Granted a New Life by the Pope

“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 /

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.”

Stockholm overrun by migrant teen gangs


Swedish police warns that Stockholm’s main train station has become unsafe after being ‘taken over’ by dozens of Moroccan street children.

The all-male migrant teen gangs are spreading terror in the centre of the Swedish capital, stealing, groping girls, and assaulting security guards, according to Stockholm police.

Members of the gangs, some as young as nine, roam central Stockholm day and night, refusing help provided by the Swedish authorities.

Overrun: Stockholm police reports that gangs of Moroccan minors, some as young as nine, roam the city's main train station "stealing, assaulting security guards and groping girls."
Overrun: Stockholm police reports that gangs of Moroccan minors, some as young as nine, roam the city’s main train station “stealing, assaulting security guards and groping girls.”

Sweden has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Moroccan under-18s who apply for asylum without a parent or guardian in the past four years, with many later running away from the housing provided to live on the streets in the capital.

Stockholm police estimate that at least 200 Moroccan street children moved into the area around the main train station in the centre of the capital, sleeping rough, and living off criminal activity.

“These guys are a huge problem for us. They steal stuff everywhere and assault security guards at the central station,” one police officer said. “They grope girls between their legs, and slap them in the face when they protest. All police officers are aware of this. I would never let my children go to the central station. No officer would.”

The issue of the Moroccan teen gangs first made headlines last year, and the situation has since escalated with Stockholm police demanding authorities to take action. Desperate officers have started arresting the teens for public drunkenness in order to get them off the streets for a few hours, with the policeman adding that they are “on our knees.” The gangs are made up of orphans who have grown up on the streets of Casablanca and Tangier in Morocco, where authorities estimate there are around 80,000 homeless “street children.” They have all applied for asylum Sweden as unaccompanied minors after traveling through Spain and Germany, a journey that may have taken them years. But their troubled backgrounds have made them distrusting and wary of adults, and more than one in five have run away from migrant housing and foster families after applying to stay in Sweden.

Swedish migration authorities first reported an increase in Moroccan unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in 2012, when 145 arrived, a number that more than doubled in 2013. Out of the 505 Moroccan children who applied for asylum in Sweden without any parent or guardian, 20 percent ran away from provided group housing or foster families, disappearing off the radar.

In 2014, the number had increased to 381 children, out of which nearly one third have run away, according to the Swedish Migration society. In the first quarter of 2015, 146 unaccompanied Moroccan minors applied for asylum in Sweden – 32 have since run away and are unaccounted for. In late January, the Swedish government announced talks with Moroccan authorities to acknowledge that the child street gangs are a “mutual problem.” Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said that Sweden is working on sending the children back to their home country.

“We are in agreement that this is a joint problem for us to solve, and that we both need to find ways of identifying these people to achieve repatriation,” Ygeman said following a meeting with Moroccan representatives.

Russian Buildup in Syria Worries U.S.

By Dion Nissenbaum and Philip Shishkin / The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON — Russian forces have delivered a half-dozen tanks to a base in Syria, a marked escalation and the strongest indication yet that Moscow is preparing to transform a coastal airfield into a new military hub to help President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. officials said Monday.

Over the weekend, U.S. officials said, the six T-90 Russian tanks arrived at the airfield south of Latakia, Syria, where Russia’s military has embarked on an intensive buildup.

Along with the tanks, Russia has sent three dozen armored personnel carriers, about 15 new artillery pieces, and housing that could accommodate as many as 1,500 people, the officials said.

Russia is now flying an average of two cargo flights a day and the planes are using a new air route over Iraq, after Bulgaria rejected a request from Moscow last week to fly the cargo over its airspace, U.S. officials said.

The uptick in military deliveries, especially the tanks, has led to a shift in thinking at the U.S. Defense Department, where there is a growing consensus that Russia is preparing to play a much more intensive role in the Syrian conflict.

“Tanks are more offensive in nature, and this exceeds what we would consider as force protection for a base,” said one U.S. military official.

Russia has played down the importance of the military deliveries and cast them as part of its long-standing support for Mr. Assad. But U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about Moscow’s intentions.

President Barack Obama last week warned Russia that it was making a mistake in aiding Mr. Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry has called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to express America’s concerns. Officials at the Russian embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to questions Monday.

Russia has been one of Mr. Assad’s strongest international supporters, and Moscow will play a central role in steering the course of the conflict toward a potential diplomatic deal or a more deadly conflict.

In Syria’s multifaceted civil war, Washington has sought to isolate the Assad regime diplomatically while developing Syrian rebel forces that have so far proved largely ineffective on the battlefield.

On Monday, Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. would welcome Russia’s direct involvement in battling Islamic State extremists in Syria, but not if done in coordination with Mr. Assad.

“We welcome Russia participating in the global anti-ISIL efforts, but to do that via the Assad regime is unhelpful and potentially destabilizing,” he said.

A principal concern for the U.S. is the risk of accidental clashes or other mishaps in a Syrian airspace where the U.S. and its allies are flying round-the-clock surveillance and bombing missions against Islamic State forces.

Trust between U.S. and Russian defense establishments has broken down in acrimony over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, leaving Washington and Moscow without a reliable channel for what military planners call “de-confliction.”

In one clear sign of the breakdown, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who took over the Pentagon job in February, hasn’t yet spoken to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu.

Last week Bulgaria denied Russia overflight rights for Syria transit, and the Russians have been using an alternate air route through Iraqi airspace, officials said.

In their Syria airlift, the Russians have followed established civil-aviation routes, making it harder for the U.S. to exert any over pressure either directly on Moscow or on the overflight countries.

“We’ve been in touch with all of our allies, partners and friends in the area to encourage them to ask hard questions about who and what is flying through their airspace,” Capt. Davis said.

Christian Family Defends 2,700-Year-Old Tomb of Jewish Prophet as ISIS Army Advances

Christian Family Defending 2,700-Year-Old Tomb of Jewish Prophet as ISIS Army Advances on Nineveh
By Stoyan Zaimov /

A Christian family in the ancient city of Nineveh is reportedly defending the 2,700 year-old tomb of the Jewish prophet Nahum, as the armies of terror group ISIS advance in the region.

“When the last Jewish people in Al Qosh left, they asked my grandfather to watch over the tomb, to keep it safe. I don’t know much more than that,” said Asir Salaam Shajaa, an Assyrian Christian.

“Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must respect that. He’s a prophet, it is simple.”

Haaretz reported that Al Qosh, the city built over ancient Nineveh, is a treasure trove of history, containing both the early beginnings of Christianity and the Assyrian empire, along with its Hebrew heritage.

Nahum the prophet is known for predicting the fall of Nineveh in the seventh century B.C., and his remains are believed to be kept at the tomb of “Nahum the Elkoshite” in the city.

Shajaa revealed that generations of his family have been taking care of the tomb, located in one of the last synagogues still standing in Iraq. His family had promised the Jewish residents of Al Qosh more than 60 years ago that they would protect and preserve the Hebrew site. The Jewish people were forced to flee in the early 1950s after government policies sought to purge Iraq from Jewish presence.

The ancient tomb was reportedly visited by thousands of worshipers each year before the 1950s’ exodus.

Shajaa noted that the beige hand-laid walls of the old synagogue are crumbling, but he continues to take care of the tomb with his family, and allows visitor to come pay their respects.

“No one can decide what to do with the place. There were people who came a few years ago, some wealthy Jewish people who wanted to rebuild the fallen walls with the same stones,” the Christian man said.

“The government didn’t like that though; they didn’t want them to use the same materials because they think it isn’t safe. But then Islamic State came and we are close to the fighting here, so nothing will happen now.”

Shajaa said he’s confident that ISIS will not conquer the city, despite its recent conquests of other Iraqi cities. Still, he noted that the crisis has affected pilgrimages, with very few Jewish pilgrims daring to venture to the tomb.

“I’m not sure how long my family will continue to stay in Iraq. We want to leave; most of the Christians want to leave,” he added. “My brother says he will stay though. If my family gets to leave Iraq, my brother and his children will look after the tomb. It will stay in the family, God willing.”

ISIS’s conquest of Ramadi back in May was its most significant territorial victory in Iraq since the U.S. and a broad coalition of international forces began launching airstrikes against the terror group last year.

The fall of the city prompted questions about whether the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq and Syria, though President Obama has denied those claims.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently that over 10,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since the military campaign began nine months ago.

“We have seen a lot of losses within Daesh [ISIS] since the start of this campaign, more than 10,000,” Blinken said. “It will end up having an impact.”

An Iraqi Christian fighter, a member of Babylon Christian Battalion, stands guard near the site of May car bomb attack in Baghdad.
An Iraqi Christian fighter, a member of Babylon Christian Battalion, stands guard near the site of May car bomb attack in Baghdad.

German Nationals Join Kurdish Army Fighting ISIL – video

Genuinely Moderate Moslems

In late September, France 24 TV aired a report (posted below) about German Kurds returning to Iraq in order to join the Peshmerga forces fighting ISIL. According to the report, hundreds of European Kurds have already joined the fighting. The following is a transcript of the video.

Reporter: “When the sun goes down, the Peshmerga patrols return to base. Hussein and Lukman resemble the other fighters, but their story is different. They are Germans who came here three months ago to fight the Islamic State [in Syria and the Levant (ISIL)].

“50-year-old Lukman lived for 19 years in Germany where he worked as a truck driver. His wife and five children stayed behind in Munich.”

Lukman: “We heard that the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State was attacking our brothers. That’s why I decided to return and fight them. Many have returned (to fight), not only from my city, but from Cologne as well. Two of our men were killed in the town of Jalawla.”

Reporter: “Hussein Muhammad is from Cologne. Leaving behind his Kurdish orchestra, he exchanged his violin for a rifle. These two men both have battle experience. At the beginning of the 1990s, they fought in the Peshmerga against the Iraqi forces commanded by Saddam Hussein.

“Lukman shows us gruesome pictures – which we cannot show here – of corpses of ISIS fighters, which he took himself. He also shows us the explosives that awaited him and his comrades in a village.”

Lukman: “Look at the mines and explosives that they left in a village we attacked. The engineers managed to defuse them.”

Reporter: “Hundreds of European Kurds have returned to fight here. Another group awaits its turn.”

Hussein Muhammad: “Thank God [Allah] for the modern media in Germany, which enabled us to follow events here in real-time. We get calls every day from young men still in Germany asking how to get here to join us in battle. They are ready and willing to defend Kurdistan.”

Reporter: “When night falls, it is time to relax. Another day has gone by for Lukman and Hussein, who say that they will not return to Germany until the war is over.”

German Nationals Join Kurdish Army Fighting ISIS
France 24 Arabic TV (France) – September 28, 2014 – 02:22 (#4522)

Erdogan’s odious anti-Semitic slander

Turkey denies its own genocide and accuses Israel

By Richard Cohen / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Op-Ed

The slanderer. | Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
The slanderer. | Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti-Semitism is getting the better of him. Once again, the Turkish prime minister has trotted out the Hitler analogy in relation to Israel and what it has done in Gaza. “They curse Hitler morning and night,” he said of the Israelis. “However, now their barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.”

Erdogan’s Hitler fetish is both revolting and inaccurate. Hitler murdered an estimated 6 million Jews, not to mention millions of Poles, Russians, Gypsies and, as a group, homosexuals; the Israelis have killed in the current Gaza operation more than 1,000 Palestinians. The difference between murdered and killed — the former on purpose, the latter mostly what’s called “collateral damage” — ought to be clear to anyone whose mind is not addled by anti-Semitism.

Israel has gone out of its way to try to avoid civilian deaths. It has often not succeeded. But it has warned civilians with telephone calls and text messages and even dummy bombs hitting the roof. This, I point out, is far more than President Obama has done when American drones kill terrorists in Pakistan or wherever. Hamas militants are also terrorists and they hide, as every guerrilla army has ever done, among the people.

The loss of civilian life is awful, but it is no Holocaust. It is, though, an opportunity for anti-Semites, latent or otherwise, to express their bigotry. Their implied statement is that the Jews had it coming — see how they act now! Their bigotry overpowers their logic and they deliriously lose all sense of proportion — 6 million versus 1,000 or so in Gaza — and they conflate the killer with the killed. It is repugnant.

For Erdogan, the handier and closer to home reference would have been what the Turks did to the Armenians. This genocide — the very word was coined by Raphael Lemkin to encompass what happened to 1.5 million Armenians during and after World War I — has been roundly denied by the Turkish government. In a dizzying feat of irrationality, the head of that government brushes past the crimes of his own nation to point an accusatory finger at the victims of another nation.

Erdogan’s remarks are merely the reductio ad absurdum of the anti-Israel argument. Some accuse Israel of a hideous lack of proportionality without pausing to say what the proper proportion of death and destruction should be. Would Hamas have ceased firing rockets into Israel if Israel had bombed less? Somehow, I think not. Would Hamas have blown up its own tunnels if Israel had ceased its attack after, say, a week? Again, no.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did the U.S. go into Afghanistan to kill exactly 2,977 al-Qaeda and Taliban, an eye for every eye extinguished on that infamous day? Israel is a small nation of only about 8 million people, more than a fifth of them Arabs. Proportionality is a luxury beyond its reach.

It is clear that much of the world has grown weary of Israel. Yet there is an edge to the outrage that is elsewhere lacking. When did thousands gather in Europe to protest the Syrian slaughter — not just the government’s abhorrent bombing, use of gas and repression, but the torture and murder of about 10,000 activists and dissidents? It was a mass murder that the Syrian government studiously archived — photos and such — which surely deserves the Nazi analogy that comes so easily to the tongue of Erdogan and others. No matter. Silence.

I take psychiatric theories with a grain of salt, but the effort of Erdogan to make the victim worse than the victimizer is not only false and tasteless, it is psychologically intriguing. It does more than blame the victim. It tends to exonerate the criminal. History is repeating itself — not, as Marx said, as either tragedy or farce, but in Erdogan’s telling as pornography.

ISIS’s “Rising Star” Is a Red-Bearded Chechen

By Irene Chidinma Nwoye /

ISIS leader Omar al-Shishani

After ISIS (ISIL) rebels seized the Iraqi city of Mosul, photos emerged of an individual believed to be a top general in the terrorist network who is fast becoming a symbol of its globalization — because he has a red beard and is literally Caucasian.

Dubbed the “Ginger Jihadist of Mosul” by the International Business Times, the 28-year-old ethnic Chechen goes by the nom de guerre “Omar al-Shishani.” Born in Georgia as Tarkhan Batirashvili, he served in the Georgian army and adopted his war name, which means “Omar the Chechen,” in 2013. And unlike Iraqi ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is in hiding, al-Shishani has long made several appearances in videos and photos, including a recent shot in which he inspects allegedly American Humvees stolen from Iraq.

Reports from the AP and other news sources call him a “rising star” and speculate that he may have risen from being ISIS’ commander in Syria to becoming the group’s overall military chief. And he’s one of “hundreds” of Chechens who have fought with the group; the AP writes that ISIS’ recent declaration of a caliphate—a state for all Muslims—could lead to a “greater internationalization of its ranks.”

Hussein Nasser, a spokesman for one of Syria’s opposition groups, the Islamic Front coalition group of rebels, told the AP that Chechens like al-Shishani are the most feared soldiers in the conflict. He “has no idea about anything [in the country] and does whatever his leader tells him,” Nasser said. “Even if his Emir tells him to kill a child, he would do it.”

Iraq’s Unraveling Would Benefit Oil

Opinion: Most of the oil is in Kurdish, Shiite lands

A general view of Baiji oil refinery, north of Baghdad, in this 2009 file photo. / Reuters
A general view of Baiji oil refinery, north of Baghdad, in this 2009 file photo. / Reuters

By Amotz Asa-El The Wall Street Journal

Iraq, once the civilized world’s commercial heartbeat and intellectual lighthouse, has become the jihadist international’s big game.

Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, has fallen amid reports of mass executions, while embassies in Baghdad fortify and consulates in Basra evacuate. The Iraqi Army’s unraveling in the face of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) latest offensive has shocked diplomats and unsettled markets, where oil prices last week rose 3.5% following Mosul’s downfall.

The Sunni insurgency, while savage, has a cause. Iraq’s Shiite majority abused the American-sponsored democratic process, discriminating against the Sunni minority in budgets and appointments. Numbering roughly one-third of some 32 million Iraqis, the Sunnis would not be swept under the rug.

The ISIS insurgency wants to create a Sunni state in areas of Syria and Iraq.
The ISIS insurgency wants to create a Sunni state in areas of Syria and Iraq.

Moreover, with the Sunnis to their west, in Syria, they number some 25 million people whose shared faith, ethnicity, language, and land indeed render their separation by an international border artificial. The insurgency’s quest to unite these populations is, therefore, not farfetched. Indeed, the biblical land of Aram roughly overlapped these areas.

Such a state, should it emerge, would end an era shaped by European statesmen who stuffed the social hodgepodge of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon into the states that are now falling apart.

Talk of the Sunni insurgency fully taking over Iraq assumes Europe’s mapping can be sustained, and also ignores the geopolitical straightjacket in which a Sunni Iraq would live.

Politically, the new Sunni state would be surrounded by implacable enemies. To its east will crouch 20 million Arab Shiites, to its north 7 million non-Arab Kurds and to its west 3 million Syrian Alawites and a million Lebanese Shiites, all of whom will compose the new state’s immediate ring of hostility.

Beyond it will lurk Shiite Iran in the east, and non-Arab Turkey to the north, and beyond them will loom all the superpowers, including Russia, due to its ironclad alliance with the Assad regime, and China, due to its intensifying friction with Sunni Islamism.

Moreover, ISIS’s religious zeal is unnerving nearby Jordan, which is actually ruled by fellow Sunni Arabs, but Western-educated ones for whom the fundamentalist charge to their north is a cultural anathema and a strategic threat.

Then there is topography. ISIS’s immediate enemies sit atop mountains that surround the flatlands that Iraq’s and Syria’s Sunnis inhabit. Then there is weaponry. Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Jordan have the fighter jets, artillery, and tanks that ISIS lacks, and they would not hesitate to use them if that is what circumstances demand.

And worst of all for ISIS, Iraq’s oil wealth is mainly in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north.

ISIS can storm and bully towns in the Sunni flatlands, but should it charge the Kurdish or Shiite areas it will discover that history’s dustbin has sucked not only colonial Europe’s idea of Iraq, but also Saddam Hussein’s, whereby the Sunnis imposed themselves on the Shiites, thanks to Russian arms, Iranian weakness, and Turkish apathy, all of which are gone.

New order
Iraq’s oil industry has staged a comeback since the American invasion. After having left the market due to sanctions following its invasion of Kuwait, Iraq is now OPEC’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia, and the International Energy Agency says Iraqi output can nearly double by the end of the decade.

The insurgency, despite the oil fields’ general distance from the Sunni heartland, is in a position to hamper this recovery, and clearly sees in this a goal. The shutdown of Iraq’s largest oil refinery, in Baiji north of Baghdad, on Tuesday following an ISIS attack, was a strategic statement. However, the threat is to Iraq more than it is to oil markets.

Attacks on refineries, pipelines, and seaports are about as far as ISIS can damage Iraq’s oil industry. It will not be able to actually take over the industry, due to its geography.

But more importantly, the global market has changed beyond recognition since Iraq’s invaded Kuwait.

On the supply side, Russia and the U.S. have become the world’s largest and third-largest producers respectively, and on the demand side, the U.S. has become more self-sufficient thanks to its shale mining. That is why, with all due respect to Iraqi oil’s recovery, its share of global production remains less than 4%.

And this is beside the fact that Iran could compensate for lost Iraqi exports, if allowed back into the market.

In short, as long as instability does not spill into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE, which produce between them nearly a fifth of the world’s oil output, Iraq’s turmoil is mainly its own problem.

In terms of oil, the important development is not ISIS’s gains, but the consequent Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk, where northern Iraq’s main oil fields sprawl. The Kurds had long aimed to become oil-thirsty Turkey’s suppliers. The problem was the government in Baghdad. Now ISIS, in its stupidity, has effectively helped its Kurdish enemies consolidate economically, and for good measure, have also stormed the Turkish consulate in Mosul.

The Kurds’ takeover of the northern oil is likely to be emulated in the south by the Shiites, for whom the fields near Iran, from Rumaylah to Abu Ghraib, will be an economic bloodline as they confront the Sunni challenge they face.

Ultimately, Iraq’s current turmoil can actually improve oil production, placing it in sectarian hands that will benefit most from its recovery, and secure it better than any foreign rule.

Rescue Jewish Property and petition

At one time Jewish People made up a large community in Iraq. They lived successfully, although they endured various degrees of persecution along the way. In 1941 things began to change dramatically resulting in a terrible pogrom (an organized massacre). 1948 and 1967 brought new waves of persecution along with the forced relinquishment of property. Many precious articles of Jewish history were plundered by the Iraqi government as most of the Jewish People fled or were airlifted to safety. The government of Iraq imposed intense restrictions on those who remained, causing them to live in fear of persecution, beating, and murder.

In 2003, the looted belongings of a 2,500 year old Iraqi Jewish history were discovered by Coalition forces searching the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. Recognizing the historical value of the treasures, Coalition members contacted the US National Archive who stepped in to recover and restore the collection of nearly 2,700 books and 10,000 personal records. In order to take the archives out of Iraq, the US agreed to return them once the costly restoration was done.

HOWEVER, we are asking you to join your voice in pleading with the US to do the right thing by the owners of the archives, the Jewish People not Iraq who plundered them from Iraqi Jews through acts of intolerance, prejudice, persecution, and brutal treatment. One tragedy was averted by the generosity of the United States stepping in to restore these precious documents of history. Another tragedy is on the horizon as the Iraqi Jewish Archives are set to be returned to Iraq in June of 2014.

Can we expect Iraq — a country that refuses to recognize Israel and continues to show hatred to Jewish People — to handle the treasures of Jewish history with any respect? Can we expect Iraq to honor the valuable historic archive of a people they hate? No. We want to see the archives returned to their rightful owners.

Please speak up with us for what is right and add your name to the petition today. Take Action. Click here and sign The Petition NOW!

If the previous link doesn’t work with your browser, try this one.

If you still have trouble opening the petition, copy and paste this address into your browser:

The Palestinian Narrative: Seeking Peace by Waging War

By Steve Feldman & Christopher J. Katulka /

All along, this has been the modus operandi of the Palestinian-Arabs and their supporters. They have fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians; committed shootings, stonings, and bombings; and incited hatred and violence among the Palestinian-Arab population. Outside the region, they seek to defame or delegitimize Israel, or to punish Israel economically. This onslaught has been incessant. Hardly the ingredients for “peace.”

A major conference taking place in Philadelphia, starting Friday (March 28) and extending into Saturday, by supporters of the Palestinian-Arabs looks to perpetuate the attacks rather than end them.

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) is staging “The Role of the US in Israel-Palestine: Current Realities and Creative Responses” at the American Friends (the Quakers) Service Committee headquarters in Center City Philadelphia. FOSNA is a support arm of a radical Christian Palestinian-Arab group based in Jerusalem called Sabeel.

Sabeel is a stew of Christian liberation theology and replacement theology that politicizes religion to advance a political agenda. In this case, that agenda is an end to the Israel we know and love – an Israel that serves as a vital ally to America.

Rather than truly seeking ways to coexist or to build up a normal Palestinian-Arab society, FOSNA has assembled a roster of Israel-haters and antagonists to present discussions and workshops geared toward delegitimizing and defaming Israel, hurting the Jewish state economically, and eroding support for Israel – particularly among American Christians.

Based on a conference schedule posted on its website, the FOSNA conference will encourage the termination of American military aid to Israel; recast “the Israel-Palestine conflict as a civil rights struggle, with parallels to South Africa and the American South”; seek to increase anti-Israel activities on campuses; and promote the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. FOSNA believes that the mainstream media is not already biased against Israel and thus will discuss strategies to make it more unfavorable to Israel, and to turn more Christians against Israel.

According to FOSNA’s website, conference sponsors include Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers); the Catholic Peace Fellowship; the Philadelphia Coalition for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel; the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace; and the Peacemaking Committee of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

To the Jewish community, the lack of a consistent position regarding Israel within Christianity can be confusing. Groups including Friends of Israel (founded in 1938), Christians United For Israel (founded about a decade ago), and smaller groups such as Delaware’s Olive Tree Ministries are fervently pro-Israel, while other Christians such as the Quakers and “Main Line” Protestant denominations have been antagonistic toward Israel. This divide is as old as the modern State of Israel itself.

When the State of Israel declared its independence in 1948, many Palestinian-Christian clergymen abandoned the Hebrew Bible because they believed that it was too Zionist. In an effort to reclaim it for their people, they replaced the Israelites with Palestinians in the narrative. For example, instead of adhering to the biblical context of the Exodus, they supplant that with an interpretation of the Palestinian-Arabs going to the Knesset, saying: “Let my people go!”

“Palestinian Liberation Theology” takes interpretive liberties with the biblical accounts and prophecies of the Hebrew Bible in order to mold it to specific political and theological agendas. It maintains that certain Torah passages are outdated and irrelevant, claiming they reveal a primitive way of understanding God’s revelation to man. A majority of these “irrelevant” sections often involve God’s promise to return the Jewish people to their land, or to give them land.

“Palestinian Liberation Theology” is still considered fringe within mainstream Christianity. Its proponents wish to advance the cause of the Palestinian Christians, who desire to create a Palestinian state. The impetus for the movement stems from “Replacement Theology,” a faulty method of biblical interpretation that claims that the church has replaced the role of Israel in the Bible.

Sabeel and Friends of Sabeel also distort history, international law, and the situation on the ground – casting Israel as “oppressors” and responsible for every “injustice” that allegedly afflicts Palestinian-Arabs. Everyone else is apparently blameless for their claimed suffering. Moreover, there is no mention of Palestinian-Arabs’ and Arabs’ repeated rejections of their own state if it means living alongside a Jewish one. Also escaping the finger-pointing is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has maintained a long-term “refugee” status for these individuals rather than resettling them, as is its directive.

In Sabeel’s view, history begins in 1948, and thus it accuses Israel of existing on “78% of historic Palestine leading to the displacement of most of its Palestinian inhabitants[.]” Ironically, they fail to acknowledge that Jordan (née Transjordan) was created from the eastern 78% of the territory that the League of Nations had set aside for a Jewish homeland.

Further, Sabeel considers all of the land as “Palestinian,” accuses Israel of practicing “apartheid,” and dates the “occupation” to 1948. The facts that the Palestinian Arabs rejected the U.N. Partition Plan in 1947 that offered them a state of their own, that the international community gave the land to the Jewish people for “close settlement” (as per the Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations), that Judea and Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip were illegally occupied respectively by Jordan and Egypt from 1948 to 1967, and that the charge of “apartheid” is laughable do not seem to matter. It is truly a case of “Don’t let the facts get in the way.”

While much of this battle is an internal Christian matter, the Jewish community can play an influential role. Activities such as the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council’s Interfaith Mission to Israel introduce Christian clergy to Israel, offering an opportunity to see and hear Israel for themselves rather than through anti-Israel propaganda.

The Zionist Organization of America frequently interacts with Christians on an organizational level and individually. Other Jewish groups do likewise. Contacts at the grassroots level and one-on-one conversations with friends and colleagues to convey the historical facts and current realities are also important.

As the peace process ramps up and the deadline set by America to at least reach a “framework” toward peace approaches, we who support Israel’s shared democratic values as an asset to and ally of the U.S. can and must reinforce American support for an Israel that is strong, secure, and thriving.

Steve Feldman is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia District. Christopher J. Katulka, formerly of Langhorne, is church ministries representative and director of ORIGINS for the Friends of Israel.