven Palestinian reporters have been arrested by Abbas's security forces in the past few months for allegedly expressing sympathy with Hamas. Most were released after being warned against publishing material that reflects negatively on Abbas and the PA leadership.
Googling the term "moderate Palestinian leader" brings up many hundreds of hits. So sad.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

6-Dec-08: Rocket assault on Israel continues... unobserved and ignored

Almost entirely unreported by the media (how much of what we write below was reported in anything that circulates in your community?), another barrage of rockets was fired from Gaza into Israel this evening (Saturday night).

The city of Ashkelon was hit, along with other towns and communities in southern Israel, all of them located close to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Haaretz says 4 Qassam rockets and at least ten mortar shells were fired into Israel today. In addition, a mortar shell exploded at Kerem Shalom, close to Israel's Gaza border. Another landed short in the Gaza Strip itself.

Hamas sources in Gaza today said a member of the so-called Popular Resistance Committees was killed while trying to plant an explosive device near the Israel-Gaza fence. The IDF denies the man was killed by IDF fire, leaving open the very common "work accident" explanation. Whatever, another "martyr" for the Palestinian school-books.

On Friday, 6 Qassams pelted the south of Israel. And as happened this evening, one of those hit Ashkelon, this time in the city's industrial zone. A mortar shell was also fired. One of Friday's rockets exploded in a residential area of Sderot. Another landed in the grounds of the Sha'ar Hanegev regional council. Two rockets exploded near the Eshkol regional council offices.

Credit for these attacks was claimed by Fatah - and not Hamas, as we might have expected. That's the "moderate" Fatah, headed by the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas. Their "moderate" rockets, strangely, achieve as much damage as those of the acknowledged terrorists of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and of Hamas.

Also Friday, Palestinians threw two Molotov cocktails on Friday afternoon at Israeli motorists driving near the West Bank village of Azun east of Qalqilyah. No injuries were reported, although one car was damaged.

On Thursday, the defense ministery of Israel authorized the entry into Hamas-controlled Gaza of 40 trucks carrying basic foodstuffs, 30 trucks filled with cereal, and industrial fuel for the power station.

So what would you do if the people on the other side of the fence near where your family lives engaged in murderous activities like these? Day after day? No matter - practically no one knows about them since they're almost entirely unreported outside Israel.

UPDATE Saturday night 11:00pm - YNet is reporting that IDF aircraft fired a missile at a ready-to-launch Qassam rocket in the northern Gaza Strip Saturday (tonight) and struck the target. At 9:30 this evening, Palestinian sources reported that a loud blast had been heard from the direction of Beit Hanoun, and that an IAF Apache chopper was seen near the town. "The strike was carried out Saturday evening following a rocket and mortar shell offensive directed at southern Israel by the Palestinians. In response to the ongoing fire from Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ruled that Gaza Strip crossings to would remain closed Sunday. "

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

2-Dec-08: Mumbai questions

How are we going to effectively confront terrorists when we can't even identify them as such?

It's the question of all questions. And it's asked very effectively by Tom Gross who used to be the Middle East correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph and now produces incisive columns on a freelance basis. He has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "If this Isn't Terrorism, What Is?"

Please read the whole thing. A few more of Tom Gross' questions about Mumbai and the media's coverage follow:

Why are so many prominent Western media reluctant to call the perpetrators terrorists?
Why did Jon Snow, one of Britain's most respected TV journalists, use the word "practitioners" when referring to the Mumbai terrorists? Was he perhaps confusing them with doctors?
Why did Britain's highly regarded Channel 4 News state that the "militants" showed a "wanton disregard for race or creed" when exactly the opposite was true: targets and victims were very carefully selected.
Why did the "experts" invited to discuss the Mumbai attacks in one show on the state-funded Radio France Internationale, the voice of France around the world, harp on about Baruch Goldstein (who carried out the Hebron shootings in 1994), virtually the sole case of a Jewish terrorist in living memory?
What is the motivation of journalists in trying to mangle language - such as going out of their way to refer to terrorists as "militants," as one Mumbai story on yesterday's Times of London Web site seemed to do? Do they somehow wish to express sympathy for these murderers, or perhaps make their crimes seem almost acceptable?
How are we going to effectively confront terrorists when we can't even identify them as such?
Additional painfully sharp questions are posed by Dennis Prager, another incisive observer, in an article he calls "The Rabbi and the Terrorist".
Why would a terrorist group of Islamists from Pakistan whose primary goal is to have Pakistan gain control of the third of Kashmir that belongs to India and therefore aimed to destabilize India’s major city devote so much of its efforts -- 20 percent of its force of 10 gunmen whose stated goal was to kill 5,000 - to killing a rabbi and any Jews with him?
The question echoes one from World War II: Why did Hitler devote so much time, money, and manpower in order to murder every Jewish man, woman, and child in every country the Nazis occupied?
Why did Hitler - as documented by the late historian Lucy Dawidowicz in her aptly named book “The War against the Jews” - weaken the Nazi war effort by diverting money, troops, and military vehicles from fighting the Allies to rounding up Jews and shipping them to death camps?
Prager's article, which is certainly worth reading through in its entirety, ends with these two final points:
One is that it is exquisitely fitting that the same week the murders in Mumbai were taking place, the United Nations General Assembly passed six more anti-Israel resolutions. As it has for decades, the U.N. has again sanctioned hatred for a good and decent country as small on the map of the world as the Chabad House is on the map of Mumbai.
Two: Statements from Chabad in reaction to the torture-murders of a 28-year-old Chabad rabbi and his wife called on humanity to react to this evil “with random acts of kindness.” Evil hates goodness. That’s why the terrorists targeted a Chabad Rabbi and his wife.
At almost every opportunity, we (the authors of this blog) personally try to explain to whoever will listen that the war against the terrorists is going badly, and it's going to get much worse. Most people don't really understand how dangerous terrorism is to every last one of us. Nor are they likely to understand how on-the-ball the questions we have mentioned here are.

Failing to understand these things, whether you are a journalist or a politician or the person in charge of security for a major railway station, is a life-and-death matter, and mostly the understanding is just not happening.

Monday, December 01, 2008

1-Dec-08: A dangerous obsession

The op-ed article below, written by one of this blog's two authors, appears today on the YNet website and is also published by Front Page Magazine.

Olmert's Obsession

By Frimet Roth | 12/1/2008

The world is reeling from the Islamist terror attacks that struck India last week. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will not let that interfere with his plans to beef up the ranks of Palestinian terrorists with another of his prisoner releases.

Trying to fathom Olmert's conduct – in particular, his preference for freeing jailed Palestinian terrorists with a track record of returning to their bloody business – has become a favorite pastime of pundits. Some say he is drafting his page in future history books. Others suggest that, having lost favor on the Right, he is simply wooing the Left. Still others swear that he aims to be the next Israeli come-back kid and is preparing for a future term as prime minister.

Whatever the merit of such conjecture, no theory fully explicates his irrational obsession with Palestinian prisoner releases. Consider that in August, Olmert granted a prisoner release just in time for Ramadan as a gift to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Now he will hand Abbas 250 more prisoners ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival on December 8.

Olmert is apparently unfazed by the thankless reaction to his last release.

"We will not rest until all the prisoners are freed and the jails are empty, "Abbas told a cheering crowd in August on the day those 198 prisoners were welcomed home.

The day before Olmert announced the upcoming release, Abbas said of his "partner for peace:” "I would like to draw the attention of the international community to the tragedy that our people are enduring in Gaza and I call on them to intervene to end the unfair siege... which constitutes a war crime."

At the same time, Abbas found no time to explain the reasons behind the Israeli siege: Hamas' renewed and intensive Qassam attacks that week on Israeli civilians.

Nor is the Palestinian leader gracious in the face of concessions. Abbas responded to the announcement of a fresh release with fresh demands. He instructed Olmert to include convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti along with Popular Front Secretary General Ahmad Sadat and Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker and Hamas member Aziz al-Dweik.

Such demands are in keeping with the Palestinian leadership’s rhetoric, which has never softened towards Israel. In September, for instance, during a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas was still adamant that "Palestinian refugees must have the right to return to their homeland," calling it one of the "inalienable Palestinian rights."

This demand for the return of the tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees is a thinly-veiled call for the destruction of the Jewish state. Yet Olmert's office recently dubbed Abbas' party "the pragmatist Palestinian camp."

Equally immaterial to Olmert is that Abbas is politically crippled. Indeed, he is unlikely to survive as President past January 9, 2009, the date of the upcoming PA elections. As such, he would be unable to aid Israel even if he had any desire to do so.

Nor does it matter to Olmert that Hamas, against whom Olmert claims to be propping up the PA, is never weakened by these releases of its Fatah rivals. As recently as November, Haaretz warned: "Gaza is a stockpile of weapons, explosives and, particularly, of motivation to carry out attacks against Israel."

Israeli victims of terror are always incensed by these releases. After all, we, the bereaved live with the dread that one day our own child's murderer will return home to a hero's welcome. A terror victims’ organization, Almagor, has reminded Israelis that no less than one third of released terrorists return to terrorism and that they have murdered 180 Israelis, directly contradicting an Israeli spokesman’s recent assurance that "the prisoners slated for release would not be aligned with Islamist movements." Once the new list of prisoners is published, Almagor can be expected to appeal to the Israel’s High Court – and to lose its case, as it has consistently.

Even so, there is considerable evidence of recidivism among the released. This August, for instance, Israel freed Mohammed Abu Ali, a lawmaker from Abbas' Fatah party. Abu Ali was jailed in 1980 for murdering a 20 year old Israeli. He was later convicted of killing a jailed Palestinian whom he accused of collaborating with Israel. So much for the claim that these prisoners have all been rehabilitated.

What about the Palestinian man-on-the-street? Surely he appreciates Olmert's largess. Not quite. In August, prior to the Ramadan release, the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh reported: "It's hard these days to find one Palestinian who regards Israel's decision to release some 200 Palestinian prisoners as a ‘goodwill gesture.’” Of the hundreds of prisoners released after the Oslo Accord, Abu Toameh wrote, many soon became involved "in various criminal activities ranging from armed robberies, extortion, theft and arms trafficking…Others later joined Hamas and other radical groups and became actively involved in armed attacks on Israel during the second intifada." He added: "The argument that [releases] strengthen the 'moderates' has never proven to be correct."

Orit Adato is another prominent skeptic of the wisdom behind prisoner releases. A former head of the Israel Prisons Service and the first international vice president of the International Correction and Prison Association, Adato has issued clear and reasoned recommendations regarding prisoner releases. Adato believes that they can bolster Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. However, she maintains that such releases should be made only after specific preparatory steps have been carried out by Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. She condemns capricious releases, of the kind favored by Olmert, which are made in the context of stalled and aimless negotiations between Israel and the PA.

But even if they could be otherwise condoned, Olmert's prisoner releases are objectionable in his circumstances. As he contends with a looming indictment and strident calls for his resignation and with general elections scheduled for February, Olmert is no longer an empowered leader.

Nevertheless, a passive cabinet has voted to give Olmert the green light. True, several ministers were opposed. Minister Jacob Edery of Kadimah decried the move, saying that Israel "has made enough gestures to the Palestinians without having received anything in return. You don't have to free terrorists so long as there is no progress in the effort to free Gilad Shalit or the peace talks." And last week Likud MK Reuven Rivlin expressed those sentiments even more bluntly: "Olmert is not relevant to the political process and he does not need to make promises in Israel's name," adding: "We're tired of him and his political mischief."

But last week’s vote proved that even this wide spectrum of protesters is impotent. Olmert's immense and indomitable ego is just too formidable a foe. Several days ago it reared its ugly head in these telling comments: "I talk with Abbas nearly every week. Never has any Israeli prime minister held such extensive negotiations with a Palestinian leader like this…This is a time for decisions. I am ready to make that decision…You don't need months to make a decision," said Olmert.

On the last score Olmert is right. He can and must make one crucial decision: to cancel an ill-conceived release of Palestinian terrorists that rewards the Palestinian leadership for its past failures and promises bloodshed in Israel’s future.

Frimet Roth, a freelance writer, lives in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered at the age of fifteen in the Sbarro Jerusalem restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation in her name provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

1-Dec-08: Terrorism versus Human Rights

Here's the text of a speech delivered to an international conference arranged by MPCT (Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme) in Paris, 23-Nov-08. The speaker is one of this blog's authors.

On Terrorism and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Arnold Roth – The Malki Foundation

As our presence here in this place attests, today's subject, Terrorism Versus Human Rights, is surely important enough for us to leave our warm homes and come to this public place and engage in discussion.

The subject has the greatest significance for every person who cares about democracy, humanity and freedom.

For some of us, it is more than simply important. The tension between terrorism on one hand and human rights on the other speaks directly to our personal experience.

For me, the public discussion of this important theme has personal ramifications which compel me to raise my voice. I feel the need to do this even in places where there is little desire for a voice like mine to be heard.

In preparing myself for this conference, I reviewed legal documents, political essays, speeches, declarations, blogs and academic journal articles. From these, it can be seen that, sixty years after its creation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is under sustained attack and from several quarters.
  1. The secular and universal nature of the Declaration is being undermined and delegitimized. For this we must lay the credit at the feet of the largest club of nations in the world, the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
  2. The UN Human Rights Council, the very organization charged with carrying the Declaration's message into practical application is in fact smothering it. It does this by failing to adhere to the first, and arguably the paramount, principle embodied in the declaration. I shall return to this a little later.
  3. The dark hand of global terrorism, along with the powerful political, ideological and religious forces that sustain it, are endeavoring to strangle it to death. And they are winning.
In my personal life, each of these two trends – (one) the principles of the UDHR and (two) the forces that may bring its life to an end, has played important roles.

I was born in Australia to Jewish parents who arrived as refugees from Germany after being caught up in the extermination which wiped out one-thousand years of Jewish life in Poland, the country of their birth. Surviving the Nazi death camps, my parents began rebuilding their lives in friendly, welcoming Australia at almost exactly the same time as the UDHR was adopted.

Australia was a place which, for all its blessings, had scarcely begun to comprehend the meaning of human rights. In the decade or two after UDHR, the land of my birth abandoned an immigration policy that, while unofficial, was universally known as the "White Australia Policy". I was a high school student when Australian law changed for the first time to include its native population, the Australian Aborigines, in the national census. Their right to vote in elections was granted only in 1948, the same year as the UDHR was born.

The evolution of sensitivity to human rights in Australia took place even while religion and politics remained, for the most part, subjects that were rarely discussed in public. Australian society then and now treats these as matters of personal choice and conscience. The notion that the state or a non-state entity might impose them on a reluctant population was foreign and unacceptable.

The adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations of the UDHR on December 10, 1948 occurred, as I have mentioned, in the shadow of events that dramatically marked world history and also the chronicle of my own family.

Though traditions and religious background are different, and cultural backgrounds and expressions are varied, human nature is universal and the same. The UDHR came to affirm this universal human identity.

I was raised in a system characterized by gentle tolerance, and a respect for the humanity and individuality of the other... though as I have said - not for every other. Fundamental human rights needed to be won. And they were. The laws and sensitivities engendered by UDHR undoubtedly played and play a role in that process.

Beginning in 1981, soon after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran which emerged from the rubble of the empire of the Shah, that country's representatives began a systematic and fundamental attack on UDHR. They did this, and continue to do it, in the United Nations and in many other international forums.

The Iranian ambassador to the UN put his country's agenda on the official record [2] in addressing the General Assembly in 1984.
"The concept of human rights is not limited to the UDHR. Man's divine origin and human dignity cannot be reduced to a series of secular norms. Certain concepts (therefore) contained in the UDHR need to be revised… Iran respects no power or authority but that of A-mighty G-d and no legal tradition other than Islamic law. UDHR represents a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition. This does not accord with the values recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran… Iran therefore would not hesitate to violate its provisions since it has to choose between violating divine law (on one hand) and violating secular conventions (on the other).

This straight-forward analysis leaves little room for doubting where UDHR fits in the hierarchy of values of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and of those who hold to its views.

A little later, the OIC's Conference of Foreign Ministers then gave legal and practical effect to the Iranian rejection of UDHR adopting the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam [3] in August 1990. Two of its articles are of astonishing power and significance:
Article 24: All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to Islamic Shariah.
Article 25: Islamic Shariah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles in this Declaration.
The Cairo Declaration therefore claims supremacy over UDHR based on divine revelation.

Its sponsors, the OIC, succeeded in persuading the leadership of the Human Rights Council that "only religious scholars are allowed to discuss matters of faith." In effect the issue is, by consent, off limits to discussion. This is utterly extraordinary.


Shortly before he was murdered in Baghdad in 2003, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq, put it this way,
"Human rights law has sought to strike a fair balance between legitimate national security concerns and the protection of fundamental freedom. It acknowledges that states must address serious and genuine security concerns such as terrorism."
The notion of human rights norms has been tested and tempered by the surge of terrorist violence in the past decade, and by the ongoing debate in civil societies throughout the world on how to deal with terrorism and with terrorists - with their human rights, and with the human rights of people suspected of taking part.

My wife and I brought our family to the historical Jewish homeland, Israel, in 1988. This was the fulfillment on not only our own dreams but those of our parents and grand-parents.

In Jerusalem, in 2001, our oldest daughter Malki, who was then only 15, was murdered along with many other Israelis in a massacre in the centre of Jerusalem.

A few years later, also in Israel, I met John Dugard – a man whose job title at the time is a sad reflection of the fundamentally flawed way human rights are viewed in certain international circles. He was the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories. Dugard confessed to me, at the end of an hour-long private meeting in my office in Jerusalem, that until that day he had never met a victim of Palestinian Arab terrorism. I have never managed to understand how such an individual can be so influential at the highest levels of international discourse, and at the same time be so poorly informed - and so highly partisan.

Sometimes the unfairness and distortions that characterize the global community's work in human rights produces a change. Such a change happened when the UN's Commission on Human Rights was replaced in 2006 by the Human Rights Council. This came after years of complaints about some of the absurd aspects of the Council's work – too many to recount here. But since its replacement by the HRC, the bad old scenarios repeat themselves:
  • By January 2008, barely two years into its life, HRC had already managed to condemn one country - Israel - eight separate times.
  • About sixty percent of its decisions have been directed at criticizing one country - Israel.
  • The monumental and highly publicized abuses of human rights in such places as Zimbabwe, China, Saudi Arabia have produced zero response.
  • Cuba and Belarus were on a special HRC list of countries under close investigation for human rights infringements. But after a recent vote, their names were removed from that list.
  • Both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon felt it necessary to point out to the members and leadership of HRC that there are human rights problems in the world in which Israel is not the major player. But they have not succeeded.

The tension between human rights and security in a time of terror seems to be best appreciated in states where terrorism has already made an impact.

Thus in 2005, the British Home Secretary announced tough new measures after the underground trains were blown up by British-born terrorists, acting in the name of their pathological definition of Islam, and said this [5]:
"The human rights of the people who were blown up on the tube on 7th July (2005) are, to be quite frank, more important than the human rights of the people who committed those acts."
His statement brings me to certain insights about this issue which stem from my being the father of a child who was murdered by religious terrorists.

I mentioned earlier the first of the rights honoured and protected by the UDHR - the first, and arguably the paramount, principle embodied in the Declaration: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person" (Article 3).

This is the right to live, the right to stay alive. No right is more important than this one. It is the right that was stolen from my fifteen year-old daughter, and from the many people who loved her.

Prof. Harry Reicher, professor of international law at University of Pennsylvania and Scholar-in-Residence at Touro Law Center in New York is a man personally engaged in human rights-based litigation and other legal actions that respect and defend human rights. He has written this:

"If, in the context of measures aimed at preventing repetitions, strains are placed on individual rights, the unique character of the right to live suggests an a priori rationale for erring on the side of caution. To do so is not, in any sense, to trivialize other human rights. It is rather to underscore the ultimate nature of the right to live… Although it does not formally enunciate a hierarchy of rights, or spell out any mechanism for resolving potential tensions between different rights, the fact that the right to live is the first of the specific rights listed in the document suggests a certain primacy… It is a right that is qualitatively different from all other rights…[6]"

The abuse of this right is a deep wrong, the deepest of all wrongs. Here is why:
  • When a person is imprisoned unjustly, there is a remedy: Release him or her. Restore the right that has been taken away. When a person is deprived of the right to live, then neither this right nor any other can ever be restored.
  • A victim deprived of the right to live can not be compensated. No compensation exists. None can be imagined. But compensation for forms of abuse can be created, and are meaningful.
  • Losing the right to live means the loss of every other right.

Though it is not so fashionable to say so, I believe there is such a thing as the war against terrorism – and it is not going well. Its victims are not only the children blown up in restaurants, and their parents, but also civil society in every country. For this reason, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Huguette Chomski Magnis and her MPCT colleagues for pushing this on to the agenda of thoughtful people in a constructive and effective way.


[2] Extracted from "Universal Human Rights and Human Rights in Islam" - David Littman – Originally published in Midstream (New York), February/March 1999

[3] Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, Aug. 5, 1990, U.N. GAOR, World Conf. on Hum. Rts., 4th Sess., Agenda Item 5, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.157/PC/62/Add.18 (1993) [English translation]

[5] The Guardian: "Expulsions illegal, UN tells Clarke", 25-Aug-05

[6] "Right to live trumps", Prof. Harry Reicher, The National Law Journal (September 26, 2005)