COMBATING THE OSLO PROCESS
Rav Noach was a “veritable caspomat (ATM) for initiatives to stop the Oslo process,” recalls journalist David Bedein, who provided Rav Noach with regular updates about his efforts to derail the so-called “peace” process approximately every ten days from the time of the initial hand-shake between Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.
Bedein found Rav Noach unique among his rabbinical colleagues in his eagerness to be kept abreast about every aspect of the “peace process.”
Nor were the initiatives that Rav Noach sponsored mere gestures. Some had a major impact on the Oslo process.
Congressional testimony on Palestinian Authority corruption and noncompliance with its promises under the Oslo Accords almost led to Congress cutting off funding to the PA.
Only the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin reversed the momentum.
Legal action brought by an Aish student played a vital role in a major civil suit against Hamas-front groups in the United States, which caused Hamas funding in America to dry up.
The grassroots campaign of Shalom L’Dorot, in which Rav Noach was actively involved, arguably provided the razor-thin margin of victory of Binyamin Netanyahu over Shimon Peres in the 1996 Israeli election.
Rav Noach’s first significant contact with David Bedein was in 1987, when he received a call from Herb Green, a major Aish supporter from Toronto and father of Aish student David Green. Green had learned that a Palestinian terrorist with blood on his hands had surfaced in Canada, and he wanted him exposed and expelled from Canada.
Rav Noach consulted with Craig Karpel, a former Aish student and a well-established investigative journalist.
Karpel recommended that he contact Bedein, who had just opened his Israel Resource office with one room, two chairs, and a typewriter.
From Rav Noach’s opening salutation, “This is Noach,” it would prove a close and fruitful relationship.
[The terrorist in question, Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad, had fired a machine gun at an El Al plane on the ground in Athens in 1968 and killed an Israeli passenger. He was released a year later in exchange for a hijacked Olympic Airlines plane. Bedein arranged for a press conference at the Airline Pilots Association in Tel Aviv where the family of the slain Israeli, the pilot of the El Al plane, and passengers spoke. That press conference created a great deal of negative publicity for the terrorist in Canada. ]
The relationship between Rav Noach and David Bedein really flowered after the onset of the Oslo process.
Soon after the handshake seen around the world, Bedein began following Arafat around with a camera and filming his speeches in Arabic to Muslim audiences.
The latter speeches were radically different than those in English.
In Arabic, Arafat always took pains to assure his audiences that he had never changed with respect to his plans for the Jews of Israel, and that all statements appearing to accept peace with the Jews were tactical stratagems. Immediately after the signing of the first Oslo Accords, Arafat com-pared the Accords to the truce Mohammed signed with the Quraysh Tribes, which he subsequently abrogated when the balance of power swung in his favor.
Prime Minister Rabin once referred to Bedein as “the biggest pain stopping the Oslo process,” a description that Bedein wore as a considerable badge of pride. Rav Noach was informed and involved in all Bedein’s work and was crucial in directing substantial funding toward Bedein from Aish do-nors.
Rav Noach fully subscribed to the notion that exposing evil re-quires systematic planning and the investment of human and financial resources.
In 1995, Bedein and others working under the auspices of the Institute for Middle East Peace urged Congress to exercise a great deal more oversight over the Oslo process.
Once, Rav Noach was soliciting a donation from a very wealthy secular Jew. In the middle of the conversation, the man told Rav Noach that he did not see much impact from Aish HaTorah. “Why can’t you do something important like this?” the man said, as he threw down an article from the June 1979 Harper’s Magazine, entitled “Ten ways to break OPEC.” Rav Noach glanced at the article, noticed the author Craig Karpel and shocked the man by telling him that the author was indeed a former Aish student.
In August 1995, Yigal Carmon, who had served as the Chief Advisor on Counterterrorism under both prime ministers Shamir and Rabin, met privately with Congressman Benjamin Gilman, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to review films of Arafat’s recent speeches recorded by the Institute for Peace Education. Gilman announced thereafter that his committee would be exercising its oversight role to ensure that the Palestinian Authority was in compliance with its undertakings under the Oslo Accords.
That announcement occasioned great consternation at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the consulate in New York, both of which contacted Gilman to express their opposition to the hearings and particularly to the showing of tapes of Arafat speaking in Arabic.
Even a personal middle-of-the-night phone call from Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, however, could not keep Gilman from going forward with the hearings.
On September 20, one minute of a tape of Arafat calling for jihad against the Jewish state was shown. And that same day, Daniel Polisar of Peace Watch testified with respect to three crucial issues: (1) The refusal of the Palestinian Authority, under Arafat, to return escaped killers, including of American citizens; (2) Arafat’s continued funding of militias opposed to the Oslo Accords; and (3) the Palestinian Authority’s failure to collect weapons in the hands of the militias.
Also that day, the head of the US Government Accounting Office arrived to testify about PLO corruption and the estimated billions of dollars held in private accounts under Arafat’s control. He shocked the congressman, however, by announcing that he had been ordered by the CIA not to testify on the grounds that his documents were classified.
The US State Department had also requested media outlets not to report on the hearings due to their sensitive nature, and the media largely complied.
Despite the strenuous efforts of both the US and Israeli governments to suppress the record of Palestinian Authority noncompliance, David Bedein returned from a series of congressional briefings in late October convinced that further aid to the Palestinian Authority would not be extended without strict conditions of compliance with the Oslo Accords being imposed.
Then on October 31, Prime Minister Rabin appeared at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee and expressed doubts about the continued viability of the Oslo process.
All that changed overnight with Rabin’s assassination four days later.
The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., was now able to push through continued funding of the Palestinian Authority in the name of continuing the legacy of the fallen prime minister…
THE SDEROT MEDIA CENTER
Very few subjects caused Rav Noach’s blood to boil more than the situation of the twenty-four thousand Israeli citizens living in the dusty southern border town of Sderot.
Apathy to the plight of the residents of Sderot became for Rav Noach an all-purpose metaphor for the large- scale apathy of Jews today toward their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Following the complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005, Sderot came under constant bombardment from Gaza.
From the withdrawal until Operation Protective Edge in 2014, twenty thousand rockets were launched from Gaza at Sderot and the Western Negev.
Those Kassam rockets were mostly manufactured locally in Gaza.
Though primitive, they could be lethal, and, in fact, have claimed over fifty lives over the years.
From the time a siren sounds warning of an incoming rocket, residents of Sderot and nearby settlements have between fifteen and forty-five seconds to find the nearest reinforced shelter.
Approximately three-quarters of the children living in Sderot suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, except that in their case the word “post” is not yet operative.
The trauma is ongoing.
So when Noam Bedein came to visit Rav Noach in his home in early 2007 to outline a project to aid the residents of Sderot, his chances of gaining Rav Noach’s support were high, even if he had not been the son of David Bedein, who had worked closely with Rav Noach for nearly twenty years. (His father accompanied him to the meeting.)
Following his IDF service and a round-the-world tour following the army, the younger Bedein moved to Sderot to enroll as a filmmaking student at the local Sapir College.
His second Shabbos in Sderot, the “red alert” went off in the middle of kabbalas Shabbos. Most people continued davening.
Running for cover would have been pointless in any event as they could not reach a protected space within the time available to seek shelter.
The Kassam rocket landed a hundred meters from the shul.
After the explosion, a thirteen-year-old boy in shul began to shake uncontrollably and broke down in tears.
Younger children grabbed their father’s legs.
When he left the shul, Bedein saw a young boy lying wounded by shrapnel on the sidewalk and the windows of cars and apartment buildings blown out.
Such was the reality with which Sderot residents lived.
Already within little more than a year following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, one thousand Kassam rockets from Gaza had landed across the border in Sderot and the Western Negev.
Often described as “homemade,” as if to suggest that they were harmless, the Kassam rockets had claimed twenty-two lives in that same period.
Yet few people in Israel, much less the rest of the world, had any conception of the constant terror in which Sderot residents lived.
As he lay in bed that night, unable to sleep after his first encounter with a red alert, Bedein thought about how he might bring the plight of Sderot residents to the world.
He conceived the idea of visually documenting the constant fear with which Sderot residents had to contend.
That was the idea that he presented to Rav Noach. “What do you need?” was Rav Noach’s succinct reply.
Noam told him he needed eighteen thousand dollars for a camera and an old car to race to the scene of any rocket strike.
He walked out of Rav Noach’s home with the eighteen thousand dollars in hand and the Sderot Media Center (SMC) was born.
The documentaries produced by Bedein and the SMC have helped raise millions of dollars in private donations and hundreds of millions in government spending for the beleaguered residents of Sderot over the years, as a result of which Sderot and the Western Negev did not become uninhabitable.
In early 2007, SMC produced five investigative journalism articles on the disrepair of many local bomb shelters and the lack of adequate reinforcement against rockets of local schools and kindergartens.
The SMC reports in English reached abroad, and the Israeli embassy in London was flooded by inquiries as to why more was not being done.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government was obviously feeling the heat.
The next week, SMC received an individual invitation to a government press briefing, at which new expenditures on reinforcing schools and kindergartens were announced.
Before the opening of the next school year, SMC invited Israeli and foreign journalists and foreign diplomats to view the state of the bomb shelters and schools.
Meanwhile the Parents Association of Sderot brought suit in the Israeli High Court against the government, which wanted to reinforce only classrooms for children up to third grade and have older children take shelter in bomb shelters.
In the High Court hearing, an SMC video entitled Fifteen Seconds was shown to prove that in many cases it was impossible for even older children to reach a bomb shelter before the rocket hit.
The Parents Association prevailed.
Within months, millions of dollars in government funds were allocated to reinforce the schools and kindergartens, and 90 percent of the existing bomb shelters were repaired.
Over the years following, the government invested approximately $500 million in bomb shelters and reinforcing classrooms in Sderot and the Western Negev, and turned Sderot into the bomb shelter capital of the world (in the words of another SMC video).
Virtually every older building in Sderot now has a three- or four-story bomb shelter attached to it, and most children sleep in either a bomb shelter or a reinforced room.
SMC also prepared reports about the lack of staffing and budget for the local mental health facilities, even though $4.5 million dollars had been allocated by Jewish federations abroad for that purpose.
Some of the funding did arrive after publication of the investigative reports.
A third expose of the Israel Tax Authority documented the consistent failure to provide immediate compensation for property damage due to enemy attack, as provided by law.
SMC has not just been an advocate for the citizens of Sderot vis-?-vis the Israeli government.
It has proved a crucial resource in the inter-national public relations battle. SMC has served as a press briefing and information center for foreign journalists from the beginning of Operation Cast Lead in December 2007 to its conclusion in January 2008, and again during Operation Pillar of Fire two years later and during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
By January 2009, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had distributed three thousand SMC information kits to foreign journalists via Israeli embassies and consulates.
Those packets included articles by foreign journalists detailing what they saw in Sderot and a DVD with five video clips filmed by the SMC. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanked SMC for its crucial role servicing foreign journalists during Operation Cast Lead and noted that it had received many reports of foreign journal-ists using the SMC packets, particularly during times of military con-flict in Gaza.
Finally, SMC has greatly raised consciousness of the reality of life in Sderot in the Jewish world.
A Hasbara Fellowships group were the first visitors to the SMC after Noam Bedein began operations with the start-up money from Rav Noach, and the SMC is a regular stop for Hasbara Fellowships and Birthright groups.
To date, Bedein has visited over two hundred North American campuses.
Not long after he had the Sderot Media Center up and functioning, Noam returned for a second visit to Rav Noach’s home to show him the footage he had shot with the camera Rav Noach had paid for.
Rav Noach’s activities to protect the Jews of Israel had come full circle from his first meeting with David Bedein in 1987 to that second meeting in his home with the latter’s son, twenty years later.