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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

A well written editorial in the Seattle PI. The PI has been on a an anti-Israel marathon for a while but with this editorial they seem to be taking a break.

Read the whole thing:

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The cycle of violence begins with Palestinians

JOHN HAMER AND MARIANA PARKS

We were also in Israel, at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the last week of Ramadan. But our impressions were quite different from those of Sharon Moe ("Palestinians face untold hardships," Focus, Jan. 11).

True, Palestinians lined up to pass through and take buses into Jerusalem, where many hold jobs in Israel. True, some may have had doctors' appointments -- the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem treats Palestinians alongside Jews. True, some Palestinians had to wait or were turned back for lack of proper identification.

And it is true that Israeli soldiers, most in their late teens or early '20, sometimes overreact. The week of our visit, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that two Israeli soldiers were sentenced to jail terms -- one for kicking a Palestinian at a checkpoint, another for throwing a stun grenade to disperse a crowd.

But that same week, at another checkpoint near Bethlehem, there was another incident. According to Ha'aretz, Israeli Defense Force soldiers were doing a routine check of Palestinians when a man approached them carrying a rolled-up Muslim prayer rug. When he got close to the soldiers, he pulled an AK-47 assault rifle from the rug and opened fire.

Two Israeli soldiers, Shlomi Belsky, 23, and Shaul Lahav, 20, were killed. The assailant escaped into the Palestinian village of Al Khader. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack.

Shlomi Belsky was talking to his mother on a cell phone when he died. She heard the shots before the line went dead.

We visited another checkpoint, known as the "Warm Corner," where local Israeli women opened a rest stop. They serve complimentary homemade bread, popcorn, coffee and soft drinks to soldiers on breaks. Inside the cozy room, an Israeli soldier was reading a newspaper, his rifle over his shoulder. We wondered if he knew Shlomi and Shaul.

Moe suggests that on the last Friday of Ramadan, "hundreds ... perhaps thousands" of Muslims who wanted go to Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque were turned back at the Bethlehem checkpoint. But we were in the Old City of Jerusalem that day. Tens of thousands of Muslims were there to worship, many coming by bus or car from outside Jerusalem. They obviously cleared the IDF checkpoints. That evening, we walked through the Muslim Quarter, crowded with people celebrating the end of Ramadan.

During our visit, we asked our friend Judy Lash Balint, a former Seattle resident who now lives in Jerusalem and writes about Israeli issues, to show us around. She is a self-proclaimed Zionist and a strong National Union Party supporter. Her excellent book, "Jerusalem Diaries," was published in 2002.

She took us to Efrat, where our preconceived notions about "settlements" were dispelled. Efrat is an established community, with houses, schools, trees, parks and stores. Founded in 1983, it now has 20,000 residents. Efrat resembles a typical American suburb -- except for the cyclone fences and barbed wire around the perimeter.

We met Eve Harow, who lives there with her husband and seven children.

Harow argued that the term "settlement" is misleading, because it implies that Jews are occupying areas where they do not belong. She strongly defends building Jewish communities in places where she believes Jews have historic rights to the land.

"This fallacy of starting history in 1967 has to end," she said. "There has been a non-stop Jewish presence in this area for 4,000 years." She pointed to the valley below Efrat known as "Patriarch's Way," the road that Abraham and Isaac took on their way to Jerusalem. She noted that "mikvahs," or Jewish ritual baths, have been found all along the road, proving that Jews lived there for thousands of years.

Across the valley was a small cluster of trailers, or "caravans" -- one of the Jewish "outposts" on disputed territories. Many believe these outposts, some next to Arab villages, should be abandoned as part of a peace agreement. Even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently proposed evacuating some of them.

Harow's response: "There is 10 times as much illegal Arab building in the disputed areas. Why doesn't that get covered in the media?"

We drove past Efrat's emergency medical clinic, formerly open to both Jews and Palestinians. But after a suicide bomber tried to blow up the clinic, killing himself and several others waiting for treatment, it was closed to Palestinians.

"People say there's a cycle of violence," Harow said. "They start it by killing us. Our soldiers protect us by trying to intercept the terrorists. Once they are on our roads, they are literally ticking time bombs."

She conceded "98 percent of the Arabs who are stopped at the checkpoints just want to get to work." But a small number are terrorists, bent on killing. "They (Palestinians) have brainwashed their kids to want to die," she said.

"As a mother, I can't understand that," said Harow. Her son's Little League baseball team still wears black armbands in memory of a teammate, Koby Mandell, one of two young teen-age boys killed by Palestinians two years ago. The boys' bodies, which had been torn apart, were found in a cave outside Efrat.

As she left to pick up one of her children at school, Harow said: "The fight is not about this settlement or that settlement," she said. "It's about the very existence of Israel. I want there to be peace more than anyone, because otherwise I have to bury people I love."

Moe wrote: "The occupation is strangling the Palestinians," adding, "it's also strangling the Israelis." On the contrary, Balint responds: "It's the terrorism and incitement that's strangling them and us. Israelis are inconvenienced and aggravated by the security presence, but we're also subject to being blown up on buses and in cafes."

Moe brushes off Israeli concerns over "occasional dramatic instances of violence in suicide bombings and the infrequent shootings of Israeli soldiers." But according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have been 20,160 attempted terror attacks against Israelis since the start of the current violence in September 2000, resulting in 904 dead and 6,063 wounded.

Everywhere we went we were jarred by how close the violence is to those who can only be described as Israeli soccer moms and dads, and by how many people have suffered losses of friends and family.

We had dinner with a Hebrew University economics professor and his wife at a restaurant near their home. They have five daughters. One of them, a sixth-grader, has a classmate whose sister was blown apart in a suicide bombing.

We had coffee at the recently reopened Café Hillel with the founder of Israel Media Watch, an organization that monitors the Israeli media for accuracy, fairness and balance. Last September, a suicide bomber blew up the café, killing seven people including an Israeli doctor and his daughter on the night before her wedding.

We visited an arts and crafts shop and chatted with the owner, a quiet and gracious woman. She had recently lost her son, a soldier, to a Palestinian sniper.

Many Palestinians have been killed and wounded, too, but there's a difference: Israeli citizens are deliberate targets; most Palestinian civilian casualties are in the line of fire directed at terrorists.

Moe urges Americans to read the Geneva Accord, an unofficial peace plan written by a group of Israeli and Palestinian private citizens. She claims it is supported by "a majority" of both Palestinians and Israelis. Actually, survey results are mixed.

An early poll by Rice University in Houston and the International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C., found that 53 percent of Israelis and 56 percent of Palestinians supported it. But those surveyed were read only a summary of the plan, which omitted key facts -- such as that the Temple Mount would be under Palestinian control. And the most contentious issue -- the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, is not explicitly renounced in the plan.

As Palestinian signatory Jamal Zaqout wrote: "The assertion that the Accord cancels the right of return ... inaccurate. It was spread by Israeli figures trying to make the document more palatable to Israelis."

A later poll by Ha'aretz showed 31 percent of Israelis in favor, 38 percent against and 20 percent undecided.

Another poll by Israel Radio found that 73 percent of Israelis said they had not read the Geneva Accord, and those who had read it were opposed by a 2-to-1 ratio.

A more recent survey, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and Hebrew University's Truman Institute, found that only 34 percent of Israelis and 19 percent of Palestinians supported it after they learned more details.

Moe sympathetically describes a young Palestinian seeking help from a human rights organization. We support human rights for Palestinians too. We wish they had such human rights as freedom of speech, freedom to vote and equality for women. Sadly, they do not. Palestinians who oppose Arafat or try to cooperate with Israelis are often killed. The Palestinian Authority is not freely elected. Muslim women do not have equal rights. None of that can be blamed on the Israelis.

Moe asks: "What can we do?" She urges Americans to read the Geneva Accord, seek more information about Israel on the Internet, or travel there. We concur. We recommend "The Case for Israel" by Alan Dershowitz. We urge people to sign up for Balint's online column by e-mailing her at judy@jerusalemdiaries.com.

And we suggest visiting Israel and seeing for yourself. We're already planning our next trip.

John Hamer and Mariana Parks visited Israel last November with a delegation from The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Neither is Jewish, but they attended the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities as freelance journalists. Hamer is executive director of the Washington News Council. Parks is president of MXP Communications Group.



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