Haifa fire overcome, but others rage elsewhere in Israel


The Mediterranean sea and parts of the city can bee sen through a burned house following wildfires in Haifa, Israel, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. Israeli firefighters reined in a blaze that had spread across the country's third-largest city and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, but continued to battle more than a dozen other fires around the country for the fourth day in a row. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
The Mediterranean Sea and parts of the city can bee seen through a burned house following wildfires in Haifa, Israel, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. Israeli firefighters reined in a blaze that had spread across the country’s third-largest city and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, but continued to battle more than a dozen other fires around the country for the fourth day in a row. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli firefighters on Friday reined in a blaze that had spread across the country’s third-largest city of Haifa and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, but continued to battle more than a dozen other fires around the country for the fourth day in a row.

The over 60,000 Israelis evacuated began returning to their charred homes to assess the damage as police and firefighting units remained heavily deployed in the Haifa area for fear that the fires could be reignited due to the dry, windy weather.

Though no deaths or serious injuries have been reported, several dozen people have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Hundreds of homes were damaged and in a rare move, Israel called up military reservists to join overstretched police and firefighters and made use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by several countries.

A Boeing 747-400 Supertanker, the world’s largest fire-fighting aircraft capable of carrying 75 tons of fire retardant, is scheduled to arrive later Friday to help the efforts, though officials said it may not be needed by then.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a small village in the forests near Jerusalem was evacuated overnight as several homes there caught fire. Other small fires were under control, he added.

Later Friday, a large fire swept toward the village of Nataf on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing authorities to evacuate all of its residents. Local witnesses say the blaze was caused by a firebomb hurled from a neighboring Arab village.

Overall, Rosenfeld said 12 people have been arrested across Israel on suspicion of arson. The country’s leaders have raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blazes.

Israel has been on edge during more than a year of Palestinian attacks — mostly stabbings — that have tapered off but not completely halted in recent months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Palestinian incitement for fueling those attacks and echoed the charge, pointing to celebrations in some Arab circles over the fires. Netanyahu said investigators are working overtime to apprehend anyone involved in setting off fires.

“The instruction is to bring to justice everyone that committed such an offence to create a deterrent for others and for the simple rule that those who try burn the state of Israel will be punished to the fullest extent,” he said during a visit to an air base where he met pilots putting out the fires. “There are elements of terror here, of that there is no doubt.”

Israel’s police chief Roni Alsheich told reporters Thursday that early indications pointed toward a series of “politically motivated” arson attacks.

The fires began three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together. Later, blazes erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem before the largest ones spread across Haifa.

The rash of fires is the worst since 2010, when Israel suffered the single deadliest wildfire in its history. That blaze burned out of control for four days, killed 42 people and was extinguished only after firefighting aircraft arrived from as far away as the United States.

Israel has strengthened its firefighting capabilities since then, buying special planes that can drop large quantities of water on affected areas.

Several countries, including Russia, France, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy were also sending assistance to battle this week’s blazes. In a rare gesture, the Palestinians also sent firefighting teams to help combat the flames.

With the imminent danger subsiding, attention shifted toward the source of the massive fires. The police chief has ordered an investigation to determine whether the suspected arsonists were linked to a larger plot. Several ministers and lawmakers have already spoken up, alleging that the blazes were an act of terrorism.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, tweeted that “only those to whom the land does not belong are capable of burning it.”

The rhetoric could test already brittle relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority, which has long suffered discrimination in Israel.

With no concrete evidence to support the claim, Arabs are accusing the government of taking advantage of the tragedy to incite against them.

UN Report on Failed Gaza, PA Governments: It’s All Israel’s Fault

By Jewish News International / JNi.Media

"A prominent element of Israel's restrictions on Palestinian productive activities is the dual-use list, which prohibits the importation of civilian goods deemed by Israel as potentially having other, harmful uses." (photo credit: IDF)
“A prominent element of Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian productive activities is the dual-use list, which prohibits the importation of civilian goods deemed by Israel as potentially having other, harmful uses.” (photo credit: IDF)

If a visitor from outer space were to read the new Report of the “United Nations Conference on Trade and Development assistance to the Palestinian people: Developments in the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” issued Tuesday (Sept. 6), they would walk away with an image of a nation of industrious, democratic, peace-loving people named the “Palestinians” who are intentionally and on a daily basis prevented from thriving and achieving the economic success they so richly deserve by a cruel and capricious Israeli occupation that sets out to torpedo every shred of goodness those peaceful folks manage to sustain.

This horrifying image is only enhanced by the fact that this report comes from the principal organ of the UN General Assembly dealing with trade, investment, and development issues. The organization’s goals are to: “maximize the trade, investment and development opportunities of developing countries and assist them in their efforts to integrate into the world economy on an equitable basis.”

With that in mind, here is the opening paragraph of the Executive summary of the UNCTAD report, meaning the gist of whatever else comes below:

    “In 2015, Israel withheld Palestinian fiscal revenue for four months, donor aid declined and Israeli settlements continued to expand into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, while poverty and unemployment remained high. The Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to be a captive market for exports from Israel, while occupation neutralized the potential development impact of donor aid. Genuine reconstruction has yet to take off in the Gaza Strip despite $3.5 billion in donor pledges. Gaza’s socioeconomic conditions worsened and the infant mortality rate increased for the first time in 50 years.”

It’s an executive summary, so one cannot argue that so many of these assertions are being lumped together out of context. And yet, for a report that should provide an overview of the economic and social situation in the PA and Gaza to cite the withholding of revenues without mentioning that Israel was forced to freeze those funds after the PA had accumulated half a billion dollars in unpaid electric bills; and for the same executive summary to make the construction of a smattering of Jewish apartment units as a top-level cause for Arab decline — signals the point of view and general inclination of the authors.

You’re welcome to read the entire report if you wish. We went looking for those items that best reflect how the report turns facts and figures on their head to come up with the preconceived conclusion: it’s all the fault of the Israeli occupation, and once Israel is out of the picture you’ll see how those Palestinians will become Switzerland of the Middle East.

UN Blames Israel for Unemployment
Take, for instance, item 5, dealing with Arab unemployment. In 2015, the unemployment rate in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” was 26%, compared with 12% in 1999.

What happened in 1999? Well, for some unknown reason, there was an Israeli “tightening of restrictions on movement and access of Palestinian labor and goods.”

What a capricious, wicked nation those Israelis must be. Of course, 1999-2000 marked the eruption of the second intifada, which made the current plague of shooting, stabbing, car ramming and stone and firebomb throwing look like a day at the fair. Israeli employers were done with hiring Arabs from the PA and Gaza who would turn on them one morning and slash their throat, thank you very much. Israel imported foreign labor from Asia, and other migrants started cutting through the border illegally in the Sinai, and the Arabs were pushed out of the Israeli labor market. God is in the context.

UN Blames Israel for PA Arabs Wanting to Work for Israelis
Next, the report offers a blatant lie (Item 6): “Lack of employment opportunities in the domestic economy forces thousands of unemployed Palestinians to seek employment in Israel and in settlements in low-skill, low-wage manual activities.”

The reality is that those “lowly” jobs in Israel pay three times what the average job pays inside the PA, and if Israel only issued more work permits, those PA Arabs would have gladly abandoned their lousy jobs in Ramallah and Shechem and flooded Israel’s construction sites.

But the report is unhappy with the fact that as many as 12% of the PA Arabs find decent employment in Israel, because, let’s face it, “this forced dependence on employment in Israel and in settlements magnifies the vulnerability of the Palestinian economy to political shocks, as Israel can at any time bar Palestinian workers, even those with Israeli permits, from entering Israel and settlements.”

On that assertion, there is one surefire way to make sure Israel would never, ever bar those workers and take away their permits: if Arabs from the PA not start shooting, stabbing, car ramming and stone and firebomb throwing. It’s a scientific correlation, proven by 50 years of Israeli presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza: Arab violence leads to Arab poverty; Arab civility leads to Arab prosperity. It’s such a simple message, one must attend many anti-Semitic incitement sessions at one’s local mosque to be able to ignore it.

Israel’s Response to Arab Terror and Illegal Construction Harms the PA Economy
Here’s Item 9, which does not belong in an economic report, because it covers a negligible issue in terms of costs to the Arab economy, but it’s there to make a political point, and tell another lie: “In April 2016, the Secretary-General of the United Nations advised the Security Council that demolition of Palestinian homes and businesses in the West Bank was continuing at an alarming rate.” How alarming? “By early April, the number of Palestinian structures demolished had exceeded the total of those destroyed in 2015, displacing 840 people.”

Israel demolishes Arab homes in Area C for two reasons: illegal construction, and participation of one of the occupants in a terror attack. In terms of numbers, the vast majority of the structures are destroyed for lack of building permits. Israel is the recognized sovereign in Area C, according to the Oslo accords, and you can’t defy the sovereign power by building whatever and wherever you want. But Israel also demolishes Jewish structures in Area C, for a variety of legally contested issues, a fact that is completely ignored by the report which prefers to repeat the mantra that Israel demolished those Arab homes “while accelerated settlement activity created facts on the ground.”

Now, what was the economic effect of those 840 demolitions on the PA, whose citizens reside in Areas A and B? Probably negligible, but a point scored is a point earned.

In Item 14, UNCTAD supports the World Bank’s assessment of a problem they named “the Palestinian fiscal leakage.” What it means is that while the Arab earnings are meager and sub-standard in the PA, the PA Arabs working in Israel make triple those wages and get to keep a lot more after taxes, some of which Israel transfers to Ramallah. But the World Bank and now the UNCTAD want those PA laborers in Israel to pay higher taxes, which would go to their government. Indeed, Israel has promised to collect and transfer to Ramallah “$128 million to cover some of the losses accumulated over the years by the Authority.” That money, as the Israeli Finance Ministry explained to the Knesset Finance Committee this summer, will be coming out of the wages of PA Arabs working in Israel.

UN Blames Israel for Gaza’s Internal Problems
Now we get to what the report names, “Slow reconstruction in Gaza and disregard for the productive base.”

It has been documented by every major news outlet and at least two recent court cases in Israel that Hamas has completely usurped the $3.5 billion in donations [and used it instead] for the digging of new terror tunnels and for rebuilding Hamas leaders’ homes destroyed in the 2014 war. It is also understood by most rational people in the world that as long as the Gaza Strip is governed by a terrorist organization whose major stated aim is to destroy the Jewish State, Israel has no choice but to impose a blockade on the free flow of goods into Gaza, because those goods would inevitably be used to prepare for the next attack on Israel.

Not on planet UNCTAD.

Item 22 states without benefit of context or recognition of regional realities: “Israel’s blockade of Gaza, in its ninth year, continues to exert a heavy toll. The population of Gaza is locked in, denied access to the West Bank and the rest of the world. … The blockade has affected Gaza’s once vibrant export sector.” Ah, those capricious Israelis and their obsession with not getting killed.

UN Report Straight Out Lies
The same item adds a nasty line: “Even people in need of medical treatment are not allowed to travel to obtain essential health care.” The author of this blatant lie should come visit Israeli hospitals in Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beer Sheva, where Gazan patients are a regular feature, including family members of top Hamas officials.

Israel Refuses to Be Annihilated
Item 23 is also about Israel’s refusal to be annihilated: “A prominent element of Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian productive activities is the dual-use list, which prohibits the importation of civilian goods deemed by Israel as potentially having other, harmful uses. The list includes essential factors of production, raw materials, agricultural fertilizers, telecommunications equipment, steel, pipes, spare parts and other capital goods.”

Yes, because Hamas engineers have skillfully turned all those highly useful items into highly murderous weapons.

The same item complains that “recently, more items have been added to the list, and the thickness of wood classified as dual-use has been reduced from 5 to 3 cm, then to 1 cm. This has far-reaching implications for Gaza’s furniture industry, among other harmful effects. Enforcement of the stringent dual-use restrictions obstructs reconstruction efforts, raises production costs and forces Palestinian firms out of business.”

Again, let Hamas officially abandon its murderous designs on Israel, let it sign a document recognizing Israel’s right to exist and watch how the Gaza Strip becomes paradise in a month. The fact is, with the right investments and without the Islamic extremists’ threat, Gaza could become as pretty and as prosperous as San Diego. Parts of it already are, even today.

UN Blames Israel for Gaza’s Now Rising Infant Mortality Rate
Item 25 is a tour de force of convoluted logic: “A shocking indicator of the grim situation in Gaza is the rising infant mortality rate, one of the best indicators for the health of a community. Infant mortality has risen for the first time in 50 years. The rate of neonatal mortality has also risen significantly, from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013.”

The sad truth is that Israel was investing in Judea and Samaria and Gaza infrastructure and social services to the point where they exceeded the standards in all other Arab countries. It is safe to say that had Israel continued to run those territories, today they would have been its equal in terms of social services and levels of income.

The relatively low baby mortality cited for Gaza in 2008 did not appear out of thin air — Israel, that hated occupier, pushed it on with heavy investments and years of government effort. The progressive decline in both parts of the Arab-run territories is not the result of “the occupation,” but of the utter failure of local Arab governments to manage modern state systems. We can illustrate this point:

On June 16, 1994, the Israeli Civil Administration in the Territories issued a report comparing the state of the Arab infrastructure in Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 1970 with 1990. According to that report, in 1970 Gaza had 3 community clinics. In 1990 there were 28. Each of the Israeli-built Community Clinics in the Gaza Strip offered mother-and-child health services, family care units, and pharmacies. Several of the centers offered 24-hours-a-day delivery units and emergency services, and minor x-ray units.

Major renovations and/or additions were made to almost every hospital in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza since 1967. Thus, for example, Rafidiah Hospital in Shechem received a radiology center in 1987 and an out-patient department in 1988. Wattani Hospital in Shechem received an intensive care unit in 1987. Ramallah Hospital received a diagnostic radiology center in 1987 and a neo-natal and premature intensive care unit in 1986. Beit Jala Hospital received a radiology center in 1987. Hebron Hospital received an outpatient and laboratory wing in 1988. The Bethlehem Mental Hospital received a chronic care department for male patients in 1986. The dialysis department at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City was completely renovated in 1989. Khan Yunis Hospital’s surgical suite was refurbished in 1987. The Opthalmic Hospital in Gaza City was renovated and re-equipped in 1989.

And infant mortality in Gaza declined from approximately 85 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 26.1 in 1990. In Judea and Samaria, infant mortality declined from approximately 35 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1968, to 18.1 in 1991.

For comparison, in 1991 deaths per 1,000 births in Libya stood at 62, Egypt 82, Turkey 54, Iraq 66, Syria 37, Tunisia 38, Jordan 38, Lebanon 50 and Saudi Arabia 69.

Together with the decline in infant mortality, great progress was made by Israel in controlling and eliminating major childhood diseases, due mainly to immunization programs instituted since 1967. Twelve nursing schools, two of which offer BA degree programs were opened between 1971 and 1991. The numbers of both doctors and nurses more than doubled from 1967 to 1991.

Voluntary health insurance plans which were unavailable before 1967 were first offered in Judea and Samaria in 1973, and in Gaza in 1976. In 1978, a new comprehensive plan was introduced; it was automatically applied to Civil Administration workers and to area residents working in Israel and was offered to all other area residents on a voluntary basis.

Israel greatly improved and expanded sewage treatment facilities in the liberated areas. Before 1967, there were no sewage treatment plants in Judea and Samaria. Since 1967, modern installations were built in Jenin (1971), Tulkarem (1972), Ramallah (1979), and Kalkilya (1986). The first stage of the Hebron sewage treatment plant was completed in 1991. In Gaza, sewage was managed through local septic tanks. Since 1967, treatment facilities were improved and/or constructed in Gaza City, Khan Yunis, Jabalya, Rafiah, and the Shati refugee camp. Routine testing of sewage for various enteric bacteria was begun in 1981.

Judea and Samaria were recognized as malaria-free areas in 1971.

UN Report Blames Israel for Palestinian Authority’s Failure in Self-Government
Item 37 in the UNCTAD report unwittingly makes this point: “Palestinian economic indicators have deteriorated in the last two decades, with serious ramifications for the welfare of the Palestinian people. In 1995-2014, the population grew by 3.6 per cent annually, while real GDP per capita grew by only 1 per cent. In addition, productivity failed to grow and unemployment increased by 9 percentage points to 27%.”

What else happened between 1994 and 2014?

Oh yes; the governing of Judea, Samaria and Gaza was handed over to the local Arab leadership, which proceeded to mess things up while inciting to violence [their citizens] against the only country on earth that actually took the trouble to help them. With numbers like these – and the report heaps them in multicolored tables – the Arab record of self-government is nothing short of abysmal.

Unfortunately, UN reports telling the world that these failed regimes aren’t to blame, that it’s all Israel’s fault, are not helping anyone, least of all the local Arabs who are now telling survey takers openly that they would rather live under Israeli rule or escape to Canada, whichever comes first.

The UNRWA Road to Terror: Palestinian Classroom Incitement

Posted by David Bedein on May 29, 2016
The Center for Near East Policy Research engaged a team of senior journalists who produced this short film on the incitement taking place in UNRWA facilities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

We flew over a top U.S. film director to direct the film. We engaged a team of experts to translate new PA school books used in the UNRWA schools after the U.S. issued yet another falsified report that the PA school system had been reformed.


Background: UNRWA began operations on 1 May 1950.

In 2002, at the request of the United States Congress, the NGO Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) reviewed the Palestinian Authority’s textbooks. Its report was completed in March 2003. Its executive summary states: “The overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful despite the harsh and violent realities on the ground. It does not openly incite against Israel and the Jews. It does not openly incite hatred and violence. Religious and political tolerance is emphasized in a good number of textbooks and in multiple contexts.” All in all, there seems to be broad agreement that there is continual improvement in the textbooks used by UNRWA – but very strong disagreement about whether the improvement is sufficient.

James G. Lindsay, a former UNRWA general-counsel and researcher for Washington Institute for Near East Policy, reported to WINEP in 2009 that UNRWA is not ousting terrorists from its ranks or monitoring staff’s off-time behavior to ensure compliance with the organization’s anti-terror rules.

In 2011, the United States contributed over $239 million; the European Union gave $175 million.
In 2013, the U.S. contributed $294 million of the total $1.1 billion the UNRWA received.
In 2015, the U.S. again led the nations, giving $380.5 million, followed by the EU with $136.7 million, and the UK with $99.6 million.

Israel Wants to Extend Laws to Settlements

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.

Palestine’s Anti-Corruption Crusader

Najat Abu Bakr
Najat Abu Bakr


Najat Abu Bakr has accused Palestinian Authority officials of rampant theft. Now they’re going after her.

In mid-March, the biggest political standoff in years ended in the West Bank, and barely anyone in Washington noticed.

A parliamentarian from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s own party filed accusations of corruption against senior Palestinian Authority officials and then fled to the parliament building after the Palestinian Authority issued an arrest warrant for her. In the course of two weeks, Najat Abu Bakr’s sit-in protest sparked a political firestorm that drew crowds of Palestinians into the streets. It took weeks of tenacious negotiating, but she was finally able to secure safe passage back to her home district in Nablus.

The story began in February, when Abu Bakr accused PA minister of local governance Hussein al-Araj – a close Abbas associate – of pocketing roughly $200,000 in a water well deal. The Palestinian Authority leadership, widely recognized as a cesspool for corruption and for stifling criticism against the government, issued an arrest warrant shortly after her accusations. Abu Bakr then fled to the safety of the parliamentary building to avoid arrest. She has since turned over files documenting purported evidence of Araj’s case and other high-level corruption to the PA’s anti-corruption czar and the Fatah party head in parliament. It is still unclear whether the charges will ever be acknowledged or addressed.

This was not Abu Bakr’s first tangle with the Palestinian leadership over corruption. In 2013, she publicly sparred with former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a man—ironically—who was widely celebrated for his anti-corruption policies, over accusations that the technocratic leader was misusing funds for a personal security detail. In 2014, she blasted Fayyad’s successor, Rami Hamdallah, for clamping down on labor unions. She also accused PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki of nepotism in 2013 after al-Maliki elevated an official convicted of corruption to the post of ambassador.

However, her latest showdown with Abbas and company is unprecedented. Palestinian politicians typically invoke the cause of anti-corruption to score political points on the street. Few present documentation on alleged corruption, and the last time anyone sought refuge in a Palestinian Authority facility on this scale was when the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was cornered in the presidential Muqata compound by the Israelis in response to his stoking the violence of the second Intifada.

At the same time, it’s a surprise we have not seen more of this. Corruption allegations have dogged the Palestinian Authority since its inception in the early 1990s. For example, an International Monetary Fund audit found in 2003 that Arafat had funneled $900 million in public funds to a special bank account from 1995 to 2000. Another report found that Arafat and his cronies had transferred nearly $300 million to Swiss bank accounts between 1997 and 2000. When Abbas succeeded Arafat as president of the PA in 2005, the U.S. hoped the long-time negotiator—with the help of Fayyad—would be able to reform the corrupt Palestinian system.

But Abbas and Fayyad failed to reverse course, and in 2006 Palestinian voters punished them for it by rewarding their rivals in Hamas. The Islamist group’s surprise victory in the legislative elections that year was due in no small part to their successful efforts to brand themselves as a transparent alternative to Abbas’s corrupt Fatah party. As one Fatah member lamented, his party had “paid the price because of its corrupt administration and a bunch of corrupt leaders.”

Rather than addressing the problem, Abbas seemed to embrace his role of corrupt autocrat. In the wake of a brief but bloody civil war that separated the West Bank and Gaza in 2007, Abbas consolidated his control over Fatah and the PA in the West Bank, pushing transparency and good governance to the bottom of his list of priorities. He forced out Fayyad in 2013 to the great chagrin of Western champions that sought to build a credible government in Ramallah from the ground up. A European Union audit found later that year that they PA had “mismanaged” over three billion dollars from 2009 to 2013.
Abbas finally set up an anti-corruption commission in 2010, but his 81-year old anti-corruption czar recently announced he has only recovered $70 million in five years. And in a recent interview, he insisted that the problem of corruption is simply not as bad as the stream of media reports over two decades suggest.

International donors are not buying it. According to a Reuters report, aid from the EU and others to the PA has fallen from around $1.3 billion per year to $700 million. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah released a statement in December declaring international aid had fallen 43% since 2011. And the financial crisis has had a real impact. After the government’s refusal to increase teacher salaries per a 2013 agreement, thousands of teachers have recently taken to protest in the streets.

These problems are not going to go away, either. Palestinian perception of corruption in the PA stood at 81% in 2014. Abbas’s rivals know this and continue to hammer home the problem as a means to score points on the Palestinian street. Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled senior Fatah official and rival of Abbas, regularly blasts Abbas as a “corrupt dictator” and even filed a lawsuit against Abbas in 2013 insisting “the Palestinian Authority and its leadership are tainted by corruption on a grand scale.” As does Jibril Rajoub, another senior Fatah official and aspiring successor to Abbas, who has called for a “balance of power through free democratic elections.”

Rajoub’s calls resonate on the Palestinian streets for a reason. Abbas is now eleven years into his four-year term. The corruption is as much political as it is financial. It was the toxic combination that ultimately prompted millions to take to the streets in of Arab capitals in the chaotic Arab Spring protests. The Palestinians have, until now, eluded such a crisis. But as Najat Abu Bakr’s sit-in demonstrated, the need for reform remains dire.

Hamas, Fatah exchange threats after wave of arrests

PA security forces arrest 170 Hamas men in connection with shooting attacks against Israelis, raising the wrath of Gaza’s ruling faction.

Elior Levy / YNetNews.com

The Palestinian Authority arrested 170 Hamas men in the West Bank over a period of a few days, according to Palestinian security source, leading to threats from the Gaza terror organization.

The source said the arrests were made in connection with a series of shooting attacks against Israelis in the Binyamin area over the past few weeks that claimed the lives of Malachi Rosenfeld and Danny Gonen.

According to the source, there is evidence pointing to Hamas being behind the series of attacks, which also included a shooting at a Maden David Adom ambulance that ended with no casualties.

Palestinian Authority police. (Photo: Mohammed Shinawi)
Palestinian Authority police. (Photo: Mohammed Shinawi)

The arrests were made in three waves. In the first and biggest raid, 108 Hamas men were arrested in one night, some of them former prisoners released from Israeli and PA jails.

The PA security forces’ spokesman, Adnan al-Damiri, said Hamas was trying to undermine the security situation in the West Bank, adding that the Gaza rulers were doing so while holding indirect contacts with Israel to secure a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas condemned the wave of arrests, and Hamas official Ismail al-Ashqar threatened that if the PA continues these arrests, Palestinian security forces will become a target to the “Palestinian resistance” in the West Bank.

Other Hamas officials said the security forces in the West Bank were operating as part of a plan to eliminate Hamas in the West Bank, a plan they charged serves Israel.

“If Hamas tries to test our patience and commit a terror attack that affects Palestinian security, the organization will meet with a response it cannot imagine,” Fatah said in response.

Nablus governor Akram Rajoub, who used to be a senior official in the Palestinian security forces, said that any attack against the PA will turn all of Hamas’s men in the West Bank into a target.

Despite the mutual threats, the Palestinian security source said Hamas would not dare execute an attack against the PA security forces, but did not rule out the possibility that Hamas men could open fire at PA security when they come to arrest them.

If it’s March, they must be honoring terrorists

By Stephen M. Flatow, March 12, 2015

The charred remains of an Israeli bus that was attacked by Palestinian terrorists in the March 1978 Coastal Road massacre. Credit: MathKnight via Wikimedia Commons.
The charred remains of an Israeli bus that was attacked by Palestinian terrorists in the March 1978 Coastal Road massacre. Credit: MathKnight via Wikimedia Commons.

In various cultures, a particular month, day or time is associated with a certain annual activity. For example, here in the United States, November—every other year—is election time. In Israel, every May brings the solemnity of remembering fallen soldiers, followed immediately by celebrations of national independence. And if it’s March and you happen to live in Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled territory, then you know it’s time for publicly praising and honoring one of the most gruesome Palestinian massacres of Israelis and Americans in modern history.

That’s because March 9, 1978, was the day that a squad of 13 Palestinian terrorists, led by Dalal Mughrabi, landed in several small boats on Israel’s shore. They were members of Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). At the time, Yasser Arafat was chairman of the PLO and Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas was his second in command. Today, Abbas is head of the PLO, Fatah, and the PA.

At the beachfront spot where the terrorists landed, Gail Rubin, a popular American Jewish nature photographer and niece of American Senator Abraham Ribicoff, was taking photos of rare birds. One of the terrorists, Hussain Fayadh, later told the Lebanese Television station Al-Manar what happened: “Sister Dalal al-Mughrabi had a conversation with the American journalist. Before killing her, Dalal asked, ‘How did you enter Palestine?’ [Rubin] answered: ‘They gave me a visa.’ Dalal said, ‘Did you get your visa from me, or from Israel? I have the right to this land. Why didn’t you come to me?’ Then Dalal opened fire on her.”

Mughrabi, Fayadh, and their comrades walked to the nearby Coastal Road and hijacked an Israeli bus. They murdered 36 passengers, 12 of them children. Mughrabi was killed by Israeli troops. Fayadh survived, was sentenced to life in jail, but then released in a prisoner exchange.

So how was that event remembered in PA territory this week? According to Palestinian Media Watch, the official Facebook page of Fatah—Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah—displayed a color poster glorifying Mughrabi as a heroine, and calling the massacre “a huge self-sacrificing operation in Herzliya, Tel Aviv—80 Israelis killed and over 100 wounded.” (They know the real number of victims, but they prefer to indulge their fantasy of the number they had been hoping for.)

Fatah also announced a public event celebrating the mass murder, to be held, of all places, across from Martyr Dalal Mughrabi Square in Ramallah.

Stephen M. Flatow's daughter Alisa (pictured) was murdered in a 1995 Palestinian terror attack. Credit: Flatow family.
Stephen M. Flatow’s daughter Alisa (pictured) was murdered in a 1995 Palestinian terror attack. Credit: Flatow family.

That’s right, in Ramallah, the capital city of the PA—the same PA that receives $500 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars every year—there is a public square named after the terrorist who personally murdered the niece of a U.S. senator. There are also sports tournaments and summer camps named after Mughrabi. And the PA’s official television network frequently broadcasts programs depicting her as a hero and martyr, especially around the time of her birthday.

And just to poke his finger even deeper in America’s eye, Abbas in 2013 hired Mughrabi’s accomplice, Hussain Fayadh, as an adviser. So American aid, approved by the U.S. Senate, helps pay the salary of a terrorist who murdered a senator’s niece.

America has taken no steps to counter this outrageous PA behavior. Why is there no boycott by elected American officials of Ramallah? Why isn’t the equivalent of Hussein Fayadh’s salary being deducted from U.S. aid to the PA.

And why aren’t we in the American Jewish community speaking out, loudly and clearly, any time the PA honors the murderer of an American? We, and the international community, must not get used to the PA doing such things. It’s not acceptable, and we can’t let it become the new normal.

Jews, too, have annual traditions. My family is no different. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the murder of my daughter Alisa and seven others in the 1995 Palestinian terror attack at Kfar Darom. But unlike the Palestinians celebrating their “martyrs,” we won’t be celebrating how Alisa and the others were murdered by Islamic Jihad—not by a long shot.

Instead, we will join mothers and fathers in Israel by quietly lighting a memorial candle in our kitchen. We will visit a lonely grave in the cemetery and go to synagogue to say the Kaddish—mistakenly thought of as a prayer for the dead—and exalt God’s name.

We will all remember the laughter of the good times of families together, the tears of joy and sadness as we bandaged their scraped knees and watched our children grow into upright human beings.

In my home, we will continue to work in Alisa’s name to help provide a Jewish education for as many students as we can, to advocate for the rights of terror victims to obtain justice against those responsible for so much evil in this world, and to see her memory kept alive in our growing family. And we’ll think of the residents of Neve Eliyahu as they spend a quiet evening in the Alisa Flatow Rose Garden, which was dedicated to Alisa not because of her death, but because of her life.

That’s our 20-year-old “normal.”

[The attack at Kfar Darom took place on April 9 and Alisa died on April 10, 1995, according to the Gregorian calendar. On the Jewish calendar, Alisa’s death took place on the 10th of Nissan, which this year coincides with March 30.]

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is a candidate on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.

War Crimes a “double-edged sword”

By Karin Laub and John Heilprin / Associated Press

Nearly a month into Israel’s fierce assault on Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing mounting domestic pressure to seek war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

He has hesitated in the past because such a move would instantly put the Palestinians on a risky collision course with Israel. But with about 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza, according to health officials, Abbas has signaled he might move ahead — cautiously.

Palestinian officials said Thursday that Abbas asked all Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad, to give their written consent to such a move. Different PLO factions signed up in a meeting in the West Bank earlier this week, while Abbas is still waiting for a response from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they said.

In trying to make a case against Israel, Abbas could also expose Hamas, a bitter rival turned potential political partner, to war crimes prosecution because it has fired thousands of rockets from Gaza at Israeli communities over the years.

“This option is a double-edged sword,” Abbas’s Fatah movement wrote on its official Facebook page Thursday, saying he would only move ahead once he has the approval of Hamas.

In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday accused both Israel and Hamas militants of violating the rules of war.

She said Hamas is violating international humanitarian law by “locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas.” But she added that this does not absolve Israel from disregarding the same law. Pillay said the Israeli government has defied international law in Gaza by attacking civilian areas such as schools, hospitals, homes, and U.N. facilities.

“None of this appears to me to be accidental,” Pillay said of Israel. “They appear to be defying — deliberate defiance of — obligations that international law imposes on Israel.”

Pillay also took aim at the U.S., Israel’s main ally, for providing financial support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defense system. “No such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling,” she said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined comment on Pillay’s allegations and on the Palestinian deliberations concerning the ICC.

Israeli officials have said Israel is acting in self-defense by targeting Hamas’s military arsenal and rocket-launching sites. They have accused Hamas of using Gaza civilians as human shields.

At the United Nations, Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor responded to criticism of his country, saying: “I think the international community should be very vocal in standing with Israel fighting terrorism today because if not, you will see it on your doorstep tomorrow.”

After Israel ...
After Israel …

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told reporters “There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas has portrayed its rocket fire on Israel as legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The current round of fighting marks the third Israel-Hamas war in just over five years. In each round, mutual war crimes allegations have been raised, but neither side pursued them further.

After the first war in 2009, Abbas — in an apparent effort not to antagonize the U.S. — helped freeze a U.N. report that called on Israel and Hamas to prosecute any war crimes or face scrutiny by the ICC.

Now, Abbas has more tools at his disposal.

In November 2012, the U.N. General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem — lands Israel captured in 1967.

This state remains largely theoretical since Israel retains control of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and of Gaza’s border points. However, the U.N. vote improved Palestinian chances to seek admission to the International Criminal Court since the tribunal only has jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of a state.

The statehood recognition paved the way for the Palestinians to seek membership in dozens of U.N. agencies and international conventions.

Abbas signed a first batch after nine months of U.S-brokered negotiations with Israel ran aground in April, and Palestinian officials said more membership requests would follow, despite opposition by Israel and the U.S.

Gaining membership to the ICC has been considered the Palestinian “doomsday weapon” because it would likely invite major Israeli retaliation.

But widespread anger in the West Bank over the rising casualties in Gaza has increased pressure on Abbas to act.

“People feel that this tool should be used to stop the Israeli crimes,” said former Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib.

“When people in the West Bank see these scenes that are occurring now in Gaza, they feel that they should support their brothers in Gaza, and the first thing that comes to their mind is the issue of the ICC because they think that it is possible and thus they are pushing more and more for it now,” he said.

Independent legislator Mustafa Barghouti said Thursday that leaders of political factions in the West Bank have repeatedly urged Abbas to act. “We have been pressing him for a long time,” he said.

At a meeting Tuesday with political leaders and faction chiefs, Abbas asked participants to sign a declaration of support for such a move, said Barghouti, adding that everyone signed.

The final decision would still be up to Abbas, according to other participants who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about internal deliberation.

They said Abbas also told them he would not move forward without written consent from Hamas and Islamic Jihad because they could expose themselves to possible war crimes charges.

One of the participants expressed concern that this was a stalling tactic by Abbas, arguing that it was unlikely for Hamas to support such a move.

Hamas officials in Gaza were not available for comment.

Editor’s note: The UN’s requirement that both sides in a conflict be equally armed takes war to a level unknown in all of history. This is not a schoolyard sandbox! Should the police hold fire until fugitive cop killers can re-arm and don protective vests? Should the police also be required to provide those vests, and of the same quality as the police wear? Are financial institutions now required to provide bank robbers with the combinations to their vaults?

Memo to authors Karin Laub and John Heilprin: If you want comments from Hamas leaders, try Qatar, not Gaza.

Hypocricy of Hamas exposed in Palestinian videos

The following video is a compilation of footage taken by Palestinians. An Arab narrates the action in English and points out the hypocrisy of Muslims, especially Hamas.

The video begins by showing a Palestinian wedding in which the men are singing and celebrating. Enter truckloads of machine-gun-toting Hamas who open fire and mow down the wedding guests, beat to death the groom, and destroy the venue — all because the men were singing, says the narrator.

The video then shows Hamas humiliating other Muslims before killing them. The narrator explains that killing other Muslims is sanctioned in the Koran, as is killing non-Muslims. There is footage of Muslims celebrating in Gaza and Jerusalem after the 9/11 massacre — laughing, dancing, happy about the deaths of 3,000 in the Twin Towers. However, the narrator points out, the “Palestinians” want the world to cry for the deaths of their people killed in Israel’s retaliatory bombings.

During footage of a child being armed for battle, the narrator explains that Hamas sends out children — 6-year-olds — with guns and then complains that the children are killed. They kill their own people, arm small children, even use their own babies to shield weapons, and celebrate the deaths of others that they have caused, yet they ask the world to mourn their loss. “Such hypocrites!” says the narrator.

The video below is narrated in English by an Arab who identifies with Christians.

Is Hamas Trying to Get Gazans Killed?

There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Gazan lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives. Photographer: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Gazan lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives. Photographer: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

By Jeffrey Goldberg / BloombergView.com

Mahmoud Abbas, the sometimes moderate, often ineffectual leader of the Palestinian Authority, just asked his rivals in Hamas a question that other bewildered people are also asking: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

The Gaza-based Hamas has recently fired more than 500 rockets at Israeli towns and cities. This has terrorized the citizenry, though caused few casualties, in large part because Israel is protected by the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.

In reaction to these indiscriminately fired missiles, Israel has bombarded targets across Gaza, killing roughly 100 people so far. Compared with violent death rates in other parts of the Middle East, the number is small. (More than 170,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war to date.) But it is large enough to suggest an answer to Abbas’s question: Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible.

Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse, but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior, because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.

The men who run Hamas, engineers and doctors and lawyers by training, are smart enough to understand that though they wish to bring about the annihilation of the Jewish state and to replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood state (Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood), they are in no position to do so. Hamas is a militarily weak group, mostly friendless, that is firing rockets at the civilians of a powerful neighboring state.

The Israeli military has the operational capability to level the entire Gaza Strip in a day, if it so chooses. It is constrained by international pressure, by its own morality and by the understanding that the deaths of innocent Palestinians are not in its best political interest. The men who run Hamas — the ones hiding in bunkers deep underground, the ones who send other people’s children to their deaths as suicide bombers — also understand that their current campaign will not bring the end of Israel’s legitimacy as a state.

I’ve been struck, over the last few days, by the world’s indifference to Gaza’s fate. Perhaps this conflict has been demoted to the status of a Middle East sideshow by the cataclysms in Iraq and Syria. Perhaps even the most accommodationist European governments know that Israel is within its right to hunt down the people trying to kill its citizens. Regardless of the cause, Israel seems under less pressure than usual to curb its campaign.

There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Palestinian lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives. The decision is Hamas’s. As the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said yesterday, “We face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable — and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.”

I understand that this latest round in the never-ending Israel-Gaza war was, in many ways, a mistake. Israel was uninterested in an all-out confrontation with Hamas at the moment, and Hamas, which is trying to manage a threat to its control of Gaza from — believe it or not — groups even more radical and nihilistic than it is, is particularly ill-prepared to confront Israel.

The politics of the moment are fascinating and dreadful, but what really interests me currently is a counterfactual: What if, nine years ago, when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, the Palestinians had made a different choice. What if they chose to build the nucleus of a state, rather than a series of subterranean rocket factories?

This thought is prompted by something a pair of Iraqi Kurdish leaders once told me. Iraqi Kurdistan is today on the cusp of independence. Like the Palestinians, the Kurds deserve a state. Unlike most of the Palestinian leadership, the Kurds have played a long and clever game to bring them to freedom.

This is what Barham Salih, the former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me years ago: “Compare us to other liberation movements around the world. We are very mature. We don’t engage in terror. We don’t condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people. Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority areas to the Palestinian national authority. … We have spent the last 10 years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society.” What, he asked, have the Palestinians built?

So too, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, once told me this: “We had the opportunity to use terrorism against Baghdad. We chose not to.”

In 2005, the Palestinians of Gaza, free from their Israeli occupiers, could have taken a lesson from the Kurds — and from David Ben-Gurion, the principal Israeli state-builder — and created the necessary infrastructure for eventual freedom. Gaza is centrally located between two large economies, those of Israel and Egypt. Europe is just across the Mediterranean. Gaza could have easily attracted untold billions in economic aid.

The Israelis did not impose a blockade on Gaza right away. That came later, when it became clear that Palestinian groups were considering using their newly liberated territory as a launching pad for attacks. In the days after withdrawal, the Israelis encouraged Gaza’s development. A group of American Jewish donors paid $14 million for 3,000 greenhouses left behind by expelled Jewish settlers and donated them to the Palestinian Authority. The greenhouses were soon looted and destroyed, serving, until today, as a perfect metaphor for Gaza’s wasted opportunity.

If Gaza had, despite all the difficulties, despite all the handicaps imposed on it by Israel and Egypt, taken practical steps toward creating the nucleus of a state, I believe Israel would have soon moved to evacuate large sections of the West Bank as well. But what Hamas wants most is not a state in a part of Palestine. What it wants is the elimination of Israel. It will not achieve the latter, and it is actively thwarting the former.