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A rolling stone of holiness, rage and revenge

By Yizhar Be’er (Translated from Hebrew by Michal Wertheimer Shimoni)

On Purim of 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs – a tragedy that sparked a chain of events that has, more than any other act, shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last 20 years. But we could point to a much earlier start of this story: an Arab doctor who will never forget the Jewish physician who saved his life, and convict No. 397, serving a life sentence.

The massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on Purim (February 25, 1994), 20 years ago, was a decisive moment in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which brought on a wave of suicide attacks inside Israel, and led eventually to the creation of the murderous impulse in Igal Amir, who then assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Until then, there had been an internal discussion going on among the Shari’a Wise Men, about suicide attacks against civilians within Israel’s borders, and they had refrained from sending them into Israel. The way suicide in Islam is treated by individuals depends on the Shari’as adjudicators, who, in turn, rely on the Quran. On the one hand, the Quran negated suicide (“and you shall not throw yourself to destruction”), as opposed to the more positive approach to suicide reflected in the idea of the shahid (martyr), who dies fighting against Islam’s enemies.

As we can see from history, the Muslim suicide terrorist was not born in the 20th century. Many myths are connected to the Hashashashins, the first Muslim suicide attackers of the 12th century. Some factions of modern Islam have taken on suicide attacks as an effective mode of combating enemies even before the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre. (Suffice is to mention the horrible suicide attacks of Hezbollah against American, French and IDF troops in Lebanon, which led in effect to their expulsion from the land). Nevertheless, the use of suicide attacks targeted at civilians was debated among Palestinians, and for various reasons Hamas did not send them into the Israeli population until the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs. For them, the massacre was the crossing of a line because of the attack against civilians, especially in a sacred place during prayer.

The first Palestinian Intifada started with strikes, tax boycotting, pamphlet spreading and stone throwing, and then escalated to knifing attacks after the Temple Mount massacre on October 9, 1990, in which 24 Palestinians were killed by Israeli policemen. From the signing of the Oslo agreements on September 13, 1993, and up until the massacre Goldstein carried out on February 25, 1994, 22 Israelis were killed, 10 of them within the Green Line. This number is close to the sum of Israeli victims during most of the first Intifada. During this period, Hamas was still avoiding using suicide terror attacks within Israel. The Hebron massacre changed the rules, when Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood ideological leader, and one of the most respected Islamic rulers, Yusuf Kardawi, published a fatwa (Muslim law ruling) justifying suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. He was also the first to allow Palestinian women to commit suicide attacks.

Right after the massacre, Hamas published an announcement, signed by the military branch of the organization, threatening to carry out five major attacks as revenge against the massacre. According to Islam, the first memorial day for the dead occurs 40 days after they die. Indeed, the first suicide attack within the Green Line was in Afula, on April 6, 1994, exactly 40 days after the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs (eight Israelis killed). The second revenge attack occurred a week later, on a bus in Hadera. Both attacks happened while IDF was still present in all of the Palestinian cities and before Arafat and his men arrived there as part of the Oslo agreements. After that there were attacks on bus number 5, in Tel Aviv, in Beit Lid, in Ramat Gan and in Jerusalem.

Baruch Goldstein's grave. A close connection between the deadly provocation of right-wing extremist from Hebron and the dramatic escalation in violence by the Hamas. (Photo by Meged Gozani/Activetills.org)

Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, after 78 Israelis were murdered during the wave of suicide attacks that started after the Hebron massacre. Yigal Amir testified during his police investigation that he was heavily influenced by the book Baruch the Man, and from the personality of the man who committed the massacre. He also said that he wouldn’t have committed the murder had he not felt supported by the rabbis and public opinion. As his widower said in an interview to the Yedioth Aharonoth daily (March 3, 1994), Goldstein acted with the intention to hinder the Oslo agreement. “Baruch is not a psychopath. He knew exactly what he was doing. He planned to do it in order to stop the peace talks.”

The black stone

The story of the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre began a bit earlier. In as much as it has a beginning, it can be told starting one day in October of 1990. It was a day that started out peacefully, only to deteriorate into a cycle of death and revenge, mixing up the different factions fighting the mythological battle over the land in a strange blend. At the end of that year Mikhail Gorbachev was elected president of the USSR and started dismantling the Soviet Union. Here in Israel,Yitzhak Shamir put together a new government after dismantling Peres’ “dirty trick.” The First Intifada, entering its third year, was still a popular unarmed uprising, mostly comprising of stone throwing, pamphlet distribution, strikes and tax boycotting. It would all change as a small group of “Temple Advocates”, lead by Gershon Salomon, announced its intention to drag a stone onto the temple mount, meant to be the corner stone of the third temple.

This tragic story begins with that mythological stone, a divine particle of sorts, intended to show who’s hand rules this land. This stone rolled into one of the most explosive places on earth and started a revenge cycle that influenced many lives and to a large extent changed the nature of the conflict.

A Jewish group called "Temple Mount and Land of Israel faithful movement" walks through Jerusalem on 21.05.2009. They are followed by a truck which carried stones to be "the cornerstones of the Third temple.” (Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Like every year ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when the ceremony of moving the stone would take place, in 1990 the police did not allow Salomon’s friends into the Old City of Jerusalem and redirected them to the Shiloah spring water source in Silwan, which would become “The City of David” a few years later. However, the Muslim citizens’ concerns were not quieted and so on the morning of October 8, over 3,000 of them assembled at the Temple Mount. The Mu’azin of Al Aqsa talked about the necessity of protecting Jerusalem’s Muslim character, as well as the mosques. A few dozen policemen spread out on the Temple Mount, but nothing extraordinary happened. Things were under control and police commanders Rahamim Comfort and Aryeh Bibi did not even bother showing up – which cost them their jobs later on.

At 10:30, however, a coincidence of sorts took place, one which changed everything. A moment of carelessness made a policeman drop a tear-gas grenade from his hands, which rolled over towards a group of women and ignited the scene. The Palestinians there started throwing stones and everything possible at the policemen, aiming at the Temple Mount plaza and Ofel Street, east of it. The deputy of the Mufti, Elgamal Al-Rifai’s attempts to deescalate the situation did not succeed and the Muslim protesters attacked the policemen and drove them away through the Mughrabi Gate. Then they turned and attacked the police outpost of the Mahkama, which was only manned by the duty officer. They hit him and burned down the station. Out of fear for his life and shame about the retreat of their men, large numbers of police furiously broke into the Temple Mount using live fire. The results of that day were 24 Palestinian dead and some 200 wounded. No one was killed on the Israeli side and 20 policemen were injured.

Abu Sirkhan

A few days later, under the influence of these events, Amar Abu Sirkhan, an 18-and-a-half-year-old plasterer, woke up at 5:30 in the morning at his parents’ house in the Abadia neighborhood, near Bethlehem, and decided to go on a revenge spree in Jewish Jerusalem. To his police interrogators he said: “My final decision to take revenge was made because of what happened on the Temple Mount. I was thinking about it for a whole week and I knew I was coming to spill the blood today.” Abu Sirkhan left his house at 6 a.m., hiding a long and narrow-bladed combat knife in his clothes. A Palestinian bus dropped him on Hebron Road, not far from the building site where he worked. His employers told the police that he was a normal and diligent worker. “Nothing in his behavior gave away his plot,” they told police.

Amar Abu Sirkhan. A revenge killing spree.

He walked along the inner roads Jerusalem’s Baq’a neighborhood to Ya’ir Street, where he came upon Iris Azulai, a soldier on her way to her army base. The neighbors remember a blood curdling scream of a girl, at 10 minutes to 7 a.m., and then a flood of dog barks. The neighbor, Tzipi Kleiner, repeated her words: “Help! He’s stabbing me!” Hearing the screams, the neighbors came out of their homes. Micky Stark and his wife, both of them physicians, he the CEO of Misgav Ladakh Hospital, as well as Dr. Yitzhak Vinograd, head of the surgical department at Assaf Harofe Hospital, tried in vain to save Iris’ life. Juliette, her mother, lost control when she saw her daughter dying and attacked the policemen who arrived before the ambulances. At the same time, Abu Sirkhan was running along Barak Street, where he came upon Amikam Kovner, a 13 year old boy, but the dogs that attacked him saved the boy’s life. Abu Sirkhan ran a further 200 meters, where he met his next victim, Eli Alterz who was an artist and owned a nursery, holding potted plants in his hands. He stabbed him at least 10 times. The policemen who found him lying in a large pool of blood could only cover his face.

A special forces officer called Charlie Shlush who heard what was happening took his gun and ran towards the stabber. The neighbors testified later that he yelled three times “Stop! I don’t want to kill you!” But Abu Sirkhan was in an panic attack and did not stop. Shlush shot him twice in the legs and tried to grab his shoulders and bring him down but Abu Sirkhan, who was big and heavy managed to stab Shlush once. The two men continued to wrestle each other until Shlush collapsed dead on top of Abu Sirkhan. His wife, heavily pregnant, ran over and saw her husband’s corpse. “That’s the end, I’m dying,” she was later quoted as saying by Yedioth Aharonoth. The neighbors said that they took the opportunity to kick-in Abu Sirkhan’s face until the police arrived.

Next day the New York Times reported from Jerusalem about a Palestinian running amok in the quiet Jewish neighborhood, stabbing to death with a 15-inch knife an unarmed soldier, a gardener and a policeman who tried to stop him. The newspaper linked the stabbing to the killing of Palestinians by the police two weeks beforehand at the Temple Mount. Amar Abu Sirkhan was tried in a military court on three counts of murder and given to three life sentences. His family’s home in Abadia was demolished.

Shlush

Two months after the stabbing in Bak’a, On December 27, the newspapers ran a brief report about another violent event in the occupied territories. An unknown man opened fire on a Palestinian family’s car in Gush Etzion near Bethlehem, badly wounding the travelers – Dr. Faisal Amro, a physician from Hebron, His sister Ibtisam and her daughter Aya.

A group of extremist settlers going by the name of “the Zionist avengers” claimed responsibility for the event. This caused a public uproar. Left-wing spokespeople feared the establishment of a new Jewish underground, only five years after the exposure of the Jewish underground of the 1980s, and after most of it’s tried and convicted members had been pardoned and released from jail. Member of Knesset Haim Ramon claimed that: “the forgiveness and support which the underground members received after being released from jail is a source of inspiration which will increase the danger of new terror organizations, and should be firmly suppressed, or else they will cause the ‘Lebanonization’ of Israel.” Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid named all those who participated in the release of the underground murderers as responsible for the assassination and called for self-examination. Later on, however, findings pointed toward a lone shooter seeking revenge, and not toward a new underground. Military police found out that Arye Shlus, brother of Charlie Shlush, who was stabbed by Abu Sirkhan at Bak’a, served at the Gush Etzion military base near Bethlehem. When the investigators came to the base, they found him crying in his room. He immediately confessed that he had shot the Arabs as revenge for his brother’s death. Policemen testified that all along he cooperated with them and behaved calmly.

A probation officer described Arye Shlus as a quiet, humble and good hearted boy, who was destabilized by the death of his revered brother. The tragic event haunted him, and he desperately asked his commanding officers to be transferred from the occupied territories for fear of not being able to control his urge to hurt Arabs. His requests were denied. Two months after his brother’s death, he succumbed to this urge.

+972-Hamakom Hebron special coverage

Unlike his brother’s stabber who was tried before a military court, Arye Shlush was tried before a civilian court, despite his being a soldier. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. “The circumstances of this case are absolutely tragic,” Judge Meir Shamgar, president of the Supreme Court, wrote dryly when giving the background to his verdict at the appeal requested by his attorneys. He describes in detail the sequence of events: how Shlush approached his commanders, verbally and in writing, asking to transfer him. Doing so as he feared he would not be able to control the rage and urge to seek revenge, which was welling up inside him. Only after the event, and following Shlush’s appeal to the military ombudsman, there was an investigation conducted, and a lieutenant-colonel was reprimanded for not taking proper care of his request to be relieved from serving in the occupied territories.

Although it was determined that Arye Shlush was a normative soldier, and despite the fact that his behavior up until the attack as well as after he was convicted and sent to jail were impeccable, his request to shorten his sentence was denied. “We could not reduce his sentence. The appellant’s deed, stemming from a wish to hurt others because of their national identity, hurt three innocent people and miraculously did not end in tragedy,” wrote Shamgar.

Dr. Amro

I first met Dr. Faisal Amro in Hebron by chance. When we sat together his leg was accidentally exposed and I saw a huge scary indentation in it. “Shu ya’ani?” I wondered. He told me how he drove on that fateful night of December 12, 1990 to the Bethlehem hospital with his wife who was about to give birth, and how he drove back to Hebron after midnight with his sister Ibtisam and her nine-month-old daughter. And how soldier Arye Shlush had waited and then shot and nearly killed them and only a coincidence saved their lives. He also told me about the Jewish physician who saved his life.

Dr. Faisal Amro. What shall be done with a corpse of an Arab from Hebron in the middle of the night? (Photo by Izhar Be'er)

At the Gush Etzion junction an armed soldier wearing a kippa stopped them, he told me, “when I slowed down he started shooting at us”. Ibtisam was wounded and screaming. “I opened the door and went over to help her. “I’m a doctor! I’m a doctor!” I yelled in Hebrew toward the shooter, but to no avail. The soldier shot him again and again.14 shots in all parts of his body. His sister said that the shooter yelled to her that both she and her brother should die, while she tried to stop the bleeding from her brother’s chest and begged him to stop shooting.

“We were all hurt but I was the most severely injured,” he told me. “As a physician, I understood my situation. I knew I was finished. I told my sister to turn me towards Mecca.” Dr. David Micha’eli, the Jewish physician who came in the ambulance from Gush Etzion, saw that the wounded man was in dire condition and that he had lost a lot of blood. “I was mostly conscious,” said Amro. The last thing he remembers telling Dr. Micha’eli was, “I’m dying!” Indeed, he died. Or so the physician said on the way to Hadassa Hospital in Jerusalem, when he discovered that there was no pulse.

But what are they supposed to do in Hadassa with the body of a deceased man from Hebron? Dr. Micha’eli told the ambulance driver to turn around and drive to Hebron in order to transfer the body at the military governor’s. In the middle of the way they came across another ambulance that had been called from Kiryat Arba. The two ambulances, coming from opposite directions, stopped next to each other. “You’re late!” said the Gush Etzion physician to his colleague from Kiryat Arba. The colleague suggested they use the blood he had with him to try and revive the body. A blood infusion was quickly set up for the deceased, blows and pumping were given to his chest, and the pulse returned. Once more the driver was asked to change his direction and return to Hadassa. From his miraculous awakening in the emergency room after 36 hours, Dr. Amro remembers the monitor’s hum. “I blinked hard with my eyes, so that the nurse will notice that I’m alive.” His leg was black and he asked the doctors to amputate it. It took the blood vessel specialist a great effort to convince him to wait. The leg was saved. After three months of rehabilitation and an endless stream of visitors, including a few heads of state (Amro remembers Ezer Weizman, Yitzhak Mordechai, Shaike Erez and quite a few members of Knesset visiting), Faisal Amro returned to his home in Hebron, scarred and full of holes, but alive.

“Who was the physician that saved you?” I ask. “Dr. Baruch Goldstein,” he says embarrassedly. “So they tell me,” he says, trying to correct himself later. Dr. Faisal Amro knows very well, better than any other child in Hebron, who Dr. Goldstein is. The Jewish physician who murdered 29 Muslims at prayer time a week before Ramadan, on Purim of 1994. After a long silence I ask him: “And what do you think of your savior today?” Dr. Amro does not think long: “Kalb ibn-kalb!”

Dr. Goldstein

At the Shiv’a ceremony after the Bak’a murder attack, Iris Azulay’s father lamented: “my daughter, that innocent flower, is gone, a victim. What scares me is that this vile person who stabbed and killed her and is sitting in jail now will be released in some future exchange deal of terrorists for POWs.” He said that without knowing his prophecy would come true 21 years later. The stabbing attack and the killing of Charlie Shlush, who tried to avoid killing his attacker, shocked the land. The Likud party tried to use the public furor following the event and promote a law that would pardon all the soldiers who were involved in illegal deeds at the beginning of the First Intifada. MK Rivlin said at the time that the criticism against the IDF following the verdicts in the Givati trials (for breaking Palestinians’ bones), and the depression felt by many in the IDF required putting an end to criticism against it. Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan demanded that whoever is caught carrying cold weapons be deported with his family to Lebanon. “We will not shoot them in the head because that is to extreme, but they need to be deported immediately,” he said. On the other hand, Tedy Kolleck, Jerusalem’s mythological mayor said that security will return to Jerusalem only when peace negotiations start. The head military prosecutor, Brig.Gen. Amnon Streshnov said in an interview to the military’s BaMakhane magazine that there is no doubt that if Charlie Shlush had shot to kill the stabber in Jerusalem, he would be considered acting in self defense and would not be put on trial.

In October of 2011 I was invited to be part of a panel at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, dealing with terror and human rights. I shared with my listeners, who were high-ranking IDF officers, this tragic story. One of the panel’s members, a former Border Police commander jumped and said that Charlie Shlush was a subordinate of his, a good man and a terrific fighter who was on his way to officers course. He said that although the stabbing was very light, it had hit a blood vessel and as a result killed him. Another officer added that Arye, Shlush’s brother, was a close friend of his during their service. “Shortly after Charlie died, a friend of ours was severely wounded. The coincidence was too much for him and he went on his revenge spree.”

A few days after that panel meeting at the Rabin Center, Israeli POW Gil’ad Shalit was released in return for 1027 Palestinian prisoners. Among them was also life-long prisoner no. 397, Amar Abu Sirkhan, who killed soldier Iris Azulay, gardener Eli Alterz and policeman Charlie Shlush. He was not permitted to go back to Abadia and was deported to Gaza.

Security forces, negatively influenced by The Bak’a stabbing and officer Charlie Shlush’s failure to stop the stabber by shooting at his legs, escalated their use of ammunition and weapons like 9mm bullets and rifles. Following this and other terror attacks, like the killing of a male and female soldier in Hebron, the saying, “better to have a bad lawyer than a good Hazan (traditional prayer singer for funerals),” became common.

Two years after his sentencing, Ariye Shlush, who shot at Dr. Amro, received a pardon from President Chaim Hertzog, nearly at the end of his term. Today he lives in Hosen, a village in western Galilee and runs a carpentry shop making kitchens. He refuses to talk about the event.

Dr. Faisl Amro, the Palestinian physician, continues to see patients in his private clinic in Hebron. He has six brothers and six sons, all of them physicians, too, living in the “Doctors’ quarter” in the south of the city. When I visited him recently at his clinic, he described his suffering after all these years. At some point he took his clothes off to show me where four bullets were still embedded under his skin. “I pull out shrapnel every day”’ he said, “They stop me at every Magnetometer because of all the metal in my body. I don’t wish upon friend or enemy to suffer what I have. I don’t talk about it, wishing not to sadden others. It’s a great tragedy. When people ask me I’m not interested to talk about it”.

His resurrection after being declared dead is nothing less than a miracle. “In the fluttering between life and death I saw my patients praying for me. Dr. Micha’eli asked me what have I done in this lifetime that God had gifted me my life back, and I answered: God only knows!”

He doesn’t want to talk about Goldstein either. “Leave it”, he says, “people tried to talk to me about it but I don’t want it to be used politically.”

Would you agree to meet Arye Shlush, who shot you?

“No!”, he says decisively, “What do we have in common? He’s the perpetrator and I’m the victim. He murdered three people in cold blood. That God had decided to bring me back has nothing to do with him.”

Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the extreme right-wing physician who treated Jews and Arabs, eventually succumbed to the unbearable emotional tension he had been in as a result of watching the reports of the terror attacks (especially affected by the murder of his close friends, the Lapid famaily, by Hamas fighting against the Oslo agreement). He went on a killing spree that ended his life at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Purim, 20 years ago.

Goldstein, the first Jewish shahid of modern time, managed single handedly to change the direction the Oslo process was leading towards. After the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre Hamas started mass murder attacks within Israel, and they eventually brought forth the murderer Yigal Amir. Goldstein’s grave in Qiryat Arba became a place of pilgrimage and he became a saint for a widening circle of Israelis. Ironically, one of his sons became an IDF combat pilot.

Epilogue

After the Temple Mount events in October of 1990, there was an inquiry committee set up, headed by Tzvi Zamir, which concluded that the Muslims were to blame for inciting the attack on Jewish worshipers and policemen. The committee justified the use of live ammunition in breaking into the Temple Mount because, as they said, lives were in danger. B’Tselem accused the Zamir Commission of a cover-up. Benjamin Netanyahu, then deputy foreign minister, however, instructed Israeli diplomats worldwide to use the Zamir report as proof of Israel’s righteousness.

A week after the Temple Mounts event Supreme Court Justice Ezra Kama was appointed to investigate the circumstances of the killing of Palestinians during the riots. In contrast to the Zamir report, Kama heard about 100 witnesses from both sides and held 20 meetings. He was critical of the police and determined that “at the break-in stage the forces got carried away and started shooting.” He negated what the Zamir Commission said about the chain of events at the beginning of the riots and determined, like the Wakf’s report before his, that the event started after a Border Patrol officer mistakenly dropped a tear gas grenade. He pointed out that the Muslims chose to ignore the police  announcement that they will prevent the ascent of the “Temple Mount trustees” to the Mount, but did not find evidence for incitement, written or vocal, as the Zamir Commission claimed. No knives and axes were prepared ahead of time, he declared.

The Temple Mount events in October of 1990 were a decisive moment in the history of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. As a result the Intifada escalated and for the first time Palestinian were encouraged to move from stone throwing to the use of knives. The call for escalation was expressed by Hamas as well, who declared that any Jew is a good target. Indeed, in the following two months, Palestinians stabbed eight Israelis. During police interrogations, the attackers claimed they were avenging the victims of the Temple Mount event.

Former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Ami Ayalon said that this was the most important event that had happened in the occupied territories since 1967, as it was a major catalyst for the Intifada, to the switch from stones to knives and then to firearms. The event introduced powerful religious elements into the conflict, which was mostly nationalistic until then, and deeply and emotionally influenced both sides, he said. Following the horrific event on Temple Mount, police curtailed visits on the Mount by religious Jews. At first members of the Temple movements were completely banned from visiting, and later they were allowed to come in in pairs only, accompanied by a policeman. These limitations were relaxed over time (as we learned from the report released lately by Kehsev and Ir-Amim about the Temple Mount, “A Dangerous Connection“). In addition to Gershon Salomon’s weirdos there exist dozens of Temple organizations, some of which are funded by the state and politically supported by the ruling party in Israel. These modern zealots claim that nothing will deter them from the Great Plan of Redemption. The corner stone of the Temple, which sparked the cycle of violence and revenge started on October 1990, is still awaiting its divine opportunity to show who really rules the land.

Claiming that the Oslo proceedings brought on the suicide attacks purposely disrupts the historical chain of events. It is misleading and possibly false. The mass suicide attacks which started after the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, escalated after the killing of “the engineer” Yahya Ayyash, and again after Ariel Sharon came into power, after the peace process was stopped. During the two years of Ehud Barak’s premiership, 1999-2000, at the height of the political negotiations, not one Israeli citizen was killed in suicide attacks. In the first year after he was replaced by Sharon, 86 Israelis were killed and in the following year 225 people were killed.

Unlike what Israeli peace-opposing forces claim, it was not the Oslo agreements that brought about exploding buses; it is more accurate to say that it was the veto power of the extremists, unleashed by Baruch Goldstein. He was fed by the radical spirit of Messianic Judaism, which demonic joined forces with Islamic radicalism in a way, to end the peace process in a dance of blood and tears.

This article was first published in Hebrew on the Haokets website. Yizhar Be’er is a former journalist for Haaretz and former director of  B’Tselem who serves today as director of  Keshev, which monitors Israeli media coverage.


Filed under: Politics Tagged: Baruch Goldstein, Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, extreme right, Hebron, ibrahimi mosque massacre, Michal Wertheimer Shimoni, Purim, suicide bombing, terrorism, Yizhar Be’er

Mormons in Marib


N-H-M in Sabaean

Not being a resident of Utah, I sometimes forget that there are people who take The Book of Mormon (the original and not the Broadway play) seriously. There is a passage in 1 Nephi 16:34 that suggests the place of Ishmael’s burial: “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.” So where might Nahom be? Well, why not Yemen? That is the argument in an article by Warren Aston, who traveled to Yemen and found an inscription on an alter at Marib that referred to Nihm, a tribe. Thus, The Book of Mormon is verified, as innumerable Mormon websites attest, including one on Wikipedia.

There is indeed a Yemeni tribe called Nihm, part of the Bakil confederation. But why exactly would Ishmael end up getting buried in Yemen? There is certainly no indication in the Old Testament of Ishmael going to Yemen. Genesis 25:17 reads “And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.” I sort of doubt that the priestly authors mention of “his people” meant the Sabaens down in Yemen. And in Islam Ishmael stops at Mecca. So either the Torah is wrong, Islamic tradition is wrong or the 19th century Book of Mormon is wrong. And, of course, given that this legendary material, they may all be wrong. There are indeed skeptics of Nephi.

The placename fallacy has a long history in pseudo-archaeology. One can rather easily manipulate major biblical placenames in Arabia. The Lebanese scholar Kamal Salibi played this game to the hilt in his imaginative The Bible Came from Arabia. Two individuals in Bahrain have continued the theme. It is difficult to dismiss the political motive (that Abraham and Moses were not herding their flocks and refugees respectively to ancient Israel) that no doubt underlies such attempts to rewrite history. Certainly there is no archaeological evidence for these bizarre claims. And just as certainly there is no end of lunatic archaeology in sight.

Postcards from old Aden #13

There are many postcards on the Internet from old Aden under British control. This continues the series with views of Sheikh Othman.

to be continued… for #12, click here.

Bringing Muslims back to science

Bringing Muslims back to science
Is Muslim religious discourse on scientific matters killing the scientific aspirations of the religious?

By Mohamed Ghilan, Al Jazeera, April 11, 2014

The most important rule in Islam is “judgment on anything is a branch of conceptualising it”. To determine whether a belief can be accepted by a Muslim or not, this is the first and most often repeated principle. However, when it comes to matters scientific, this indispensable rule for correct judgment is paradoxically the most disregarded one.

Ever since the decline of the Islamic civilisation and the end of its Golden Age, Muslims have ironically taken up superstitious and irrational thinking habits they had previously dropped when they originally accepted the Message of Prophet Muhammad. The ideas that the sun could eclipse for the death of someone, that certain numbers have magical powers, or that birds flying in a certain direction indicates an omen of some kind were among superstitious beliefs explicitly pointed out by Prophet Muhammad and in verses in the Quran for their irrationality. Unfortunately, it seems that Muslims have gone full circle. Out of the top 20 countries in overall science output, Turkey is the sole Muslim representative, barely sneaking in at number 19.

Overly simplistic explanations of this phenomenon have pointed to Al-Ghazali (c 1058-1111), one of the most influential Muslim theologians. His work, The Incoherence of Philosophers, is cited for its negative impact on Muslim thinking. This, however, is a grave misrepresentation of Al-Ghazali, his attack on contemporary philosophers, and the Islamic civilisation as a whole. (more…)

Gender Issues in the New Yemen

By Samira Ali BinDaair, Sanaa

When it comes to women and gender in Yemen, I see the discussions inevitably alternating between what is happening in politics and then back again to the same old arguments about women’s rights. I think the problem is that we always look at women’s issues from a very narrow angle lens even though we profess to uphold women’s rights, whatever those are and by whosoever’s definition. After working for the past 20 years in development programmes that spanned different agendas and a variety of target groups and where gender analysis always featured largely, I can safely say that this whole concept of gender mainstreaming was introduced to Yemen without being communicated through more cultural-sensitive strategies. The result has been considerable confusion. Because it was introduced by Western agencies, it was sometimes greatly misunderstood, misimplemented and misused by people with vested interests, just as some men with vested interests have misinterpreted the role of women in Islam.

Gender, therefore, has taken on a demonic face when implemented in this way and came to be seen by some as advocating for the Western style of women’s lib from the 60s and being outside local religio-cultural norms. This ended up marginalizing women even more when the male members of society rejected it out of hand. Gender mainstreaming should be a rigorous process of examining the impact of policies on females, males and children and simultaneously defining the special needs of each category. The gender advocates simply go on repeating the same platitudes about women’s rights hinging on a two pronged concept of public life and employment. For example, in Yemen rural women constitute 70% of the labour force in agriculture so the question is not whether to work or not to work for them but how to relieve them of the many burdens that they face within an underprovided rural environment. (more…)

Creating and Preserving Cultural Heritage in the Arab World



Illegal excavations and military use have recently endangered Palmyra, Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: UNESCO/Ron von Oers

by Shatha Almutawa, American Historical Association, April 2014

A car bomb exploded outside the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo on January 24, 2014. The Egyptian Heritage Rescue Team arrived on the scene and began to assess the damage and prepare artifacts to be moved to another building. Trained by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, the Egyptian volunteers worked with museum staff until all the artwork was safely relocated.

In Syria, following the destruction of the minaret at Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque last spring, people made their way to the mosque to save the stones for later rebuilding. Some lost their lives in the process. The mosque had been used by rebels, the Syrian army was attacking from the outside, and fighting continued as volunteers worked to protect the stones. As political instability continues in the wake of the Arab Spring, cultural heritage sites and objects are often endangered.

Scholars and activists working on issues relating to the preservation of cultural heritage in the Middle East convened on February 28 at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery to discuss the Arab Spring’s impact on monuments, historic neighborhoods, and culture in the region. Lisa Ackerman, executive vice president and chief operating officer at World Monuments Fund, spoke about the importance of providing training to communities around historic sites in times of peace and after conflicts, so that locals can preserve their own heritage. She also mentioned the reality that in times of war, troops are trained to find strategic locations to use as bases; historic sites, as she explained in a later e-mail, “are often located in strategic positions with existing infrastructure, such as roads and nearby accommodations, or, as we’ve seen in Syria, are often situated at the highest points, providing a location advantage.” As an example, the US Army in Iraq chose Babylon for its Camp Alpha, which resulted in damages to its ancient walls and gates. (more…)

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Ibb the Beautiful


اب الخضراء؛ عبقرية المزارع اليمني وحكمته في أبهى صورها

The Rarely-Seen Lives of Palestinians


Bodybuilders in Gaza show off the results of their work.

The Rarely-Seen Lives of Palestinians Photographed by Tanya Habjouqa
by Shawn Saleme, Visual News, April 8, 2014

[Check out the photographs here.]

“More than four million Palestinians live in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, where the political situation regularly intrudes upon the most mundane of moments. Movement is circumscribed and threat of violence often hangs overhead. This creates the strongest of desires for the smallest of pleasures, and a sharp sense of humor about the absurdities that a 47-year occupation has produced. This is an exploration of the moments where ordinary men and women demonstrate a desire to live, not just simply survive.”

Read more at http://www.visualnews.com/2014/04/08/rarely-seen-lives-palestinians-photographed-tanya-habjouqa/#tJHj7GGzR5ym47mg.99″>this site for several interesting photographs…]

If one was considering a visit to Palestine and had never traveled there before, they may imagine that going there was quite dangerous. In the mainstream media, images of conflict permeate, along with the tragedy that is expressed afterwards. While it may be interpreted as a melancholy environment, where an endless dissension between two people groups continues, there is still the spirit of life. One that each human participates in, whether in an conflicted area or not.

East-Jerusalem based photographer Tanya Habjouqa has focused her work on photographing the Palestinian communities of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. She captures a way of life that is not always seen by the public eye. Her series is titled “Occupied Pleasures,” and displays the Palestinian community enjoying the pleasures of life as any person would. The images are striking yet simple and garnered her a World Press Photo award. Regarding the Occupied Pleasures work, Habjouqa says:

“More than four million Palestinians live in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, where the political situation regularly intrudes upon the most mundane of moments. Movement is circumscribed and threat of violence often hangs overhead. This creates the strongest of desires for the smallest of pleasures, and a sharp sense of humor about the absurdities that a 47-year occupation has produced. This is an exploration of the moments where ordinary men and women demonstrate a desire to live, not just simply survive.”

Read more at http://www.visualnews.com/2014/04/08/rarely-seen-lives-palestinians-photographed-tanya-habjouqa/#tJHj7GGzR5ym47mg.99

Read more at http://www.visualnews.com/2014/04/08/rarely-seen-lives-palestinians-photographed-tanya-habjouqa/#tJHj7GGzR5ym47mg.99

Kicking the Neoliberal Habit

By Yossi Dahan (Translated from Hebrew by Orna Meir-Stacey,  Edited by Ami Asher)

After the 2008 global financial crisis, some of Israel’s neo-liberal fundamentalists sobered up from capitalist dogmatism and became ‘social.’ This led them to discovering Scandinavia, and lately they have been busy marketing a biased and union-free capitalist version of the ‘Nordic Model’ in Israel as well.

It is interesting to follow the socioeconomic discourse in Israel as it developed over the past three decades. To see how the social-democratic dictionary and debate, which had previously been the province of few – a discourse revolving around values such as social justice, solidarity and collective responsibility adopted in the Nordic welfare state model – was partially appropriated and adopted by the establishment media. There were days when this discourse would be subject to heaps of contempt and mockery on the part of the neoliberal economy media, which treated anybody daring to express ideas such as social justice and social-democracy as economic ignoramuses, dogmatists and ideologists, whose vision was to turn Israel into the Stalinist Soviet Union.

Mainstream neo-liberal media included, at the time, many zealot followers like Guy Rolnik, who served at the time as economic correspondent in the IDF Radio. I recall the weekly public service broadcasts in favor of capitalists and rouge capitalism in the program “A Brief Hour about Economy,” edited and delivered at the station by the senior Haaretz economic correspondent and commentator, Avraham Tal. I recall the daily preaching for privatization, social budget cuts and deregulation to which many others in the established media were partners – but were no more than provincial copycats of their Reaganist and Thatcherite ideological allies. In recent years, particularly after the 2008 global crisis and more so since the 2011 social protest in Israel, some of these zealots have been undergoing ideological rehab, suddenly digging up the social dimension of the economy, and announcing the amazing discovery that the economy should serve society, not the other way round. The funny thing is how quickly those fickle public opinion leaders are appropriating a progressive social discourse without a word of apology or remorse. I’m not complaining, though. I can only wish them full and successful rehab without too many withdrawal symptoms.

About six months ago, on the ruins of the gluttonous capitalism it preached for, The Economist discovered the Nordic welfare state model and lionized it as a socioeconomic wonder, a veritable miracle with high economic productivity, low poverty rates and high equality. Shortly afterwards, its local conservative counterpart, The Marker, imported and translated this discovery for the Israeli reading public. The Economist offered an erroneous and misleading description of the so-called Scandinavian welfare state, as Joseph Schwartz accurately observed in Dissent magazine. This description did not include, for example, the very high rate of unionized workers in these countries and their central role in determining the socioeconomic policies – an issue which Dr. Ami Vatury, the only local expert on Scandinavian socioeconomic policies and a cofounder of the Israeli Koach La Ovdim (Power to the Workers) union, referred to more than once. Both The Economist and The Marker also tried very hard to downplay the fact that 30 percent of the workforce in these countries are employed in the public sector, the object of their fierce hatred, as opposed an OECD average of 15 percent.

May 1, 2012 Goteborg. Photo: Socialdemokrater, cc by-nc-nd

May 1, 2012 Goteborg. Photo: Socialdemokrater, cc by-nc-nd

This week, Guy Rolnik devotes quite a few pages to an examination of the Swedish model, including interesting interviews with union and other economists. While praising Rolnik for retracting biased presentations of this model in the past, Ami Vatury points at what he calls groundless conclusions drawn by Rolnik regarding recent unionization processes in Israel.

The problem with Rolnik, and many others who have recently discovered the Swedish model, is the selective and biased manner in which they describe it – a selective description that corresponds with their ideological views. Rolnik writes: “Here is what we learnt from the economists representing the biggest unions in Sweden: all employment and pay agreements in this country are subject to the sacred principle of efficiency and productivity. To make sure pay agreements do not damage the economy, they are led by pay agreement in the export industries, which have to compete in international markets”. The foregone conclusion from this and from what Swedish economists say – the conclusion which should have been adopted by the newly converted fan of the Swedish model who wishes to import it to Israel – is that strong unions must be established in key Israeli export industries, such as the completely non-unionized hi-tech industry. Instead, Rolnik’s Pavlovian conclusion, which is also one of The Marker’s main agendas, is that unions in the public sector must be weakened. (I too agree that they require significant democratic reforms).

In order to create a sharp contrast between Israel and Sweden, Rolnik also misrepresents the new unions in Israel, claiming they are all established in the public sector, despite recent unionization initiatives in the insurance, media and cellular industries. The Marker regularly laments the bitter fate of disenfranchised non-unionized workers and contractor workers, but this is usually done not in order to improve their conditions, but in the context of attacking existing trade unions.

A central element of the Swedish model is a flexible labor market, with high mobility and career diversity. But in order to maintain this flexible labor market, Sweden sets aside 3 percent of its gross national product for professional training and grants generous unemployment benefits. In Israel, where the professional training budget has practically been eliminated, I would expect a convert of the Swedish model such as Rolnik – who considers employment security and job permanence to be one of the main causes for economic inefficiency and corruption in the Israeli market – to support these tenets of the Swedish model and promote their adoption in Israel. But also in this case – not a word.

So, too, as regards privatization. Rolnik emphasizes the policy of privatization of social services such as education and health. For instance, education services in Sweden are provided not only by the state but also by private entities, some nonprofit and others for profit. The state issues vouchers with which parents choose among various public, non-public and for-profit private schools. Note, however, that these vouchers are granted on an equal basis, and that it is impossible to top them with private funds. In addition, all schools are heavily regulated. Moreover, according to the interviewees, education is a major source of dissatisfaction in Sweden, with low teacher salaries and student achievement levels. Indeed, not all is pink in the Swedish education system. A few months ago one of the large private corporations providing education services, JB Education, declared bankruptcy, leaving thousands of pupils and teachers helpless. The privatization of the education system, which includes such thorny problems as privatization of service provision, the involvement of for-profit organizations, and competition between schools for vouchers, is too serious an issue to be dismissed with the statement that this is how they do it in the Swedish paradise, only because it fits in with your libertarian preferences.

If The Marker decided to enlist to the cause of the Swedish model which, among other things, is based on unique historical, cultural and moral values, then the first step, as also stated by the interviewees, would be to stop their obsessive persecution of public sector employees. Instead, they would do better to devote a column or two to the importance of establishing unions in export industry sectors, and call for public investment in professional training and increased unemployment benefits. These are central elements of the Swedish utopia.

This article was first published in Hebrew on the Haokets website.


Filed under: Economics, Media, Uncategorized Tagged: Ami Asher, Ami Vatury, Guy Rolnik, haaretz, Koach La Ovdim, Neo-Liberalism, OECD, Orna Meir-Stacey, Scandinavia, Sweden, The Economist, The Marker, The Nordic Model, Yossi Dahan

Milking the Marathon: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Brandeis Speech

by Setareh Sabety, Huffington Post, April 11, 2014

When my son, a senior at Brandeis University, forwarded me the news of the controversy surrounding the decision to grant an honorary degree to the controversial feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I took her side. I knew about her. She is a Somalian feminist, a champion of banning genital mutilation of girls, and later a member of the Dutch parliament. She reached fame when Theo Van Gogh, the director of Submission, a film that Hirsi had written criticizing women’s treatment in Islam, was killed by a fanatic.

She went too far when she picked on Islam as a particularly violent religion, but as a Muslim-born feminist, I understood her anger. I too have been accused of being Islamophobic when I criticized Islamic views of women. It is easy to become angry after a video clip of a stoning or yet another story of an honor killing. It is easy to hate Islam when your husband threatens to keep you from traveling, or when the waiter tells you to cover your hair better in a restaurant. In Iran, where Sharia, or Islamic, law is imposed by force, women like me “hate” Islam on a daily basis. For Hirsi Ali, coming from the especially violent Somalia, undergoing genital mutilation herself, and witnessing the death of a colleague even in the relative safety of Europe, it must have been horrendous. I can see how her experiences could make her take sides and lose patience.That is why, initially, I supported her receiving an honorary doctorate from Brandeis. When the Muslim Student Association gathered enough signatures from both students and faculty to force a cancellation, I was impressed by the passion of the students, and by their convincing arguments about condoning hate speech. But, still, I had mixed feelings about canceling someone I considered a sister-in-arms against radical Islam. Hirsi Ali is not an Islamophobe. She is not afraid of Islam. She is fed up with it. I am too. As a woman who fled Iran because she did not want to be forced into the hijab or banned from travel by her husband, I understand Hirsi Ali on a deep and visceral level. (more…)

Depression, Happiness and the Challenges of Global Peace Work

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 Please find the full article here on the Huffington Post. 

Most people do suffer tragedy, and self-pity is often justified, but it is also very destructive, inducing great anger, depression, and destructive approaches to others. Personally speaking, I simply become a less decent person when all I can think about is my losses and the hurt that was caused me. It is exhausting, time consuming, and embittering.

People are unhappy due to selfishness, according to one of the greatest thinkers on the subject. That flew in the face of every instinct I had my entire life. It was serious people who were sad about the world, it was informed people who worried, cared, talked and ruminated ceaselessly on the worst tragedies, like the Holocaust. They were depressed, but they were the responsible ones on this planet, not the fools saying happy empty things all the time. But here Mill was saying the opposite. 

Depression, Happiness and the Challenges of Global Peace Work 

Postcards from old Aden #12

There are many postcards on the Internet from old Aden under British control. This continues the series with more views of camels and a bullock in Aden.

to be continued… for #11, click here.

Last week in Egypt in TV

This is a sporadic column by Arabist contributor Nour Youssef. 

Lately, a rekindled hate for repetition has prevented me from watching television and not fighting with taxi drivers. Little has changed in the media scene since July 3. The West, led by the US, the Ottomans and the matchbox that is Qatar, is still intimidated by Egypt's potential for greatness and so it continues to plague it with corruption, poverty and injustice, giving the protesters it pays to paralyze traffic something to chant about. Only thing that has changed is that the narrative is no longer funny.

Even Tawfik Okasha is sick of repeating it. The owner of the Faraeen channel gave his viewers an ultimatum: if they don't join him on April 11 in al-Abbasiya Square to -- well, he hasn't really specified what, but he knows that if the population doesn't show up, the terrorists win, and he will quit the whole nationalism thing and punish them with BBC-like uncaring professionalism because it is not worth it anymore. It's worth noting that Okasha's good friend, lawyer Mortada Mansour -- the man who has cursed and slandered more people on air than Okasha himself -- is running for president.

It may come as a shock, but Okasha is not the only TV host in Egypt who is aware of the existence of professionalism and his deliberate failure to meet its standards. Others like Lamis el-Hadidi admit to it too, only passive-aggressively to silence critics. (After yelling on air at a former Egyptian colleague for “selling himself” and being a “traitor” for working for Jazeera, Hadidi grumbles sarcastically about those who would reign in her patriotic fervor by holding her to a journalistic code of ethics..) 

Lamis el-Hadidi is sick of "traitors"

Equally angry, but minus the helmet of hair, was el-Hadidi’s husband, Amr Adeeb, who was infuriated by novelist Alaa Al Aswany saying that the upcoming presidential elections will probably be like Mubarak’s 2005 rigged election -- which is an unnecessary shame, Al Aswany thinks, because Field Marshal Abdel Fatah El Sisi is popular and has a great chance of winning on his own, even if the elections were supervised by the UK’s House of Commons. “MB feloul (remnant)!” Adeeb bellowed and went on to demand to know why the ungrateful al-Aswany gave Morsi a chance and supported him (which he didn’t), but won’t do the same for Sisi, even though “if it weren’t for him, (al-Aswany) and (Adeeb) would be sharing a cell now.” 

Speaking of elections and Sisi, in case you were worried, the latter has a thought-through program (in his head, that is), according to filmmaker and now presidential adviser Khaled Youssef, who Sisi invited over about two months ago along with Hassanein Heikal, Mostafa Hegazi and Abdel Galeel Mostafa and instructed to work on his program and campaign, if they felt like it, while he tended to few a conspiracies before announcing his bid. Judging by Heikal’s “Sisi doesn’t need a program” statements and Youssef’s description of the program as something with “features,” no one seems to have taken him up on his offer. The features, Youssef revealed, include specific things like “a focus on security,” the “application of the constitution,” fighting corruption, distributing resources fairly among the people and opening up the country for investment, while looking out for the workforce. As for freedoms, its guarantee is the people’s desire to keep it. And since the program is uniquely original and its methods of application are anything but vague, Sisi is probably going to skip the campaigning, debating other candidates and touring the country bits, Youssef says.

Director Khaled Youssef talks about Sisi's electoral program

While Sisi wonders whether or not two televised interviews are enough to educate his voters on his non-program program, TV hosts like Mostafa Bakry are busy unveiling the details of the documents Morsi and his secretary tried to smuggle to Qatar. The documents allegedly contain important national security secrets, but no proof of the existence of the documents; history of how they were obtained; or explanation of their actual significance has been forthcoming. 

Bakry made more discoveries recently. Two weeks ago, a smiling Bakry received a phone call from Brigadier General Mohamed Ibrahim telling him that there are 1400 (no-longer) secret MB agents at loose in the cabinet. Gen. Ibrahim then revealed that the recent power cuts are not the result of an electricity shortage, they are the work of the MB…who are putting small boxes on electrical cables that damage the cables without sundering them, to cause power cuts  -- making it look like there is an electricity crisis and the government is incompetent. The problem with these matchbox-sized, cable-crippling boxes is that they are hard to find, the general explained in a tone that implied they can’t possibly be expected to look for them. The general then left us with another example of MB terrorism from el-Marg, where they were caught polluting the crystal clear drinking water, before answering a long forgotten question: who burnt down the Institute for Scientific Research during the cabinet clashes of 2011?

You should be able to guess the answer. But in case you, like Moses and the Egyptian people, are exasperatingly argumentative and tend to ask too many favors and questions (according to expert on religious affairs Amany el-Khayat) the Institute was targeted because it contained the only documents to prove that the Armenian genocide happened (apart from this Independent article and the rest of the Internet) which Turkey, the MB’s partner, didn’t couldn't risk leaving to gather dust in a building hardly anyone heard of before its combustion. And if you want to smell the smoke coming out of the barrel, the Israeli and the US governments were mad at the UNESCO for recognizing Palestine and were clearly going to burn a building loaded with historical valuables to get back at the agency. 

When not uncovering conspiracies and boxes on cables, Bakry can be found bemoaning satirist Bassem Youssef’s lack of shame, running pixelated footage (because Bassem Youssef is a female nipple now) of El Barnameg’s dirty jokes. 

Mustafa Bakry gives Bassem Youssef a hard time

Although the Egyptian media generally don’t report on anything outside Egypt (i.e. Cairo, unless there is a bloodbath somewhere), an exception was made for the alleged protest that took place in Qatar which the Egyptian media is now calling a revolution, whose freedom fighters Sada el-Badad’s Ahmed Moussa ardently supports.

If you have more Internet to waste, either try these songs about Bassem Youssef [the first one is a plagiarized Nancy Ajram song to make fun of BY for plagiarizing articles and the second calls him fake and homosexual] or watch Rola Kharsa remind Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal that he owns land in Egypt, which he presumably doesn’t want any harm to come to, so he should have his channel, LBC, apologize for running a report on the vote for the pimp hashtag (#انتخبوا_العرص) in which they actually said the word.

Religion and State in Israel – April 10, 2014

Editor – Joel Katz  
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement. 


CONVERSION 

The religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, a member of the current government coalition, supported recent legislation to draft Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, for the first time; approved a liberalizing overhaul of marriage procedures, and created a modest dedicated space at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox prayer.  

Yet the same party backing these religious reforms — the most progressive passed by any recent Israeli government — appears to have sabotaged a bill to help would-be converts. 

... The influential rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of Jerusalem’s Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, told the Forward that conversion is just too important to be entrusted to local rabbis.

“Each rabbi decides things for his community, but with conversion, you are making decisions for the whole Jewish nation,” he said. “The rabbinate for this is the Chief Rabbinate, and only it should decide.”  
  
By Elli Fischer  

Fear of intermarriage and assimilation is baseless. The inability of Israelis of no religion to wed in Israel can be solved simply by instituting a civil option. That leaves only the problematic bureaucracy of the present conversion system. It is possible that the presence of a civil marriage option would actually improve service, as prospective converts would no longer be suspected of converting solely so that they could get married.  

There is no need to take that chance, though. Once a civil option is instituted alongside the existing Chief Rabbinate track for marriage, the state can completely deregulate the conversion system. Rabbis and laymen from any denomination will be able to convene conversion panels at their whim, and the state will have no need or reason to authorize or reject any conversion. ...  

By Rabbi Marc Angel and Rabbi Avi Weiss  

When a convert or their children or grandchildren make aliyah, he or she needs Jewish status validated. Because of the centralization of the GPS standards, the Chief Rabbinate's office now turns to the Beth Din of America for guidance.

The upshot of this is that conversions performed by RCA rabbis who served in non-mehitza shuls for years — some who even went on to become presidents of the RCA — are now in question.  


The High Court of Justice will hear an appeal Thursday against a decision by the state to deport 13 African-American Jews from Israel on the grounds that their conversion was bogus.  

The appeal was submitted a year ago by the Israel Religious Action Center, an organization affiliated with the Reform movement and that advocates on behalf of religious pluralism in the country.  

The 13 African Americans, originally from Kansas City, Missouri, are all members of one extended family.   
   


KOTEL/WESTERN WALL/WOMEN OF THE WALL 

It was a year ago this week that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky unveiled his grand plan for a new “egalitarian” prayer space at the Western Wall.   

... The anniversary provides a good opportunity to look at some of the dramatic developments of the past year. Pushing and pulling in different directions, with varying degrees of success, these were some of the key players who influenced, or at least tried to influence, the course of events at the Wall.  

... Anat Hoffman did another about-face – this time after being warned that if she didn’t sit down at the negotiating table with Mendelblit, the consequences could be quite severe.

Specifically, she was told that if no agreement were reached, the government would likely decide to draft new regulations outlawing certain practices at the Western Wall by women, such as wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries. Then, whatever hard-earned gains had been made in their struggle would be completely lost.  



AGUNOT/MARRIAGE/CIVIL UNIONS 

Lapid also campaigned on establishing civil unions in Israel, a measure that would have broken the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s control of Jewish marriage. Yesh Atid introduced a bill to create civil unions in October, but it is opposed by Jewish Home, a religious Zionist party that entered the coalition in alliance with Yesh Atid.  

Lapid sounded confident that he could get a civil unions bill past Jewish Home, possibly with support from left-wing parties. But though he vowed to continue to push the issue, he would not say if Yesh Atid would leave the coalition if the bill fails.  



HAREDI SOCIETY  
By Rabbi Shmully Hecht  

I was so shocked by the venom he was espousing in front of his wife and 16 year old son that I felt like stopping the conversation right there just to avoid embarrassing him. This verbal assault on the majority of Jews alive and the Jews who I consider my dearest constituents was not going to pass without a fatal blow.  One, of course, I would have to deliver with love.  
  
By Rabbi Sholom Gold  

The Hamodia article quoted a rav who said, "The most difficult golus to endure is a golus suffered from other Jews and therefore we plead for a final redemption from this terrible golus." I experienced a great deal of personal anguish just writing that sentence.

First of all, it's absolutely false. We are not in Czarist Russia, Inquisitionist Spain, Crusader-ravished Rhineland, Cossack-scorched Poland, nor fascist Nazi Germany, nor assimilation-ridden America. Klal Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael is experiencing the most magnificent era in 2,000 years.  


ALIYAH/ISRAEL-DIASPORA RELATIONS 

  
    
  


PASSOVER  


  
  

  
    
    


IDF HAREDI DRAFT  

Lapid said that overall, he is happy with how the past year has gone for his party. He dismissed criticism that Yesh Atid’s signature achievement, a bill mandating that the haredi Orthodox perform military service, is too weak. The bill defers criminal sanctions for haredi draft dodgers for three years, but Lapid said a stricter law would have been unrealistic.  

“If we would just send draft [notices] to any young 18-year-old haredim, we’ll be the winners of some game, but nothing would have happened,” Lapid said. “The way we’ve been doing this, it will actually happen.”  


RABBINATE 

Lapid said all Jewish denominations should have equal standing in Israel, which he said would strengthen Israel’s relationship with American Jews. He also called for ending the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over Jewish marriage and conversion, and for an end to all forms of religious coercion.  

But he stopped short of calling for the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate or for a complete separation of religion and state, which he said would hurt the country’s Jewish character.  

“I don’t think the American model of total separation of religion and state is feasible in Israel because it was established as a Jewish state,”Lapid said. “I don’t want to give up this identity.  

“I would favor having parallel institutions to the Rabbinate. If someone wants to get married in the rabbinate, he can. If someone wants to get married at City Hall, he should be able to do so as well.”  
   
    
  
  
  
    



BEIT SHEMESH MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS  


TEMPLE MOUNT  
By Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll   


CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY 
  
    


EDUCATION  
By David M. Weinberg 

     


CHABAD  


RELIGION AND SOCIETY 

   
  
  
   
By Rabbi Shalom Hammer 
  
   
  
  


SHAS  


Editor – Joel Katz  
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement. 
All rights reserved. 

Aden in 2005

A Youtube video on Aden in 2005:

A video of interest mainly to people who once lived in Aden. Landing at Aden airport (footage taken from within aircraft), Khormaksar, Crater (tanks, commercial centre, market halls, fishermen at Front Bay), Ma’alla, Steamer Point. Please also see part 2 (Gold Mohur beach, car ride around Aden). Footage taken in December 2005.