Saturday, February 27, 2010

Israel's Last Chance of Survival.

 

 

 

by Daniel Greenfield

In the summer of 2011, it will have been 18 years since the Oslo Accords were signed by Shimon Peres, secretly and without the knowledge of the Israeli public whose rights to their own land were being signed away. The accord was based on meetings by left wing academics with terrorists that were illegal under Israeli law, signed covertly by a disgraced politician who had been an admirer of Marx and finally sealed with a public handshake between the world's greatest terrorist and an Israeli Prime Minister suffering from such severe dementia that he had trouble recognizing the man beaming down on them both as the President of the United States, who 5 years later would be facing impeachment.

 

That handshake with Arafat took place on September 13th, 8 years minus 2 days, before terrorists would duplicate a feat that only Arafat's own terrorists had previously accomplished, by simultaneously hijacking 4 aircraft. Even as the United States had begun pandering to Arafat, the rise of the next wave of terrorism was already underway with Bin Laden hard at work on the organization that would evolve into the Al Queda we know today. The Oslo Accords would play a crucial role in the rise of Islamist terrorism creating a vacuum into which the Muslim Brotherhood could step into with groups such as Hamas and Al Queda. And the Oslo Accords would also come to define Israel's worst defeat since the accords it had signed with Rome over two thousand years ago.

Now as that fateful 18 year mark approaches, there is still a crack in the door remaining through which Israel can save itself. In Hebrew the word for life is Chai, whose letters code as 18. And eighteen years after the scourge of Oslo has brought war and death into the heart of Israel, turned its town and cities into targets for missiles, made its roads into highways of death and now threatens to divide Jerusalem itself-- Israel has the chance to choose life over death by appeasement.

Each year since Oslo, the situation has grown steadily worse. Not just militarily, not just in relation to the children who have been left without arms and legs by Arab terror. But even diplomatically as well. The political war against Israel has reached an unprecedented height with no comparison to even the ugliest days of the Intifada. And all of it has one common element, a blood lust spurred on by Israel's willingness to accommodate, appease and retreat. Not only has any Israeli concession, any act of goodwill and compassion, not changed the way Israel is portrayed-- but each one has only fed the furious hate that Islam and the international left feels for it.

Today when Israel does nothing more than sit on the other side of a fence and absorbs the missiles fired at its schools by terrorists-- the left shrieks itself hoarse with an orgy of hate against "The Wall" and for "The People of Gaza", particularly those wearing bomb belts who are being kept from their religious duty of blowing themselves amid crowds of Jews. As Mohammed proclaimed in the Hadith, "The Hour [of Resurrection] will not arrive until you fight the Jews". While Israel supplies Gaza with electricity and swine flu vaccines, and builds bomb shelters under its schools-- the world demands that Israel tear down its cruel wall and open the doors to the terrorists of Hamas. The message is painfully clear, nothing short of Israel's destruction will suffice.

Now with Gaza held by Hamas, the party that was the choice of the Palestinian Arabs in the last legal election, and an unelected Fatah regime maintained in the West Bank by American money, both of which continue carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel-- the Obama Administration and European leaders continue pressing Israel for more concessions, even when there isn't even a single state available to make those concessions to. This madness has nothing to do with the desire to set up a Palestinian state, an entity that could no more exist than pigs can fly, and everything to do with the Dhimmi desire to trade off Israel to the Muslim world in the hopes of pacifying their anger.

Israel's left wing Labor party made the devil's bargain of Oslo in order to stave off the conservative Likud party that had come to dominate Israeli politics and brought real reform and change to Labor's moribund socialism. And with that they created a precedent in which every Israeli Prime Minister, regardless of party, has been dragged off to negotiate with the terrorists setting off bombs on Israeli city buses and pizzerias, sometimes even while the negotiations were underway. Netanyahu is only the latest pawn in this peace shell game (can you find the peace, is it under shell number one, number two or number three. Here's a hint, it's under none of them. The dealer pocketed it while switching around the shells.) and there is no way to win except to stop playing.

Not only can Israel not achieve peace with either Fatah or Hamas (let alone both at the same time), something which everyone in Israel but the most delusional leftists already know, but it cannot win the approval of the world for trying to make peace with them. Israel's willingness to make peace has made it into a target by an international community that blames Israel for Muslim violence around the world. As their thinking goes, if Israel would just do whatever it takes to make peace, then Muslim violence would stop not just in Israel, but in Paris, Manchester, Basra, Kabul and yes of course, Oslo.

Meanwhile the international left has embraced Islamic terror as the new radical chic, and the grandchildren of Nazis have discovered how much fun it can be to don a Keffiyah and call for Jewish boycotts, just as their grandparents did in the 1930's. Their hatred for Israel, which has nothing to do with anything that the country or its people actually do, is fed by Islamic propagandists and the leading figures of the left, who view Israel as one of those exploitative capitalist nation states that must be destroyed to pave the way for a global humanism, and share the old implacable Communist and Socialist hostility toward the idea of the Jews gathering together in one state.

Oslo was a show of weakness by a country that had heretofore deterred aggression by demonstrating that it could and would defend itself. It and every successive concession poured more blood into the water. Islam and the International Left, both inside and outside the country, are determined to destroy Israel. And though the average Israeli continues to ignore the situation, replying with bluff good humor that the IDF could clean out Gaza in a few days, the reality is that under internal and external pressure Israel is busy destroying itself.

As deep sea creatures evolve in peculiar ways to survive the atmospheric depths, Israel's left has devolved into an arm of Islamic terrorism, from its politicians to the Supreme Court to organizations such as the New Israel Fund (itself an arm of the International Left) down to the academics and anarchists are doing everything possible to destroy the country and terrorize its residents. They have done their best to turn the IDF and the police into a weapon against the most patriotic and Zionist of its citizens. They have turned the media and the newspapers into a non-stop barrage of hate against anyone who questions their destructive policies of appeasement. They have criminalized dissent as incitement, turned the court system into a legislative body to promote their own agenda and tied the hands of the military in fighting terror. In concert with the terror wrought by Islamic terrorists, they have wrought terror against ordinary Israelis, destroying farms, homes and synagogues on behalf of the terrorists.

 

Israel can still survive, but to do so it must make it clear that further negotiations are off the table until there is a dramatic change in the situation on the ground. It must put a halt to the envoys and diplomatic missions. It must tear down the wall and annex the West Bank and Gaza. It must show the international corps of media propagandists, the frowning talking heads tsking the latest manufactured atrocity and the photographers handing out coins to Arab boys in exchange for tossing some stones at a soldier, to the door, and invite them to never come back. And the left must be pushed back to the margins, where they were until Oslo.

There is no doubt that Israel will suffer by doing this, both politically and economically. But it will suffer less than it would from another 5 years of appeasement and concessions. The international left will go on screaming, but they always have. And without any visible effect, they will move on to something else. The international community will be outraged, but once they learn that Israel will not back down, they will move on as well. The Muslim world will rage, and the few countries that have open relations with Israel will break them off... something that has already happened for the most part anyway.

With the 18th year of Oslo approaching, Israel has the chance to revive itself. Or to go further down the dark road of appeasement until it has so thoroughly destroyed itself that there is no way back.

 

 

Daniel Greenfield

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Palestinian Authority: Still Stealing "Hundreds of Millions," Hamas Taking Over.

 

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Donor countries have yet to respond to revelations by former Palestinian intelligence official Fahmi Shabaneh that top Palestinian Authority officials are continuing to pocket millions of dollars earmarked for financial aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Shabaneh expressed frustration over the way the international media has been handling his exposures: "Don't the Americans, Europeans and Arabs care about their money that is being stolen? If they continue to turn a blind eye to the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas will eventually take over the West Bank the same way they took the Gaza Strip."

Nearly a month after Shabaneh, who headed the anti-corruption unit in the General Intelligence Service, revealed in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post that some of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's close aides and loyalists had siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars to private bank accounts, decision-makers in the US and EU continue to bury their heads in the sand.

The foreign media has continued to cover the story as if it were only a "sex scandal" in Abbas's bureau - a reference to a videotape revealed by Shabaneh showing Rafik Husseini, director of the president's bureau, naked in a woman's bedroom.

Following are examples of some of how, according to Shabaneh, international aid to the Palestinians is being "hijacked" by "thieves and thugs in the inner circle of Mahmoud Abbas."

  • Thousands of civil servants whose names appear on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority either do not exist or have never reported for work. The Palestinian Authority has more than 150,000 registered civil servants whose salaries are paid by American, European and Arab governments. Shabaneh's investigations showed that senior officials in the president's office and the Palestinian Ministry of Finance have been "diverting" millions of dollars of these payments to their private bank accounts every month.

 

  • Just before the January 2006 parliamentary election, the US gave $3.2 million to help Fatah boost its image among Palestinians. The goal was to prevent Hamas from winning the vote back then. [Hamas did win in the end]. Shabaneh says that his investigations showed that the money was given to an advertisement company owned by Abbas's family and that most of the money had "vanished."

 

  • A former minister in the Palestinian Authority convinced Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, to give him about $5 million of international aid so that he could purchase lands in Jerusalem before Jews lay their hands on them. Shabaneh's investigations showed that the minister deposited most of the money in his private bank account and had built a huge and luxurious villa on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

 

  • Shabaneh's inquires also found that Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Abbas advisor and Fatah official, took about $1.5 million from Arafat and Abbas under the pretext that he, too, wanted to purchase land that would otherwise end up in the hands of Jews. Ahmed's brother, who served as the PLO's lawyer in Jordan, is also suspected, according to Shabaneh's files, of defrauding the Palestinian Authority into paying him millions of dollars for fictitious land deals. 

 

  • Shabaneh discovered that a former Finance Minister in the Palestinian Authority had deposited $8 million in his private bank account. When Shabaneh demanded explanations, he was told to mind his own business. 

These are only a few samples of the hundreds of cases Shabaneh dealt with when he was in his job, according to the former Palestinian intelligence official, who is now "wanted" by the Palestinian Authority on charges of "collaboration with the Israeli enemy." . He maintains that he has many of the documents and files to back up his charges that the Palestinian Authority and many of its leaders and representatives are continuing to steal financial aid.

"This is not only about a sex scandal," Shabeneh stressed. The sex scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. Shabaneh says that since Abbas appointed him as the chief corruption-buster in the Palestinian Authority six years ago, he has collected incriminating evidence against dozens of senior officials, in addition to the president's two sons, Yasser and Tarek. "I don't know why most people in the West are treating this case as if it were only about a senior official caught naked in a woman's bedroom."

Abbas, meanhwile, has cut off Shabaneh's salary to punish him for speaking out against corruption -- as the international community and the media, through their silence, continue empowering Hamas.

 

Khaled Abu Toameh

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

The Palestinian Authority and the Jewish Holy Sites in the West Bank: Rachel's Tomb as a Test Case. Part I

 

by Nadav Shragai

 

1st part of 2

  • Rachel's Tomb lies on the northern outskirts of Bethlehem, about 460 meters (about 500 yards) south of the Jerusalem municipal border, and for more than 1,700 years has been identified as the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. "The building with the dome and olive tree" became a Jewish symbol, appearing in thousands of drawings, photographs, and works of art and depicted on the covers of Jewish holy books. However, today the little domed structure has been encased in a sleeve of reinforced concrete with firing holes and defensive trenches, and covered with camouflage netting.
  • According to the armistice agreement signed on April 3, 1949, Jordan was to allow Israel "free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives." In practice, Jordan did not allow Jews free access to their holy places, and for 19 years, until 1967, Jews could not go to the Western Wall, Rachel's Tomb, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), or other sites sacred to Jews which remained in Jordanian hands.
  • The Gaza-Jericho Agreement signed in May 1994 stated: "The Palestinian Authority shall ensure free access to all holy sites in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area." The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, signed on the White House lawn on September 28, 1995, dealt with the status of 23 places holy to Jews. The Palestinians promised to assure freedom of access to those places. However, the Palestinians either made access extremely difficult or prevented it entirely.
  • In October 2000, Joseph's Tomb in Nablus was attacked, set ablaze and desecrated. Druze Border Police Corporal Yusef Madhat bled to death on October 4 because Palestinians refused to allow his evacuation. The "Shalom al Israel" synagogue in Jericho was also attacked. Holy books and relics were burned, and the synagogue's ancient mosaic was damaged.
  • In 2000, after hundreds of years of recognizing the site as Rachel's Tomb, Muslims began calling it the "Bilal ibn Rabah mosque" - a name that has since entered the national Palestinian discourse. The Palestinian claim ignored the fact that Ottoman firmans (decrees) gave Jews in the Land of Israel the right of access to the site at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Israel's experience since the Oslo agreements has shown that the responsibility for Jewish holy sites or the roads leading to them should remain in Israeli hands.

 

The Fortification of Rachel's Tomb

In September 1997 the Israeli media departed from its routine chronicling of security and society, and for a few days the radio, television and press joined forces in harsh criticism of what looked like an architectural catastrophe: the scene at the Tomb of Rachel, the mother of the Jewish people. Writers, poets, intellectuals, and newspapermen bewailed the loss of a picturesque tableau: the small stone structure with its dome, appended room and ancient olive tree nearby. Enraged, they railed against the new vista: a giant concrete blockhouse surrounded by gun positions and guard towers which obscured the image of the ancient, traditional structure engraved on Israel's collective memory.1

The architectural logic behind the fortifications was based upon security considerations: hundreds of incidents in which Palestinians from Bethlehem and the nearby refugee camps threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and even shot at Jewish worshippers and Israeli soldiers.

 

A 1,700-Year-Old Tradition

Rachel's Tomb lies on the northern outskirts of Bethlehem, about 460 meters (about 500 yards) south of the Jerusalem municipal border, and for more than 1,700 years has been identified as the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. A vast amount of literature written by pilgrims - Jewish, Christian and Muslim - documents the site as Rachel's burial place.2

Jews have visited the site for generations, coming to pray, request and plead. The place became a kind of miniature Wailing Wall where suppliant Jews came to pour out their hearts and recount their misfortunes at the bosom of the beloved mother, where they could find consolation and cure.

According to Jewish tradition, Rachel's tears have special powers,3 which is why those who visit her grave ask her to cry and intercede with the Divinity. According to Genesis 36:16-19, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin and was "buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem," and became, in Jewish tradition and history, biblical interpretation and essence, the mother whose tears have a special function.4 Writers, poets and biblical exegetics identified her tears with almost every catastrophe or trouble which plagued the Jewish people.

Visitors to Rachel's Tomb connected her and her tears to the tomb itself. "The building with the dome and olive tree" became a Jewish symbol.5 The room added to the original structure by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1841 only served to reinforce the connection. The tomb has since appeared in thousands of drawings, photographs, stamps, and works of art and has been depicted on the covers of Jewish holy books. However, whoever visits the tomb today will find it hard to recognize it as the place engraved on Jewish hearts and memories. The little domed structure, the memory, and tomb of the matriarch Rachel has been encased in a sleeve of reinforced concrete with firing holes and defensive trenches, and covered with camouflage netting.

In accordance with an Israeli government decision of September 11, 2002, Rachel's Tomb, which millions of Jews have visited since the Six-Day War, was enclosed by the security fence built by Israel. That made it look even worse. Not only was the tomb within the fortification, but the short road to it - a few hundred yards from Jerusalem - was closed off inside concrete walls and firing positions.

 

The Fate of the Jewish Holy Places

Since its establishment, the State of Israel has been badly disappointed by agreements transferring responsibility for Jewish holy places to neighboring Arab or Palestinian rule. On April 3, 1949, Israel signed an armistice with Jordan. According to Paragraph 8, Article 2 of the agreement, Jordan was to allow Israel "free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives." In practice, not only could Jews not visit the graves of their loved ones on the Mount of Olives, but the site was desecrated. Headstones of Jewish graves were shattered and some were used as paving stones or in construction.6 Jordan did not allow Jews free access to their holy places, and for 19 years, until 1967, Jews could not go to the Western Wall, Rachel's Tomb, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), or other sites sacred to Jews which remained in Jordanian hands.7

In May 1994, Israel signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in Cairo. According to Article 15 of Annex II, "the Palestinian Authority shall ensure free access to all holy sites in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area," mentioning the Naaran synagogue, the Jewish cemetery in Tel Sammarat, the "Shalom al Israel" synagogue in Jericho, and the synagogue in Gaza City.8

On September 28, 1995, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement was signed on the White House lawn, making the Palestinians responsible for civilian and security matters in additional areas of the West Bank. In accordance with the agreement, Israel withdrew from six Palestinian cities and part of Hebron; the IDF and the civil administration were withdrawn. In addition, Israel withdrew from 450 villages, towns, refugee camps, and other areas throughout the West Bank.

The holy sites in those regions, or adjacent regions (access to which passed through or close to Palestinian areas), were designated as "sites of religious significance" or "archaeological sites." The agreement also dealt with the status of 23 places holy to Jews, including the tombs of biblical figures, the ruins of ancient synagogues, and ancient cemeteries. The Palestinians promised to assure freedom of access to those places.9 In reality, however, the Palestinians either made access extremely difficult or prevented it entirely.

In October 2000, Joseph's Tomb in Nablus was attacked, set ablaze and desecrated. Druze Border Police Corporal Yusef Madhat bled to death on October 4 because Palestinians refused to allow his evacuation. It also became extremely complicated for Jews to reach other, less well-known places, such as the tomb of Avner ben Ner near Hebron,10 or similar sites, to say nothing of the synagogue in Gaza. Only at the "Shalom al Israel" synagogue in Jericho did the Palestinians generally adhere to the agreement, for a time, until it too was attacked with the outbreak of the second intifada in the fall of 2000. Holy books and relics were burned, and the synagogue's ancient mosaic was damaged.11 Unfortunately, there has been a discernable deterioration in Palestinian treatment of Jewish holy sites in 2007, including the Tomb of Joshua bin Nun at Kefel Hares.12 In November 2007, the Palestinian Authority began to clean Joseph's Tomb and discussions have been held regarding visits by Jews to the site.

 

Jewish Religious Leaders Plead for "Mother Rachel"

During 1995, when it became known that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had agreed to give the Palestinians full security and civilian control over Rachel's Tomb, there was a strong reaction in the Jewish world. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Israel Meir Lau, met with Prime Minister Rabin and said, "One does not part from one's mother." In a scene fraught with emotion, Menachem Porush, an aged ultra-Orthodox Knesset representative from the Yahadut Hatorah party, broke down in tears, weeping on the prime minister's shoulder (in his office). He would not leave Rabin in peace until he changed the decision.13 Rabbis, political parties, Jewish organizations, and many important figures involved themselves in the issue until Rabin and Shimon Peres, at that time foreign minister, reached a new agreement with Yasser Arafat: Rachel's Tomb and the road leading to it would remain under Israeli control.

On December 1, 1995, after Rabin's assassination, Bethlehem, with the exception of the enclave of the tomb, passed under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. Rachel's Tomb is now an outpost marking Jerusalem's southern border. It has been massively fortified and Jews can only reach it in bulletproof vehicles under military supervision.

 

Nadav Shragai

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

./..

The Palestinian Authority and the Jewish Holy Sites in the West Bank: Rachel's Tomb as a Test Case. Part II

 

by Nadav Shragai

 

2nd part of 2

 

Why Rachel's Tomb Became a Fortress

By February 1996 it was generally suspected that the Palestinians would carry out terrorist and suicide bombing attacks at Rachel's Tomb as they had done elsewhere in Israel. The IDF feared the tomb would be an easy target, situated as it was on the main road linking Jerusalem and Hebron, which was well-travelled by both Jews and Arabs, and a decision was made to fortify the site.

In response, for the first time since 1967, the Palestinians claimed that "the Tomb of Rachel was on Islamic land."14 At the end of September 1996, Palestinian riots broke out over the opening of an ancient tunnel in Jerusalem. After an attack on Joseph's Tomb and its subsequent takeover by Palestinians, hundreds of residents of Bethlehem and the Aida refugee camp also attacked Rachel's Tomb. They set the scaffolding which had been erected around it on fire and tried to break in. The rioters were led by the Palestinian Authority-appointed governor of Bethlehem, Muhammad Rashad al-Jabari. The IDF dispersed the mob with gunfire and stun grenades, and dozens were wounded. One of them was Kifah Barakat, a commander of Force 17, the presidential guard of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.15

In the following years, the Palestinians occasionally disturbed the peace and public order, but a serious escalation occurred at the end of 2000 when the second intifada broke out. For forty-one days Jews did not visit the tomb because Palestinians attacked the site with gunfire.16

Bullets were fired at Rachel's Tomb as soon as the riots began, from the Aida refugee camp between Beit Jala and Bethlehem, and from the roofs of buildings located to the west, south and east. Palestinian Authority security forces, who were responsible for keeping order, not only failed to prevent the violence, they actively participated in it. When the gunfire at soldiers and visitors increased, the Israeli army took to the neighboring roofs. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the battles, Shahar Vekret and Danny Darai. Darai was murdered by Atef Abayat, a Tanzim operative who headed the main terrorist network in Bethlehem at the time.17 In his book Permission Given, Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman revealed that not only was Abayat not arrested, as Israel demanded from the Palestinian Authority, but Yasser Arafat personally instructed that he be paid.

On December 4, 2000, Fatah operatives and members of the Palestinian security services also attacked Rachel's Tomb. In May 2001, fifty Jews found themselves trapped inside by a firefight between the IDF and Palestinian Authority gunmen.18 In March 2002 the IDF returned to Bethlehem as part of Operation Defensive Shield and remained there for an extended period of time. In April 2002 the IDF laid siege to wanted terrorists who were hiding in the Church of the Nativity, not far from the tomb. In recent years there have been terrorist attacks at the site (although Israeli military control has decreased the level of violence), such as bombs thrown on April 10, 2000, and December 27, 2006, and scores of Palestinians who threw rocks as recently as February 10, 2007.

The Israel Supreme Court, which has often acceded to Palestinian appeals to change the path of the security fence, recognized the obvious security needs for protecting the holy site and on February 3, 2005, rejected a Palestinian appeal to change its path in the region of the tomb. The court decreed that the balance between freedom of worship and the local residents' freedom of movement was to be preserved.19

 

The Palestinians Invent a Religious Claim

In 2000, after hundreds of years of recognizing the site as Rachel's Tomb, Muslims began calling it the "Bilal ibn Rabah mosque."20 Members of the Wakf used the name first in 1996, but it has since entered the national Palestinian discourse. Bilal ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian known in Islamic history as a slave who served in the house of the prophet Muhammad as the first muezzin (the individual who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day).21 When Muhammad died, ibn Rabah went to fight the Muslim wars in Syria, was killed in 642 CE, and buried in either Aleppo or Damascus.22 The Palestinian Authority claimed that according to Islamic tradition, it was Muslim conquerors who named the mosque erected at Rachel's Tomb after Bilal ibn Rabah.

The Palestinian claim ignored the fact that Ottoman firmans (mandates or decrees) gave Jews in the Land of Israel the right of access to the site at the beginning of the nineteenth century.23 The Palestinian claim even ignored accepted Muslim tradition, which admires Rachel and recognizes the site as her burial place. According to tradition, the name "Rachel" comes from the word "wander," because she died during one of her wanderings and was buried on the Bethlehem road.24 Her name is referred to in the Koran,25 and in other Muslim sources, Joseph is said to fall upon his mother Rachel's grave and cry bitterly as the caravan of his captors passes by.26 For hundreds of years, Muslim holy men (walis) were buried in tombs whose form was the same as Rachel's.

Then, out of the blue, the connection between Rachel, admired even by the Muslims, and her tomb is erased and the place becomes "the Bilal ibn Rabah mosque." Well-known Orientalist Professor Yehoshua Porat has called the "tradition" the Muslims referred to as "false." He said the Arabic name of the site was "the Dome of Rachel, a place where the Jews prayed."27

Only a few years ago, official Palestinian publications contained not a single reference to such a mosque. The same was true for the Palestinian Lexicon issued by the Arab League and the PLO in 1984, and for Al-mawsu'ah al-filastiniyah, the Palestinian encyclopedia published in Italy after 1996. Palestine, the Holy Land, published by the Palestinian Council for Development and Rehabilitation, with an introduction written by Yasser Arafat, simply says that "at the northwest entrance to the city [Bethlehem] lies the tomb of the matriarch Rachel, who died while giving life to Benjamin." The West Bank and Gaza - Palestine also mentions the site as the Tomb of Rachel and not as the Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah.28 However, the Palestinian deputy minister for endowments and religious affairs has now defined Rachel's Tomb as a Muslim site.29

On Yom Kippur in 2000, six days after the IDF withdrew from Joseph's Tomb, the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida published an article marking the next target as Rachel's Tomb. It read in part, "Bethlehem - ‘the Tomb of Rachel,' or the Bilal ibn Rabah mosque, is one of the nails the occupation government and the Zionist movement hammered into many Palestinian cities....The tomb is false and was originally a Muslim mosque."30

 

Conclusions

Beyond religious, historical, and political arguments about the right to control Jewish holy places in Judea and Samaria, the situation on the ground since the Oslo agreements has shown that the Palestinians should not be given responsibility for the sites or the roads leading to them. That responsibility should remain in Israeli hands.

The Palestinians, as they have in the past at the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, use their real or supposed religious interests to make political capital for their national campaign. The story of Rachel's Tomb, recognized as a Jewish holy site for two thousand years31 - which has become "Rachel's Fortress" - only serves to illustrate this.

*     *     *

 

Notes

1. For an expanded version of this article, see Nadav Shragai, At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel, Jerusalem Studies, 2005, pp. 216-26 (Al em ha-derekh, sipuro shel kever rachel, shaarim le-heker yerushalaim, 2005, 216-26).

2.  For more documentation, see Avraham Yaari, Jewish Pilgrims' Journeys to the Land of Israel (Gazit, 1946) (Masaot eretz israel shel olim yehudim, Gazit, 1946); Zeev Vilnai, Sacred Tombstones in the Land of Israel (Rav Kook Institute, 1963) (Matzevot kodesh be-eretz israel, Mosad harav kook, 1963); Michael Ish Shalom, Christian Pilgrimages to the Land of Israel (Am Oved, 1979) (Masaot notrzim l'Eretz Israel, Am Oved, 1979); Natan Shor, "The Jewish Settlement in Jerusalem according to Franciscan Chronicles and Travellers' Letters" (Yad Ben-Tzvi, 1979) (Ha-yeshuv ha-yehudi be-yerushalaim al pi chronickot frantziskaniot ve-kitvei nosim, Yad Ben-Tzvi, 1979); Eli Schiller, The Tomb of Rachel (Ariel, 1977) (Kever Rachel, 1977). For a summary of these and other sources, see At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel, Part I, 1700 Years of Testimony (Jerusalem Studies, 2005) (Al em ha-derekh, sipuro shel kever rachel, helek alef, 1700 shanim shel eduiot, Shaarim le-heker yerushalaim, 2005).

3. See the summary in Gilad Messing, And You Were Better than Us All (Private Publication, 2001), pp. 161-4 (Ve-at alit al kulanu, hotzaa pratit, 2001, pp. 161-4).

4. See, for example, Shragai, At the Crossroads, pp. 163-5.

5. Ibid., p. 14.

6. Meiron Benvenisti, The Torn City (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1973), pp. 78-9.

7. Ibid., pp. 78-81; Shmuel Berkowitz, The Wars of the Holy Places (Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies and Hed Artzi, 2000), pp. 50, 54 (Milhamot ha-mekomot ha-kedoshim, Machon yerushalaim le-heker israel ve-hed artzi, 2000, pp. 50, 54).

8. Berkowitz, ibid., p. 215.

9. Ibid., pp. 215-21.

10. A biblical figure, commander-in-chief of King Saul's army. He appears mostly in 2 Samuel.

11. "Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee - First Statement of the Government of Israel," Jewish Holy Sites, #233, December 28, 2000, http://www.israel.org/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2000/12/Sharm%20el-Sheikh%20Fact-Finding%20Committee%20-%20First%20Sta

12. Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, "A History of Desecrating Holy Sites," Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Hebrew) October 29, 2007, http://www.jcpa.org.il/JCPA/Templates/showpage.asp?FID=416&DBID=1&LNGID=2&TMID=99&IID=9522

13. Shragai, At the Crossroads, pp. 198-208.

14. Danny Rubinstein, "Bethlehem does not want to be Berlin," Ha'aretz, February 16, 1996.

15. Shragai, At the Crossroads, p. 216.

16. Ibid., p. 229.

17. Ibid., pp. 235-6.

18. Ibid., p. 242.

19. Supreme Court decision, February 3, 2005.

20. Shragai, At the Crossroads, pp. 230-1.

21. Danny Rubinstein, "The Slave and the Mother," Ha'aretz, October 9, 1996, and a private conversation with Orientalist Yoni Dehoah-Halevi.

22. Ibid.

23. Shragai, At the Crossroads, pp. 48-52; Miginzei Kedem, Documents and Sources from the Writings of Pinhas Name, ed. Yitzhak Beck (Yad Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, 1977), pp. 30-32 (Teudot u-mekorot tokh kitvei Pinhas, Miginzei Kedem, Yad Yitzkah Ben-Tzvi, 1977, pp. 30-32).

24. Eli Schiller, The Tomb of Rachel, p. 18.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Yehoshua Porat, "Two Graves, Two Worlds," Ma'ariv, around the same time.

28. Islam adopted the same tactic regarding the Western Wall. Further information can be found in Dr. Berkowitz' book. He found that until the eleventh century Muslim scholars disagreed as to where the prophet Muhammad had tied al-Buraq, his winged horse, after his night ride. Some identified the place as the southern wall of the Temple Mount, others as the eastern wall, but none of them suggested any connection to the western wall, sacred to Judaism, called the Wailing Wall in the diaspora and the Western Wall in Hebrew. The claim was only made after the "Wall conflict" broke out between Jews and Muslims before the 1929 riots.

    During the riots of 1929, violence broke out in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. From there it spread to neighboring areas and hampered regular visits to Rachel's Tomb. In 1929 the Wakf demanded control over the tomb, claiming it was part of the neighboring Muslim cemetery. It also demanded to renew the old Muslim custom of purifying corpses in the tomb's antechamber (the structure added by Montefiori in 1841).

29. Shragai, At the Crossroads, p. 233.

30. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, October 8, 2000.

31. Christian sources identified the site as such almost two thousand years ago. For example, see the New Testament, Matthew 2:18.

 

 

Nadav Shragai is the author of At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel (Jerusalem Studies, 2005).

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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Barack Obama can still avoid the Syria trap.

 

by  Tony Badran

 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shakes hands with US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns during the latter’s recent trip to Damascus. (AFP photo/Louai Beshara)

The Obama administration last week made a major diplomatic opening to Syria. It dispatched Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns to Damascus for talks, thereby elevating the level of diplomatic contact and further making good on a pledge to engage with countries that George W. Bush’s administration shunned.

Administration officials leaked to the media, on background, that the Burns visit was intended to “isolate Iran” by wooing Damascus away from Tehran and other allies, particularly Hezbollah and Hamas.

This strategy will not work. Indeed, it may be no strategy at all. Despite its eagerness to engage with Syria, the United States must avoid giving too much up until the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, makes verifiable and substantial concessions on key Washington demands, not least surrendering Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, Assad may dictate the avenues, conditions and aims of the engagement process.   

Why Syria, and why now? The Obama administration’s efforts to open a dialogue with Iran have been ineffective. To undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the administration must contemplate actions that will exacerbate relations with Tehran and might endanger the US withdrawal from Iraq and surge in Afghanistan. The administration has always regarded Arab-Israeli settlements as necessary to temper regional animosities. However, given its failure to restart Palestinian-Israeli talks, Washington believes the only alternative is to advance on the Syrian track.

Obama, as The New York Times has reported, also hopes to “benefit from a global perception” that he has “reached out to North Korea, Cuba and even Syria.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues that the resumption of high-level contacts with Syria has proven the administration’s “willingness to engage.” But this begs the question: Which audience is Washington trying to impress? And how would these impressions actually further American interests in the Middle East?

Important actors in the region are unnerved by the fact that the administration appears incapable of hearing the most pressing concerns of its anxious allies. Consider Clinton’s recent trip to the Gulf. The secretary spoke of imposing more sanctions on Iran and repeated her earlier statement about extending a US defense umbrella to protect Gulf allies. In doing so, however, she failed to convince America’s primary Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi foreign minister, Saud Al-Faysal, bluntly told Clinton that sanctions were an inappropriate response to the urgency of the Iranian threat. This was not the first time this past year that he publicly rebuked the administration over one of its chief initiatives.

What Washington’s allies want, instead, is a coherent US strategy. The administration has responded with tactical maneuvers that American allies regard as sideshows. Instead of wasting time on secondary measures such as engaging Syria, the administration should be focusing on what everyone across the Middle East agrees is the most pressing objective: preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability, and weakening the influence of the Iranian-led regional axis.

American media outlets friendly to the White House praised Barack Obama’s efforts to move closer to Syria, describing it as a step toward driving a wedge between the different parties in that axis. However, more sober observers recalled that Washington has tried to pry Syria away from Iran for over 25 years, to little avail. The argument mistakenly turns the Syria-Iran dynamic into a subcategory of the peace process, when the relationship was always broader and more ambitious in scope.

That is partially why the leaked justifications for the US opening to Syria sounded so unconvincing. They were designed to play up engagement with a relatively weak regional player like Bashar al-Assad as something that would make Iran nervous, though exactly how was never explained.

There is incoherence in the Obama administration’s position. For example, the administration is spinning its engagement of Syria as a move aiming to achieve two sets of outcomes – those achievable in the short term and those in the long term. However, moving Syria away from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – propositions Damascus has repeatedly dismissed – are only described as Washington’s long-term objectives. If so, how will the US approach today isolate Iran, whose centrifuges continue running?

The administration is setting a perfect trap for itself by giving Syria the time and space to pursue its actions without American benchmarks to verify if engagement is working.  This will be exploited to the fullest by Assad. The US would do well to abandon the ill-advised “short term vs. long term” approach that allows Syria to obtain rewards for minor concessions while allowing its regime to pursue a policy of destabilization.

Further complicating matters, the administration’s outreach couldn’t have had worse optics. While Burns was visiting Syria, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Syria was developing a covert nuclear program with North Korean help. This came a few days after a report disclosed that North Korea and Syria had resumed cooperation on “sensitive military technology” in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. In a sign of what’s in store for the Obama administration, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem declared that Damascus would continue to ignore IAEA calls for cooperation.

Washington can still pull back from the trap. Until now it has conceded little of substance to Syria. Until Assad gives something up that the US can take to the bank, the administration must maintain the existing sanctions regime, some conditions of which are due for renewal in May. Moreover, it should avoid supporting Syria’s application to the World Trade Organization, as has been rumored it might do.

The Obama administration’s Iran policy is in disarray and its signature Mideast initiatives are in shambles. Running after the Syria mirage too hastily, without ensuring that Bashar al-Assad will satisfy American exigencies in return, may only make matters worse. What the administration most urgently needs is an integrated strategy, not disjointed initiatives that will only end up favoring its enemies.

 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

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