Posting: August 10, 2007

“Our IDF”

I want to return here to the issue of soldiers who refused to participate in evicting Hevron residents from the marketplace, Mitzpe Shalhevet.

The story as it was widely presented, was that 30 soldiers refused, but when they were threatened with disciplinary action, some 20 relented. Those who remained adamant in their refusal were very swiftly disciplined — they were jailed for 28 days and removed from their combat units. (Arutz Sheva says the numbers were much higher and that many were quietly reassigned to duty such as washing dishes and kept out of the eye of the media.)

Following the incident, a rash of op-eds appeared that criticized the soldiers and lamented the break-down of essential discipline in the IDF: orders are orders and orders must be obeyed. If these soldiers can refuse orders here, went the thinking, other soldiers who don’t want to participate in other actions — don’t want to serve in Judea and Samaria or go on forays into Gaza, whatever, will be inspired to similarly refuse and then everything will fall apart.

But there is an essential fallacy in this thinking and another side to this story. The issue here is whether Jewish soldiers in the Israeli army should be enlisted to enforce a political decision that requires taking action against other Jews. The IDF is the “Israel defense force.” Its role is to DEFEND Jews, and it should be asked only to act against our enemies. Involving the IDF in any other sort of action is illegitimate. Whether or not what was done in Hebron was itself either legal or moral, the sort of political operation that took place there should have been executed only by police.


The soldiers who refused were almost all religious. There is a tremendous irony in that. For religious boys opt for combat units in greater proportions than other segments of our society. They make the best soldiers, in the main, because they are fiercely dedicated to the land and what they are defending. There is nothing slipshod or lackadaisical about their attitude towards being soldiers; statistics show them to be among the bravest and most competent. But what was being asked of these boys here went against the grain of their ideology: they were more than ready to defend Israel at any cost but not to evict Jews from their homes (or, I would add, to destroy or dismantle synagogues or religious houses of study).

For the powers that be to persist in this approach is to demoralize some of the best soldiers we have. And that is downright stupid. There were, among the boys ordered to participate, some who live in Judea or Samaria. They know their families might be next. How can you ask them to participate without doing damage to their spirit? I understand there was even one soldier whose family had been evicted from Gush Katif. Where was the thinking, that he should have been ordered to help do this to others?

I lay the blame here on the political leaders, beginning with Ariel Sharon. He set a precedent with the use of the IDF for the “disengagement.” This tore the nation apart and had a tremendously negative effect on some of the soldiers who participated. I have placed elsewhere on this website photos of soldiers crying — in one case, an officer sobbing — over what they were told to do in Gush Katif.

Please, take a minute to look at these photos:

Then ask yourself if — aside from it being inhumane — a policy that promotes this response is a smart policy when we are a beleaguered nation and must have a strong, motivated and invigorated defense force at the ready.

I understand that our weak performance in Lebanon last summer was partly because of how the soldiers had been used in Gush Katif. There was the factor of demoralization, but also a lack of preparation because soldiers had been trained for evacuation of Jews instead of defense. The situation was so egregious that money was dedicated to such things as special new uniforms for some of the forces going into Gush Katif, but supplies were lacking a year later for those going into Lebanon to defend the nation. The people in charge who set up this scenario had lost their way, their vision of what we are about. Painfully, painfully is this so.

For the dimwits that are in charge now to continue this policy, when it’s clear that we face difficult days ahead, is indefensible (excuse the pun). I applaud those who had the courage to say “no.”

It’s time for us to recall who we are and what we are about, before it’s too late.

Still more to follow on this and related subjects after Shabbat.

~~~~~ Posting: August 8, 2007


It was evident for some time, if one looked closely and read the signs: Fatah and Hamas were going to re-establish communication and try to patch things up. There have been reports in the Arab press for some days — the most significant report I saw (unconfirmed) was that a secret deal has already been reached between the factions. Yesterday Prince Saud made an official statement that there could be no peace negotiations for the Palestinians unless the factions first came to an understanding.

And now it has made Israeli press. In fact, several things made Israeli press today in rapid succession: First, that officials of Hamas and Fatah have revealed that they’ve been conducting secret talks. Shortly after that came news that Hamas’s Mashaal announced that he has asked Yemen to work on securing an understanding between the factions. And former (Hamas) PA prime minister Haniyeh declared that he would step aside if this would help reconciliation.

Then more: Fatah officials told The Jerusalem Post that several Arab nations were involved in the mediation, and that while talk was still in early stages, meetings were being held in a variety of venues — Cairo, Damascus, Beirut and several Gulf state capitals.


I had written the other day about the Palestinian forked tongue and I cannot imagine a more fitting description for how Abbas is behaving than this. These talks didn’t start yesterday. And yet he has been functioning under the pretense of not having anything to do with Hamas and has eagerly awaited the concessions and the money that will “strengthen” him in his fight against Hamas. In fact, the PA has just released a new “wish list” that includes armored cars, jeeps, machine guns, several thousand rifles plus millions of rounds, bullet-proof vests, stun grenades and additional combat gear. They have indicated that they need this to stay strong in Judea and Samaria, and were hoping to make purchases from Egypt and Jordan with US money.

I cannot speak for what actually went on at the meeting between Abbas and Olmert on Monday, but Olmert came away insisting that Abbas said he would have nothing to do with Hamas.

And even now Abbas is playing it to the hilt: He is insisting that what Hamas did in Gaza was very bad and that he absolutely would not talk to them unless they reversed the current situation. Sorry, Mahmoud. It’s too late for that, because your own people in Fatah have admitted there is already talk with Hamas.

I would like to believe that the world might learn a lesson from this, with regard to trusting Palestinian officialdom. But I know better. The world doesn’t want to learn this lesson.


I confess: I am fascinated as to how this will play out. Does George Bush know yet that he has egg on his face? Or Condoleezza? Will that doomed “peace conference” be touted anyway? Will Blair, in his new role that mandates strengthening Abbas, insist that he hears no evil and sees no evil? Will there be a way to “reinterpret” Hamas so that it becomes acceptable?

Or will Western officials throw up their hands in surrender and admit that forging a “peace based on a two-state solution” is an impossibility in the current climate?


And Ehud Olmert? Where does this leave him?

Yesterday, reports — which the prime minister’s office absolutely and most vociferously denied — surfaced, most significantly in Haaretz, regarding a possible plan for peace with the Palestinians that Olmert was considering: It would have permitted settlements to remain on 5% of Judea and Samaria with land from within the Green Line (in Arab areas) given to the Palestinians to compensate.


And what of our vaunted defense minister, Ehud Barak? He says that having technological defenses against missiles is a prerequisite to pulling out from Judea and Samaria. This is clear? He is acknowledging that pulling out would make us the target of attacks. But rather than saying we shouldn’t pull out if this is the case, he says we must first make certain we can defend ourselves.

Hopefully, this issue will become moot. But such a take, by a military man, is incomprehensible to me.


Well, it took many hours, and it was ugly, but the authorities have removed the two families, and their many supporters, from their homes in the former market place, now called Mitzpe Shalhevet, in Hebron.

A handful of religious soldiers refused to participate. They have now been disciplined and removed from combat units. Their actions have sparked a considerable debate in this country, to which I hope to return at a later date.

In my article about the situation, I provided background, which I found people welcomed. Please, if you would like to learn even more, and have a clearer picture, visit the Hebron page on this website for a review of Hebron’s history and an explanation of what the Jewish community there copes with:

There are several basic points to be made here. Hebron is historically a Jewish city. And to this day we have rights there. The notion that the presence of the Jewish community there is a stumbling block to peace or makes life hard for the Arab population is simply erroneous.

~~~~~~~~~~ Posting: August 6, 2007

“Essential Errors”

This morning here in Israel, YNet ran a piece on the upcoming meeting between Olmert and Abbas. It provided almost a template of errors in thinking with regard to what’s going on. (Not YNet errors, but errors of those involved.)

Primary is this: “Israel and the US have both been working to strengthen Abbas so he can realize his authority over the Palestinian territories and combat terror. The objective is to prompt Abbas to reach a settlement with Israel.”

Prompt Abbas to reach a settlement? That is a mistake of major proportions. Whenever I read something like this I am reminded of the exceedingly pertinent advice of Prof. Moshe Sharon, who says negotiations with the Arabs should be conceived of as a bazaar — a marketplace. If Israel and the US want Abbas to do certain things more than Abbas wants to, then the cost of getting him to do these things is high. Too high. This is the point everyone seems to miss.

Abbas and his government and those he governs (and I use that term loosely) have to really want a peaceful state with a civic society established next to Israel. They have to want it enough to be willing to make sacrifices to get it. This is simply and incontrovertibly not the case.


An Israeli official was quoted thus: “we’ve… just handed over a vast sum of money, released prisoners, provided military aid and authorized outside military aid. We conceived a very handsome package and it bore results, stabilizing Abbas.”

Huh? Abbas is stable? The explanation is that in spite of pressure on him to do so, Abbas has not fallen in again with Hamas. “He understands that going back to Hamas’ embrace is a death-blow to the political process.”

I would not be so certain of any of this. What matters to Abbas more? Having a state in Judea and Samaria, or having interaction with fellow Arabs in Gaza? Yes, Abbas is making all of the right noises regarding his absolute refusal to talk to Hamas, but this is for Western ears. And the West — eager to hear this and refusing to remain mindful of the Palestinian propensity for a forked tongue — buys it.

Just days ago I discovered on an Arab website a report that says Fatah and Hamas have already met secretly and forged certain agreements. I have not been able to confirm this — at least not yet, but it would not surprise me if this turned out to be so.

And even if it turns out to be true that there’s been no contact in recent weeks between Fatah and Hamas, I remind you of the report yesterday from Israel military intelligence that says there will be fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Judea and Samaria soon.

Prime Minister Fayyad has told Israeli officials that the PA is not ready to assume control of Palestinian cities. The security services in the PA have not gotten their act together.

No matter how you look at it, Abbas is not stable.


And so what was the result of the meeting today between Olmert and Abbas in Jericho? Olmert began with a statement about the goal of the meeting being to “create two states for two people as soon as possible.” One has to wonder what Olmert’s intent was here. “Possible” is not going to be any time soon.

Abbas made his anticipated requests regarding removal of checkpoints, more humanitarian aid, and amnesty for additional terrorists, and Olmert agreed to consider them. Questions regarding Palestinian institutions and issues of Israeli security were apparently discussed as well. What was not discussed were the “core” issues of borders, Jerusalem, settlements and refugees, as much as Abbas was eager to put these on the table.

There were great photo ops. And the two agreed to talk again, to work towards “normalizing ties,” and to ultimately discuss “fundamental issues.”

Over in Gaza, former PA prime minister Haniyeh said that the meeting in Jericho was a “public relations gimmick that would yield nothing.” It looks a bit like that from where I sit, as well.


A large army and police contingent is preparing today to evict two Jewish families from a marketplace in Hevron, where they took up residence recently. The likelihood of violence is great.

It is important to set the record straight with regard to this painful — and shameful — situation, as so much disinformation is being circulated:

This market stands on Jewish land. It was purchased, in front of Arab witnesses, in 1807 by Rabbi Haim Bajaoi, at a time when there was a thriving Jewish Quarter in the ancient city; the five dunams he purchased were adjacent to the Quarter and dedicated to the use of the Jewish community.

Jews disappeared from Hevron in 1929, after a horrendous Arab massacre (instigated, it should be noted by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Muhammad al-Husseini, who was Arafat’s mentor). Those Jews who survived were moved out by the British, who then controlled the area under the Mandate for Palestine: It was easier to remove them than protect them.

In 1948, the Jordanians occupied this area ; an Arab market was established on the land that Bajaoi had purchased. When Israel secured control of Hevron in 1967, the Arabs were permitted to continue to operate the market — even though they were on privately owned Jewish land. This was so even after Jews moved back into the city, into the old Jewish area, known as the Avraham Aveinu neighborhood. Twelve years ago, for security reasons, the IDF evicted the Arabs who maintained the stalls in the market. The market stood empty.

By 1998, as part of the Oslo Accords, Israel had pulled out of 80% of Hevron, but the 20% that remained in Israeli hands included the Avraham Aveinu neighborhood and the adjacent market place.

The Hevron Jewish community petitioned the Israeli government several times to be permitted to rent the remaining structures left in the market place but their request was consistently denied.


In March of 2001, a one-year old child, Shalhevet Pass, was shot point-blank in the head by an Arab sniper who had positioned himself in the area of the empty market. The Hevron Jewish community then decided that a Jewish presence there was necessary. They invested many thousands of dollars in converting the old market stalls into small apartments. Nine Hevron families moved in, and a religious study hall was established. This area was named Mitzpe (outlook) Shalhevet, in memory of the child.

Once the Jewish residents moved in, Arabs went to court claiming the buildings. The attorney general responded that the Arabs had no further claim, but that the Jewish “trespassers” would be evicted; the court accepted this and made no additional ruling. Eviction orders were issued by the attorney general’s office.


Before eviction could take place, the Jewish community appealed. Then the court ruled that the land was privately owned by Jews (the family of Rabbi Bajaoi had produced papers and indicated their desire that the Hevron Jewish community use the land). However, they also ruled that the market stalls, which had been put up by Jordan, were captured property that legally fell under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government.

The court recommended that the structures be leased by the government to the residents of Mitzpe Shalhevet. Attorney General Mazuz refused, determined to “punish” those who had used this property without permission. He pushed for eviction.

Eighteen months ago, when that eviction was about to take place, there was a gathering of protestors and violence seemed imminent. Crisis was averted when IDF officials on the scene — headed by General Yair Golan — negotiated a compromise with the residents, saying that if they moved out peacefully, legal Jewish occupancy of the market would be expedited and Jews from Hevron would soon be permitted to move in. Based on this agreement, the residents moved out voluntarily.

Subsequently, Attorney General Mazuz voided the agreement, saying that the IDF had no right to negotiate it. Mitzpe Shalhevet stood empty.


This brings us to the current crisis. Recently two families grew tired of the waiting, and the failed promises, and moved back into Mitzpe Shalhevet. And once more the government is out to remove them. “We’ve been fooled too many times,” the families are saying, “This time we’re not going peacefully.” The community is mindful of the fact that the court had provided a way out with its recommendation, and the government refused to take it, preferring confrontation.

Defense Minister Barak is making the decision in this regard now. Responding to pressure from the left (and mindful, undoubtedly, of elections coming up before too very long) he has decided to take action against these two families.

What makes this even more shameful is that the representatives of seven factions within the Knesset had appealed to Barak to not go this route. Last month they wrote a letter to him:

“We are marking 78 years since the 1929 riots, you are faced with a fateful decision concerning one of the sites which represents, more than anything else, the murder and the thievery [committed upon] the Hebron Jewish community of those days: the site of the ‘shuk’ [market place] in Hebron, where presently several families are living…We are dealing with Jewish-owned land, which was stolen as a result of the terrible slaughter. It is incumbent on the government to act to return the stolen property as would be expected in relationship to stolen Jewish property anywhere in the world.

“We the undersigned, chairmen of various parties in the Knesset, turn to you with this request to refrain from expelling these Jewish families living in the ‘shuk’ and to study alternative ways to resolve Jewish quarters at this site, legally… “The residents of Hebron prevented violence and conflict… when they voluntarily moved out of these homes, based upon promises that they would be allowed to return, honoring and respecting promises of representatives of the state, IDF officers. This type of approach is to be encouraged and rewarded, not discouraged… “For all the above reasons, we request, that you order that the issue of Jewish residency in the ‘shuk’ be studied seriously, and that in any case, you prevent, for the time being, any eviction of Jewish residents from the site.”

Barak’s decision, then, is disgraceful. I titled this posting “Essential Errors,” and without a shadow of a doubt, what Barak is doing qualifies in this respect.

~~~~~~~~~~ Posting: August 5, 2007

“Reality Check”

Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria will soon become areas “of violent clashes” between Fatah and Hamas. This is according to Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, Head of the Research Division at Military Intelligence, who provided a briefing to the Cabinet today. He said Fatah forces were trying to control Hamas but were ineffective and depended on the IDF.

So this is the reality. The question, then, is whether anyone –Bush, Rice and Olmert included– really believes a state can be fashioned from this.


Rice may be acting as if she thinks she can pull this off, but according to Aluf Benn of Haaretz, behind closed doors she’s focusing on practical issues, such as revamping PA security forces, and not on stages for bringing about a state.

According to the Haaretz analysis, here in Israel it’s negotiating novices Olmert and Livni who are most optimistic about making something happen. Those — even those well to the left who are ideologically predisposed to a state — who have “been there, done that” are skeptical now: Peres says Gaza is lost and Jordan must be involved (which means no Palestinian state as it had been envisioned during the Oslo period), and Barak, who offered Arafat a state in 2000, says Fatah and Hamas want the same thing but differ in their methods.


Martin Indyk, who served as US ambassador to Israel under Clinton and was around when Arafat said no to a state in 2000, stated the other day that he believes the Bush administration, in the year and some months that remain to it, does not have the time to forge a peace deal:

“I hope that’s not their plan. If so, they’ll drive it to a bad end. It’s bad to set artificial deadlines.

“I was burned by that. To try to push to a [full] agreement in the final year of the administration is precisely what George Bush criticized Clinton for doing. It would be ironic indeed if Bush wound up doing it himself.”

Ironic indeed.

The Palestinians, says Indyk, “don’t have the institutions or the capabilities to be responsible partners” to a final status deal.

He’s on the mark with all of this. What’s bad news is his solution: Some 10,000 international forces to help train the Palestinians and do joint operations with them. We do not want 10,000 international troops in Judea and Samaria. This is a recipe for disaster. And look how effective international forces in Lebanon have been.

Indyk’s parting shot is simply laughable: Bringing in foreign troops could gradually restore Israeli confidence in the viability of a “partnership” with the Palestinians. Does he not see the flaw in his reasoning? If the Palestinians need 10,000 outside troops to do what they should be doing, why would this restore confidence in them? This sort of thinking is endemic among those eager to cut the Palestinians slack.


And so the charade goes on. Tomorrow Olmert and Abbas will be meeting in Jericho to discuss “principles” that are preliminary to negotiations. Abbas says that this meeting must be one of “substance and not merely protocol.”


Today PA security officials had an announcement. It involves that group of some 180 Al-Aksa Brigades members to whom we were going to offer amnesty (going to stop pursuing) if they relinquished their weapons and foreswore terrorism. Well, the PA is saying that all but three on the list have now surrendered their weapons.

Call me an old cynic, if you wish, but, quite simply: I don’t believe it. Or, let’s say that either this is a fiction, or a pretense — with these guys being convinced to temporarily hand in their weapons with a promise they’ll get them back.

Why am I so cynical? Well, cynicism is, broadly, the proper frame of mind to adopt when dealing with the Palestinians. But in this instance the logic of the situation positively cries out for cynicism. Just days ago Israeli security was saying some 50% of those on the list had not turned in their weapons.

But now Abbas is to meet with Olmert. And guess what he intends to ask for? MORE Al Aksa Brigades people to be given amnesty. The number is 206, I believe. And how could he ask, if the first group wasn’t cooperating? So, perhaps he talked the malingerers into going with the plan temporarily so that more of their brothers might reap the benefits they will be reaping: no surprise raids by the IDF in the middle of the night.

Clearly, do not count on all of these Al Aksa guys having sincerely renounced terrorism. This is a reality check.


Last night the Israel air force took out two vehicles in southern Gaza, thereby foiling a major terrorist attack in the planning. One of the vehicles carried Islamic Jihad operatives and a large number of explosive devices including suicide belts.

Also reality: They’re still out there, still trying to get us. And we must thank Heaven every day for the vigilance of our forces, who stop them before they succeed.