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Holocaust play “Heels” causes friction

June 27th, 2016

Santa Monica’s City Garage and the L.A. Polish Consulate differ over new work.

Frédérique Michel and her husband, Charles Duncombe, are leaders of City Garage in Santa Monica. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

Frédérique Michel and her husband, Charles Duncombe, are leaders of City Garage in Santa Monica. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

By David Ng / LATimes.com

A new Holocaust-themed play by a Polish dramatist has become a source of friction between the Polish consulate in Los Angeles and the experimental Santa Monica theater company that is producing the unconventional stage piece.

City Garage in Santa Monica said the consulate withdrew support for the production because of the drama’s controversial content and fears about how officials in Poland’s new right-wing government might react.

The consulate has denied the accusations, saying that it never promised to support the production financially and that its lack of funding is caused by budgetary limitations, not the political situation in Poland.

“Right Left With Heels,” by Sebastian Majewski, is a surrealistic play that follows a pair of high-heel shoes that once belonged to Magda Goebbels, the wife of Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

In the play, the shoes, made from the skin of Jewish victims at Auschwitz, are put on trial at Nuremberg. They later bear witness to major events of postwar Polish history.

City Garage is scheduled to open the play July 8 at its venue at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. In recent weeks, the company corresponded by email with Ignacy Zarski, the Polish consulate’s cultural attaché, to discuss the possibility of supporting various aspects of the production.

“They promised their support,” said Charles Duncombe, producing director of City Garage. He said the pledge included supporting an opening-night reception as well as outreach and promotional activities.

Duncombe said that Zarski later met in person with him and his wife, company artistic director Frédérique Michel, following a performance earlier this year of City Garage’s “Othello/Desdemona.” He said Zarski explained that the consulate was backing out because of concerns about how the new government in Warsaw would react and because of the content of the play.

Zarski said in an email to The Times: “We are not withdrawing our financial support, [because] of never initially promising to support this particular production.” He added that the decision “has nothing to do with [the] political situation in Poland. It is merely the result of a limited budget,” and that the consulate is still considering using its email list and social media contacts to promote the event.

In October, Poland’s right-leaning Law and Justice party won the country’s parliamentary elections with a majority victory. The party is known for its conservative views on cultural and social issues, as well as its skeptical view of the European Union.

Majewski, the playwright, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

City Garage said that funding for “Right Left With Heels” is coming in part from a Polish couple in Southern California. “They responded when one of our contacts in Poland told them about the consulate pulling out,” Duncombe said.

The company also has launched a Kickstarter campaign. City Garage said it had applied some months ago to the city of Santa Monica for a grant but hasn’t heard the results of its application.

City Garage was founded in 1987 by Duncombe and Michel. It has won local awards for its productions, which often are avant-garde.

“In my job, I’m asking people for money all the time,” Duncombe said. “I’m used to being turned down. I would never have disrupted a relationship with a valued funding partner had it been simply that they just didn’t have enough available to help. Frédérique [and] I both saw this as an issue of artistic free expression.”

Muslims Steal Silver Mezuzah From Tomb of the Patriarchs

June 25th, 2016

The Jewish Press

The location where the silver Mezuzah hung before being stolen by Muslims at Maarat HaMachpela / Photo Credit: Maarat HaMachpela

The location where the silver Mezuzah hung before being stolen by Muslims at Maarat HaMachpela /
Photo Credit: Maarat HaMachpela

On Friday, June 24, during the Muslim prayer time at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Muslims stole the beautiful and ornate silver Mezuzah that was attached to the entrance to the building.

In addition, they broke into the storeroom and stole saplings worth thousands of shekels.

As it was part of the Ramadan holiday, Israeli police were not stationed on site, and “protection” of the site was under control of the Waqf.

In 1929, following the massacre of the Jewish community of Hebron by their Arab neighbors, and similarly after 1948 in the Old City of Jerusalem, Arab Muslims ripped out the Mezuzahs from the doorposts of the Jewish-owned homes, but in many cases, you can still see where the Mezuzahs used to be located.

The Jewish community of Hebron is demanding that the exclusive Muslim days at the tomb be cancelled until the Mezuzah is returned.

The silver Mezuzah once attached to the entrance at Maarat HaMachpela.

The silver Mezuzah once attached to the entrance at Maarat HaMachpela.

Avigdor Lieberman — Bibi’s enigmatic pick for defense minister

June 2nd, 2016
Avigdor Lieberman, then foreign minister, speaking during a Knesset meeting about the 2014 Gaza war, Aug. 4, 2014 .

Avigdor Lieberman, then foreign minister, speaking during a Knesset meeting about the 2014 Gaza war, Aug. 4, 2014 .

By Ron Kampeas / TimesOfIsrael.com

Yes, there’s the Avigdor Lieberman who wants to behead bad guys, mandate loyalty oaths and pay Arabs to leave the country — the one who makes fun of the disabled and who dodged a fraud charge.

But Israel’s onetime foreign minister and next defense minister is not quite the cartoon he’s made out to be – OK, the cartoon he at times seems determined to make himself out to be.

As defense minister, Lieberman would double to two the cabinet ministers who have seriously considered a two-state outcome: himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is more deferential to the United States-Israel relationship than Netanyahu. And his posture toward Israel’s Arab neighbors is not all threat.

It’s time to review three areas where the once and possibly future member of the security cabinet has served as a voice for moderation – but also to keep in mind how his rhetoric undercuts his apparent restraint.

As defense minister, Lieberman would double to two the cabinet ministers who have seriously considered a two-state outcome: himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is more deferential to the United States-Israel relationship than Netanyahu. And his posture toward Israel’s Arab neighbors is not all threat.

It’s time to review three areas where the once and future member of the security cabinet has served as a voice for moderation – but also to keep in mind how his rhetoric undercuts his apparent restraint.

Lieberman has spoken seriously and extensively about peace, and has in fact embraced two states, even though he rankled disability advocates a year ago when he called two-state advocates “autistic.”

One of his most radical ideas would crack the sequencing that famously helped scuttle the 2000 Camp David peace talks: Yasser Arafat, then the Palestinian leader, was considering embracing then-prime prime minister Ehud Barak’s proposals, but balked when he toured the Arab and Muslim worlds and was told he would be seen as a quisling if he agreed to Barak’s terms, particularly on Jerusalem.

Lieberman’s solution: negotiate holistically. Make peace with the Arabs and the Palestinians simultaneously. It’s a plan that would allow the Palestinians greater leverage, should they coordinate with other Arab nations to extract concessions. That’s one reason why Netanyahu insists on direct talks, where Israel holds more cards. But, the thinking goes, it also could lead to a more stable and permanent peace in the region. Lieberman, looking toward activating this plan, could keep Netanyahu focused on working with moderate Arabs in the region.

“The security advantage means cooperation with moderate nations, exchanging intelligence, joint efforts,” Lieberman told Al-Monitor in 2014. “With regard to this facet, our partners could gain very nice inputs. And there’s also the economic sphere. I am convinced that one day, we’ll have embassies in Riyadh, in Kuwait, in the Gulf States, and other places. The combination of our initiative, technology, and knowledge with their tremendous financial reserves can together change the world.”

His proposal to swap heavily populated areas – Arab-heavy regions of Israel bordering the West Bank with Jewish-heavy portions beyond the Green Line – is what has stirred controversy. Lieberman tries to make it sound like common sense: Jews want to live chez-eux [in their own home], why wouldn’t Palestinians?

For one thing, not every Israeli Arab wants to live in a Palestinian state – subtle but deep-seated differences have emerged between the populations since 1948. Israeli Arabs have said they resent being considered as pawns.

For another, Lieberman proposes paying Israeli Arabs to leave – a transfer policy that would undercut his hopes that Israel would no longer be an international “punching bag,” as he told Al-Monitor

Yuli Tamir, a former education minister, wrote in Haaretz in 2015 that Lieberman’s plan sets dangerous precedents, by positing that minorities cannot exist with majorities, and by suggesting that majority Arab areas of Israel should seek sovereignty.

“If Israel consents to discuss a redrawing of its borders based on demographic criteria, it probably won’t be long before the Arabs of the Galilee (where they are currently a majority) and of the Negev (where in certain areas there is an Arab majority) may also question their belonging to Israel,” she said.

Martin Indyk, who led the U.S. team that tried to broker Israeli Palestinian peace in 2013-2014, said recently on Twitter that Lieberman was easier to work with than Moshe Ya’alon, the man he will replace and who has been lionized by his supporters in the current political crisis as a defender of democracy.

“Lieberman says reprehensible things but I remember that he supported” U.S. Secretary of State John “Kerry’s peace efforts when Ya’alon was insulting him,” Indyk said.

In 2013, attending the Saban Forum, organized by the Brookings Institution, he said it was best not to air differences publicly, advising the sides to “cool down the atmosphere.”

Lieberman is known to be critical of Netanyahu’s at-times-confrontational posture vis-à-vis the U.S., believing the Israeli leader often seems too eager to get into it with Israel’s most powerful and important ally.

But that might also be a function of a natural bully deferring to the big kid on the playground. Lieberman and his lieutenants have shown no compunction about insulting leaders of less imposing countries like Turkey,Sweden, Spain, and France.

Lieberman, known by his Russian nickname Yvet, offered humanitarian assistance to Syria in 2012, as its civil war descended into chaos.

So he cares, right? Cares enough that in 2001, when Egypt was considering reintroducing forces in the Sinai, he said Israel should threaten to bomb the Aswan Dam – effectively, commit a major war crime.

Kurds Mark Holocaust Remembrance Day for First Time

May 19th, 2016

Holocaust-Rememberance-Day-Image

Ryan Mauro

Ryan Mauro

By Ryan Mauro / ClarionProject.org

Western media missed a giant step forward in the Middle East: The Kurds held the first Holocaust Remembrance Day (May 5, 2016) in the history of Iraq and Kurdistan. It is a remarkable act when you consider the huge degree of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism in the region — and the Kurds did it without getting anything in return.

The Kurdish Ministry of Religion has a Jewish representative who led the event in Erbil, the capitol of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. A garden was used to display photos of the persecution that Jews faced. It included the showing of a short film, the lowering of the Kurdish flag to half-staff, the lighting of six candles to represent each million of Jewish victims, and prayers.

The leader of the Department for Religious Coexistence, Mariwan Naqshbandi, said the Kurds feel they have a “duty to support the Jewish religion. When you look at the towns as well as the villages in Kurdistan, you see many Jewish families have survived.”

The official set the reopening of a temple in Iraqi Kurdistan as an eventual objective. The Jewish representative from the Ministry of Religion said they’d start with a Jewish cultural center to educate the population about the religion and that a temple would come at a time when it is safe to do so.

“The first-ever Holocaust Remembrance Day observance in Kurdistan is a natural sequel to the first-ever remembrance of the Jews expelled from Iraq, which occurred on November 30 (2015) and garnered an overwhelming and unanimous amount of support from community, party, and religious leaders in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” said Zach Huff, an advisor to the KRG’s Ministry of Religion’s Jewish Affairs Directorate.

The Kurds are inviting to come to northern Iraq the 300,000 Kurdish Jews in the world, the majority of whom currently live in Israel.

To fully appreciate the significance of this step, it must be understood how Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are breathtakingly high in the world, especially the Muslim world.

A 2014 survey found that 63% of people the Middle East and North Africa either believe the Holocaust is a myth or is greatly exaggerated. Only 8% have heard of the Holocaust and believe in its historicity. And it’s getting worse: It found that young people are less aware of the Holocaust.

It’s depressing to think about: In today’s globalized age, access to the undeniable historical record of the Holocaust is only a click away. The truth is more accessible than ever, but we see the young becoming more ignorant about the dangerous lies pushed by Islamists and other anti-Semites.

By plowing against this negative trend, the Kurds are gardeners of peace. They are planting seeds that will grow truth and tolerance in a region desperately in need of it.

London’s new Muslim mayor

May 8th, 2016

By Shawn Pogatchnik / AP

London's new mayor, Sadiq Khan

London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan

DUBLIN (AP) — Sadiq Khan has a simple, striking message for Londoners: He won’t be merely a Muslim mayor, but a leader for all.

Khan celebrated his landslide election victory Saturday in a multi-denominational ceremony at an Anglican cathedral accompanied by London’s police chief, Christian and Jewish leaders, and stars of stage and screen.

They gave Khan a standing ovation as he pledged to be an approachable Everyman for his city of 8.2 million — including more than a million residents who, like him, happen to be Muslim.

“I’m determined to lead the most transparent, engaged and accessible administration London has ever seen, and to represent every single community and every single part of our city as a mayor for Londoners,” said Khan, the son of Pakistani-born immigrants who became a civil rights lawyer and, in 2005, London’s first Muslim member of Parliament.

“So I wanted to do the signing-in ceremony here, in the very heart of our city, surrounded by Londoners of all backgrounds,” he said in Southwark Cathedral, a few miles (kilometers) north of the state housing project where he grew up in the London district of Tooting.

Khan’s Labour Party candidacy to lead London triumphed in the face of a Conservative campaign seeking to tar him as sympathetic to Islamic extremists. Supporters said Khan’s own message — that a victory for him would show the world how tolerant and open Britain was — carried far more power.

“To have a Muslim mayor seems preferable to me to any alternative regardless of the politics,” said actor Sir Ian McKellen, who greeted Khan at the cathedral gates. “I hope it’s an image that will go round the world as representing a new sort of England that’s at peace with itself regardless of race and so on. That’s the beauty of it.”

Leading Muslim activists in the Conservative Party expressed shame and anger over their own candidate Zac Goldsmith’s attacks on Khan, saying they had recklessly stoked racism and intolerance. The final round of ballot confirming confirmed early Saturday that Khan received 57 percent of votes, Goldsmith 43 percent.

Many criticized Goldsmith’s final published appeal in a right-wing Sunday newspaper warning that London stood “on the brink of a catastrophe” if it elected Khan. The article claimed that Khan and Labour considered terrorists their friends and would handicap police efforts to prevent another attack on London, 11 years after 52 Londoners died in suicide blasts on three subway trains and a bus committed by British-born Muslims. Goldsmith’s appeal was accompanied by a picture of the bomb-ravaged bus.

Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said he had been disgusted by the Goldsmith campaign tactics.

“We were meant to understand that Khan kept bad company with extremist Muslims and could not be trusted with the safety of London. On top of that, leaflets were targeted specifically at London Hindus and Sikhs … seeking to divide Londoners along religious and ethnic lines,” Amin wrote on a Conservative blog. He said the Conservative campaign sought to frighten non-Muslim voters “about Khan, the alleged Muslim extremist.”

Amin said he voted for Goldsmith because he opposes Labour policies, but could not stomach campaigning actively for him — and instead took pride in seeing Londoners vote so strongly for a fellow Muslim of Pakistani background.

Leading Conservatives defended their campaign tactics, even as they expressed surprise at losing a post locked down for the past eight years by the eccentrically popular Conservative, Boris Johnson.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who previously accused Khan of sharing a platform with a London imam sympathetic to the Islamic State extremist group, repeated those since-discredited claims Saturday and insisted such charges represented “the rough and tumble of politics.”

He also declined, when pressed several times on the matter, to withdraw his campaign claim that London’s security would be jeopardized by Khan.

“Stuff gets said during elections,” Fallon said.

Israel Wants to Extend Laws to Settlements

May 4th, 2016
sraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, with ministers before a Cabinet meeting in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights in April. (Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, with ministers before a Cabinet meeting in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights in April. (Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press)

By Joshua Mitnick / LATimes.com

The Israeli justice minister has said she wants to extend civil laws to Jewish settlements in the West Bank [aka Judea and Samaria], a move that critics say would put the country at odds with the international community.

As Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told a forum of right-wing lawyers, she’s pushing a policy that would ensure that all legislation passed by parliament, the Knesset, would automatically be applied to settlements in the West Bank.

The land has been under Israeli control since the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians want to form an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“My goal is that, within a year, for every law passed by the Knesset, there will be a team that will translate … it in Judea and Samaria,” Shaked said Sunday, May 1.

Shaked’s right-wing Jewish Home party is a junior partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. It’s unclear whether Netanyahu would support such a policy because it would undercut his declarations of support for negotiations to create a Palestinian state and could deepen Israel’s international isolation on such issues.

Opposition politicians and legal critics said Shaked’s proposal would enhance the legal disparity between 370,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements and 2.6 million Palestinians living in cities and villages.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, asked: “Can two people live at a distance of 30 meters, and one person will have one law and the other will have another law?”

Since re-capturing territories from Arab opponents in 1967, Israeli governments have taken steps to extend Israel’s laws to the Golan Heights and all of Jerusalem and offer permanent residency to Arabs living there, but have avoided a similar move in the West Bank even though it has expanded settlements.

Shaked’s comments are in line with annexation supported by her party, said Gilead Sher, a former legal advisor to Israeli government negotiating teams.

Women in Palestinian Culture–How to Hit Your Wife

May 2nd, 2016

PalWatch.org

PA Mufti of Gaza explains how to hit your wife: “Not hitting that will bring the police, and break her hand and cause bleeding”

Mufti of Gaza Hassan Al-Laham: “Allah created a solution for this (i.e., marital strife). How? Allah said: Warn them [the wives], and separate from them, and hit them, and bring an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family. [Only] after this comes divorce. The husband starts with a warning.”

(Female) PA TV host: “Explain to our viewers the steps a husband should take.”

Mufti: “The warning needs to be made politely by the husband to his wife, while he shows good relations, dialogue, respect, and humanity. She who stands before you is a human being. She is an independent person and deserves respect. You did not buy her as a slave, nor did you buy her in the market. She is a respectable woman from a respectable family, just as you are a respectable man from a respectable family. It may be that she is from a more socially respectable family than yours, however she became your wife, and she is under your command, and is under your care, so that you should treat her according to Allah’s command. The warning should be made using a good word, good treatment, and a positive look.”

TV host: “In order to stop the conflict from getting worse and resolve it.”

Mufti: “It is a warning. When she makes a mistake he will explain: ‘You shouldn’t do this and that.'”

TV host: “What is the stage after the warning, honored Sheik?”

Mufti: “‘[Koran:] Warn them [the wives] and separate from them.’ The separation means separation in the bedroom, in the home. Not outside. In other words, he will not show other people that there is a problem. But inside the home, at bedtime, if he separates from her and does not speak to her in the bedroom, she will ask why, and he will explain: ‘You made a mistake and I am angry about it.’ Perhaps this will lead to reconciliation…

“After the warning and separation, comes the hitting – hitting that does not make her ugly. The Prophet [Muhammad] said: ‘Do not hit the face and do not make her ugly.’ (Hadith) In other words, not hitting that will bring the police, and break her hand and cause bleeding, or hitting that makes the face ugly. No. As it is said [in a Hadith] ‘If not for this (i.e., the fear of retaliation), I would give you painful blows with a small brush.’ … The hitting is not meant to disfigure, harm, or degrade. The hitting will be like a joke. He will hit her jokingly. Not a blow that breaks a bone or makes the face ugly, and he will not curse and the like. This hitting is a kind of reminder that the love and friendship that Allah commanded is still found between us (i.e., the couple).”

Official Palestinian Authority TV Feb. 8, 2016 (2:34 min)

Granted a New Life by the Pope

May 1st, 2016

“Muslim governments should be ashamed. Instead of helping refugees, they close borders and stop visas.” –Nour Essa, saying that no Muslim leader has made the gesture the pope made.

By Tom Kington / LATimes.com

Refugees Nour Essa, husband Hasan Zaheda and son Riad are among the 12 Syrians plucked from a Greek camp by Pope Francis and placed with the charity Sant’Egidio in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. (Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

Refugees Nour Essa, husband Hasan Zaheda and son Riad are among the 12 Syrians plucked from a Greek camp by Pope Francis and placed with the charity Sant’Egidio in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. (Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

On a warm evening in Rome, as waiters flapped tablecloths for outdoor diners at a trattoria down the cobbled alley, Ramy Al Shakarji leaned back on a bench and laughed as he described how the head of the Roman Catholic Church, plucked him, a Muslim, from a squalid refugee camp in Greece and flew him to a new life.

“When we were given the chance to come to Rome, my wife and I took about three minutes to decide ‘yes,'” he recalls.

That was about all the time they had. It was 9 p.m. on April 15, a night before Pope Francis visited their refugee camp on the island of Lesbos.

Making the offer to move to Italy was Daniela Pompei, an official with Catholic charity Sant’Egidio, which was asked by the Vatican at the last minute to find families and then host them back in Rome at its refugee shelter in the bustling Trastevere neighborhood.

“I got to Lesbos three days before the pope and it was all done in a rush,” Pompei said.

Al Shakarji, 51, stopped laughing as he described the moment Francis greeted him before the flight. “I felt security and peace — a man like this is a father to the world,” he said.

The trip to Rome was the end of a long journey that started in Dair Alzour, a Syrian town under siege by Islamic State, where Al Shakarji recalls a rebellious neighbor’s decapitated head hanging from a balcony for three days.

“Don’t go to Syria,” he said grimly, drawing a finger slowly across his neck.

In March of last year, Al Shakarji decided to risk fleeing down mined roads and past snipers to reach Turkey, taking his wife and three children with him. Between Islamic State and the government of President Bashar Assad, he saw little hope for his family in Syria.

“My two sons were approaching the age for military service and to stop them becoming assassins, for either Assad or ISIS, we had to go,” he said.

Now, he says his oldest son plans on training as a dentist. But first, Sant’Egidio is organizing Italian lessons for the families in Trastevere.

Another of the Syrians brought to Rome with Francis is Nour Essa. Sitting outside a classroom at Trastevere, Essa clutched an Italian grammar book and tried out a hesitant “Come stai?” — “How are you?” — on an African refugee in her class.

Essa’s family history is a refugee tale that spans the 20th and 21st centuries. Her grandfather was a Palestinian who fled the new state of Israel in 1948 and settled in Syria.

“The difference is there were two sides in 1948, whereas in Syria you can’t understand how many sides there are,” said Essa, 30.

Essa had escaped some of the initial turmoil of Syria’s civil war. She was living in Montpellier, France, while studying for a master’s in microbiology, before returning to her job in 2013 at Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission.

She then married and had a child, but the war was creeping into her Damascus suburb. “We lived between checkpoints loyal to Assad and the Free Syrian Army and in 2015 we could smell the sulfur from chemical weapon attacks,” she said.

Then her husband’s draft papers arrived. The couple fled, starting a terrifying, 10-day journey across ISIS-held territory in an ambulance and then in a cattle truck.

Stopping in Aleppo, her husband was ordered to fight by ISIS fighters — “real monsters,” said Essa. But a smuggler guided them through minefields toward Turkey, where after waiting out rough seas and numerous tangles with Turkish police, they made it to Lesbos on March 18, packed into a dinghy at night with 50 other refugees.

“We had heard the borders were closing and had to hurry,” she said.

Their rush paid off. The family made it to Lesbos just two days before a March 20 deadline set by the European Union, beyond which new arrivals in Greece were to be sent back to Turkey unless they claimed asylum in Greece.

Crucially, when selecting families to fly to Rome, Sant’Egidio took only those who arrived before the cutoff.

“I was shocked when we were asked if we wanted to go,” Essa said. “We shook the pope’s hand when we were on the plane and he caressed my 2-year-old son’s head.”

Addressing journalists on the flight back to Rome, Francis discussed the 12 Syrians on board, saying, “It will be the duty of the Vatican, in collaboration with the Sant’Egidio Community, to find them work, if possible, or to maintain them. They are guests of the Vatican.”

He added, “I did not make a choice between Christians and Muslims. These three families had their documents in order.” Then, quoting Mother Teresa, he said, “It’s a drop, it’s a drop of water in the sea, but after that drop, the sea will never be the same.”

Landing at 4:30 p.m. in Rome, the Syrians did not leave the airport until nearly four hours later after completing paperwork, the start of a process that should lead to them receiving asylum status in Italy.

Now, Essa is torn between trying to reach France, settling in Italy or one day returning to Syria, from where her mother is sending her WhatsApp messages daily.

What she is sure about is that no Muslim leader has made the gesture the pope did. “Muslim governments should be ashamed,” she said. “Instead of helping refugees, they close borders and stop visas for Syrians. If you want to work in Saudi Arabia, you cannot get a visa now.”

For Al Shakarji and his family, it appears Italy will be their new home. As the light faded in the courtyard outside the Sant’Egidio building, Al Shakarji’s 7-year-old daughter climbed onto his lap to say “ciao,” her first word in Italian.

“I will stay here in Italy and live like an Italian,” said Al Shakarji, adding with a laugh, “I am loving this lasagna.”

But he stopped laughing to add, “What I will not stop thinking about are the thousands of people still surrounded by ISIS in my hometown.”

U.S. shifts Sinai troops for safety

April 29th, 2016

Bt W.J. Hennigan / LATimes.com

The Pentagon has shifted more than 100 U.S. soldiers from a desert camp near the Egypt-Israeli border in the Sinai Peninsula after a barrage of attacks by militants linked to Islamic State.

The U.S. troops, part of a little-known peacekeeping force that helps maintain the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel, were transferred about 300 miles south to a more secure area.

The move comes as the Obama administration is considering whether to scale back the 700 U.S. troops in the Sinai and instead use remote sensors, cameras, and other technology to monitor the border.

Sinai Province, a militant group that last year declared allegiance to Islamic State, has carried out multiple attacks on military outposts in the northern Sinai. Its fighters have killed dozens of Egyptian soldiers, including eight this month when militants fired a rocket at their armored vehicle.

The extremist group claimed responsibility after a bomb exploded aboard a Russian-chartered passenger jet over the Sinai on Oct. 31 and killed all 224 passengers and crew. In July, the group hit an Egyptian frigate in the Mediterranean Sea with a shoulder-fired missile.

The Multinational Force of Observers, or MFO, has 1,680 troops from a dozen countries. The Americans, who live behind blast walls and travel in armored vehicles, have increasingly found themselves at risk in the insurgency.

Four were injured when their convoy hit two roadside bombs in September. Several weeks earlier, an American soldier was shot in the arm when gunmen targeted the camp, near the northern Sinai village of Al-Joura.

The Pentagon responded last summer by sending 75 more troops plus counter-mortar radars and new communication equipment.

As peacekeepers, the U.S. troops aren’t authorized to fire at the militants — only the Egyptians are allowed do that.

The recent attacks were among the topics that Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed Saturday in a closed-door meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi on Saturday in Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb.

Any major change in the peacekeeping force must be approved by all signatories to the accord, which followed the wars between Egypt and Israel and in 1967 and 1973.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter formally notified Israel and Egypt this month that the U.S. is reviewing its role in the force. U.S. defense officials say the review involves reducing the number of U.S. troops, not a full withdrawal.

Many of the troops, including staff headquarters, already have moved from El Gorah in the northern Sinai to a smaller installation near Sharm el Sheik on the southern tip of the peninsula.

“The Pentagon has valid concerns about troop safety,” said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But the U.S. tinkering with its force numbers, even if slightly, can give the appearance that it is second-guessing the mission, which is worrisome for the Egyptian government and provides a propaganda tool” for Islamic State.

The U.S. government provides $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. It has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since the 1979 peace accord with Israel.

The Obama administration briefly suspended military aid in 2013 to push Sisi, who had seized power in a military coup, to improve his government’s human rights record.

Despite continued U.S. criticism over Sisi’s jailing of political opponents and activists, Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited here Wednesday to show support for Egypt’s government.

“We talked about ways in which we can hopefully resolve some of the differences and questions that have arisen about the internal politics and choices for the people of Egypt,” Kerry said after talking with Sisi.

Kerry did not detail the “differences,” but added that Egypt is “critical to the peace and security” of the region.

2 Jewish visitors beaten, ejected from Temple Mount for bowing in prayer during Passover

April 27th, 2016

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Muslim worshippers attacked two Jewish men on the Temple Mount on Tuesday after the Jews bowed in prayer in violation of the visiting rules.

The Jewish men were beaten as they prostrated themselves. The Muslims clashed with police attempting to protect the Jewish visitors, who were ejected from the site.

A video of the incident posted on social media by a Palestinian news website shows dozens of Muslim worshippers punching police trying to protect the men, who are still on the ground. The police then push back.

Jewish prayer is forbidden at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. The Temple Mount is administered by Jordan’s Muslim Wakf.

At least eight Jewish visitors were removed from the Temple Mount on Tuesday (April 26, 2016) for allegedly attempting to pray. Jewish visitors were removed on Sunday and Monday for the same offense.

Jordan condemned the increase in Jewish visitors to the site, including many tourists who came to Israel for Passover. During the holiday’s intermediate days, there are expanded visiting hours for Jews at the Temple Mount, and Muslim worshippers are prevented from ascending to the Mount during certain visiting hours.

On Monday, Jordan’s media affairs minister, Mohammad al-Momani, released a statement accusing “Israeli settlers and police” of storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He called Israel’s actions at the site “a violation of international laws and conventions” and said it could lead to “serious consequences.”

The Prime Minister’s Office in Israel responded to the threats, saying, “There is absolutely no basis to these claims,” and that “Israel is behaving responsibly, and Jordan knows that.”

Additional security forces have been put on patrol in the Old City of Jerusalem because of increased tensions at the Temple Mount and throughout the city in the aftermath of a bus-bombing in Jerusalem last week.


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