Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 21, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Videotapes of Egyptians Helping Hamas Not Shown to Congress - Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel's top defense echelon sent videotapes to the Israeli Embassy in Washington showing Egyptian border policemen assisting a group of 80 Hamas terrorists crossing illegally into Gaza through a hole they had cut in the border fence.
    Defense officials said there was also evidence that the Egyptians were assisting Hamas with smuggling weapons into Gaza.
    However, Israel's political and diplomatic echelon decided not to show the tape to Congress out of a desire not to escalate tension with Cairo by becoming directly involved in lobbying against Egypt in Congress.
    The Bush administration is also opposed to pushing too far on the issue at the present time.

French Police Arrest Al-Qaeda Support Group (AFP)
    French police on Thursday were holding five men believed to be members of a logistical support cell for al-Qaeda's branch in the Maghreb, capping months of investigation by counter-intelligence DST agents.
    Al-Qaeda's Branch in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the car bombings in Algiers on December 11 that killed 41 people and a series of other attacks in Algeria.

Israel Sets Up Express Passage into Bethlehem for Pilgrims - Yuval Azoulay and Irit Rosenblum (Ha'aretz)
    The Defense Ministry on Thursday started setting up a special passage into Bethlehem to be used by Christian pilgrims before and during Christmas to prevent long lines due to security checks, following an official request made by Tony Blair, the Quartet's special envoy to the Middle East.

Palestinians Vandalize Mural by British Artist - Rebecca Harrison (Guardian-UK)
    Bethlehem residents have painted over a satirical mural by the graffiti artist Banksy that was meant to highlight their plight.
    The British artist had painted six images around the town to help drum up tourism before Christmas.

60,000 Christian Pilgrims to Visit Holy Land This Christmas - Daniel Blake (Christian Today)
    Around 60,000 Christian pilgrims are expected to visit Israel this Christmas, 50% more than in 2006.
    Around one million Christian tourists are expected to visit Israel by the end of 2007, a 30% increase.

The Plight of Palestinian Christians (Israel Today)
    Leading Israeli human rights lawyer Justus Weiner has criticized Western governments and the mainstream media for ignoring the systematic persecution of Palestinian Arab Christians by their Muslim neighbors and rulers.
    Speaking at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Weiner presented several specific cases of recent intimidation, physical abuse and murder of Palestinian Christians, but said those were merely the tip of the iceberg.
    He noted that most of the massive Christian exodus from Bethlehem has come after Israel handed control of the city to the Palestinian Authority.
    The answer, said Weiner, is for Western "Christian" governments, the international media, and human rights organizations to intervene and demand the PA begin protecting the rights of Christians living in areas under its control.
    See also Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society - Justus Reid Weiner (JCPA)

Virgins of Paradise Music Video Returns to PA TV - Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook (Palestinian Media Watch)
    A music video depicting a martyr for Allah being greeted in Paradise by the Dark Eyed Maidens (Virgins) has returned to PA television.
    The clip portrays a woman being shot in the back by Israeli soldiers, who is immediately transported to Paradise where she joins other maidens wearing identical long white gowns, all joyously dancing.
    The next scenes depict her male friend being shot by Israeli soldiers and transported to heaven, where all the "Maidens" greet him.
    It was broadcast several times a day during the PA terror war (2000-2005).

Jewish Agency to Get Christian Representative - Anshel Pfeffer (Ha'aretz)
    The Jewish Agency for Israel is to appoint a Christian representative to its board of directors for the first time, following an agreement this week with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
    The IFCJ raises funds for Israeli and Jewish causes among American Evangelical congregations.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Bush: Patience with Syria's Assad Ran Out Long Ago
    President Bush said Thursday at a press conference: "My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago. And the reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hizbullah, suiciders go from his country to Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon."
        "I'm looking forward to going to the Middle East. I've got a couple of objectives. One is to advance the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Secondly is to continue to work with our Arab friends on reconciliation with Israel. And finally, is to assure people in the Middle East that we understand - or we'll show a strong commitment to the security of the region, and a commitment to the security of our friends." (White House)
  • Pentagon: Iran Keeps Funding Hostile Militias in Iraq - Gordon Lubold
    A Pentagon report issued Tuesday says, "There has been no identified decrease in Iranian training and funding of illegal Shiite militias in Iraq....Tehran's support for Shiite militant groups who attack coalition and Iraq forces remains a significant impediment to progress towards stabilization." (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Catholic Leader Rejects Israel's Jewish Identity
    Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, an Arab from Nazareth and the Roman Catholic Church's top cleric in the Holy Land, said Israel should not be designated a Jewish state. "If it's Jewish, it's not Muslim or Christian," he said. Sabbah had no word on whether a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza should not be allowed to favor Muslims, given those territories' sanctity to Jews and Christians. (JTA)
        See also Patriarch's Views Criticized
    "We hope that Catholic Church officials will publicly denounce these remarks by Patriarch Sabbah, whose words are as painful as they are slanderous," said Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. "Under Israeli rule, each Abrahamic faith has full access and control over their holy shrines." (JTA)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF to Continue Pressure on Gaza to End Rocket Attacks on Israel - Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff and Yuval Azoulay,
    Defense officials say the heavy pressure on militants in Gaza is making progress, and there will be room to consider a change to its offensive only if Hamas imposes on other militant factions a moratorium on Kassam rocket attacks on Israel. In an IDF operation Thursday in central Gaza, one soldier was seriously injured and seven Palestinian gunmen were killed. Palestinians fired a number of Kassam rockets and mortars at Israel, with one rocket landing near a school in Sderot. (Ha'aretz)
        See also One Kassam Rocket Too Many - Amos Harel
    The combination of Israeli air attacks, a tight economic blockade, and increasing losses among the terror organizations is putting Hamas under considerable pressure. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh may speak of a tahdiya (lull, or quiet), though not a hudna (cease-fire), but Hamas' military wing, headed by Ahmad Jabari, does not accept his leadership. Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces number slightly over 10,000 men at arms. Dozens of gunmen are killed in Gaza every month.
        Since ten Islamic Jihad militants were killed this week, several of them high up in the organization's military wing, there has been a decrease in rocket fire by Islamic Jihad. The militants fear the Israeli security services have succeeded in infiltrating their ranks and they have gone underground to limit the damage. While Hamas is not launching Kassam rockets, it makes do with firing mortars at IDF bases and Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza. The military wing of Hamas is working on spectacular operations, along the lines of the abduction of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. IDF operations two or three kilometers inside Gazan territory are aimed in part at preventing the excavation of tunnels that would enable terrorists to infiltrate IDF bases or kibbutzim close to the border, with the goal of abducting or killing Israelis.
        Hamas is indeed less corrupt than Fatah, but unemployment has risen, the possibility of traveling abroad via Egypt has declined dramatically, and Gaza's economic isolation is immeasurably more acute. The economic sanctions affect everything, with the exception of basic staples. Disposable diapers are hard to come by and cigarettes have soared to $15 a pack. Hamas, which controls most of the smuggling tunnels, earned about $25 million last month from taxes on smuggled cigarettes. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israeli Diplomat: Toppling Hamas Needed to Forward Peace - Herb Keinon
    A military incursion into Gaza to remove Hamas is needed if there is to be any real diplomatic process with the Palestinians, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Thursday. As long as Hamas is in control of Gaza, there will be negotiations with the PA but no real "diplomatic process," he said. A diplomatic process requires the ability of both sides to compromise, something that Mahmoud Abbas will be unlikely to do as long as Hamas controls Gaza, the official said.
        The official said there was nothing to signal that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh might be interested in some kind of truce, adding that Hamas had made it clear that it had no intention of stopping its arms buildup via smuggling from Egypt or stopping terrorist attacks elsewhere. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Repression in Iran - Editorial
    The UN General Assembly this week voted its "deep concern" over escalating atrocities in Iran, such as stoning, repression of female dissidents, and persecution of human rights defenders. Executions - many of them in public - are up at least 19% over last year. At universities, dozens of students and teachers who are too liberal or speak out against the regime have been arrested or silenced. The hard evidence is that Iran's people are alienated from their government and tired of nearly three decades of "revolution" with little to show for it. They also resent the reckless, wasteful spending of billions of dollars in oil revenues. When he was elected in 2005, Ahmadinejad promised to put "the oil money on people's dinner tables." Instead, inflation is about 20%, matched by a similar rate in unemployment. (Christian Science Monitor)
        See also Regime-Change Fears Drive Iran's Vice Crackdown - Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Constructing the Defenses of Peace - U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones
    More needs to be done to expand and strengthen support from civil society for an ultimate resolution of the conflict. Peace education must be a key element of this effort. The U.S. Embassy in Israel has been partnering with many Israeli grassroots organizations and schools to conduct peace education programs. We work closely with groups and institutions that teach respect for democratic values and diversity, provide students with solid citizenship skills, tackle conflict resolution, develop language skills and foster knowledge of and respect for others. (Ha'aretz)
        See also A Partnership for Palestinians - Editorial
    A joint effort by the U.S. government and private businesses has been launched to create jobs for the Palestinian people. The partnership will seek U.S and international corporate support for projects that promote economic and social development and to help create an atmosphere in which a stronger private sector can emerge. President Bush says the program is designed to help the Palestinians, particularly young people, develop civil society: "We are going to help the Palestinians develop youth centers, places where young Palestinians can come and learn new technical skills or language skills or have mentoring programs. This is all aimed at saying there is a hopeful future, a future where you do not have to adhere to violence, a future where radicalism is not in your sights, a future where peace is possible."
        Youth centers are planned for Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, all in the West Bank. The centers will offer young Palestinians opportunities to participate in sports and will train coaches and administrators to establish sports leagues. U.S. businesses will help set up high-tech classrooms for young people. (VOA News)
  • What About the Palestinians' Record? - Diana West
    Christmas came early to the Palestinian Authority when the "international community" decided to pledge billions in aid. Why? Did the PA end its terrorist ways? Stop state-sanctioned incitement against Israel and the West? Change Fatah's charter (forget about Hamas) calling for Israel's destruction? What we call "foreign aid" to the PA may be understood as a form of "jizya," the protection money paid to Muslims by non-Muslims. We avert our collective eye from the goals of jihad. Instead, we see ourselves as villains - Israel for its existence, and Israel's supporters for, well, their support for Israel's existence. (Washington Times)
  • What to Expect for $8.6B in Palestinian Aid - Greg Sheridan
    So international donors have pledged $8.6 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority. This eye-popping amount of money will continue the Palestinians' status as the highest per capita aid recipients in the world. Not that I'm suggesting Palestinians don't have it tough, even if most of their suffering is caused by the appalling decisions of their corrupt, incompetent and extremist leadership.
        The aid pledged in Paris may do some good. It may stabilize living standards on the West Bank. And by exacerbating the contrast between a more prosperous West Bank, controlled by Fatah, and an increasingly poverty-stricken Gaza, controlled by the religious extremists, Hamas, it may strengthen Fatah against Hamas. Assuming all this works out perfectly, at the very best we might get a slightly improved status quo. Fatah is a busted flush of ageing cronies and local war lords. It has not produced a new generation of leaders and it has very little support among the Palestinian people. Remove the Israelis from the West Bank and the estimates of how long Fatah would remain in power range from two weeks to two hours. (The Australian)
  • Questions about Palestinian Aid - Steven Stotsky
    The argument for increasing foreign aid to the Palestinians stems from the belief that the way to defeat radicalism is to eliminate its ostensible cause - poverty and ignorance. But as early as 1958, Daniel Lerner discerned that political activism in the Middle East was not driven by the "have nots," but rather by the "want mores."
        Claude Berrebi of Princeton University analyzed Palestinian terrorism and determined that "if anything...those with higher education and higher living standards are more likely to participate in terrorist activity." Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that Palestinian suicide bombers were more likely than the general population to have completed secondary education and were less likely to come from an impoverished environment. They also found similar results associated with membership in Hizbullah. (CAMERA)
  • "Everyone Knows What a Peace Deal Looks Like" - Evelyn Gordon
    One of the most widespread misconceptions about Israeli-Palestinian talks is that "everyone knows what a deal looks like." As the New York Times put it in an editorial last month, "The broad outlines of a deal...have been apparent since President Clinton's 2000 push." Yet according to a summary of the Taba talks prepared by negotiator Gilad Sher after they collapsed, the Palestinians objected to Israel keeping the settlement blocs - one of Israel's main reasons for wanting territorial exchanges - and generally insisted that any swaps total no more than 2.3% of the West Bank, well short of the 6 to 8% needed for the blocs. They refused to let Israel keep Latrun, which dominates the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. And they insisted that the "safe passage" connecting Gaza and the West Bank be under Palestinian sovereignty, thereby effectively severing Israel in two.
        On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest site, the Palestinians insisted that the mount be entirely theirs, with Israel having no rights whatsoever. The Palestinians also demanded recognition of the "right" of all refugees and their descendants to relocate to Israel. The Palestinians adamantly refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. In short, not only is there no agreement on what a deal looks like, there is no agreement even on the fundamental premise that must underlie any deal - namely, the establishment of two states for two peoples. (Jerusalem Post)

    Weekend Features

  • The Spirit of Eid Al-Adha - Nasser Weddady
    On the eve of the Muslim high holiday of Eid Al-Adha, explosions abound in Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, and Algeria. The victims were nearly all Muslim. We have failed to offer a robust response to the brutal wave of human sacrifice. It is long past time to mount a vigorous campaign against the cult of death and reaffirm a culture of life.
        We must avoid the temptation to rationalize murder. "The attack is wrong," goes a common refrain, "but we must understand the root causes." There can be no "buts" - no qualifications or justifications that indulge the political grievances and religious sanction claimed by extremists. Taking an unequivocal stand against human sacrifice does not require radical reinterpretation of Muslim tradition. (Boston Globe)
  • Time for Muslim Comedians to Stand Up - Sarfraz Manzoor
    What comes to mind when you hear the word "Muslim"? It's more likely to be beards, bombs and burqas than stand-up comedians. Muslims aren't exactly famous these days for lightheartedness. But why is this? Why do other cultures and religious groups seem able to withstand mockery, while Muslims seem chronically hypersensitive?
        Earlier this year, I sat in a West London hall watching a heavily bearded Muslim man, Azhar Usman, an American comedian who tours with two fellow Muslims in a show they call "Allah Made Me Funny." Everywhere I looked, British Muslims of all ages were doing something you hardly ever see: laughing - as if in defiance of the extreme voices that overpower theirs in the public square. The irony is that "Allah Made Me Funny" springs from a tradition that stretches back to the days of the prophet Muhammad himself, who by all accounts enjoyed a good laugh; indeed, he had a companion with the honorific title "jester of the prophet." It's only recently that Muslims have become sensitive about religious jokes. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    Senior Qaeda Theologian Urges Followers to End Jihad - Eli Lake (New York Sun)

    • One of al-Qaeda's senior theologians is calling on his followers to end their military jihad and saying the attacks of 9/11 were a "catastrophe for all Muslims." In a serialized manifesto written from prison in Egypt, Sayyed Imam al-Sharif is blasting Osama bin Laden for deceiving Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and even calls for the formation of a special Islamic court to try bin Laden and his comrade, Ayman al-Zawahri.
    • Sharif, currently serving a life sentence in Egypt, wrote in the 1980s two of the modern seminal texts for Sunni jihadism and in particular al-Qaeda, in Fundamental Concepts Regarding Jihad and The Five Ground Rules for the Achieving of Victory or Its Absence. Those books are scholarly justifications, citing the Koran and Hadiths, for joining a war against Muslim apostates such as the Egyptian ruling class and for a broader jihad against America.
    • Sharif's latest texts are a renunciation of his earlier work, saying the military jihad against apostate states and America is futile.
    • The director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, Frank Cilluffo, said, "Here you have someone with the stature and credibility, who more or less wrote the book on jihadism and is oft cited by other jihadists, making the case against it. This is someone with the heft on legal and religious grounds to make the counter argument that we can't."
    • The author of Inside Al-Qaeda, Rohan Gunaratna, said he believed Sharif's conversion was genuine. "He has had a genuine change of heart because we are seeing a trend today in Egypt where the original members of both of the major jihadist organizations are turning....The traditional jihad movement is almost coming to an end. What has it accomplished in more than 25 years?"

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