Friday, April 29, 2011

Arlene Kushner On Burning Of Joseph's Tomb And Implications Of Hamas-Fatah "Unity"

From Arlene Kushner's From Israel email:
April 29, 2011

"Looking Backward and Forward"

A glance backward first, because I want to touch upon something that took place while I was away over Pesach.

This painful incident, from almost a week ago, links to recent Israeli history and to the future:

Last Sunday, in the early hours of the morning, three cars with Breslover Chassidim went to pray at Joseph's tomb -- a holy site for Judaism -- which is in PA-controlled territory (area A) outside of Nablus (traditional Jewish Shechem), in Samaria.

Pesach is a traditional time for prayers at the tomb, because the bones of Joseph, traditionally thought to be buried there, were carried out of Egypt by Moses on the first Pesach.

Warning shots were fired at the Chassidm by PA police. They continued to the tomb for prayers, and on their way out, PA police fired at them directly: One man -- Ben Yosef Livnat, called Benyo, father of four and nephew of Minister of Culture Limor Livnat (Likud) -- was killed.[emphasis added]

One more good man taken from the midst of the Jewish people. One more widow, four more orphans. Wrote David Wilder of Hevron, who knew Livnat:
"Benyo was a wonderful person, a beautiful Jew and his murder will leave a huge gap in the lives of all who knew him. May his memory be blessed and may G-d comfort his widow, orphans, parents, brothers and sisters and all who knew and loved him."
Four others were wounded, one seriously.

After the Chassidim left the area, Arabs vandalized the tomb.


Background to this story is essential for it to be understood properly, in its painful and shameful particulars.

Kever Yosef is a Jewish holy site along with the Machpela, and Kever Rachel.

With the Oslo Accords and the division of Judea and Samaria into regions controlled by the PA and by Israel, this site fell within the area under Palestinian Arab control because of its proximity to Nablus. But Israel was to control the tomb itself, so that Jews would be able to visit the site and pray there. (This is parallel to Kever Rachel, today, which is within PA territory but is an enclave controlled by the IDF.)

Repeatedly, Jews at the kever were attacked by Arabs. Finally Ehud Barak, who was then prime minister, in 2000 ordered a retreat from the site. He should hang his head in shame for this abandonment. One IDF soldier, who had been shot, was left behind and died there when the order to the IDF was not to return. Barak should hang his head twice over. When the Israeli presence was gone, the Arabs burned the tomb.

I remember the feelings of rage and revulsion I, with many many others, felt that day. And it is impossible to disconnect that history from what is happening now.


After the IDF withdrew, the PA was supposed to allow visits by Jews, but, of course, they reneged on this. Nonetheless, pious Jews began sneaking in at night, to pray at the site. Finally the IDF began taking charge, arranging those visits to the kever under guard, for the protection of those who were visiting. And, I have heard from some who participated, it is quite a guard -- not just one jeep with a couple of soldiers.

But when were the visits arranged by the IDF? In the middle of the night. Why? So that most Arabs in the area would be asleep and would not be aroused to violence by the "offensive" sight of Jews going to pray in their territory. And only about once per month.


What has been said about the group of Chassidim who were attacked is that they didn't clear this visit with the IDF, who would have subsequently cleared it with PA security.

This is absolutely true. But Breslover Chassidim often visit the kever. In fact, Gershon Mesika head of the Shomron [Samaria] Regional Council charged that "they [the PA forces] know them [the Chassidim] but for some reason, they decided to open fire this time."

Concluded Rob Miller of the Joshuapundit blog: "they decided to open fire because the 'Palestinians' are getting increasingly bold about killing Jews, given the events in Egypt and in the UN. They are staking out territory, trying to destroy yet another piece of Israel's Jewish heritage..."

Joshuapundit -- -- ran a picture of the vandalism that followed the murder:

With this comment:
"As you may know, anything to do with the bottom of one's shoe - like a boot print - is a deadly insult in Arab culture. The prints are identical with the 'Palestinian' police standard issue boots."

There is a serious question as to why unarmed, peaceful, religious Jews must get army and PA permission to pray at a Jewish holy site. And there are charges that if the IDF had provided more frequent and open visits this situation might not have arisen.

What is absolutely clear, even if it is determined that the Chassidim were in the wrong to go on their own, is that this did not provide the PA forces with latitude to kill them! They were not a threat to anyone, and they were actually on their way out of the area when they were shot.


Defense Minister Barak called this "murder," although others in the IDF preferred to refer to it as an "incident." Netanyahu demanded tough action by the PA against those in the security forces who were responsible. But there is another factor here that has been largely ignored:

The PA security officers who shot at the Chassidim were clearly heard to yell "Allahu Akbar!" It means Allah is great, but it is the cry that terrorists use when attacking innocent Jews. So it has to be asked what the hell is going on here. I'll try to answer this in a moment.

There have been calls for Israel to re-take Kever Yosef -- re-establish a military presence there -- in light of what has happened. I concur entirely. It is a matter of Jewish national right and dignity. But I don't see it happening because Netanyahu has not the courage, even though this was the original agreement under Oslo. And our defense minister?

At any rate, this terrorist murder will not discourage pious Jews from visiting the tomb to pray in the middle of the night. On the contrary, even more intend to go.


As to how this connects to the future:

For some time now the US has been funding and assisting with the training of PA "security forces" -- known for a while as "Dayton's troops," because of the long-term involvement of US General Keith Dayton. These troops are supposed to take out terrorists. Never mind that they are loath to take out their kinsmen who happen to be in Hamas.

As the training proceeded, the question was raised repeatedly in certain quarters with regard to how prudent a project this was. For there has been a history of PA forces, sooner or later, turning their guns on Israelis instead of terrorists. This happens in particular when there is Palestinian Arab frustration. Why make these people more skilled and supply weaponry? It was a myopic vision that encouraged this -- the naive American idea that when the PA was strong enough there would be a moderate PA state that combated terrorism.

I did an extensive report on this issue a couple of years ago, and what was clear was that experts here knew no such thing was going to happen. There was great concern, as well, that Hamas might end up being in control of the troops trained by the US and weapons supplied by the Americans specifically to take out Hamas. (This happened in Gaza with the Hamas coup, when Hamas grabbed weaponry and sophisticated electronic devices that had been provided to Fatah by the US.) No one knew, as Dayton's training continued, if Hamas might ultimately take Judea and Samaria, or if there might be a unity government.


And here we are. A unity arrangement has been announced. While it is not clear yet what arrangements will be made with regard to control of security forces, there is no way to conclude that the results will be good. Yesterday I wrote that Hamas is the stronger faction.

Thank you, America.


Israel has been conducting some joint security operations with PA forces, and there is question, as well, as to whether these should continue.


I am encountering as many different viewpoints with regard to the "unity" arrangements as there are analysts and commentators looking at the issue.

My biggest concern is that the Western world should play it straight with regard to demanding of Hamas an honoring of the Quartet stipulations regarding acceptance of Israel's existence, renunciation of terrorism and honoring of previous agreements before it can be considered a legitimate player.

I've seen in the past some fancy diplomatic slight of hand with regard to this issue, and this makes me nervous. ("Well, Hamas association with the PA is bound to moderate it." "Hamas acknowledges that Israel does exist, de facto, that is almost a recognition, and the rest will follow." Etc.)

But from MEMRI we have this:
Deputy Head of Hamas Political Bureau Moussa Abu Marzouq has declared that:

"Now the Quartet has become obsolete, along with its terms, and it is not taken too much into consideration."
While from Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al-Zahhar:
"Our perspective is entirely different from that of Fatah. Fatah believes in negotiations, while we believe that negotiations with the Israeli enemy are in vain. We believe in armed well as making the government's resources available to the resistance. We believe that obeying the terms of the Quartet would have entailed the loss of the Palestinian rights....The terms of the Quartet meant, in short, recognition of the Israeli enemy, in exchange for bread, gas, and oil. Our steadfastness...has taught a lesson to the Quartet."

Can the Quartet and the European community more broadly ignore this?


David Wilder of Hevron is ready to break out the wine, because he says this will save us from a Palestinian state. He believes that Netanyahu would have gone to make his speech in Congress in May and offered further concessions, but will not be able to do so now. He may well be right.


Khaled Abu Toameh says that Hamas is now stronger.

"The unity deal does not require Hamas to relinquish control over Gaza and permits it to keep its security forces. Nor does the deal require Hamas to accept the Middle East peace process or accept the two-state solution. Hamas will be brought into the unity government as an equal partner, and has been recognized as a legitimate partner and player not only by Fatah, but also by the most populous Arab country, Egypt."

This is undoubtedly the case. We see it in the MEMRI quotes. But the PA -- the entity with which we were supposed to deal -- is now weaker, and has been exposed in its intentions.


Joel Greenberg, writing in the Washington Post, echoes my statements of yesterday, with regard to the fact that the "unity" is paper-thin and that actually resolving the tougher issues between the parties will be very difficult indeed:
"Four years of incitement and war between Hamas and Fatah are not going to be just scrapped in one day," said Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. "It's going to be a very long and tenuous process." Khalil Shikaki, a political analyst and pollster in Ramallah, said that while the two factions may have agreed to reconcile, they had postponed the difficult problems dividing them and "may not be able to do it."


There's more, much more, to report, on this evolving situation. But this post is already long, and Shabbat is on the way.


Don't know how effective these things are in terms of affecting the behavior of organizations, but here are two polls concerning Israeli issues that you might want to participate in. Voting takes a second and might make a difference:

The Jewish Advocate is running a poll on whether the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston should keep J Street as a member organization.

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) student newspaper is conducting a poll about a resolution by Muslim students to have UCSD divest from companies that do business with Israel, like General Electric.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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