Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai (2) , Palestine Day at the UN, Miliband, Hebron

The scourge of terror

Israelis began Shabbat knowing that the siege at Chabad House in Mumbai had ended disastrously. On Saturday night, though, the full scope of the devastation was revealed: Nine Jews were murdered, seven of them Israelis. We still do not know if there are additional Israeli or Jewish victims among the other casualties.

The toll of this mega-terrorist attack - which began Wednesday night and did not end until Saturday morning - is estimated at about 200 killed, including some 20 foreigners. Hundreds were wounded. These figures may yet climb.

Most of the victims, it should be noted, were Indian citizens, and this newspaper reiterates its condolences to their families and government. Throughout Mumbai, hundreds of households are in mourning.

Though we are a nation of only some seven million souls, we well appreciate that even in a nation of more than 1 billion, every human life is precious.

But naturally the murders of our compatriots and coreligionists, and the bereavement of their families are, today, foremost on our minds. A two-year-old boy, Moshe Holtzberg, will grow up an orphan. The anniversary of the death of his parents, Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his rabbanit, Rivka, will in perpetuity coincide with his birthday.

This will be a week of funerals in Israel, and in Jewish communities abroad, for the Mumbai victims. Psalms will be recited - "Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow…" The kaddish prayer will be chanted. And those offering condolences will pray that the families of the deceased are "comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

There will be time to reflect on each individual life that was taken. But even now, one thing is plain: Those killed at the Chabad House were murdered because they were Jewish or Israeli.

The terrorists did not inquire whether their victims were haredi, Orthodox, traditional or secular. Nor did the killers ask about their politics. All that really mattered was that they were living representatives of Jewish civilization.

Each of them died sanctifying God's name.

Israeli officials are right to argue that the civilized world is under attack. This time the assault came in India, next time it will come somewhere else. The enemy is Islamic extremism. Its immediate goal is to vanquish - by any means necessary - Western symbols and values from those parts of the world it claims as Muslim.

IT WILL take time for all the facts associated with this attack to come out. For now, there are more questions than answers.

1. How many terrorists were involved? Authorities say at least nine were killed and one - a Pakistani national - captured.

But there is every reason to believe that the number of terrorists and facilitators who brought Mumbai to a halt is far greater. This was an operation that was meticulously planned and executed. It stretches credulity to believe that these individuals were acting alone.

2. Could the security operation at the Chabad House have been better executed? Might the hostages have been rescued?

It is possible that the terrorists murdered their victims within minutes of storming the facility. And Indian forces may have been stretched too thin and were operating without several of their top commanders who had been killed at the outset of the assault on Mumbai. Rather than second guess their efforts, we prefer to wait until more is known.

3. And finally, even though this was clearly an assault against innocent civilians and exclusively against civilian targets - hospitals, hotels and a train station - why does much of the British media, including the BBC and SkyNews, label the killers "militants" instead of terrorists? Why does the The Guardian join Al-Jazeera in calling them "gunmen"?

This may sound like a marginal concern, but nomenclature matters: The primary, often only, target of terrorists are civilians. Anti-civilian warfare is a key tool of Muslim extremists. Terrorism is a cruelty that has become the scourge of modern civilization and changed the way we live. It has debased humanity.

The international community, together with responsible elements in the media, should show zero tolerance for the kind of depravity manifested in Mumbai.

And a vital step to confronting it effectively is to recognize terrorism and call it by its name.


Mumbai Terror: In cold blood

The dreadful images coming out of Mumbai since late Wednesday night have stunned Israelis - and not just because the city's Chabad House was targeted along with a hospital, open market, the main train station, a popular restaurant and two posh landmark hotels. At least 125 people are known killed and some 327 wounded.

The bloodbath reminds us that, though Muslim extremism is often traceable to some local grievance, it's in essence part of a larger conflict between civilizations. Islamists are violently affronted when Hindus, Jews, Buddhist or Christians are sovereign over a Muslim minority.

AS WE try to make sense of the mayhem unleashed on Mumbai, a city of some 13 million souls, our thoughts naturally are with the family of Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. We are anxious, too, for the dozen or so other Israeli hostages. And we express our condolences to the people of Mumbai who have lost loved ones in this reprehensible assault.

Mumbai has been attacked six times since 1993, most recently in 2006 when 200 people were killed in a train-bombing. The nature of the latest attacks, however, with multiple terror teams hitting some 10 targets with explosives, automatic rifle-fire and grenades - in an operation that carried on from one day into the next - suggests a far higher level of coordination and training than anything seen before. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the attacks were launched from outside India "with the single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country." Plainly, the terrorists are connected to elements in the failed state of Pakistan. At least some of them may have arrived by sea, landing across from the Taj Mahal hotel.

They hunted-down guests with US, British and Israeli passports to take as hostages. At the Chabad House, Indian neighbors nobly tried to fend off the attackers until they themselves were driven back by terrorists' bullets.

Israelis feel at one with the people of India, especially at times like these. Both countries are modern incarnations of ancient civilizations. We share common political values, overlapping security concerns and a growing commerce.

India was established in 1947; Israel in 1948. Both peoples rejected British rule, both faced Muslim opposition to their independence. The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. In the Mideast, the Palestinian Arabs rejected the idea of two states for two peoples. Substantially, they still do.

Though much still needs to be done to draw India and Israel closer, enormous steps have been taken since New Delhi first recognized Israel in 1950 and finally established an embassy in 1992. Israel has actually maintained a consular presence in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, since 1952.

India is a genuine multicultural democracy. Among its 1.1 billion people are 150 million Muslims. Its former president, and father of New Delhi's nuclear program, is a Muslim.

NO ONE yet knows who carried out these attacks and speculation is rampant. Pakistan has in the past encouraged terrorism in Kashmir. Its doubtful India's unstable neighbor is explicitly responsible for the aggression (the government there denounced it), but Pakistan has multiple power centers and its intelligence service has previously been linked to the Taliban. Both they and al-Qaida have an interest in diverting attention away from the Pakistan-Afghan border. And coincidentally, Pakistani troops reportedly opened fire on Indian positions along their joint border on Thursday. Still, al-Qaida specializes in mega-attacks using suicide bombers, which was not the case here. Even if it turns out that this outrage was the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Toiba - or one of its front-groups - which wants to turn India into a Muslim state, that still doesn't unveil the real masterminds.

Whoever did this wanted to create panic, scare off foreigners, undermine India's economy and turn the country's people against one another.

ISRAELIS have long argued that no political grievance, no perceived injustice and no religious creed can ever justify waging war against civilians. Others have sometimes made excuses for "resistance" movements.

If any consolation can be derived out of the heartbreak in Mumbai, perhaps it will be that India will work ever more vigorously in international forums to isolate terrorists and the state's that sponsor them.



In the topsy-turvy world of the United Nations, no issue gets more consideration, monopolizes more resources or engenders more sloganeering than the "Question of Palestine."

The UN maintains a Division for Palestinian Rights, a Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. If only the world body devoted similar energies to fighting AIDS or saving Zimbabwe.

Some say that the UN is a noble experiment gone terribly wrong. But the organization isn't all bad. A range of autonomous bodies - such as the Universal Postal Union and the World Intellectual Property Organization - do their work in a professional and non-partisan manner (though even among these there are ignoble exceptions).

Moreover, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strived to be a fair administrator and an honest broker. He has expressed concern about human rights abuses committed by Hamas and repeatedly condemned Palestinian Arab attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

Unfortunately, Ban has remarkably little sway over what is said or done in the name of the organization he heads.

THE TRUE character of the UN is exemplified by its 192 member states. And nowhere does the melding of their "values" manifest itself more than in the General Assembly. Here the tyranny of the majority, often enabled by the acquiescence of nations from whom one would have expected better, has made a bitter mockery of the 1945 UN Charter that was intended to make the institution a beacon of tolerance and enlightenment.

By habitually championing the "right of return" - not to a Palestinian state to be created alongside the Jewish one, but to Israel proper - the General Assembly has obliquely committed itself to the demographic destruction of Israel.

Given its long history of having one set of rules for the Jewish state and another for everyone else, it is all too tempting for decent men and women to block out the UN's Annual Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People which has consecrated November 29 as a day of hate against, and delegitimization of, the Jewish state.

But at this newspaper we are haunted by the words of Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

A malevolent man who knew a thing or two about Jew-hatred once taught that a Big Lie can be made credible. He argued that people would have a hard time imagining that their representatives might fabricate colossal untruths.

Neither the evil man, nor his minister of propaganda, ever said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it...." but that was their intent.

THIS BRINGS us to Nicaraguan diplomat, Catholic priest, and General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a self-proclaimed "lover" of the Jewish people. He declared Tuesday that nothing excuses "the failure to establish a Palestinian state."

Yet rather than blame the Arab and Muslim world which, between 1947 and 2002, explicitly rejected the two-state solution, or blame the Palestinian Arabs whose polity to this day is divided over the possibility of coexistence, d'Escoto Brockmann blames... the Jews.

Then comes the Big Lie: "Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories appear so similar to the apartheid of an earlier era, a continent away, and I believe it is very important we in the United Nations use this term," d'Escoto Brockmann said. "We must not be afraid to call something for what it is."

To state the obvious: The conflict between the Jewish people and the Palestinian Arabs has nothing to do with apartheid.

There is no system of racial segregation in the West Bank. There is a state of de-facto belligerency between West Bank Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Hamas-controlled Gaza seeks Israel's annihilation, not civil rights. Jews are not colonizers in Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, Israel's government is ready to abandon much of the Jews' ancient heartland for peace with security.

As the padre speaks from the den of iniquity that is the General Assembly, we ask: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)


Miliband's 'stark choice'

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told a think-tank audience in Abu Dhabi yesterday that "the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran poses the most immediate threat to the stability" of the region.

Gulf Arabs don't have to be convinced that Persian hegemony is a peril. They understand that an Iranian bomb would be directed against them as much as against Israel and the West. They worry, too, that Iran is indoctrinating their restive Shi'ite populations with the ayatollahs' extremism.

Yet the economies of the two sides of the Gulf are interwoven. The parallels between the Gulf Arabs and the European Union are striking. Both dread the power of a nuclear-armed Iran. Both, paradoxically, keep Teheran solvent through commerce.

Unfortunately, in trying to convince the Arabs to get tougher with Iran, Miliband actually gave them every reason not to: "The pressure we are applying to Iran, the sanctions we have supported in both the EU and the UN, are not an attempt at regime change," he said. "Nor are they a precursor to military action. We are 100% committed to a diplomatic resolution of this dispute."

MILIBAND'S speech comes days after The New York Times reported that Iran may already have sufficient material for an atom bomb like the one dropped over Nagasaki. According to the Times, Iran has 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium from its Natanz facility, enough to produce a single bomb, though the material would have to be further purified and "weaponized."

Israeli analysts reject the assertion that Iran already has enough refined material for a bomb, though they believe it will have that capacity by the end of 2009, as the Post reported on Friday.

Quibbles aside, no one suggests Iran is not moving full-speed ahead on creating weapons of mass destruction.

Back in December 2007, the US National Intelligence Estimate found with "high confidence" that Iran halted its effort to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. Teheran may simply have decided to concentrate on enrichment having gone as far as necessary, at the time, on weaponization. The intelligence estimate concluded: "We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon is late 2009," but more likely between 2010 and 2015. If the guesstimate of next year is closer to reality - as the latest indications suggest - telling Iran not to worry about regime change or military intervention sends precisely the wrong signal.

We appreciate that Miliband tailored his address in the UAE to his audience with the commendable goal of cajoling Arab leaders to more vigorously oppose Iran's ambitions. But the foreign secretary's overly nuanced and highly conservative message could easily lead the mullahs to conclude that there is no credible downside to their building a bomb: Existing sanctions are insufficiently draconian to deter; the pace by which they could conceivably be strengthened is pathetically out of whack with Iranian nuclear advances; the regime is under no threat; and the military option is off the table.

WE DO not oppose negotiations with Iran. With full US backing, EU leaders and diplomats, as well as UN officials, have discussed the nuclear issue with Iran on countless occasions. And from November 2001 through 2008, the United States itself held 28 direct and indirect contacts with Iran, many at the ambassadorial level - not just to talk about Iraq.

Miliband is right that for "diplomacy to work we need to present Teheran with a stark choice." But his idea of "stark" comes down to: "Either it cooperates with the UN Security Council, halts enrichment and engages constructively with the IAEA, or it continues on its current path towards further confrontation and isolation… It is only by making this choice more and more stark," Miliband says, "by combining increasingly tough sanctions with clear offers of reintegration… that we can hope to veer the Iranian government off its current course."

But this is precisely the "stark" choice that Iran derisively rejected in July 2008.

The mullahs must be delighted to hear that the only approach Miliband advocates falls short of an immediate punishing embargo, removes the threat of regime change, and even seems to take a last-resort military option off the table.

How the Gulf Arabs feel may be another matter.


In the name of the patriarchs

The Torah identifies the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as the oldest piece of Jewish-owned property. There Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried.

In modern times, the city has been a flashpoint. In 1929, Arabs slaughtered dozens of Jewish residents, forcing the survivors to flee. In 1979, Hebron's Jewish community was reestablished but only with the unenthusiastic acquiescence of the Israeli government.

The city is home to some of the most combative settlers in Judea and Samaria. They have been killed (think Aharon Gross and Shalhevet Pas) and they have killed (think Baruch Goldstein). They have been demonized and demonized others. They have fiercely struggled over every centimeter of their relatively small and hard to defend enclave.

Hebron's predicament is seldom far from the headlines. Late last month, a panel of three justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that Jewish families living in a disputed building - Beit Hashalom - had to leave.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai says the Supreme Court's decision will be carried out.

The settlers, who have been living in the disputed dwelling for a year and eight months, argue that the ruling does not obligate security forces to take any immediate action.

A sense of looming confrontation pervades.

IT'S A legally convoluted case, and Beinisch appears to have lost patience while waiting for other judges to rule.

A Jerusalem District Court has yet to decide whether the settlers own the disputed building. A military appeals court has been dragging its feet on a settlers' appeal over the decision by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria not to register their ownership of the site. Both courts have, in our view, acted irresponsibly in delaying their rulings.

Some say a politically motivated Beinisch acted impetuously, seeking to force a confrontation between the state and the least popular segment of the settler population. Others say she acted reluctantly, belatedly and only when the case was thrust at her by state authorities.

Beyond the disputed ownership of the building is the technical question of who had custody of it on the night of March 19, 2007, when settlers moved in. Was it Saed Rajbi, a Palestinian, or agents for the Jewish community?

The police eventually decided that Rajbi had custody - which means the settlers are obligated to vacate while the case over ownership plays itself out in the courts. The state took its case to Beinisch only when the settlers refused to honor the police demand that they vacate.

With regard to ownership, the settlers argue that they bought the building from Rajbi in 2004 (and have a video of the contract signing to prove it). Rajbi claims that he changed his mind and returned the payments he had thus far received.

At any rate, lawful ownership requires the filing of a title deed - something which can't take place while the dispute persists.

THIS CLASH is emblematic of a much larger struggle not just between Jews and Arabs but among Israeli Jews - and not just over Hebron, but over borders and the political and religious character of the Jewish state.

A splinter, but by no means trivial, group of settler extremists, and the elders who provide them with spiritual and material succor, have concluded that the apparatus of the state has "become disengaged from Zionism and Judaism." Thus they feel free to treat its symbols, soldiers and laws as no longer legitimate.

These extremists should not be coddled. They should be quarantined - politically, socially and religiously. And the greater effort to marginalize them should be led by those who are faithful to the settlement enterprise.

It may be argued that Beinisch should have allowed the other court processes to take their course. It can be argued, to the contrary, that further delay would have exacerbated matters. Either way, the decision of the Supreme Court must be honored.

We implore the Hebron settlers - most of whom are patriots - to voluntarily vacate the disputed building, even as we call upon both the District Court and the military appeals court to promptly issue their rulings.

The place where the foundations of Jewish civilization were first laid must not be where the Zionist enterprise unravels.

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