Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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April 9, 2004

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In-Depth Issue:

Al-Sadr Not Supported by Other Iraqi Leaders - Nimrod Raphaeli (MEMRI)
    Dissident Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been angry and frustrated for some time at being kept outside the Iraqi Governing Council.
    Not unlike the Iranian ayatollahs who prepared him as a cleric, al-Sadr is interested, first and foremost, in achieving an Islamic state in Iraq, and he will not avoid confrontation if it enables him to achieve his ultimate objective.
    However, al-Sadr is not supported by other Iraqi Shi'a leaders.
    Al-Sadr's activities are anathema to the most senior Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
    An Iraqi court issued an order for al-Sadr's arrest for the assassination of the moderate Shi'a cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoei in a mosque in Najaf. Al-Khohei was the son of Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassem al-Khoei, al-Sistani's mentor.
    Following the violence initiated by al-Sadr, al-Sistani issued a statement calling on the demonstrators to exercise self-control and not to strike back if they were struck by the coalition forces.
    Al-Sadr, who is considered roughly the equivalent of a graduate student, has failed, despite many attempts, to obtain an interview with al-Sistani.

    See also Al-Sadr Targeted Over the Summer - Rowan Scarborough (Washington Times)
    The U.S.-led coalition began a campaign last summer to dilute the power of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, methodically arresting his leaders and taking back control of mosques he had seized.
    But U.S. officials now concede their response to the anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric was too slow and gave him time to build an army of fanatics that he unleashed against coalition troops.

Madrid Blast Suspects Were Plotting Second Attack - Elaine Sciolino and Emma Daly (New York Times)
    The group believed to be responsible for the Madrid train bombings in March had been planning another major attack, a Spanish Interior Ministry official said Thursday.
    The newspaper El Mundo reported Thursday that the attack was to have occurred at a shopping center during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Palestinians Breaking Water Agreement - Lior Greenbaum (Globes)
    A senior Israel water economy source is accusing the Palestinians of gross and continued violations of the water agreement between the two sides.
    The Palestinians admit to drilling 250 illegal wells, but the real number is much higher.
    Since Israel withdrew in 1994, 2,500 illegal wells have been dug without any control in the Gaza Strip, salinating the aquifer, and rendering it useless.
     Any drilling in the mountain aquifer in the West Bank reduces the flow to Israel.
    The Palestinians are also illegally drawing off water from water pipes, without any interference from Palestinian security forces and water authorities, thereby aggravating the water shortage in their communities.
    The PA is also allowing sewage to flow into rivers in Israeli territory, even though donor countries had offered $260 million for sewage treatment plants.

Syria's Gulag - Farid N. Ghadry and Nir T. Boms (
    We received this email Thursday from a 14-year-old Kurd in Syria:
    I saw with my own eyes what I used to see in horror and scary movies and I heard with my own ears what I used to hear in stories told to me about the various savaged ways of torture. Yes, here in my own nation Syria.
    They forced me into a basement, then into a dark room full of people with a stench smell. I stretched my leg to enter the dark room but instead I hit a body lying on the floor. He emitted a crying sound, so I tried to step away from the body and then I hit another one who sounded even worse than the first and then I froze.
    I felt like I was in hell. Only later I realized that the room had 30 to 40 people in it. The majority were young, like me. I even recognized two who lived in our quarter.
    They covered my eyes with a black cloth and continued the beating. I remember screaming and crying for help. "Give us names," they asked. "Why were you marching?" I told them that I was not marching.
    They took me to another room, naked, blindfolded and shivering. I felt them attaching something to my toes, then to my fingers. Then, without any warning, I felt being electrocuted. I cried like a baby.
    I felt these were not humans, these people were not from our planet. What I saw from these killers, I will never forget all my life; and I will never, ever, forgive them.

Detecting Roadside Bombs in Iraq - Denis D. Gray (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
    Initially, attackers would set just single explosives, crudely made and poorly placed, says Capt. Ronald J. Talarico of the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade.
    More recently, U.S. forces have encountered multiple bombs, including fake ones for "bait," while the insurgents hope to explode the real thing as soldiers move in to investigate.
    The insurgents are also moving away from detonating explosives by electric charges attached to wires because troops managed to kill some of them.
    Now, most of the explosions are set off by remote control devices - cell phones, garage door openers, toy car controls.
    Portable cellular jammers are being used by some convoys.
    Heat-seeking sensors are used to check roadside piles of trash and even dead donkeys, cats, and dogs into which explosives have been inserted in the past.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Three Japanese Held in Iraq by Group Demanding Pullout
    The Japanese public watched horrifying television footage from Iraq Thursday showing three Japanese hostages, blindfolded and screaming in terror, while Islamic militants pointed guns at them. Their captors issued threats to burn them alive if Japan did not withdraw from the U.S.-backed coalition in the next three days. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda reiterated that the 550 Japanese noncombat troops are in Iraq to provide humanitarian aid and carry out reconstruction work. (Washington Post)
        See also British Contractor Kidnapped in Iraq (Reuters); Canadian Aid Worker Kidnapped in Iraq (Toronto Star)
  • Two Palestinians Kidnapped in Iraq
    Insurgents of the Ansar a-Din group in Iraq have kidnapped two Palestinians, Nabil George Yaakob Razuq and Ahmed Yassin Tikati, and accused them of spying for Israel, Iran's Al-Alam television reported Thursday. "We have captured spies who belong to the Zionist enemy, and we demand the immediate release of all the prisoners who belong to the religious factions," said a masked man in a videotape. Razuq had been attending Augusta College in Georgia and worked for RTI, a non-profit organization with a local governance contract in Iraq from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Israeli cabinet minister Gideon Ezra said while both men were residents of east Jerusalem, "they are not Israeli citizens." Palestinians from east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after 1967, are issued Israeli identity cards. (Reuters)
        See also Two East Jerusalem Arabs Kidnapped in Iraq - David Rudge
    Israeli security officials said Friday, "The State of Israel is not conducting at the moment any negotiations to bring the release of the two kidnapped Arabs from east Jerusalem." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Some Allies Reconsider Their Occupation Roles
    The U.S. assembled forces from 34 countries to help it in Iraq, but diplomatic strains have begun to emerge. Britain and Italy have made clear that they will continue to stand and fight, but many countries with smaller forces in Iraq have begun to raise questions about their future roles. South Korea has ordered its personnel to suspend activities outside military camps. The Ukrainian government said its troops were evacuating Kut. The Bulgarian president called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to review the security of Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq. And the government of Kazakhstan announced that it would not extend its presence beyond May. (Washington Post)
        See also Japan, S. Korea Vow to Keep Troop Commitments in Iraq Despite Kidnappings (VOA)
  • Powell: Israel Has Right to Build Fence for Self-Defense
    "Israel has the right to build a fence to protect itself if it feels that's what it needs to keep the terrorists from getting into Israel," Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. "We have expressed concern to the Israelis over time about the route of the fence and whether it intrudes too deeply into Palestinian territory more than is necessary for the legitimate right of self-defense. The Israelis have made some adjustments to the fence over time and they have taken the fence down in some places once they have had a chance to take a second look at the impact that the fence has had," he said. Therefore, the U.S. will not withhold loan guarantees as it had threatened to do last year. "At the moment, we don't have any plans to dock them over the route of the fence," he said. (MiddleEastOnline-UK)
  • Iran to Build Reactor to Produce Plutonium
    Iran will start building a nuclear reactor in June that can produce weapons-grade plutonium, diplomats said Wednesday, heightening concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Mubarak: Israel Must Withdraw from Gaza-Egyptian Border
    Egyptian President Mubarak, beginning a U.S. visit on Friday, plans to tell President Bush that Egypt will support Israel's withdrawal from Gaza only if it includes the Philadelphia corridor along the Gaza-Egyptian border, the Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal reported Friday. Mubarak told PA Prime Minister Abu Ala that he will ask Bush to give this message to Prime Minister Sharon when he visits the U.S. next week. Sharon has previously said he accepted IDF recommendations to maintain Israeli control of the border to prevent arms smuggling. (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew)
  • Sharon: Bush Must Prevent Palestinian Terror State - Gil Hoffman
    On Thursday, Prime Minister Sharon met with four Likud MKs to persuade them to endorse his unilateral disengagement plan, telling them he intends to ask President Bush in Washington next Wednesday to rule out the establishment of a Palestinian state until the PA dismantles terrorist organizations and confiscates weapons. Sharon said he is seeking declarations from Bush ruling out the return of Palestinian refugees to the borders of Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Iraq Overshadows Sharon Visit to U.S. - Herb Keinon
    The Washington that Prime Minister Sharon will visit next week will be focused not on the Gaza Strip, but on Fallujah. Insiders say there are two schools of thought on Sharon's disengagement plan vying for Bush's heart and mind. The first argues that if Bush adopts Sharon's disengagement plan with both hands, the plan may prove a historic opportunity with a good possibility for positive results. Thus, one would expect Bush to give Sharon the wide-ranging commitments and assurances he will need to pass the disengagement plan through the Likud. The other school of thought argues that hugging Sharon's plan too tightly - giving him too many assurances regarding future borders or a rejection of the Palestinian right of return - may further fan radical Islamic passions inside Iraq. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Al-Jazeera, Al-Manar Reporters Aided Terrorists - Margot Dudkevitch
    The Samaria Military Court on Thursday indicted Daib Abu Zeid, a reporter for Hizballah's al-Manar television, for transferring funds from Hizballah to Palestinian terror cells in the West Bank and recruiting Israeli Arabs to Hizballah's ranks. Also on Thursday, security services arrested a correspondent of the Al-Jazeera Arab satellite television network, suspected of aiding Palestinian terrorists. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Keep the Gloves Off - Ehud Ya'ari
    Hamas's fiery rhetoric of revenge is reaching new peaks, and they will strike to the full extent of their capability; Israel therefore must not ease the pressure. In the West Bank, about 90% of the Hamas terrorist infrastructure has been shattered through a combined effort of the army and the Shin Bet security service since the Defensive Shield operation of 2002.
        The army's insistence on sticking to the credo of "limited conflict" has determined Israel's response since the beginning of the intifada, meaning restraint in its use of force, and selectivity and caution in its preemptive actions. There are now those in the army questioning this approach, which is the cause of the slow, limping pace of the war on terror, arguing that it is precisely the credo of limited conflict that is dragging out the bloodshed over time, while this current intifada has in fact been an "all-out confrontation" from the start. (Jerusalem Report)
        See also Israel's Security Doctrine and the Trap of "Limited Conflict" - Col. (Res.) Yehuda Wegman (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Abominations - Martin Peretz
    The mutilation of the bodies of people who have been murdered in Allah's cause, like the four American civilians killed in an ambush in Fallujah last week, seemed to be a quite popular act. The onlookers, young and middle-aged, were ecstatic. In their blind sacred hatred, the killers, calling themselves the Brigade of the Martyr Ahmed Yassin, announced that this human debris of the slaughtered Americans was their "present to the Palestinian people."
        Yes, Hamas has made petrifying noises in the streets of Gaza proclaiming that the threshold of every Jewish home, in Israel and abroad, will be smeared with Jewish blood. But this is one of the ways Hamas and its supporters keep up their morale. Fantasy plays a role in every irredenta but never as large as the role it plays in the Palestinian irredenta. I know there would be much ululating from Palestinian women and even more firing in the air from Palestinian men if, by any chance, the Israelis decided to take Arafat out or, better yet, deposit him in France which richly deserves his presence. The Palestinians have had proposed to them over eight decades at least five partition plans, and, as it happens when you lose wars, each of them is worse for you than the last. (New Republic)
  • History's Terrible Harvest - Fouad Ajami
    We shouldn't have been surprised that the desecration of the dead occurred in Fallujah. The practice has a long and searing history in Iraq. We can kill the men who did the grim work of mutilation and thrilled to it all. But what are we to make of, and do with, the shopkeepers and the prayer leaders and that man on the street proclaiming Fallujah, with pride, as the "cemetery of the Americans"?
        We interposed American power between the Sunnis and Shiites. Had it not been for our war, those pitiless towns of Tikrit and Fallujah and Ramadi would still have the run of a big country to terrorize and plunder at will. Their war against us is, by their lights, a righteous campaign to retrieve a lost dominion. (U.S. News)
  • The Road to Iraq's Riots: Paying for Weakness - Ralph Peters
    In the Middle East, appearances are all. Americans value compromise; our enemies view it as weakness. We're reluctant to use force. The terrorists and insurgents read that as cowardice. Sadr's militia should have been disarmed and disbanded in the earliest days of the occupation. Sadr himself should have been arrested for his inflammatory preaching. Now we face a much greater threat than we'd have faced had we acted firmly last year. We set a precedent of timidity. On the day of the ambush and mutilations in Fallujah, we failed to respond immediately. We viewed our non-response as disciplined - rejecting instant emotional gratification. But the insurgents, the terrorists, and the mob received the impression that we were scared, thus encouraging more attacks. (New York Post)
  • Al-Qaeda: A Whole Different Ball Game - Zohar Palti
    While the global hunt for al-Qaeda's operational and logistical leaders has yielded impressive results, al-Qaeda has adjusted to the relentless assault on its leadership structure by devolving into a set of regional networks - each with its own political agenda and operational schedule, as a whole lacking a distinct command center. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • The Vatican and the Standoff at the Church of the Nativity - Sergio Minerbi
    On April 1, 2002, some 200 armed Palestinians entered one of the most important shrines and holy places in Christianity - the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marking the place where Jesus was born - and remained inside until May 12. After the Palestinians left the church, American agents collected tens of assault rifles left behind by the gunmen under the terms of their release. Israeli officers said their experts had found 40 "explosive devices," including booby traps. The huge Catholic machinery was spreading strong anti-Israel propaganda in various degrees. Catholics in Israel are represented by a Latin Patriarch who is openly and publicly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    Weekend Features:

  • Passover in Hussein's Palace - Joe Berkofksy
    Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, the senior Jewish chaplain for Operation Iraqi Freedom, led seders this week for Jewish servicepeople and civilians in Saddam's former Presidential Palace in Baghdad. The Department of Defense requisitioned "seder kits" from a civilian supplier for the estimated 1,000 Jews serving in the Iraqi war effort and elsewhere. Other Jewish chaplains leading seders in military hot spots include Rabbi Shmuel Felzenberg in northern Iraq, Rabbi Mordechai Schwab in Kuwait, Rabbi Avraham Cohen in Qatar, Rabbi Kenneth Leinwand in Afghanistan, and Rabbi Brett Oxman in South Korea. (JTA)
  • Support Group Helps Israeli Survivors Venture Back into the World - Molly Moore
    80 Israelis - all victims of recent attacks - gathered Tuesday to share Passover celebrations at a Jerusalem hotel, courtesy of a support group called NAVAH (Nonprofit Association for Volunteering and Assisting the Hurt). Ex-farmer Tzion Moshe, 50, raised his shirt to show a belly that looked like lumps of kneaded dough after eight operations to put his insides back together. Tzion was shot in the back three times by Palestinian gunmen who opened fire on a polling station in Beit Shean in November 2002, murdering six people. "Sometimes it's better to be dead than alive and wounded," said Tzion. "I went to vote and I got three bullets for no reason. I used to be an independent guy, I worked by myself. Now, I sit at home and I'm in pain all the time." (Washington Post)
  • Capitol Police Officer "Blown Away" by Israel Trip - Sarah Bouchard
    Capitol (D.C.) Police Cmdr. Larry Thompson was one of 14 U.S. law-enforcement officials on a five-day trip to Israel in January organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a Washington-based think tank. Thompson said he was amazed by the capacity of law-enforcement officials to act without bias toward Arabs. "What really got me and surprised me was the impartiality with which they carried out their jobs" in the face of "a clear group of individuals trying to disrupt their way of life."
        Thompson described a married couple that spoke about their life as police officers. After being informed by her husband one day that a known suicide bomber was in Jerusalem, the woman boarded a bus to go to work. "The suicide bomber gets on the bus and blows himself up," Thompson said. The woman survived that attack and still works as a police officer. (TheHill)
  • Book Review: Blown Up and Blamed For It - Daniel Gordis
    David Horowitz, author of Still Life With Bombers, discusses his book: "Before there can be co-existence, the Palestinians will have to be re-educated. Their leadership came back from Camp David and told them that the Israelis do not want to make peace, and that the only way they will have any future here is if they kill Israelis....But most people in Israel believe that we did everything in our power to make peace. Very few people are saying that if we simply relinquish the territories, it will all be OK, because few people believe that it would be OK. Almost no one here believes what the Palestinians are telling the world, that it's only about the territories. We're being blown up everywhere in Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Freedom is at Root of Mideast Peace - Rep. Howard Berman (Los Angeles Jewish Journal)

    • We've operated under the assumption that once the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets worked out, peace will come to the Middle East as part of a domino effect. But that's not just wrong, it's backward. Israel and America won't have stable, long-term, peaceful relations with the PA or Egypt, for example, until they're across the negotiating table from a truly democratic Palestine or Egypt.
    • Can America help to reform and democratize the Arab world or help those budding forces in the Middle East who understand that imperative, without looking like imperialist colonizers? We must at least try to help the region's reformers facilitate change.
    • American leaders have gotten the message since Sept. 11 that the days of looking the other way, while despotic regimes trample human rights and then gloss them over by feeding their people a steady diet of anti-Israel and anti-Western hatred, are over.
    • This summer, President Bush is scheduled to announce a new Middle East initiative aimed at encouraging democratic and economic reform in Arab and Muslim countries. Egypt, which receives $1 billion in annual U.S. assistance, is spearheading a massive effort to undercut the plan. In Paris, Mubarak played the Israel card, saying that only an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would allow a strengthening of popular support for reforms in the Arab world.
    • But we must not let Mubarak and other leaders get away with this perennial excuse for delaying the reforms their people deserve. Real peace is possible when you reverse Mubarak's rhetoric. Democratize the region, and you'll solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict permanently, not the other way around.
    • The only real guarantor for long-term peace and security for Israel and America is freedom. Freedom from oppression for the peoples of the Middle East. Freedom to elect their leaders. Freedom for women to do basic things like drive and go to school. Freedom to access knowledge.
    • Passover is called "zman heruteinu," the "time of our freedom," because it is the time when the Jewish people were freed from Egyptian slavery. Perhaps this year, it's time to begin to free the Egyptians, so-to-speak, from slavery and grant them the freedom we as American Jews can celebrate openly. This Passover, I pray for the freedom of the whole Middle East and the continued rebuilding of Jerusalem.

      Rep. Howard Berman (D-Cal.), a member of Congress since 1982, is a senior member of the International Relations Committee.

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