Friday, August 10, 2007

Time Travel: Only in Israel

The year was 1985, but not for long. Marty McFly stepped into the DeLorean with Doc and his girlfriend, not exactly sure what to expect in 2015. The DeLorean then hovered in the air and zoomed into the future.

For those of us who were children in the '80's, this scene from Back to the Future Part II stirred our imaginations, just as H.G. Wells' The Time Machine awed generations before us. But such time travel couldn't happen in real life. Or could it?

Professor Amos Ori of the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology believes it could. He claims that he has figured out a method that takes into account the barriers encountered by Albert Einstein and other theoretical physicists.

His theory is way above my level of understanding (it may or may not involve a flux capacitor), but to learn more go to this article on the Israel21c website.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Big Gun Politics: Can Armed Political Parties Fairly Participate in Democratic Processes?

The Latest
PRC Background
Other Political Parties with Armed Wings
Can Armed Political Parties fairly Participate in Democratic Processes?
The Altalena: An Israeli Example

The Latest

The Popular Resistance Committee ("PRC"), a Palestinian terrorist group responsible for the deaths of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, has announced that it will form a political party to run in future Palestinian elections. It vowed, however, to keep its militia intact.

"We will be a political movement in every way," said the group's spokesman, "with media advisers, a political leadership and we will maintain the Salah a-Din Brigades which will be our military wing."

That raises the question: Can armed political parties fairly participate in democratic processes?

PRC Background

The PRC was formed in 2000 at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), and is based mainly out of Gaza. It's leadership consists of former Fatah members who are against peace with Israel, as well as members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is also suspected of having ties with the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

The PRC has killed Israeli soldiers and civilians in the Gaza Strip and has wounded several Israelis by firing rockets into the Jewish State from Gaza. It claimed responsibility for a 2003 roadside bomb that killed several members of a U.S. diplomatic envoy in Gaza. It also boasted of killing Moussa Arafat, cousin of late PA President Yasser Arafat and former head of security, in 2005. In 2006, the PRC (along with Hamas) kidnapped Israeli Defense Forces ("IDF") Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who is still in captivity.

Other "Political Parties" with Armed Wings

To most in the West, a political party having an armed wing seems seems antithetical to democracy. But in the Middle East, there are plenty of examples of groups that have both political branches and a militia.

Palestinian Authority ("PA") President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party has armed wings (separate from official PA security forces) associated with it, including Tanzim, Force 17, and the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. Similarly Hamas, the political party that won PA parliamentary elections in 2006, is best known for suicide bombings committed by its armed wing.

Hezbollah also has political and armed divisions. In the 2005 Lebanese parliamentary election, Hezbollah won 14 seats, and for a while had two members in the cabinet.

In Iraq, it seems as if all political parties have their own militaries.

Even Israeli political parties use to have armed wings, though this is no longer the case. More on Israel's transition in a moment.

Can Armed Political Parties fairly Participate in Democratic Processes?

The answer, exemplified by Hamas, seems to be yes. Hamas won the 2006 PA parliamentary election not because it intimidated voters with its militia, but because the ruling Fatah party was seen as corrupt.

On the other hand, having distinct armed wings creates a highly destabilizing atmosphere. Because Fatah refused to disband its militias, Hamas and other groups such as the PRC maintained theirs. And now the PA is in a state of near-civil war.

The Lebanese government has been in political gridlock for almost a year, partly because Hezbollah has refused to disarm. In addition, other terrorist groups are sprouting up, such as the al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam. And, as I wrote in a previous article, al-Qaeda sees its primary enemies as not only the West but also Shi'ites, whom they describe as infidels. An armed Shi'a Hezbollah only aggravates the situation.

And then there is Iraq. Enough said.

The Altalena: an Israeli Example

Before the rebirth of the Israel in 1948, militarized political parties were common. One political party that had a militia was known as the Revisionist Party (the forerunner of the modern-day Likud Party), and it advocated the creation of a Jewish State in all of British Mandate Palestine.

The military wing of the Revisionist Party, called the Irgun, was led by Menacham Begin. The Irgun initiated attacks against various British installations, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel that killed British Diplomats.

When the State of Israel declared its independence in May 1948, most militias agreed to disband or incorporate themselves into the IDF. The Irgun, however, still wanted to retain some independence.

In June of that year, over 900 Irgun men and tons of military supplies arrived in Israel aboard the Altalena to help fight the War of Independence. Menacham Begin insisted that at least some of the supplies should be earmarked for separate Irgun activity, though then leader of Israel David Ben Gurion concluded that the IDF should have the sole military authority in the Jewish State.

When Begin refused to give up all of the weapons, Ben Gurion ordered the IDF to take the Altalena by force. The IDF opened fire on the ship, killing 16 Irgun fighters and sinking the Altalena. In addition, 200 Irgun men were arrested.

After the incident, all militias were fully disbanded or incorporated into the IDF. Ben Gurion established rule of law, and cemented the concept that the option of force rested solely with the state.


So yes, an armed political party can fairly participate in democratic processes. The PRC may even be able to accomplish this feat. But it is only attempting to do so at the peril of the Palestinian people.

If the Palestinians, the Lebanese, or the Iraqis want peace and stability, they must first get their house in order. They (including ruling parties) must either get militias to disband by agreement, or they must initiate their own Altalena.

The rule of law demands nothing less.

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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Weekend News Wrapup- 8/5/07

Israel and the Palestinian Territories
ISRAELI Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet in the West Bank city of Jericho on Monday. The two are set to formulate a Declaration of Principles for a final settlement of the conflict. This, in turn, will be used as a basis for talks in a regional summit that U.S. Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice has planned for November.

There are several issues, beside final boundaries and a Palestinian "right of return," that complicate efforts for a final settlement. The first is that, after Hamas' bloody coup two months ago, Abbas no longer has any control over the Gaza Strip. The second is that Abbas' Fatah party is still seen by Palestinians as weak and corrupt. Its ability to enforce a peace agreement even in the West Bank is questionable. The third is Olmert's poor standing among Israelis. Olmert is less popular in Israel than President George W. Bush is in the United States, and Israelis may not trust him to ensure a fair and comprehensive peace.

OVER 300 members of terrorist groups associated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas have accepted an amnesty deal from Israel. Israel has promised to take these people aligned with Fatah, all located in the West Bank, off of its wanted list in exchange for them turning in their weapons and swearing off attacks on the Jewish State. The amnesty deal is part of a package of gestures that Israel is using to bolster Abbas' standing in the Palestinian territories.

Interestingly, members of Islamic Jihad, an Islamist terrorist group opposed to peace with Israel, have requested to be included in the amnesty. The Islamic Jihad leadership, however, has lambasted the amnesty and reaffirmed its commitment to destroy Israel.

RESIDENTS of the Christian city of Metn have gone to the polls to replace two assassinated Members of Parliament. Amin Gemayal, former president of Lebanon and father of one of the slain MP's, is contesting for his son's seat. His opponent is Kamil Khoury. Both candidates are Christian, though Gemayal is associated with the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Sinora while Khoury is aligned with the pro-Syria, Hezbollah-led opposition. The other seat is only being contested by pro-Western politician Mohammed al-Amin Itani.

MP's Pierre Gemayal and Walid Eido were murdered within the last year. Syria is suspected to be behind the slayings.

IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on Israel to "go somewhere else." He stated that Israel should leave the region and a Palestinian state should crop up in its place. This comes after he has declared that Israel should be "wiped off the map" and hosted a Holocaust-denial conference.

His statement should also be viewed in the context of Iran's nuclear program. Iran has refused to suspend its nuclear activities, which the Islamic Republic has argued is purely for energy production. Western powers, however, are convinced it is also being used to develop a nuclear weapons program.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Israelis Decry Gov't's Policy on Darfur Refugees

Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum have rightly united in their disgust at the government's policy toward Darfur refugees.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to send any Darfur refugees that cross into the Jewish State from the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt. Many of the Sudanese refugees attempt to flee Arab countries for Israel due to persecution and better economic opportunities.

Recently Israel Defense Force ("IDF") soldiers witnessed one such attempt. Several Darfur refugees were being chased by Egyptian soldiers while crossing into Israel. The Egyptians shot three of the refugees, immediately killing two of them. A fourth managed to get to the fence dividing Egypt and Israel, and began climbing it.

IDF soldiers who witnessed the shootings attempted to aid the refugee, getting a hold of his arm to help him over. But the Egyptians arrived and began pulling on the refugee's legs, and flung him back to the Egyptian side.

The IDF soldiers then watched helplessly as the Egyptians literally beat the refugee to death:

"What happened there yesterday was a lynch. These are not men, they're animals. They killed him without even using firearms...We just heard screams of pain and the sounds of beatings. Then the screams stopped."

This incident prompted Israel politicians of all political stripes to denounce the Israeli government's policy of sending refugees from Darfur back to Egypt. Opponents of the policy include Benjamin Nentanyahu of the center-right Likud; Amir Peretz of the center-left Labor; Effie Eitam of the right-wing National Religious Party; and Dov Henin of the communist Hadash Party.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hamas Confronts Islamic Jihad

In an effort to bolster the group's authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas forces clashed with militants from Palestinian Islamic Jihad. During the incident, gunmen from Hamas shot one member of Islamic Jihad in the head, and several other members in the legs.

The Incident
Hamas recently enacted a ban against gunfire in public in a bid to bring order to the Gaza Strip. Members of Islamic Jihad eschewed that ban, and unleashed rounds into the air during a wedding celebration. Hamas gunmen confronted the militants and ordered them to stop, but those affiliated with Islamic Jihad refused.

The next day, Hamas militants stormed the homes of members of Islamic Jihad, trading fire and confiscating weapons. At one point, a Hamas member fired a rocket at an Islamic Jihad member's home.

The same day, Hamas gunmen chased Islamic Jihad fighters into a mosque, and then dragged them out. They proceeded to shoot one Islamic Jihad militant in the head, and several in the legs. Other Islamic Jihad members were arrested. After the incident a Hamas spokesman wrote, "We implemented the law."

Traditional Allies have Subtle Differences
What's so interesting about these incidents is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have traditionally been closely allied. They both have an Islamist agenda, they call for the destruction of Israel, they have cooperated in attacks against Israel, they formed as offshoots of Egypt's Islamic Brotherhood, and they receive funds from Iran.

But there are some subtle differences. First, while Hamas has always given equal priority to attacking Israel and providing social services for poor Palestinians, Islamic Jihad has primarily focused on destroying the Jewish State.

Moreover, though both organizations originally refused to participate in the Palestinian Authority (essentially the Palestinian government) because it was created during the 1990's peace process with Israel, Hamas eventually ran candidates for the PA parliament. In addition, while both groups are Sunni and have ties to Shi'a Iran, Islamic Jihad is much more closely aligned with Iranian/Shi'a practices such as rule by clerics.

Politics and Gang Mentality

These differences, however, don't explain the recent violence. What does explain the violence is politics and gang mentality.

When Hamas and Fatah were battling in Gaza two months ago, Islamic Jihad decided to stay out of the fray. It considered such inter-Palestinian fighting an anathema to its cause and, paradoxically, the group thrived in the the chaos that existed during the Fatah-Hamas unity period. When Hamas routed Fatah and became the masters of Gaza, Hamas felt slighted that it had not received the support of its fellow Islamists.

Moreover, with Hamas now enforcing order, Islamic Jihad has become highly territorial in regards to its weapons and zones of influence. But Hamas has become equally if not more territorial, and sees itself as enforcer of the law in all of Gaza. Thus, as the Bloods and the Crips have squared off brutally to protect their interests, so have Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Winners and Losers

If Hamas is willing and able to defeat Islamic Jihad as it did Fatah, there will be winners and losers. The first winner, of course, would be Hamas. Not only would it show once again that it is the dominant force in Gaza, but it would also lessen the likelihood of an attack from Israel. As Islamic Jihad has been responsible for most of the constant rocket attacks from Gaza, it has given Israel a ready excuse to invade and retaliate any time it wishes. But if Hamas crushes Islamic Jihad, Israel will be less agitated and Gazans are more likely to live calm lives.

The other winner would be Israel. As mentioned above, the daily barages of rockets would lessen, if not cease. And when there are attacks from Gaza, the Jewish State would have a clearer picture of who perpetrated the attack. Furthermore, as Hamas would be the sole political force in Gaza, it would have to focus on state-building and day-to-day administration rather than attacking Israel.

One loser, clearly, would be Islamic Jihad. It would be humiliated by defeat and lose one of its major bases of operation.

The primary loser, however, would be Fatah. Hamas will have done what Fatah couldn't or refused to do in over a decade of power: impose order. Though Fatah recently has been more successful in disarming opponents in the West Bank, its security forces do not seem to have the determination or discipline to fully enforce its will. Palestinians would compare the relative calm in Gaza to the corrupt and violent situation in the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

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