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Monday, July 31, 2006

Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel

WE ARE WITH YOU

By Rabbi Avi Weiss

An account of one American rabbi’s journey through northern and southern Israel during the war of July-August, 2006 in the hope of imparting an accurate picture of how Israelis are coping. Rabbi Weiss stayed in the north for a week visiting the wounded, bereaved and those living in bomb shelters. What follows is a close-up of what Israelis are going through in these difficult days.


Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire


Rabbi Weiss is the founder and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. He is also Senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and President of AMCHA: The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.

You can email Rabbi Weiss at aweiss@yctorah.org



Crossposted at Israpundit

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What We Can Do To Help Israel

[updated 8/4]

Please Note: I have no connection or personal knowledge of any of the Tzedakahs listed below--if you are going to contribute money to any of them, please research them first.

Time Sensitive: Galilee Spirit: Voucher For Travel To Israel (program ends August 31; vouchers can be redeemed until June 30, 2007) [added 8/4]

***Take The Elder Tzedakah Challenge!***


Other Sources
J-Blogosphere: Live-Blogging the War & What We Can Do
View from a Height: If You're Looking to Help
Treppenwitz's 'Handy To-Do' List
Elder of Ziyon: What You Can Do
Israel At Level Ground: More Ways To Aid Israel
Crisis In Israel - How to Help [7/23]

Tefilla
Prayer Requests for Katyusha Rocket Victims in Tzfat

Shabbos
Make Shabbat For Families Hardest Hit In Israel [added 7/20]

Events

List of Israel Solidarity Rallies
Community Solidarity Gathering: July 23, 2006 [7/20]
StandWithUs: Signs For Rallies

Aid For Israel (General)
Town Crier: Hatzolah Israel
One Family Fund: An Urgent Appeal as Rockets Rain Down on Israel
Hatzalah of Yehuda and Shomron Need Your Help [added 7/17]
An Emergency Appeal from Hatzalah Israel [added 7/18]
NCSY: Israel Action Update June 18 2006 [added 7/18]
Magen David Adom On Code Red High Alert [added 7/19]
Israel Emergency Support Fund [added 7/21]

Aid for Northern Israel
Emergency Relief Fund For Tzefas and Northern Eretz Yisrael [added 7/21]
Help For Northern Israel and Beit Shemesh [7/23]
Operation Matok: Northern Israel and Sderot [7/23]
Donate Toys To The Children of Northern Israel [7/26]

Aid for Tzfat
American Friends of Tsfat Needs Your Help
Emergency Appeal For Tsfat (Nachal Novea Tsfat Fund) [7/19]
Emergency Relief Fund For Tzefas and Northern Eretz Yisrael [added 7/21]

Aid for Migdal Ohr
American Friends of Migdal Ohr Needs Your Help [7/19]

Aid for Beit Shemesh
Help For Northern Israel and Beit Shemesh [7/23]

Aid for Sderot
Operation Matok: Northern Israel and Sderot [7/23]

Help the IDF
Meryl Yourish: Pizza For IDF Soldiers
Help Israel Through "Table to Table" [added 7/19]
Send TLC Packages To The IDF [added 7/23]
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces [8/2]

From an email forwarded to me.

As the situation in Israel deteriorates...

As I write to you, the situation in Israel on the northern border continues to worsen. With katyushas raining down on Nahariya (killing one woman), the striking against Tzefat with katyushas and the threat by Hizzbullah to hit Haifa, the dozens injured...all of these add up to a very difficult time ahead for our fellow Jews in Israel. While we walk safely down our street, thousands of Jews spend this Shiva Asar B'Tammuz in bomb shelters protected (please G-d!) from katyushas.

At the same time, we can not forget that IDF forces are in Gaza attempting to rescue Gilad Shalit and are themselves in constant danger.

So, what course of action can WE take at this troubling time? I would suggest a number of things:

* For those of you with friends/relatives in Israel...call them! Tell them you are thinking about them and just be a source of comfort, at least via long distance.

* Whatever learning you would normally do, INCREASE the amount..no matter how small. If you learn a half hour, learn for 45 minutes, etc. The point is that if worldwide we can increase the amount of Torah learning, we can make a difference in Shamayim!

* When you learn, say out loud that you are learning for the Zechut (benefit) of those in danger in Israel.

* Say Tehillim! This is a long-standing action among Jews for centuries. The words of David HaMelech have helped us withstand calamity for 1000's of years.

* A special note to those shuls that do not recite the Mi Sheberach for the IDF: Whatever your reasons for not saying this Mi Sheberach...I urge you to look beyond politics! Take note of the fact that our soldiers (yes, they are OUR soldiers) are in grave danger. They need all of the Tefillot we can arrange for them. PLEASE...say this special Mi Sheberach! For those who daven where it is not said, URGE your rabbi to say it.

* For those who will be traveling to Israel in the near future, GIVE BLOOD at Magen David Adom

* In your tefillot, keep in mind Gilad ben Aviva Shalit and the two other soldiers whose names have just been released: Ehud Goldwasser, 31, from Nahariya and Eldad Regev, 26, from Kiryat Motzkin. (Their mothers' Hebrew names have not been published). [Their names are now known: Ehud ben Malka and Eldad ben Tova]

Share this email with others in order to encourage as many people to take whatever action that they may be able to take!

Finally, at Congregation KJBS, we will be saying an extended Tehillim today (Shiva Asar B'Tammuz) right after Mincha (which is at 8pm). Please make every attempt to be at KJBS (or any other place saying Tehillim) this evening.

Rabbi Zev M Shandalov
Cong KJBS
Chicago, IL

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Free Ain Ebel From The Terrorists!

(Hat Tip: The Corner)

Rampurple, a Lebanese blog, writes about the situation in the city of Ain Ebel:
Now here comes the most sickening part:
Hezbollah has been firing rockets from the village since Day 1 hiding behind innocent people’s places and even CHURCHES. No one is allowed to argue with the Hezbollah gunmen who wont hesitate to shoot you and i ve heard about more than one shooting incident including young men from the village and Hezbollah.
Urgent appeals have been done through phone calls from terrified people who wouldnt give out their name fearing Hezbollah might harm or even eliminate them.

This is the true image of our brave Islamic Resistance, putting the civilians and their homes as body shields to the Israeli bombardements.
The comments section, which is not exactly glowing in praise of Israel either, has a link to last week's New York Times article, Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah:
But for some of the Christians who had made it out in this convoy, it was not just privations they wanted to talk about, but their ordeal at the hands of Hezbollah — a contrast to the Shiites, who make up a vast majority of the population in southern Lebanon and broadly support the militia.

“Hezbollah came to Ain Ebel to shoot its rockets,” said Fayad Hanna Amar, a young Christian man, referring to his village. “They are shooting from between our houses.”

“Please,’’ he added, “write that in your newspaper.”
Though the use of civilians by Hizbollah may be noted in the media, it does not seem to have affected the pro-Hizbollah rallies that have been held.

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Lebanon: The Pause That Refreshes?

From The Corner, Rich Lowry writes about the response he received from an Israeli official about the 48 hour pause and what effect it will have.


Was just talking to an Israeli official. I asked him whether the temporary bombing pause would really be just temporary. He responded, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." He went on to explain that the purpose of the pause was to get by the moment when the Qana tragedy risked creating irresistable pressure toward an immediate, conditionless ceasefire that would be a victory for Hezbollah. The Israelis believe that the tactic is working and the conversation will soon return to hammering out the conditions that will make a ceasefire sustainable. On the Lebanese political situation, he said the Israelis believe there is a natural rally-around-Hezbollah effect that will fade over time. Finally, on the military campaign he says perhaps those disappointed in how it has been going had "unrealistic expectations." Hezbollah is "extremely well dug in and there is no quick fix." It's "a guerilla war, a war of attrition, and there's going to be no knock-out blow." He says the fighting is all about creating the best possible military conditions on the ground in advance of ceasefire with the right conditions. For what it's worth... [emphasis added]
First, I don't know if Israel has much of a track record on gauging--let alone influencing--world opinion. I've seen alot of pessimism being expressed and what this official says does nothing to change that.

Second, while there is alot of press on the expertise of Hizbollah and their terrorist military capabilities, it seems that what they really have going for them is their ability to hide behind women & children and having an Iranian sugardaddy, whose weapons are such a threat stabilizing force in the region (sorry, my French is not that good).


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France Thinks Iran's Swell

hat tip: Israel Matzav

YNet News carries a Reuters story that France thinks that Iran is one great country:
France: Iran plays stabilizing role in Middle East

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says Tehran is a significant, respected player in the Middle East – 'a great country, a great people and a great civilization'
Reuters

Iran is a significant, respected player in the Middle East which is playing a stabilizing role, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Monday.

"It was clear that we could never accept a destabilization of Lebanon, which could lead to a destabilization of the region," Douste-Blazy said in Beirut.

"In the region there is of course a country such as Iran – a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region," he told a news conference.
"a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region"

Gee, do you think they left anything out?

Contrast that with the comment by Daniel Bernard,the French Ambassador to France in 2002, that Israel was "a xxxxty little country" and added afterwards:
"Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?"
Good thing there are countries like Iran around--the model of stability in the Middle East

Meanwhile UNIFIL in Lebanon is led by French Major General Alain Pellegrini of France.

Somehow, I don't find that particularly reassuring.

Update: Another example of Iran's stabilizing influence (hat tip Hot Air):

Iraqi insurgents are teaching recruits sophisticated sniper techniques for targeting U.S. troops that include singling out engineers, medics and chaplains, according to training material obtained by U.S. military intelligence.

The insurgent sniper training manual was posted on the Internet. Among its tips: "Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare."

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A Pity the Iranians Are Not Arabs

Another thing of interest that I found in Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind is an annecdote that goes back to the eve of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence:

Musa Alami, the well-known Palestinian Arab leader, made a tour of the Arab capitals to sound out the leaders with whom he was well acquainted. In Damascus, the President of Syria told him:

I am happy to tell you that our Army and its equipment are of the highest order and well able to deal with a few Jews; and I can tell you in confidence that we even have an atomic bomb...Yes, it was made locally; we fortunately found a very clever fellow, a tinsmith...(p. 54-55)
Patai introduces this as an example of the inherent nature of the Arabic language which forms part of the Arab personality and the Arab tendency towards exaggeration.

These days, Iran is rapidly working its way towards nuclear ability, and the possession of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, Iran--though Moslem--is not Arab; and according to the CIA World Factbook, only 1% of Iranians speak Arabic.

So its a safe bet that Iran is not using a tinsmith.

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Oslo: Did The Arabs Say 'Yes' or 'YES!'

I've mentioned before that I am reading Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind. The problem is that every chapter or so I come across something that makes me stop and think: that's an idea for a post!

I'm going to indulge myself, so please bear with me.

In the chapter Under The Spell of Language, Patai writes:
Similarly, a simple assent from an Arab can be, for him, nothing more than a polite form of evasion, while the same word may mean for his English interlocutor a definite, positive commitment. If the Arab wishes to make such a commitment, he will use mubalagha [exaggeration] and tawkid [emphatic assertion], as well as repetition, which to the English speaker will sound strange, to say the least. The same difficulty works in the reverse. A simple “Yes” or “No” is, for the English speaker, a definitive statement. His Arabic interlocutor, however, conditioned as he is by the exaggeration and overassertion that are the rule in his own mother tongue, is simply incapable of understanding such brief and simple statements in the same sense. For him, “Yes” only means “Perhaps.” (“No” has for the Arab a similarly indefinite meaning.) Only if the English speaker had said: “Yes, I am telling you definitely, yes; I assure you positively and emphatically, yes; my answer is irrevocably and permanently, yes!" would the Arab have got the point that what the English speaker meant was “Yes.” (p. 60)
Now Patai's book first came out in 1973, and things may have changed, but I couldn't help wondering what kind of Arabic translators did they have for Oslo (and Oslo II, and Wye, and The Road Map)? Were these translators who just translated the Arabic literally, or did they--or anyone else there--have an underderstanding of the way the Arab language works?

Did the Arab representatives agree and say 'yes' in a non-commital way and seriously didn't feel bound by the agreement?

Kind of like when my wife asks me if I'm going to take out the garbage.

Maybe that's the answer: woman translators!

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Anti-Israel Condemnation Has Its Own Vocabulary

In The Vocabulary of Untruth, By Victor Davis Hanson gives a lexicon of anti-Israel vocabulary, Here are some of the terms he clarifies [check out the rest]:

A "ceasefire" would occur should Hezbollah give back kidnapped Israelis and stop launching missiles; it would never follow a unilateral cessation of Israeli bombing. In fact, we will hear international calls for one only when Hezbollah's rockets are about exhausted.

"Civilians" in Lebanon have munitions in their basements and deliberately wish to draw fire; in Israel they are in bunkers to avoid it. Israel uses precision weapons to avoid hitting them; Hezbollah sends random missiles into Israel to ensure they are struck.

"Deliberate" reflects the accuracy of Israeli bombs hitting their targets; it never refers to Hezbollah rockets that are meant to destroy anything they can.

"Deplore" is usually evoked against Israel by those who themselves have slaughtered noncombatants or allowed them to perish — such as the Russians in Grozny, the Syrians in Hama, or the U.N. in Rwanda and Dafur.

"Disproportionate" means that the Hezbollah aggressors whose primitive rockets can't kill very many Israeli civilians are losing, while the Israelis' sophisticated response is deadly against the combatants themselves. See "excessive."

"Innocent" often refers to Lebanese who aid the stockpiling of rockets or live next to those who do. It rarely refers to Israelis under attack.

The "militants" of Hezbollah don't wear uniforms, and their prime targets are not those Israelis who do.

"United Nations Action" refers to an action that Russia or China would not veto. The organization's operatives usually watch terrorists arm before their eyes. They are almost always guilty of what they accuse others of.

But Hanson's article is about more than just sarcastic fun and games. He also addresses what causes the cynical psuedo-condemnations that are thrown in Israel's direction:

What explains this distortion of language? A lot.

First there is the need for Middle Eastern oil. Take that away, and the war would receive the same scant attention as bloodletting in central Africa.

Then there is the fear of Islamic terrorism. If the Middle East were Buddhist, the world would care about Lebanon as little as it does about occupied Tibet.

And don't forget the old anti-Semitism. If Russia or France were shelled by neighbors, Putin and Chirac would be threatening nuclear retaliation.

Israel is the symbol of the hated West. Were it a client of China, no one would dare say a word.

Population and size count for a lot: When India threatened Pakistan with nukes for its support of terrorism a few years ago, no one uttered any serious rebuke.

Finally, there is the worry that Israel might upset things in Iraq. If we were not in Afghanistan and Iraq trying to win hearts and minds, we wouldn't be pressuring Israel behind the scenes.

But most of all, the world deplores the Jewish state because it is strong, and can strike back rather than suffer. In fact, global onlookers would prefer either one of two scenarios for the long-suffering Jews to learn their lesson. The first is absolute symmetry and moral equivalence: when Israel is attacked, it kills only as many as it loses. For each rocket that lands, it drops only one bomb in retaliation — as if any aggressor in the history of warfare has ever ceased its attacks on such insane logic.

The other desideratum is the destruction of Israel itself. Iran promised to wipe Israel off the map, and then gave Hezbollah thousands of missiles to fulfill that pledge. In response, the world snored. If tomorrow more powerful rockets hit Tel Aviv armed with Syrian chemicals or biological agents, or Iranian nukes, the "international" community would urge "restraint" — and keep urging it until Israel disappeared altogether. And the day after its disappearance, the Europeans and Arabs would sigh relief, mumble a few pieties, and then smile, "Life goes on."

And for them, it would very well.

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Defining An Atrocity: Israel's Side of the Ledger

Canada.com responds to the claim of atrocities commited by Israel by recounting some of what Israel has suffered over the past 2 years:
Israel's critics cite the civilian death toll as justification for anti-Semitic rants and words like "atrocity." But if we are going to condemn civilian deaths, let's consider the following:
March 14, 2004 -- Ten people were killed and 16 wounded in a double suicide-bombing at Ashdod Port in Israel.

Aug. 31, 2004 -- Sixteen people were killed and 100 wounded in two suicide-bombings within minutes of each other on two Beersheba buses.

Oct. 7, 2004 -- A total of 32 people were killed in terror bombings at two Sinai holiday resorts frequented by Israelis. Among the dead were 12 Israelis; over 120 were wounded.

Nov. 1, 2004
-- Three people were killed and over 30 wounded in a suicide bombing at the Carmel Market in central Tel Aviv.

Feb. 25, 2005 -- Five people were killed and 50 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Stage club in Tel Aviv.

July 12, 2005 -- Five people were killed and around 90 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Hasharon Mall in Netanya.

Oct. 26, 2005 -- Six people were killed and 55 wounded, six seriously, in a suicide bombing at the Hadera open-air market.

Dec. 5, 2005 -- Five people were killed and more than 50 wounded in a suicide bombing at the entrance to the Sharon shopping mall in Netanya.

March 30, 2006 -- Four people were killed when a suicide-bomber disguised as an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student detonated an explosive in a private vehicle near the entrance to Kedumim.

April 17, 2006 -- Eleven people were killed and more than 60 wounded in a suicide bombing during the Passover holiday in Tel Aviv.

In the last six years, in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, 7,520 Israelis have been injured and 1,133 killed.

Now that's an atrocity.
No.
The way those attacks have been ignored by the West and the media--that's an atrocity.

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Israeli Air Strike Did NOT Kill 23 Children

Hat tip: Israel Matzav

On the one hand we have the Reuters report, which indicates a number of countries rushing to condemn Israel:
Israeli air strike kills 23 children

AN Israeli air strike has killed at least 51 Lebanese civilians, including 23 children. The raid prompted the Lebanese Government to cancel a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In the bloodiest single attack in Israel's 19-day-old war on Hezbollah, houses collapsed and a three-storey building was destroyed in the southern village of Qana yesterday.

The bodies of 23 children were among those recovered from under the rubble of dozens of buildings.

Terrified mothers embraced the bodies of their dead children, still wearing the pyjamas they had gone to sleep in.

The bodies were covered in dust.
With the expected condemnations from--

Lebanon:
Lebanon told the US it could not meet with Dr Rice until a ceasefire ended Israel's offensive.

"There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said.

"The persistence of Israel in its heinous crimes against our civilians will not break the will of the Lebanese people."

Mr Siniora denounced the attackers as "Israeli war criminals".
Jordan:
Jordan's King Abdullah also urged an immediate ceasefire, saying the latest Israeli air strike was an "ugly crime".

The monarch labelled it a "gross violation of all international statutes".
France:
French President Jacques Chirac also condemned the plane attack, which he called an "unjustifiable action".
Great Britain:
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has described the raid as "quite appalling".

"It's absolutely dreadful," she said.

"Undoubtedly today's events will make things worse, at least in the short term. We have repeatedly urged Israel to act proportionately."
All of which drowns out Israel's response:
Israel's military said it had warned residents to leave and said Hezbollah bore responsibility for the attack by using the village to fire rockets at the Jewish state.
But what really happened? According to YNet News:
IDF: Qana building fell hours after strike

IDF continuing to check difficult incident at Qana village, and attempting to account for strange gap between time of the strike on the building – midnight – and eight in the morning, when the building collapsed
Hanan Greenberg

An IDF investigation has found that the building in Qana struck by the Air Force fell around eight hours after being hit by the IDF.

"The attack on the structure in the Qana village took place between midnight and one in the morning. The gap between the timing of the collapse of the building and the time of the strike on it is unclear," Brigadier General Amir Eshel, Head of the Air Force Headquarters told journalists at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, following the incidents at Qana.

Eshel and the head of the IDF's Operational Branch, Major General Gadi Eisnkot said the structure was not being attacked when it collapsed, at around 8:00 in the morning.

The IDF believes that Hizbullah explosives in the building were behind the explosion that caused the collapse.

Another possibility is that the rickety building remained standing for a few hours, but eventually collapsed. "It could be that inside the building, things that could eventually cause an explosion were being housed, things that we could not blow up in the attack, and maybe remained there, Brigadier General Eshel said.

"I'm saying this very carefully, because at this time I don't have a clue as to what the explanation could be for this gap," he added.
Brigadier General Eshel need not apologize for not having a clue.
Obviously, neither do
Lebanon,
Jordan,
France,
or Great Britain.

But of course that didn't stop them.

[You Tube has a video about Hizbollah's use of citizen's in Qana]

Update:
It is now being reported that Israel is agreeing to a 48 hour cease-fire while the incident is being looked into.
So what happened to the reporting about the 8-hour delay?

More Inconsistencies! See More Questions On The Building Collapse In Qana

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Photos That Damn Hezbollah

Hat Tip: The Corner

The following is from The Herald Sun. Personally, I think the title of the article is overly optimistic, since the nature of the media--and Kofi Annan--is to ignore or whitewash these kinds of details.

Make sure to check out the site to see the uniforms Hizbollah wears--simultaneously hiding from the IDF and putting the lives of the Lebanese in danger.
Photos that damn Hezbollah
Chris Link

July 30, 2006 12:00am
Article from: Sunday Herald Sun


THIS is the picture that damns Hezbollah. It is one of several, smuggled from behind Lebanon's battle lines, showing that Hezbollah is waging war amid suburbia.

The images, obtained exclusively by the Sunday Herald Sun, show Hezbollah using high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy-calibre weapons.

Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly disappear, the militants carrying automatic assault rifles and ride in on trucks mounted with cannon.

The photographs, from the Christian area of Wadi Chahrour in the east of Beirut, were taken by a visiting journalist and smuggled out by a friend.

...The images include one of a group of men and youths preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun metres from an apartment block with sheets hanging out on a balcony to dry.

Others show a militant with AK47 rifle guarding no-go zones after Israeli blitzes.

Another depicts the remnants of a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket in the middle of a residential block blown up in an Israeli air attack.

The Melbourne man who smuggled the shots out of Beirut and did not wish to be named said he was less than 400m from the block when it was obliterated.

"Hezbollah came in to launch their rockets, then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets," he said.

"Until the Hezbollah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then it was totally devastated.

"It was carnage. Two innocent people died in that incident, but it was so lucky it was not more."

The release of the images comes as Hezbollah faces criticism for allegedly using innocent civilians as "human shields".

Mr Egeland blasted Hezbollah as "cowards" for operating among civilians.

"When I was in Lebanon, in the Hezbollah heartland, I said Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending in among women and children," he said.


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Haveil Havalim #80 Is Up!

This week Soccer Dad is hosting Haveil Havalim #80 Part I and Part II, featuring all kinds of links--in the following categories:

o The UN helps those who won’t help themselves and blames those who do
o Anti-Zionism etc.
o Blogging etc.
o Israel’s fight
o Bint Jbeil
o Jewish Life
o The state department
o Supporting Israel
o The lighter side
o Thoughts on Life

If you would like to submit one or two of your best Israel or Judaism related posts send an email to Soccer Dat at dhgerstman at hotmail dot com.

In addition to e-mail you may submit entries to Haveil Havalim using either Conservative Cat's handy dandy submission form or the submission form over at BlogCarnival.

Listed at the Truth Laid Bear Ubercarnival.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat

Arrival in Tsfat

Friday: July 21, 2006

I arrived in Israel to learn that five more soldiers were being buried today. I went to the funeral of one of them--Benjy Hillman, a 26 year old son of British immigrants who was married just three weeks ago. The rabbi of Pardes Hanna where Benjy had studied, noted that we would be soon welcoming the Shabbat bride. “Just three weeks ago Benjy said to Ayala, Bo-ee Kallah-Come, My Bride. Today it’s being said in heaven,” he sobbed.

We left the funeral to travel to Tsfat where I’m spending Shabbat with Aharon and Miriam Botzer, the founders of the extraordinary Livnot U'lehibanot program. I'm here with my colleagues, YCT student, Yonah Berman and Rabbi Adam Scheier and around 25 others who came to be with the Jews under attack in the north.

Tsfat is quite empty, and those who remain in the city that has sustained many, many Katyusha attacks over the past few days, are in bomb shelters.

When I look north, I can see the smoke of today's Katyushas. We have been warned that more Katyusha's are expected in the hours right before the start of Shabbat, and we're ready to go into the shelter when the siren sounds.

Miriam and Aharon note that many people from Tsfat have been offered housing in the communities of Ofra, Beit El and Gush Etzion--all over the Green Line.

Miriam reminded me as we prepared for Shabbat, that she experienced her first Yom Hashoah commemoration at the Bayit, in Riverdale.

May we all experience a Shabbat of peace.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire

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Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat

Shabbat in Tsfat

Shabbat: July 22, 2006

Shabbat in Tsfat filled me with mixed emotions. On one hand, the people who are still here are resilient. On the other, the vast majority of the citizens have left town. The main street, normally bustling after Shabbat, is deserted tonight.

We davened kabbalat Shabbat in the open, under the skies on the roof of the Livnot U’Lehibanot building. From there we went to the central square to join others who had come outside for Maariv. The Sephardic chief Rabbi Shmuel Mizrachi stopped by and there we were, on this difficult Shabbat, dancing in hope and prayer and belief that all would be well.

During the Friday night seuda, I met Devorah, an older woman who had miraculously escaped a katyusha hit on her home. She said that while she is a savta, she is still looking for the love of her mother & father and found it in Aharon and Miriam Botzer, Livnot founders and veteran Tsfat residents, who have taken her in.

As she served the many people at the Shabbat table, Devorah remarked that she feels like a child in her parent’s home, helping to serve the Shabbat meal.

After dinner we visited Mayor Yishai Mamon who was firmly ensconced in the Moked, the city’s central command post. Yishai survived the Maalot massacre of 1974 as a 17 year-old. He resolved to do all he can to keep Israel strong. He spoke to us in redemptive terms, convinced that we will soon be victorious. He pointed out that we are fortunate that Israel stepped into the battle now; had we waited any longer, the rockets may well have contained biological and chemical warheads.

After Shabbat morning tefillah, we sat with Cantor Uri Marton, a chazan in the IDF. He shared with us how he has learned different nusachot-- Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Persian so that he can officiate at all IDF funerals. He raised a cup of wine and using the Sephardi tune, recited a beracha. As he drank, we heard someone a few streets down echoing the blessing using the same Sephardic nusach and text. As if to emphasize our togetherness.

In the afternoon, we saw the site of the broken walls of the residence of the Mor family. In front of the house a small bicycle, a child’s coat and even a table with some unfinished food were all visible. One member of the Mor family was severely injured in the attack. As we walked through Tsfat, we stopped in at several bomb shelters. In one gloomy shelter, we were able to convince little Nechama and Eliezer to go outside for the first time in 9 days.

We walked on to one of the newer parts of the city. In front of one apartment building we saw a microcosm of Israeli society. We met Natan, a veteran of three wars, and standing near him was Sofia, who came from Russia 8 years ago and wants to return. Senedad, an 18 year-old Ethiopian who is soon going into the IDF, joined the conversation. Right there on the spot we gave her a new name--Tova, in the prayer all would be well. And we sang Am Yisrael Chai.

But the most difficult moments were those we spent visiting the Rebecca Sieff Hospital. Over the past few days, the hospital has sustained a few direct hits. In one section, shattered glass still lay around. What possesses a human being to lob rockets with the intent to hit hospitals?

As we moved through the hospital wards we met Nadav, an IDF tank driver, who was hit last Thursday and pulled from his tank into an empty house in Southern Lebanon. It took his IDF buddies almost 48 hours to extricate him as they came under Hizbollah fire.

After Shabbat we visited Nachshon, who was “lightly wounded,” but clearly despondent as he shared with me that he had lost two of his friends with whom he had served for the past three years.

In yet another room was Alex, a chayal from Kiryat Shmona wounded by fragments of a katyusha that entered his body close to his spine. Looking into his eyes, I could see his obvious concern over his future. His friend Gal, less severely injured, sat nearby, helping Alex drink water.

Claudine had just been brought in, after a rocket hit her home in the waning hours of Shabbat. Her mother, a nurse in the hospital, was more seriously hurt and was being treated downstairs in the ER.

We told all of them that we had come to stand with them and to thank them. I pray our visit brought some comfort.

We ended Shabbat with representatives from the Lev Ehad organization, whose mission is to bring joy to those confined to the bomb shelters, especially kids. It was inspiring to see young people so committed to helping those in need.

As I look over the hills surrounding Tsfat at night, there's now an eerie silence, a strange peacefulness that contrasts with the constant backdrop of booms and thuds from Katyushas and IDF retaliation that we heard all during Shabbat. The devastation being wrought on this holy city is palpable.

This is a real war. There's fear, uncertainty and yet within it all there is hope.

Several people have asked why I came during this difficult time. Perhaps Rabbi Adam Scheier of Shaare Shomayim in Montreal and Yonah Berman, a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah said it best. “We came because there is no choice.” At a time when Israel is under attack, everyone in their own way tries to do whatever they can to help. Although we all live in N. America, our souls are here, bound up with our people and land.

We're in the period of the Three Weeks coming closer and closer to Tisha B'Av. One message of the fast is that built in to the mourning are aspects of holiday. At the end of Tisha B'Av, we bless the New Moon. The same moon that wanes and disappears, reappears, and waxes full.

So too, God willing, in Tsfat, stressful as it is with Katyushas falling all around us, somehow we will overcome.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire

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Day 3: Haifa

Haifa

Sunday: July 23, 2004

A stressful but meaningful day. As I left Tsfat with my traveling companion, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah student, Yonah Berman, we met Elliot Chodoff, a major in the IDF reserves, who had just received a Tsav 8 call up notice. He pointed out that Hezbollah is playing mind games with the IDF.

On the way to Haifa, we picked up two soldiers who turned out to be Druze. For a moment I wondered whether this was a set-up for a kidnapping. Such is the power of terrorism. It turns everyone into a suspect. It's almost as if everyone has lost their innocence.

As we approached Haifa, Dr. Jesse Lachter who was to meet me, called and told us the siren was sounding. “Pull over the car and hit the ground,” he said urgently. It wasn’t long till we found out that someone was killed in Haifa today by a direct hit on their car. It reminded us again that what is happening here is real.

Dr Shraga Barzel, who spent a year in Riverdale in the early 90s and who heads the neo-natal unit at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital met us at the gate.

As we went inside the hospital, ambulances pulled up with the injured from the latest Haifa rocket attack. Outside, we saw rows and rows of cots as doctors and nurses quickly took the injured inside.

Dr Barzel and Jesse brought me to the office of the Director General, Dr Beyar, who pointed out that there's a great need at Rambam to build a unit that will be secure from rocket attacks. In the midst of our conversation, another siren sounded, and we all gathered in an adjacent vestibule for protection.

From there we walked into the dining room that had been turned into a makeshift triage section. A nurse was dealing with someone who looked like a very troubled individual. Jonny was clearly suffering from stress. We were told that he enjoyed soccer, and a smile crossed his face when we discussed Italy’s World Cup victory.

In the hospital we visited a number of injured soldiers. Amongst them was Ronen who had been injured when he left his tank to help a comrade who was hurt. He looked so young and so shell-shocked, all we could do is tell him he's not alone, that our people are with him.

As we left the hospital and started to climb the Carmel to Jesse’s home, I felt overwhelmed by all the pain I had seen. Jesse turned to me and said it looks like you need a psychiatrist. He pulled out a CD of my dear friend, Elli Kranzler, a professional psychiatrist and brilliant soul singer at our Bayit in Riverdale. Elli and his daughter, Ravital were singing the haunting words of the Psalm, Gam Ki Elech-“Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me.” On the right side of the car, I could see the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Above our heads, the heavens sprinkled with fluffed white clouds, and on our left, the Carmel housing projects neatly tucked into the mountains, beautifully built by the people of Israel. It all seemed so peaceful, and yet we were walking in the valley of darkness. For the first time during this visit, tears came to my eyes.

Jesse took me to see his rabbi Edgar Nof, who leads the Or Hadash Reform synagogue. I felt a special connection to him. Rockets and katysuhas don’t distinguish between people. They kill all kinds of Jews and for that matter, non-Jews as well.

As I entered Jesse’s home, I reconnected with his wife, Noga. Noga's brother Effie was killed in the 1982 Lebanon War. She recalled my condolence visit to her family. Upon leaving, I recited the traditional Hamakom Yinachem Otach, which I explained to mean, May God comfort you. She reminded me that her father, Mordechai, the head of Zim Lines in New York, looked up at me and said, “Let me tell you the real meaning of Hamakom. Hamakom should be literally translated as ‘this place,’ the land of Israel, it is my only comfort.”

We moved on to the Elisha Hospital. Just as Elisha the prophet brought the dead back to life, this hospital for patients in a vegetative state carries his name, in the hope that somehow they will be revived.

We saw several soldiers at Elisha, but the one I'll always remember is Koby, a man in his 30s, who some 13 years ago was present at a terrorist bombing in Ashkelon. He ran to help the injured and then returned again to help others, only to be seriously wounded. He has been in a coma ever since that day. Seeing Koby reminded us that terror attacks often leave terrible aftermaths that go well beyond the moment of terror itself.

A private nurse sits with each patient at Elisha Hospital. The government provides around-the-clock private nursing for these patients. Most often, these special caretakers are immigrants from Russian-speaking countries. I thought of the countless demonstrations held all over the world demanding freedom for Soviet Jews. Today they are free in the land of Israel, trying to free others from their state of unconsciousness.

We reached out to hold Koby’s hand and the hands of those attending to him and started to sing Rav Shlomo Carlebach’s melody to Am Yisrael Chai, the Soviet Jewry theme song. Somehow, the song seemed much slower and sadder than usual. I looked up and saw Yonah holding the hands of some of the soldiers. I was overwhelmed by his obvious care and gentleness and gratified to see that all the experience and teaching he has received at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, including the pastoral psychology classes, had made a big impact. Yonah will be an extraordinary empathetic rabbi.

We paid a visit to the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shaar Yashuv Cohen. As soon as we walked in the siren went off and we quickly walked into the shelter. I couldn’t help recalling a visit with the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Meir Lau during the Gulf War in 1991 when we ran through the streets as the Scuds fell.

We traveled north to Kiryat Motzkin to visit the family of abducted soldier, Eldad Regev. As we entered the apartment building, we saw a large picture of Eldad with the words, ‘We Are Waiting for You: We Are With You.’

We knocked on the door and were greeted by Eldad's brothers, Eyal and Ofer, and their father, Zvi. We were immediately taken by their graciousness. Despite the immense stress of their situation, they were so hospitable; just normal people in the most abnormal circumstances. As we told them we wanted to do whatever we could for them it became clear that these were very private people. The very idea of beginning a public campaign for Eldad’s release was not compatible with their reserved nature.

Listening to the family speak, especially an aunt, who spoke of her family's history during the Shoah, I sensed that they felt so terribly vulnerable--so helpless. What they are feeling reflects on some level what is happening in the country. The rockets land, no one knows quite where, or where the next one might land. From that instant everyone is exposed. As strong as Israel is, we're not invincible, we're vulnerable. Many Israelis in recent days have expressed the deeply held conviction of “Ayn Lanu eretz Acheret”-We don’t have any other land besides Israel.


Hezbollah cannot destroy the state. But by instilling fear they are fulfilling their goal of breaking the morale of the people. I see the fear in the eyes of parents as well as children as they run to the shelters. The deserted towns of Carmiel and Tsfat reflect the same fear.

So Diaspora Jewish communities must do all we can to respond by giving strength, lending moral as well as financial support to the land of Israel and its people.

Here in Israel, everyone is doing something. Last Shabbat, Natan and Avital Sharansky spent the weekend at a One Israel camp for kids evicted from their homes in Gush Katif last summer, many of whom are living in southern areas under constant Kassam attack. Natan played chess with the youngsters. Hundreds of Israelis in areas beyond rocket range have opened their homes to house refugees from the north. Volunteers man telephone hotlines, and others collect food and supplies for those confined to shelters for almost two weeks.

As we head back to Tsfat the images of those we have seen today flash through my mind. All we could do is recite a simple prayer: May God be with the people and the land of Israel.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire


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Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya

Tiberias and Nahariya

Monday: July 24, 2006

Today, for the first time, we experienced a katyusha attack up close. We were visiting a bomb shelter in Tiberias, a town hard hit by days of rocket attacks. Together with Yonah Berman and Rabbi Yamin Levy, we tried to bring joy to the children cooped up in these stuffy, cramped rooms with little ventilation and horrific sanitation facilities.

One set of parents invited us to see their home just 100 feet away. As we left their apartment after spending a few minutes there, the siren went off. I moved slowly, not believing I was in any real danger when suddenly the shouts came,” Run, it's coming this way!”

It was impossible to reach the shelter in the few seconds before we heard the thunderous booms hitting the ground. Between 4-6 rockets landed about 100 yards away. The Katyushas set the fields ablaze and people were afraid that the synagogue just down the road would be set on fire. Thank God that didn't occur. Rockets hit upper Tiberias injuring five people at the very same time as the attack we witnessed.

No one was physically hurt by this particular attack, but I could see the fear in the eyes of the children in the bunker. Little girls were digging their nails into their mother’s hands. Their knees were shaking as they looked to their parents for embrace and love and protection, which their parents could not offer in any foolproof way.

Such is the goal of terror--to instill fear, to immobilize, to make children's bodies quiver and the elderly shake in trepidation.

What could we say to these children as we left? Only to hug them and to tell them how much we love them.

This incident brought home powerfully how vulnerable one could feel not knowing where or how the rockets could hit. I wondered deep down how is it that any human being can target civilians and children?

Even hospitals are potential Hezbollah targets. This was brought home hours earlier when we went to see the Nahariya Hospital. Nahariya is Israel’s most northern coastal town and has been shelled relentlessly. The hospital rooms on the floors above ground have all been cleared out, as hospital officials are fearful that rockets will hit and injure and kill. In fact, the entire hospital has moved underground. Imagine, a hospital functioning through underground tunnels and wards.

Many of these wards are filled with people undergoing normal, scheduled hospital treatment, but there are also a number of soldiers and civilians who have been injured in the war. Jews and Arabs alike. Hizbollah doesn’t discriminate.

Amongst the soldiers we encountered was Eyal, a tank commander from Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi. As his girlfriend and mother sat close by, Eyal insisted that he would return to the battle after his recovery. “My friends are there fighting, I can’t allow them to be there without me,” he said firmly. Together we recalled Matan Robinson from the same kibbutz, who gave his life fighting terrorists in Jenin.

We went to see the family of abducted soldier, Ehud Goldwasser in Nahariya. We met Ehud’s wife, Karnit and his parents Shlomo and Mikki. This is a family that is so full of the joy of life and so full of hope. As we shared the love that Jews and freedom-loving people have for them, we expressed our support and told them of the outpouring of love for Ehud around the world. We discussed ideas about possible public activity to try to secure Ehud’s freedom.

Over the years I have encountered many families of kidnapped sons, but in Karnit I found an unusual spirit. Karnit expressed such deep love, the love of a soul mate for her husband, and in many ways she reminded me of Avital Sharansky who traveled the world to gain her husband’s freedom. May Karnit be successful and may Ehud soon be free.

Our last stop was with the Strauss family, whose name graces a significant portion of Israel’s dairy products. They sit in their plush home near Nahariya with the possibility of going anywhere they want. “This is our home,” they said “and we will not move from here.”

As we left Nahariya we stood in prayer for a few moments on the beach overlooking the Sea. The air was still warm. Perhaps, some would suggest, standing out there in prayer was foolhardy. But we needed this moment just to look around and see the beauty of a peaceful Israel. As we heard more booms in the distance, all we could do was offer the prayer that peace come soon.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire

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Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana

Tsfat and Raanana

Tuesday: July 25, 2006

Today was a transition day as we moved from the north to Jerusalem in preparation for going south to Sderot, Ashkelon and the communities near Gaza tomorrow.

This morning, as we drove toward Tsfat’s Sieff Hospital to visit the wounded, the siren sounded. Having experienced a close call in Tiberias the day before, Yonah Berman, my student and traveling companion stopped the car and we jumped out and hit the ground to avoid flying shrapnel. As I lay there, I offered a prayer that no one be hurt. We got up only to see that the rocket had landed 200 yards from us in an open area just missing the Emergency Room of the hospital. Last week there was a direct hit on one wing of the hospital.

In the wards of Sieff Hospital we saw all kinds of efforts being made by caring people to bring relief to those in distress. A protected room had been converted to an early childhood center, where the children of hospital workers are cared for. With the constant sirens and rocket attacks, the only way parents can come to work is if they can keep their children with them. Clowns and volunteers with guitars and bongos keep the kids entertained. The kids crowded around as smiles crossed their faces. I spotted a beautiful little Ethiopian boy and lifted him in the air. Like me, his name is Avraham, and his father is Moshe.

In another area of the hospital, Miriam Botzer of Livnot U’Lehibanot and some other volunteers have created a Snoezelen room, a special relaxation area that both stimulates and relaxes the senses. It was created especially for those who need a calm environment.

We went on to room after room filled with wounded soldiers. I was deeply struck by Guy, 33, the commander of a tank brigade. Looking into his face one can see he is seriously wounded. His eyes are sunken and deep as he explains how his tank gunner died in his arms. As we walked in, I could see he was dictating something to a woman soldier. Guy's mother, Rachel, told me he was dictating the eulogy to be given at the funeral of his friend, Lotan Slavin, 21. I told Guy that we would be offering prayers for his recovery in shul this Shabbat in New York. He looked up and said, “Rather than pray for me, pray for my soldiers.”

In another bed lay Tiran, a Druze soldier named after Israel's capture of the Tiran Straits in 1967. I asked Tiran what message I could bring to my community. Somewhat surprisingly, he said, “Tell them to come and live in Israel.”

Nearby lay Avraham. He too was seriously wounded. I'll never forget his words. “We must go in. Better we are hit than the civilians.” I expressed the deep support from Jews around the world. The highest level of love, I remarked to Avraham as well as a group of 30 soldiers we met a day earlier, is not when you love someone else, but when you just know that the other person loves you. I offered the prayer that the soldiers realize how much they are loved.

As we drove south, we picked up Yonatan, a soldier waiting for a ride on the road. Yonah, my student, who had served in the army, engaged him in conversation. It turned out that Yonatan was in the tank behind Guy, whom we had just left in Sieff Hospital, and helped treat Guy after he was wounded.

We quickly felt extraordinary closeness with Yonatan as we expressed our support. We took him directly to his home before he went on to Lotan’s funeral. As we parted, we pleaded with him to take money for gifts for all his fellow soldiers. We embraced and promised we would meet again soon.

Continuing on our way, we stopped in Raanana to pay a shiva visit at the home of fallen Egoz commander, Benjy Hillman. All we could do was sit in silence. The pain is beyond words when a young man like Benjy is lost. When I finally managed to explain to his mother, Judy, why we were there, she said quietly, “It makes a great difference when people say they care.”

Tomorrow we’re on our way down south. With all that's happening in the north, we forget that Kassams are still dropping on Jewish communities in the south. The fighting is easier because Hamas has not been given a chance to dig in. Hezbollah has had six years to regroup and build itself up since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

I’m not a military man, and know little about military matters. But what I'm sensing from everyone here is that Israel has been taken by surprise. We’ve been surprised by the number of Katyushas, their range and even their whereabouts.

Some military analysts are claiming that Hezbollah can’t be eliminated by air strikes alone, since the terrorists are operating from inside deep bunkers. It appears that more ground forces will be sent in to do the job, which means that things will likely get worse before they get better.

Traveling today from north to south, I literally saw two countries. Up north, there’s hardly a car on the road; stores and banks are closed and there’s no one on the streets. As we moved south of Haifa, we saw people relaxing on the beaches and I actually enjoyed being in a typical Israeli traffic jam! South of Haifa, cities are bustling and people are going about their everyday lives.

But of course Israel is not two countries it is one. Now is not the time for political debates, or for exacerbating the tension that too often exists between religious and secular Israelis. The only way we will overcome is if we unite as one people with one heart.

In recent years it was the belly of Israel, Netanya, Hadera and Tel Aviv that was vulnerable and suffered from terrorists coming from Judea and Samaria. At times the south suffered as Kassams rained down from Gaza. Now it is the north that's a war zone. We can overcome it all if we live the message of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi that in the end the Jewish people is like a body. If any part of the body hurts, then every part of the body hurts. So too with the land and the people of Israel.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire

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Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem

Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem

Wednesday: July 26, 2006

My student Yonah Berman and I were looking forward to a calmer day as we drove south to Sderot. What we didn’t realize was that what awaited us was a day filled with tremendous anxiety and pain.

On the way down south we stopped at the temporary home of former Gush Katif residents, Matti and Aliza Yifrach. Last summer I stayed with them for a week in Netzer Hazani during the last days before Israel’s pullout from Gaza. Right after they were taken out of their home, the Yifrachs moved with many other Netzer refugees to Hispin in the Golan. Today they explained to me that because they had gone to Hispin in an effort to keep their community together, and refused the government’s offer of immediate temporary housing, the authorities are now denying them the “caravilla” offered to other former Gush Katif residents. At the end of August they have to be out of their temporary home and have nowhere to go.

As we entered Sderot, we could immediately recognize a small town in the midst of significant trauma. Hand-lettered signs hung in the square in front of the modest municipality building read: “We wish to sleep in peace.” Another sign read: “Through this war we’ve been forgotten,” and still another one read: “It is not fair to ask that children, women and the elderly be heroes.”

We met with Oren, Sderot’s assistant mayor and soon were joined by a group of US Conservative rabbis who had come to express support. The meeting once again brought home the reality that all of our people are in this struggle together, whatever our affiliations, commitments or backgrounds. I embraced many of my rabbinic colleagues whom I knew from the States.

The story that Oren told us was one of significant poverty and unemployment in Sderot. He reached out, asking his guests to help however we could.

We were taken to a small hill just outside the city and shown how just down the road, a few hundred yards away lies Beit Hanoun the launching pad for the Kassam rockets that are a constant backdrop to life in Sderot. In the midst of his briefing, Yakov, the head of security for Sderot, suddenly said, “I have to run, Kassams have landed in a nearby village.”

Yakov allowed us to jump into his van as he raced up and down hills at tremendous speed to get to the targeted area. By the time we arrived, a number of other security officers were already there, examining the rocket and assessing the damage.

As we moved to leave the area, Yakov got word that another Kassam had been fired at the same time, and yet another one had hit the Sderot cemetery. All at once I felt like I was in some kind of army command post as Yakov juggled calls on 3 or 4 cell phones while keeping one ear cocked to the voices crackling over the walkie-talkie as he received updates of incoming. All told, 6 rockets fell in the one hour we were together.

“Life isn’t normal here,” Yakov said as his wife called to check up on him. “There are no kids on our streets during the day as parents have taken them oit of townare afraid for them to be outdoors.” Yakov is right; a town without children is a town without a soul.

And yet, there were glimmers of normal life unfolding. As we passed another security officer who was racing around, he recognized Yakov and stopped his truck. The two men chatted and suddenly the man smiled as he lifted up a car seat carrying his infant child. Yakov asked why he had brought him along. “My wife is out of the house and I had no choice,” he answered.

Sderot does seem to have a semblance of normalcy not seen in the north. There are pedestrians in the streets and most stores are open. Unfortunately, Sderot has become used to the Kassams. It’s become part of the way of life here and life goes on. Ein breira—there’s no choice.

With so much attention rightfully being paid to the north, it’s too easy to forget that right on the border with Gaza, things are dangerous too. People have been killed and maimed by Kassams.

As we left the town a security person told us that he had received a beeper message that 10-14 soldiers had been killed in Southern Lebanon. My heart sank thinking of these young heroes, imagining how they fell and how they breathed their last breath, and the pain, the unbearable pain of their parents notified of their deaths.

We listened closely to the radio as we left Sderot. There was no mention of any dead. I wondered if maybe the report was wrong and quickly called the secuiryt officer. He said no, the soldiers are gone, but the country can’t be officially notified until the families are informed.

In the midst of the national disasters, one cannot forget personal relationships. We stopped for a short while in Kiryat Gat to see Marcia Levine whom I knew from Riverdale. She was a woman who wondered into the boiler room of the Whitehall Building that housed the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in its very early days. Marcia fell in love with Israel. She went on to make aliya 25 years ago and raised a beautiful family here.

As we sat there, I had the powerful realization that today I have lived exactly as long as my mother lived. 62 years, 1 month and 2 days. Coincidentally, it was through Marcia that I was able to see my mother for the last time in her life. Marcia’s parents invited me to Israel to perform her wedding and it was then I saw Ima, who lived in Israel, for the last time. Even in the most stressful times there are still personal moments that are very deep.

Back in Jerusalem we went to see my dear friends, Natan and Avital Sharansky. We felt great joy seeing them but the mood was somber as no one could get out of their mind the young lives that had been lost.

This war may have no name, but it is a war, a very difficult one and for Israel to overcome there will tragically be many more losses.

There was a time in 1967 when Israel was surrounded by enemy nation states. Egypt in the south, Jordan and Syria in the east, and Lebanon in the north. Now, it’s Islamic fundamentalist terrorists that surround us. They are fighters who are not afraid to die; in fact they want to die because to them, death is glory. This is a Milchama Hakadmon— now we’re fighting the front line of the war. It’s a fight first for Israel’s very existence but also for the existence of the free world.

Like all Israelis and Jews everywhere, I feel great pain at the loss of life and suffering of innocent civilians on all sides of this war. But we must remind the world that Israel’s intent is solely to fight the Hezbollah terrorists. When civilians are tragically killed in the fighting, there’s regret and heartache in Israel. Contrast this to Hezbollah intentions, which are to deliberately target civilians, even hospitals, and to rejoice when they do so.

For Am Yisrael the centerpiece of Torah is God’s declaration to our people and all of humankind, “Behold, I have placed before you life and death. Choose Life.” I keep thinking of the soldiers who gave their lives. May their souls and their families and our people be forever blessed.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire

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Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Haifa and The Shomron

Thursday: July 27, 2006

News that more than 24 soldiers were injured in yesterday’s terrible battle in Bint Jbail that cost 8 Israeli lives, compelled us to return to Haifa’s Rambam Hospital this morning.

On the way, Rabbi David Fendel, head of the hesder yeshiva in Sderot called to tell us that four of his students were amongst the injured. He arranged that the father of Ohad, one of the wounded soldiers would meet us in the lobby. As had now become his custom, Dr. Jesse Lachter also greeted us and stayed with us throughout our visit.

Someone remarked that the hospital resembled Givati brigade headquarters. So many of these elite unit soldiers were there to visit their wounded comrades. Amongst those we met was Tsachi, who didn’t respond when I spoke to him. Someone sitting nearby told me he had (hopefully temporarily) lost his hearing as a result of the battle. We encountered many Ethiopian soldiers like Avraham and Lior. It was a powerful moment. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s we had been out there in the streets protesting for the freedom of Ethiopian Jews and now we had the privilege of seeing these young Ethiopian soldiers defending Israel and all of the Jewish people.

Aside from the injured soldiers, there were many, many ordinary citizens lying in the wards who had been hurt from Katyusha shrapnel. Amongst them was Yuri, who together with his wife had emigrated from Chechnya. His eyes were sad as he explained how the Katyusha had landed leaving its deadly fragments cut into his skin. At that moment, with tears in his eyes, Yuri told me he wasn’t sure he would live, and he asked for God’s protection, offering the deepest prayer that God watch over him.

The Intensive Care Unit cares for those most seriously injured. We spent some time just outside the doors of the unit speaking to families of soldiers being treated. Amongst them was Moshe and Penina, whose son, a helicopter pilot was injured a few days ago in an incident that killed his co-pilot. According to his parents, B (the IDF does not allow pilots to be identified) had every bone in his body broken. They pointed to several young men sitting nearby. “These are other pilots who between bombing runs come running to the hospital to inquire about our son’s welfare.”

Everywhere we saw the support from the activists of Vaad L’maan Hachayal (Committee for the Welfare of Soldiers) and many other volunteer organizations who came with gifts and flowers for the wounded.

From Rambam we traveled to Eli in the Shomron to attend the funeral of Amichai Merchavia, 24. The crying and wailing pierced our hearts. Rabbi Eli Sadan who heads B’nai David, an extraordinary yeshiva in Eli where Amichai studied, spoke about the name Amichai—my people lives. Rav Sadan told the hundreds of mourners that this young man lived and died so that his people live. Still another rabbi quoted the sentence from Psalms: “From the straits I call upon you, O Lord, answer me by giving us relief.” The Hebrew verb to give relief is Amichai’s last name, Merchav ka. Although Amichai’s death is so painful, his legacy and his family will in the end transform the darkness to light.

There were other more political expressions of grief. One speaker recalled that Amichai had written the army chief of staff last year expressing understanding for the motives of soldiers who refused to take part in the Gaza pullout. Halutz responded by suspending Amichai for a year, but Amichai was resinstated after he begged to be allowed back into the army so he could fight the present war.

Still another of those who eulogized Amichai proclaimed a phrase used often by the right in recent years: “The eternal nation is not afraid of a long war.” Finally, on a more personal level, a friend sobbed uncontrollably as he cried aloud, “Amichai, you won’t be at the wedding of your sister that takes place in two weeks.”

What struck me is that at this funeral the vast majority of mourners were from the political right. And yet those on the left, like Jesse Lachter and so many others I’d met up north who did not share the same political views, expressed the same fears and the same sorrow at the many losses.

As Amichai’s body was taken to the cemetery from the simple central synagogue in Eli where the funeral took place, he was followed by his parents Moshe and Tova. Such an unnatural sight, when parents accompany their child to his burial place. His body was placed into an open army vehicle, draped with an Israeli flag. Three soldiers sat on each side, motionless, with great dignity and tremendous respect. When Amichai’s father learned that I’m a rabbi from New York representing Jews who stand with him, he fell on my shoulders as we both cried.

Hundreds of mourners walked behind Moshe and Tova and their remaining nine children to the cemetery. Moshe was the last one to give a eulogy for Amichai. “The hurt is so deep,” he said. “ I’ve lost my son but this is the price of our love of the land.”

All over Israel there’s consensus that this war is a fight for Israel’s survival. There’s across the board agreement that this war must be fought and won. With Israel on the front line we must do all we can in our own way to do our share to see to it that our people live and live in the spirit of Amichai.

Over the past seven days, Yonah Berman and I have tried to do our small share to help. Yonah’s presence and assistance have been invaluable. Here’s a young man who will graduate and receive smicha next year from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. I saw from his work here under extremely difficult conditions, that Yonah combines pastoral sensitivity with an empathetic ability.

The first stop on our mission was the funeral of Benjy Hillman, we had no idea that one week later our last stop would be at the funeral of another young Israeli hero, Amichai Merchavia. The name Amichai was mentioned today scores of times at the funeral. Each time, I could only think of our youngest grandson, Amichai, born just a few weeks ago in Jerusalem as well as another grandson in New Jersey named Yair Amichai. Amichai Merchavia gave his life so our grandson and all of our grandchildren and children may live.

I find it so hard to leave Israel; I so much want to stay, to be with my people. As I walk through the airport lounge it’s as if there’s a magnet pulling me back. Israel is our land, and Am Yisrael our people. The destiny of the Jewish people is unfolding here in the Jewish state where we are sovereign.

We are physically, psychologically and emotionally exhausted after this week of sharing some of the experiences of war weary Israelis in the north and south. We’ll need time to process it all. From these feelings we have a tiny, tiny glimpse of the extraordinary pressure and difficulties the soldiers and those living in the bunkers and the wounded and their families are going through.

In one week we saw so much pain, so much death, suffering and anguish, yet there is also so much resolve and so much life.

Amichai. My People Lives.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire


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Did Everyone Get The Memo About The Holy War Against Israel?

Ayman al-Zawahri, second in command to Osama bin Laden, made an appearance in a video tape on Thursday, calling for
Muslims to rise up in a holy war against Israel and join the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza until Islam reigns from "Spain to Iraq."
Over at The Corner, Jonah Goldberg asks that if a Holy War is being called for against Israel only now--what was going on between the Arab World and Israel till this point?

Then there is the other question:
Also, if al Qaeda wasn't already at maximum hostility to Israel, some of these "it's all about Israel" types need to account for that. I thought Israel was the Mother of All Root Causes for 9/11. If al Qaeda is only now focusing on Israel, maybe there was something else going on all along.
There was, but to admit that would mean recognizing the magnitude of the Islamist threat--something the West is still not ready to do.

One thing that Zawahri says that seems odd:
"We cannot just watch these shells as they burn our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon and stand by idly, humiliated," he added.
And in Saudi Arabia:
The atrocities being committed in Lebanon once again provide us in the Arab world a superfluous, all too frequent and unnecessary reminder of the fact that our blood is cheap. As if Iraq wasn’t enough to prove to us our irrelevance in the global picture, further insults are being heaped onto our mounting sense of humiliation.
Is it just me or does it seem that historically they use the humiliation/victim theme alot--rumors about the Koran being flushed down toilets, Mohammed being vilified, holy sites being dishonored: all in order to energize the masses; usually ending in violence.

The Arabs have a history of achievement of which they are proud.
Pity they cannot respect the history--and lives--of others.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mitchell Bard: The UN Failure in Lebanon

Fact Sheet
by Mitchell Bard

The UN Failure in Lebanon

The United Nations was understandably upset when an Israeli bomb hit a base used by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on July 25, 2006, and killed four military observers. The Secretary General of the UN, however, displayed a shocking lack of judgment when he immediately accused Israel of deliberately attacking the UN, a charge rejected by Israel.

Throughout his tenure, Kofi Annan has shown no reluctance to condemn Israeli actions while simultaneously refusing to criticize the terror that provokes them. This was evident just days earlier when he spoke to the Security Council and accused Israel of using “excessive force” while failing to utter the word “terrorism” to describe that actions of Hizballah that sparked the current fighting or to mention Hizballah’s sponsors Syria and Iran.

Not surprisingly, Annan has failed to mention that UNIFIL bases have been used by Hizballah fighters as a shield behind which they fire at Israel. He also has been silent on Hizballah attacks on UNIFIL. The same day UNIFIL reported the Israeli bombing, it also said another UN position was directly hit by a Hizballah mortar. Hizballah also fired from the vicinity of UN positions at Alma ash Shab, Tibnin, Brashit, and At Tiri. The day before Hizballah opened small arms fire at a UNIFIL convoy. There’s more:

* On July 24, one unarmed UN military observer was seriously wounded by small arms fire from the Hizballah side during an exchange with the IDF. He was evacuated to Israel and taken by an IDF helicopter to a Haifa hospital where he was operated on; his condition is now reported as stable.
* On July 21, A UN-run observation post just inside Israel was hit by rockets fired by Hizbullah that fell short of their targets in northern Israel.
* On July 20, UNIFIL reported that Hizballah was setting up rocket launchers near its troops and firing from the immediate vicinity of the UN positions in Naqoura and Maroun Al Ras.

Annan has called for an investigation of the July 25 incident and, if it is conducted fairly, the report will show that UNIFIL has been an utter failure for its entire existence and that its complicity in Hizballah activities helped spark the current conflict.

In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel. After murdering an American tourist walking near an Israeli beach, they hijacked a civilian bus. When Israeli troops intercepted the bus, the terrorists opened fire. A total of 34 hostages died in the attack. In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases in the southern part of that country, pushing the terrorists away from the border.

On March 19, 1978, the Security Council adopted resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978), in which it called upon Israel immediately to cease its military action and withdraw its forces from all Lebanese territory. It also established UNIFIL. The IDF withdrew and the United Nations sent in a military contingent on March 23, 1978, that was supposed to prevent any further attacks against Israel from Lebanon. But UN troops were unable and unwilling to prevent terrorists from reinfiltrating the region and introducing new, more dangerous arms.

UNIFIL’s failure to prevent more than 200 terrorist attacks ultimately led Israel to reenter Lebanon in 1982 to drive out the PLO. Three years later, following the expulsion of the PLO leadership, and destruction of its terrorist infrastructure, Israel withdrew the bulk of its forces, leaving behind a 1,000-man force, deployed in a strip of territory extending eight miles into south Lebanon to protect towns and villages in northern Israel from the type of attacks it is now enduring. Israel said it would completely withdraw from Lebanon in return for a stable security situation on its northern border.

The hope was that the terrorists remaining in Lebanon would be disarmed. Instead, Iran was allowed to finance and arm Hizballah,. which initially confined itself to launching Katyusha rocket attacks on northern Israel and ambushing Israeli troops in the security zone, but gradually escalated its attacks on Israeli civilians. UNIFIL stood by and did nothing.

In April 1995, the IDF mounted “Operation Grapes of Wrath” to halt Hizballah’s bombardment of Israel’s northern frontier. During the operation, Israeli artillery mistakenly hit a UN base in Kafr Kana, killing nearly 100 civilians. Afterward, a Joint Monitoring Machinery, including American, French, Syrian and Lebanese representatives, was created to prohibit unprovoked attacks on civilian populations and the use of civilians as shields for terrorist activities.

Attacks against Israeli troops in the Security Zone and civilians in northern Israel continued, however, and as the number of casualties mounted, the Israeli public began to favor a withdrawal of its soldiers. On May 24, 2000, all IDF and South Lebanon Army outposts were evacuated. The Israeli withdrawal was conducted in coordination with the UN, and constituted an Israeli fulfillment of its obligations under Security Council Resolution 425 (1978).

Israel thought that by completely withdrawing from Lebanon, Hizballah would have no justification for continuing its attacks — the old land for peace formula — and that UNIFIL would now do its job and prevent any further crossborder provocations. Instead, Hizballah interpreted Israel’s unilateral withdrawal as a victory for its terrorist methods. Rather than cease-fire, Hizballah was emboldened and believed it could continue to pursue its broader agenda of destroying Israel.

As a pretext for its attacks, Hizballah claims Israel “occupies” Shebaa Farms. This 100-square-mile, largely uninhabited patch was captured from Syria. In January 2005, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning violence along the Israel-Lebanon border and reasserted that the Lebanese claim to the Shebaa farms area is “not compatible with Security Council resolutions.”

Meanwhile, UNIFIL has been a complete failure in meeting the objective of stopping terrorist attacks against Israel. On October 7, 2000, for example, three Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hizballah. The terrorists crossed through a UN-patrolled area to get to the soldiers on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Lebanese border, but were videotaped by UN troops. For almost nine months, Kofi Annan denied possessing any videotape related to the kidnaping. The UN finally admitted that they possessed the tape, but it was later learned they had two additional tapes and other evidence related to the abduction. When Israel demanded to see the tapes, the UN initially refused, but eventually relented after imposing a number of conditions, including editing them so as to obscure the faces of the kidnappers. The UN said it wanted to remain neutral and did not want to provide intelligence on one party. The three soldiers were later declared dead.

Since then, Hizballah has engaged in a number of attacks that have killed both Israeli soldiers and civilians and UNIFIL has done nothing to prevent the violence. In the current violence in Lebanon, UNIFIL remains an impotent force, allowing Hizballah to use its bases as a shield against Israeli fire and refusing to prevent rocket attacks even when launched from near its troops. UNIFIL is now aiding Hizballah by repairing roads that Israel has destroyed to prevent resupply of the terrorists.

The lesson of UNIFIL is that an international force, especially one sponsored by the UN, will not prevent a future conflict unless it is given a clear mandate to stop terrorists from attacking Israel and given the means to prevent provocations.

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