Saturday, December 22, 2012

Australians rush to join war in Syria

From The Australian, 22 Dec 2012, by PAUL MALEY AND CAMERON STEWART:
Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. Source: AP

AUSTRALIAN security agencies believe more than 100 Australians have joined the civil war in Syria, sparking fears the conflict could produce a wave of home-grown jihadists hardened with combat skills and training.
The concerns come amid fears that hundreds of thousands of dollars a month are leaving Australia, bound for the conflict zone, with some flowing to rebel jihadists.
The Australian Federal Police's deputy commissioner in charge of national security, Peter Drennan, confirmed the Syrian conflict had resulted in a spike in the number of Australians travelling overseas to fight.
"For several years we have seen individuals who plan to, or (do), travel overseas to train and fight as terrorists," Mr Drennan told The Weekend Australian.
"These have been relatively few, but even one is a concern. With increased areas of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, we have seen an increase in the numbers, albeit still low, of Australians travelling overseas to be involved in these conflicts. The most recent conflict attracting Australians is Syria."
He said Australians travelling to foreign hotspots to engage in fighting represented an evolution in the terrorism threat here in Australia.
"These individuals then return with training in the use of weapons and explosives and experience fighting in armed conflict," Mr Drennan said.
"The individuals could well use these skills and knowledge for terrorism in Australia."
There are concerns the war, which has pitted Syria's Sunni majority against the minority Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad, could stoke religious divisions in the migrant heartlands of Melbourne and Sydney.
The Weekend Australian has been told security officials put the number of Australians suspected to have travelled to the Syrian and northern Lebanon theatres at "more than 100".
Officials suspect they may be participating in the conflict in a variety of roles, including as combatants.
The passage of Australians to Syria is part of a general Islamification of the Syrian opposition movement, which has seen thousands of foreign fighters pour across Syria's northern, southern and eastern borders to participate in the fighting.
Syria's main opposition group is the Free Syrian Army, a secular armed fighting force for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which has been officially recognised by Australia, France, the US and Britain.
Fighting alongside the FSA, which has sought to distance itself from the extremist groups, are a range of Islamist factions. They include conservative, but mainstream, Salafist groups as well as hardcore jihadists with international links.
One of those groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, was recently listed as a terrorist organisation by the US due to its links with al-Qa'ida in Iraq. US officials credit al-Nusra with more than 600 attacks across Syria, including the summary execution of prisoners.
In a sign of how prominent the Islamists have become in the Syrian opposition, al-Nusra boasts about 7000 fighters and has become one of the most effective military brigades in the fight against the Assad regime.
Aside from the risk of injury or death, Mr Drennan said Australians who travelled to foreign hotspots risked being prosecuted in Australia for terrorism or foreign incursion offences carrying penalties of between seven and 20 years' jail.
Australian officials say the Syrian uprising represents the first time al-Qa'ida has played a frontline fighting role in the Arab Spring, which began in December 2010.
They believe Australians have been drawn to the conflict mainly for two reasons: sectarian loyalty with their fellow Sunnis or the desire to wage jihad. The latter reason is of most concern to counter terrorism officials.
Mindful of the precedent set in Afghanistan during the 1980s, when the struggle against Soviet occupation produced a generation of well-trained, highly radical jihadists who would later wage war against the West, officials worry the Syrian cause could produce a crop of Islamists with combat skills and training.
They stress the problem is not yet on the same scale as the Soviet jihad nor are there indications any of the returned Australians have evinced a desire to attack targets in Australia.
They add that community leaders in Sydney and Melbourne have been quick to recognise the threat to social cohesion that the conflict poses and for the most part have been effective in quelling sectarian tensions.
Most of those known to have travelled to Syria are Lebanese dual nationals who enter Syria via northern Lebanon. However, other dual nationals are suspected to have travelled to the conflict zone.
Although separated by a line on the map, the territory around southern Syria and northern Lebanon forms a single cultural community. Many of Australia's Sunni Lebanese citizens have family in northern Lebanon which, like Syria, has been wracked by periodic outbursts of sectarian fighting since the uprising began 21 months ago.
Two Australians are known to have been killed in Syria, apparently while taking part in the fighting. Sydney sheik Mustapha al-Majzoub was killed in a rocket attack in August. His supporters said he was conducting humanitarian work, but counter-terrorism officials contacted by The Weekend Australian confirmed he was a known extremist. In October, Melbourne kickboxer Roger Abbas was killed, according to his family, after he was caught in crossfire while carrying out humanitarian work.

Abbas had posted on a Facebook tribute page set up to honour al-Majzoub.

Friday, December 21, 2012

UN Adopts 9 anti-Israel resolutions & ignores massacres in Syria

From Breitbart, 10 Dec 2012, by AWR Hawkins:

On December 18th, the U.N. adopted nine resolutions concerning Palestinian rights and the Golan. Not surprisingly, these resolutions were "highly critical" of Israel. At the same time, the U.N. conveniently overlooked Syria's December 15th attack on a Mosque "in a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus."
In addition to the the attack on the Mosque, Syria is openly "massacring its own people," yet Israel is the world's bad guy?
The U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer responded thus:
[This] farce at the General Assembly underscores a simple fact: the U.N.'s automatic majority has no interest in truly helping Palestinians, nor in protecting anyone's human rights; the goal of these ritual, one-sided condemnations remains the scapegoating of Israel.
Making matters worse, by the end of this week the nine U.N. resolutions against Israel will have grown to 22, while only one is expected to be passed against Syria.

Hitler popularity is increasing in India

From Bloomberg, 10 Dec 2012 edition, by David Shaftel:
Photograph by Ajit Solanki/AP Photo

All that remains of the sign above the Hitler clothing store in Ahmedabad, India, is the swastika that used to dot its “i.” Citing cultural insensitivity, the municipality tore it down on Oct. 30 after the store’s owners refused to change it. Rajesh Shah, a co-owner of the shop, which opened in August, is flummoxed. “We are popular because of the name,” he says. “Our customers were not upset about the name. They said, ‘Don’t change it.’ Ahmedabadis like the name because they know Hitler [has not done] anything harmful to India.”
Lacking the sting of anti-Semitism but troubling nonetheless, the Hitler brand is gaining strength in India. Mein Kampf is a bestseller, and bossy people are often nicknamed Hitler on television and in movies.
In 2006 a cafe called Hitler’s Cross opened in Mumbai; in 2011 a pool hall named Hitler’s Den opened nearby in Nagpur. Owners of both say Hitler was a draw; the names were changed in the face of criticism from Jewish groups. (In Ahmedabad, store owner Shah says that only foreigners complained.)
Hero Hitler in Love, a Punjabi comedy about a man with an explosive temper, and the Hindi film Gandhi to Hitler, a sympathetic portrait of the dictator’s last days (Gandhi once wrote to the F├╝hrer), came out last year. A soap opera, Hitler Didi—or “big sister Hitler”—is a hit. Bal Thackeray, the leader of a far-right Hindu party who recently died, professed admiration for Hitler.
Unlike in some parts of Europe such as Russia and Austria, where Mein Kampf has been embraced by the extreme right, Hitler’s popularity in India is not the result of anti-Semitism, says Navras Jaat Aafreedi, a professor of social sciences at Gautam Buddha University in New Delhi. He says it stems from a dearth of European history classes in schools. To the extent that German history is taught, he says, it’s in the context of “the view that had Hitler not weakened the British Empire by the Second World War, the British would have never voluntarily left India.” The country’s Jewish community—some 5,300 people—is one of a few in the world to have never been persecuted by their countrymen, he says.
Solomon Sopher, president of the Baghdadi Jewish community in Mumbai, agrees: “We have never been persecuted by any caste or creed. Not even by the Muslims.” He adds that Indians are prone to “hero worship” of strong military leaders. “Lack of examples of strong leadership in India leads the Indian youth to admire Hitler,” explains Aafreedi.
That may explain why Mein Kampf, the dictator’s memoir, sells briskly in Mumbai and is printed by at least 13 publishers in India, according to Economic & Political Weekly. Mein Kampf is also becoming a must-read for some business schools applicants. “Each year, when I sit for admission interviews, there [are] books that are mentioned as favorite reads” by applicants, says Uma Narain, a professor at S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research. “This year, many referred to Mein Kampf.” While Narain says she wouldn’t dream of teaching Mein Kampf, she can understand the lure of “the autobiographical account and political ideology of a charismatic man who supposedly got things done.”
Although Shah says the Hitler clothing store’s name was apolitical, he says the controversy has been good for business. He is petitioning the courts to reverse the decision to take the name down. “We’re going to fight for the name ‘Hitler,’ ” he says.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hizb-ut-Tahrir could pose a threat in Australia

From Future Directions International (FDI), Thursday, 13 December 2012 , by Mirza Sadaqat Huda*, FDI Associate:
  • The radical Islamist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) could pose a socio-cultural threat to Australia in the short term. It may instigate an increased level of small-scale sectarian violence in the medium term and may indirectly instigate terror attacks by affiliated groups or individuals and create a deeply divided community in the long term.
  • Although the efforts of Australian security forces in preventing a number of terror attacks in the last decade should be recognised, vigilance is required. In addition to hard power measures and surveillance, policymakers must be sensitised to the urgent need to create a counter-narrative to the radical ideologies promoted by HUT....
Since its formation in East Jerusalem in 1953 by Sheikh Taqiuddin, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) has opened chapters in over 40 countries worldwide. This international radical Islamist group aims to overthrow all Western and secular governments and unite Muslim-majority countries, as well as lands previously under Muslim rule, such as Spain and the Philippines, under a caliphate to be governed by Islamic law and headed by a Caliph, or religious leader.
Overtly, HUT does not support violence but advocates political, intellectual and religious methods of achieving its goal. Despite this, its virulent anti-Western rhetoric, support for terrorist attacks against Western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and spreading of religious hatred against non-Muslims have led to bans in several countries.
In Australia, where HUT has not been proscribed, its activities include recruiting well-educated, middle-class Muslims, instigating social disharmony among Muslims and non-Muslims, exploiting international events and local issues to further its cause and undertaking a very sophisticated public communication strategy. HUT’s rejection of all national values, including multiculturalism and democracy poses grave social, political and national security threats and should not be understated in light of its ambiguous, if not fictitious, denunciation of violence. Due to its international nature, Australia needs to tackle HUT as an ideological threat facing the wider Indo-Pacific region...

Threat Assessment
Short Term
HUT has the potential to pose a socio-cultural security threat by increasing the gap between the Muslim community and the wider Australian society in the short term. The majority of Muslim communities in Australia follow a moderate version of Islam and subscribe to Australian values, culture and society. The radical brand of transnational political Islam being promoted by HUT is thus at odds with the views of the majority of Australian Muslims. Despite this, young Muslims who feel disillusioned due to social, economic and other reasons are particularly vulnerable to indoctrination by HUT. For most Australian Muslims, their country’s role in the “War on Terror” is a sensitive issue, particularly in regard to the presence of Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. HUT has very effectively utilised the disenfranchisement felt by certain members of the Muslim community, as well as their sentiments towards Australia’s participation in the global efforts against terrorism, which it has maligned as the “War on Islam”, to create fault lines between Muslims and other communities. This was evident in the rally organised by HUT in 2005 in support of the men arrested in Operation Pendennis, when it asked Muslims not to work with ‘non-believers or authorities and not to oppress each other.’ The promotion by HUT of religious intolerance and its active discouragement of interfaith initiatives will be matched by calls for intolerance by extreme right-wing political parties. These two extreme fringes from both communities will hamper integration and multiculturalism among the moderate majority and widen the gap between Muslims and the wider Australian society in the coming years. As young, university-educated people become exposed to HUT’s ideology, Australia must, in the coming years, perceive HUT not simply as a terrorist/extremist threat, but as a threat to socio-cultural harmony with severe repercussions for the future.
Medium Term
In the medium term, as more Muslims become indoctrinated by HUT and its ideology gains traction, the increased division between communities, as well as perceived grievances, may result in communal violence in the form of small-scale sectarian clashes. These may be instigated by local issues, but are more likely to be flared up by international events, reminiscent of the violence that was triggered by the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video. Current trends suggest that, in the foreseeable future, there will be greater instability in the Middle East and other regions of the world, as well as a continued use of social media to incite instability. HUT may capitalise on both these trends through propaganda activities, which may result in an accentuation of the frequency and ferocity of sectarian clashes in Australia. Moderates from both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities may be forced to choose sides as the radicals seek to expand their membership by appealing to people’s basic religious and patriotic values and exploiting subsequent clashes as proof of the “us and them” notion.
Long Term
In the long term, if HUT is given free space to operate – as is the case at present – it may pose a significant national security threat to Australia. Although HUT does not promote violence, it does not reject the use of jihad for “justified” causes. This could be interpreted as condoning violence without taking responsibility. As HUT’s membership expands, its leadership may become more decentralised. Not all members may follow HUT’s overt doctrine of pursuing political objectives through non-violent means. Splinter groups may form that are prepared to undertake violence to pursue what they perceive to be “justified” causes. Lone wolf terror attacks by persons not directly related to HUT but who are influenced by their plethora of online and print material may also be a possibility.
One very significant organisational trait of HUT is its ability to infiltrate legitimate public organisations, including the uniformed services. Reports have pointed to such cases in Pakistan, as well as some Middle Eastern countries. In Australia, due to the practice of carrying out rigorous background checks, such threats would remain negligible. Despite this, Australian policymakers must be aware of this threat, while at the same time ensuring that non-discrimination is practised in letter and in spirit within all public and private employment practises. Increased diversification of Australian public and private services, including the intelligence agencies, can in fact be beneficial in building a united multicultural front against radical elements. Overall, although terror attacks perpetrated by HUT are unlikely even in the long run, individuals or groups associated with them can pose a threat and the Australian security forces must remain vigilant...

*About the Author: Mirza Sadaqat Huda is a Senior Research Associate at the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Macquarie University, Sydney and a Bachelor Degree from the University of Canberra. His interests include multilateral co-operation on non-traditional security issues in South and South-East Asia. Mr Huda was born in Bangladesh and calls Australia his second home, dividing his time between Sydney and Dhaka.

Estonia’s severe case of Holocaust amnesia

From The Times of Israel, 18 Dec 2012, by Efraim Zuroff:

... Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip [toured] Yad Vashem [this week].
Ostensibly, that is no occasion of any particular significance, and the visit is more or less a pro forma requirement for any head of state coming to Israel in that capacity, especially if he or she has never been here before. But that is not true in the case of the Estonian leader, who heads a country that is suffering from a severe Baltic variant of post-Communist Eastern European Holocaust amnesia. This is an intellectual disease whose four main characteristics are
  • a systematic minimization of crimes by local Nazi collaborators,
  • a distinct lack of political will to prosecute and punish such individuals,
  • a tendency to glorify locals who fought alongside the Nazis – in Estonia’s case in Waffen-SS units – and
  • a determination to promote the historical canard of supposed equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.
In the last two years alone, during which Ansip was prime minister, several events took place in Estonia which clearly reflect these disturbing trends in Holocaust revisionism. A good place to begin is the yearly gatherings of veterans of the Estonian Waffen-SS units at Sinimae on the last Saturday in July, which attract SS veterans from all over Europe, many from countries in which such gatherings are forbidden. Needless to say, such meetings are not being held to organize mass confessions of guilt or expressions of deep remorse for fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in human history.
On the contrary, these meetings are part of a campaign to portray these Waffen-SS fighters as heroes fighting for Estonia’s freedom, even though their German masters had absolutely no intention of ever granting any of the Baltic countries independence. Even worse, this past February 14th, the Estonian Parliament passed the “Valentine Day’s Law,” which granted these men status as freedom fighters, officially “repressed by the Soviets,” a status which bestows all sorts of financial benefits, in this case to those who fought for a victory of the Third Reich.
In October 2011, the Estonian authorities announced that they were closing their investigation of Mikhail Gorshkow, an Estonian citizen who served with the Gestapo in Belarus and was implicated in the mass murder of approximately three thousand Jews in the destruction of the Slutzk Ghetto. After the war, Gorshkow had escaped to the United States, where he was stripped of his American citizenship for concealing his wartime collaboration with the Nazis. Following his return to Estonia and under pressure from abroad, an investigation was initiated by the Estonians, but was ultimately closed due to a doubt regarding his identity, a result which appears quite strange given the legal measures taken against him by the Americans, who unequivocally confirmed his identity in the process.
Given the total failure hereto of the Estonian judiciary to bring a single Estonian Nazi war criminal/collaborator to justice, the result of this latest case comes as no surprise. Much stronger cases, such as those of Estonian Political Police operatives Evald Mikson and Harry Mannil also came to naught despite abundant evidence of participation in war crimes, especially in the former case in which Estonian officials actually issued a statement claiming that Mikson was not guilty of any crimes, least of all against Jews.
Another illustration of the attitude to the events of World War II in Estonia was an event held in Viljandi in June 2011 to commemorate the German invasion in June 1941, which marked the beginning of the systematic implementation of the Final Solution. In the words of Jaanika Kressa, one of the local organizers,

“The arrival of the Germans is considered the liberation of Estonia…The situation of the Estonians became normal again.”

If the mass murder of their Jewish fellow Estonian citizens is their view of “normal,” obviously something is very wrong in Estonia.
One of the reasons that little attention is paid to Estonia in connection to the Shoa is that the prewar local Jewish community was extremely small, 4,500, and most of them, 3,500, were either deported by the Soviets or able to escape from the country before the Nazis arrived. But that is only part of the story.
The overwhelming majority of those who lived under the Nazi occupation were murdered by the Germans with the very active participation of their Estonian collaborators. In addition, many thousands of Jews were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps in the country guarded by Estonians, and local Security Police units participated in the persecution and murder of Jews in Belarus and Poland.
Until now, the State of Israel has generally refrained from playing a leading role in the fight against Holocaust distortion and revisionism in Eastern Europe, and especially in the Baltics. Prime Minister Ansip’s visit to Israel is a very opportune time to change that policy and start treating its obligations in this regard much more seriously.

An Islamist disaster looms in Syria

From a posting on  by :

The United States this week became the latest country to recognize the Syrian National Coalition, formed in Qatar a month ago, as the legitimate leadership of the Syrian opposition. The formation of a joint military council aligned with the coalition was also announced in Antalya, Turkey. At the same time, Washington designated Jabhat al-Nusra, the powerful Salafi armed group in Syria, as a terrorist organization.
All of these moves indicate that a coherent US and western policy toward the rebel side in the Syrian civil war is now emerging. This policy is in line with the Obama Administration’s broader regional orientation, and meets with the approval of key EU governments. It is also the preferred direction of Turkey and Qatar, the two countries who led the international response to the Syrian rebellion during the long period that the west preferred not to get directly involved.
The intention is to align with and strengthen Muslim Brotherhood-associated elements, while painting Salafi forces as the sole real Islamist danger. At the same time, secular forces are ignored or brushed aside.
This dynamic is plainly visible in the composition of the new military council. The founder of the Free Syrian Army, the secular former Syrian Air Force Colonel Riad Asaad, is notably absent. General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the first of his rank to defect to the rebels, is also not there. Sheikh is known for his fierce opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect so far, was similarly absent.
A Reuters report on the new joint military council calculated that the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies account for about two thirds of the 263 men who met in Antaliya and formed the new body. Salafi commanders are also there.
The new council is headed by Brigadier Selim Idriss, who is described as a non-ideological military man. But his deputies, Abdel-basset Tawil of Idleb and Abdel-qader Saleh of Aleppo governate are associated with the Salafi trend.
The domination by the Muslim Brotherhood of the new military council mirrors the movement’s leading position in the new civilian leadership body – the Syrian National Coalition. The leader of this coalition is Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib, former Imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
Khatib is closely associated with the Damascus Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The leader of the new coalition has a long history of antisemitic, anti-western and anti-Shia remarks (he praised Saddam Hussein, for example, for ‘terrifying the Jews’ and wrote an article asking if Facebook was an ‘American-Israeli intelligence website.’) He is also an admirer of the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Within the body headed by Khatib, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syrian National Council controls around 27 of the 65 seats on the executive body of the new coalition. There are also Islamists and fellow travelers among the non-SNC delegates. The Brotherhood are by far the best organized single body within the coalition. One secular delegate at the first full meeting of the coalition accused the MB of “pushing more of its hawks into the coalition, although it already has half of the seats.”
So the emergence of the Syrian National Coalition and the associated Joint Military Council means that the west and its regional Sunni allies are now backing a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated coalition as the preferred replacement for the Assad regime.
The al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra organization, now designated a terror organization by the US, is a powerful, jihadi force on the ground. The western desire to declare this group off limits is entirely understandable. But the attempt to build it up as a kind of bogeyman to be contrasted with so-called ‘moderate’ Islamist groups has little basis in reality. The difference between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups is one of degree, not of kind.
Exemplifying this, the US designation has led to a furious response across the board among the Syrian rebels. 29 rebel groups have now issued a statement saying ‘we are all Jabhat al-Nusra.’
Their perception is that the US sought to avoid contact with the armed rebels, but now wants to be involved, because it glimpses the possibility of a rebel victory. The jihadis of Jabhat al Nusra, on the other hand, have been there since the start and have proven themselves among the most militarily capable of the rebel units.
This perception largely accords with the facts.
The media focus on Jabhat al Nusra may well be exaggerated. Even those articles claiming it is now playing a dominant role in the fighting admit that it constitutes only a small fraction of the total number of rebel fighters (9% is the number often quoted, though it is difficult to see on what basis this suspiciously precise figure was reached).
The focus on Jabhat al Nusra should not obscure the fact that the better-organized, non-Salafi, home grown, Muslim Brotherhood elements that the US is backing are no less anti-western and no less anti-Jewish.
Could things have been different? As with Egypt, perhaps, if the west had perceived the risks and opportunities clearly at the start. This might have triggered a vigorous policy of support for non-Islamist opposition and fighting elements, which were there.
A counter-argument could also be made according to which in the Arab world in 2012, a non-Islamist popular force able to rival the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in commitment and organizational capacity would be highly unlikely. In any case, such a policy was never tried, and is not being tried now.
The result is that the force now facing the retreating Assad regime is split between differing brands of Sunni Arab Islamism, some aligned with the west, some directly opposing it, but all holding fast to fundamentally anti-western ideologies.

Given the level of life that has been lost in Syria, and the presence of chemical and biological warfare programs now in the vicinity of Islamist terror groups, it does not seem hyperbolic to recall a stanza from Percy Shelley’s famous poem ‘The Revolt of Islam’:

‘their complicating lines did steep the orient sun in shadow…and all around, darkness more dread than night was poured upon the ground.’

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Conversation on the Middle East with Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams

From The Washington Institute, 13 Dec 2012:

(Washington, DC) Two long-serving U.S. troubleshooters in the Middle East -- Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams -- received The Washington Institute's prestigious Scholar-Statesman Award* before nearly 400 guests at a gala dinner Thursday, December 6, 2012, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City....
...Ross, who served as special Middle East negotiator to President Clinton and Iran policy advisor to President Obama, is currently counselor to The Washington Institute. Abrams, deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Despite differences of party, Dennis and Elliott share a passion for peace and freedom, and a keen awareness of what it takes to build a peace that is both secure and lasting," said Chairman Howard P. Berkowitz...
...In an unscripted conversation with Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff during the event, Abrams and Ross reflected on their careers in foreign policy and discussed current events in the Middle East, including Palestinian-Israeli affairs, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the challenge of Egypt under Islamist rule.

[This YouTube Playlist includes a 7-minute presentation of the awards, then the 43-minute video of the impromptu interview by Robert Staloff. It is well-worth the time...]

A complete transcript and video of the conversation is available here....

*Previous Scholar-Statesman honorees were: President
Bill Clinton; British prime minister Tony Blair; Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Secretary of State George P. Shultz; human rights activists Natan Sharansky and Saad Eddin Ibrahim; and eminent historian Bernard Lewis.

US poised for action on Iranian nuclear program

From JPost, 18 Dec 2012, by REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF:
Vice prime minister [Moshe Yaalon] says US effort on Iran issue has resumed since reelection of Obama, suggesting cautious optimism for international resolution of deadlock; Barak: determined to stop Iran becoming a nuclear power.
PM Netanyahu, Deputy PM Yaalon
"Bibi" Netanyahu and "Boogie" Yaalon - Photo: Reuters

US-led efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program have resumed since President Barack Obama's re-election and include preparation for possible military action, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday.
The remarks by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon suggested cautious optimism at prospects for an international resolution to the decade-old standoff with Tehran, though Israel says it remains ready to attack its arch-foe alone as a last resort.
Ya'alon told Army Radio on Tuesday that Israel knew there would be no movement on the issue before the US election in November, but had expected renewed effort after the vote.
"And indeed it has been renewed," he said, adding that the Iran issue is "still our top priority."
He cited contacts among the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain and Germany and Iran about holding new nuclear negotiations, ongoing sanctions against Iran, "and preparations, mainly American for now, for the possibility that military force will have to be used"....

NIF-funded organizations are at it again

From Im Tirtzu, 18 Dec 2012:

... B’tselem, Adalah, Gisha, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel are claiming that IDF soldiers defending Israel against endless terrorist rocket attacks are war criminals.
Im Tirtzu will not stand idly by ...we have published a full-page letter to Brian Lurie, President of the New Israel Fund, asking him whether he stands by the latest allegations from NIF groups...
Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, and email, talk to your friends about it, and help us hold the New Israel Fund accountable for the accusations it is making against the Jewish State.

Dear Mr. Lurie:
We write to ask a simple question: Do you stand by the latest accusations NIF-funded groups are making against Israel?
After Operation Cast Lead in 2009, groups funded by the NIF led a campaign that sought to portray Israel as a war criminal and human rights violator. That campaign culminated in the Goldstone Report, a ruthlessly biased attack on Israel that cited NIF groups hundreds of times. Even Judge Goldstone himself has disowned it.
Now, in the weeks after the latest conflict in Gaza, NIF groups are once again making misleading and unfounded accusations against the IDF.
B’tselem, Adalah, Gisha, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel are claiming that the IDF targeted journalists and civilians, violated international law, and is perpetrating “collective punishment,” a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
In the weeks leading up to Israel’s response, as terrorist rockets forced thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters, none of these groups criticized the attacks or stood up for Israel’s right – its human right, and its right under international law – to defend itself.
Despite this troubling record, we hold out hope for your leadership as the new president of the New Israel Fund. We ask that you hold the groups you fund responsible for the veracity of their accusations, and that you demand just as much accountability from them as they do from the IDF.
And if you do not stand by their latest false accusations, Israelis deserve to know: What will you do to reform the New Israel Fund?
Im Tirtzu
The Zionist Student Movement

Fact Sheet – Im Tirtzu’s Open Letter to the President of the New Israel Fund
“After Operation Cast Lead in 2009, groups funded by the NIF led a campaign that sought to portray Israel as a war criminal and human rights violator. That campaign culminated in the Goldstone Report, a ruthlessly biased attack on Israel that cited NIF groups hundreds of times.”
Thorough documentation of NIF’s involvement in producing the Goldstone Report is contained in the 2010 NGO Monitor report, “NIF-funded NGO’s: Goldstone’s Building Blocks.”
As the report notes, “After the Goldstone commission was established, three major and long-time NIF grantees (Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and Adalah) participated in a May 2009 NGO ‘town hall meeting’ in Geneva that helped shape the course of Goldstone’s ‘investigation’. In addition, seven NIF-funded NGOs (including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha, HaMoked, and Yesh Din) submitted a joint statement to Goldstone, and a representative from PCATI ‘testified’ at the July 2009 Goldstone hearings, referring to ‘collective punishment’ and ‘[Palestinian] martyrs.’
“The resulting Goldstone report referenced B’Tselem more than 56 times; Adalah, 38; and Breaking the Silence, 27. Significantly, many of these citations referred to speculative issues unrelated to the conflict in Gaza, seeking to brand Israeli democracy as ‘repressive,’ and to widen the scope of the condemnations and the resulting political campaigns.”
After the Goldstone Report was released, “B’Tselem, Adalah, and PHR-I, among others, have lobbied Israeli and foreign governments to support Goldstone’s report and its recommendations.
The executive director of one of NIF’s flagship groups, B’Tselem, went so far as to boast of her organization’s contributions to the Goldstone Report. B’Tselem, Jessica Montell said, “provided extensive assistance to the UN fact-finding mission headed by Justice Goldstone—escorting them to meet victims in Gaza, providing all of our documentation and correspondence, and meeting the mission in Jordan."
“Even Judge Goldstone himself has disowned it.”
In a 2011 Washington Post op-ed, Judge Richard Goldstone rescinded the central claim of the Goldstone Report, that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians in Operation Cast Lead.
“Now, in the weeks after the latest conflict in Gaza, NIF groups are once again making misleading and unfounded accusations against the IDF. B’tselem, Adalah, Gisha, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel are claiming that the IDF targeted journalists and civilians, violated international law, and is perpetrating ‘collective punishment,’ a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.”
A B’Tselem statement the day after Operation Pillar of Defense began accused Israel of targeting civilians: “As was the case four years ago [in Operation Cast Lead], Israeli officials are now using the conduct of Palestinian organizations to justify harm to Palestinian civilians….The fact that one side violates the law does not give the other side the right to violate it as well.”  Days later, B’Tselem accused Israel of targeting journalists  despite the fact that the “journalists” were well-known senior terrorists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Adalah, another flagship NIF grantee – it seeks as an official position the end of Israel as a Jewish State – accused Israel of “a serious violation of the laws of war.”
Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, accused Israel of “collective punishment” during the conflict.  Collective punishment is a war crime under Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel signed a statement claiming, without offering any specifics, “concrete evidence indicating the commission of war crimes” by Israel. The statement also blamed Israel entirely for Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and called for another Goldstone-style “investigation” of Israel at the United Nations. 

PA misuse of foreign aid

Three PMW reports for Dutch parliament
On Dec. 18, the Foreign Affairs Committee of Dutch Parliament will be debating whether to support the Palestinian Authority's general budget in 2013. PMW was asked to supply documentation.

Palestinian Media Watch recently received several requests by Dutch MPs for documentation to be used in this week's parliamentary debate about proposed Dutch funding to the Palestinian Authority in 2013.
Following PMW presentations to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2011, Dutch Parliament passed a motion "to prevent the supply of funding to the Palestinian Authority if no concrete and effective measures are being taken [by the PA] to act against the glorification and whitewashing of terrorism." [Motion no. 1039, passed in March 2011]
...PMW was asked to provide documentation showing whether PA glorification of terrorism has continued. PMW prepared three reports ...which show misuse of Dutch and international funding by the PA in different ways:

1- PMW report to Dutch Foreign Affairs Committee on PA glorification of terrorists
This 40 page report brings clear and unequivocal evidence of the official PA policy of glorifying terrorists as heroes and role models. The PA Minister of Prisoners' Affairs regularly visits the homes of terrorist murderers and honors them, five different weekly PA TV shows glorify terrorists in Israeli prison, and music videos honoring terrorist murderers are regularly broadcast on PA TV. All this and much more terror glorification is funded by the PA's general budget, which is supported by the Netherlands.
Click to view report
2- PMW report to Dutch Foreign Affairs Committee on PA use of budget
This report documents the hatred and violence that is promoted by the PA through structures also funded by the general budget. It includes official PA TV children's programs that call Israel "Satan" and describe Christians and Jews as "inferior and despised" and preaches Islamic supremacy over Christians and Jews. It includes the PA Grand Mufti's statement on PA TV that the destiny of Muslims is to kill Jews. It includes many examples of glorification of terrorist murderers by official PA TV and the PA Minister of Prisoners' Affairs.
Click to view report
3- PMW report to Dutch Foreign Affairs Committee on PA salaries to terrorists, based on UK report
This report is about PA payment of salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons. This report was prepared earlier this year for British Parliament, but the information about the salaries going to terrorists is important and relevant for all countries that fund the PA. The report was first presented at a lecture to 30 members of British Parliament in October.
Click to view report

UN Spin and Sinister Subterfuge

From JPost, 6 Dec 2012, by Martin Sherman:
At the UN General Assembly last week, histrionic spin trumped historical substance, while sinister subterfuge went unchallenged.

They are only concerned with using the concept of Palestinian freedom as a weapon against Israeli freedom.
– Pilar Rahola, Spanish journalist

The appearance of the Palestinian national personality comes as an answer to Israel’s claim that Palestine is Jewish.
– Hussein bin Talal, late king of Jordan

The existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new tool to continue the fight against Israel.
– Zuheir Muhsin, late member of the PLO Executive Council

Something bizarre happened at the UN last Thursday – so bizarre, in fact, it would be difficult to make stuff like this up.
Dysfunctional polity, collapsing economy
The plenary session of the General Assembly was addressed by a man who despite the fact that his term of office expired almost half a decade ago, still purports to be the leader of a people who openly concede they have no real, separate identity, and that the only rationale for their claiming nationhood is to deny that of another UN member state; a man who was forcibly ejected from, and is now barred – on pain of death – from reentering a good portion of the area populated by the people he claims to represent; a people that, despite two decades of unprecedented economic aid and political support, has been unable to create anything remotely resembling a stable, productive civil society.
From the podium, this man, who parades as president of an entity with a dysfunctional polity and a collapsing economy – with a minuscule private sector and a bloated public one, wracked by corruption, and crippled by cronyism, manifestly unsustainable without (and probably even with) massive infusions of foreign funds – launched into a distortive and deceptive diatribe against Israel.
Of course, the fact that without Israeli largesse this man’s regime would implode in very short order, in no way deterred him from his malevolent, mendacious and misleading monologue – which only made the entire event more macabre.
This man, Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), whose regime was permitted to run up a debt amounting to close to a quarter billion dollars for unpaid electricity provided by Israel – which itself makes Israel one of his largest benefactors – accused the very entity propping him up in power of virtually every heinous misdeed known to man.
Delegitimizing principal benefactor?
True, about halfway through his toxic tirade, he did pause momentarily to pay lip service to diplomatic niceties, claiming “We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel,” but in fact he did everything to achieve just that.
Thus, referring to the recent Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense, he fulminated, fraudulently: “The Israeli aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip has confirmed once again the urgent and pressing need to end the Israeli occupation.”
From this shrill cry “to end the Israeli occupation” one would never guess that there is no occupation in Gaza.
Indeed, Israel has not only withdrawn completely – without any quid pro quo – from the entire Gaza Strip in 2005, but razed every vestige of Jewish presence there, even uprooting Jewish graveyards, leaving behind only a number of synagogues, which were demolished in a frenzy of Judeophobic rage by local mobs immediately after the Israeli evacuation.
Oh yes, some of them also took time out to trash thousands (!) of hi-tech greenhouses, purchased for the Palestinian Authority by American Jewish donors – at the initiative of then-World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who reportedly also put up $500,000 of his own cash. (Somewhat euphemistically, NBC News described this senseless vandalism as a “blow to efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.”)
Of course, Abbas’s reference to “our people in Gaza” might cause a raised eyebrow or two – seeing it was the folk in Gaza who voted in the rival Hamas in 2006, who then forcibly ejected his Fatah faction from the Strip in a flare of fratricidal fury in 2007, pitching his men off high-rises and blowing away their kneecaps in the process. Perhaps something got lost in the translation from the Arabic.
Histrionics trumps history
Flagrantly distorting the historical record, Abbas declared defiantly, “We will accept no less than the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967.”
Palestinian territory occupied in 1967?
There was no territory that was claimed by the Palestinians that was occupied in 1967. Indeed, as I have mentioned repeatedly in previous columns, in the original (1964) version of their National Charter, the Palestinians explicitly eschewed any sovereign claims to either the Gaza Strip or the “West Bank” – even acknowledging specifically that the latter lay in the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” (Article 24). In fact, until 1967, this territory (including east Jerusalem) was annexed by Jordan and up to 1988, Jordan continued to demand it be returned to its rule.
Palestinian eschewal of sovereignty over territories “occupied” in 1967 is something that the UN delegates could easily verify – as the 1964 Charter appears in its entirety on the official UN website of the Permanent Palestine Observer Mission to the United Nations – soon to be upgraded to The Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations. (While this column was being composed, the UN website posted that it was “undergoing urgent maintenance” and was “currently unavailable.”)
The territories that they did then claim as “Palestinian” were those inside the 1967 Green Line. Thus, several days prior to the 1967 Six Day War, before Israel held a square inch of territory now designated by Abbas as “occupied” – indeed, before the term “occupation” had any notional significance or practical relevance – Ahmed Shukairy (Abbas’s – and Arafat’s – predecessor as chairman of the PLO) gloated: “D-Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years [i.e. from 1948 to 1967] for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation.”
A little later, in a somewhat premature flush of triumph, he crowed: “This is a fight for the homeland [i.e. pre-1967 Israel!]. It is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine [i.e. within pre-1967 lines] will have to leave. We shall destroy [pre- 1967] Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.”
But at the UN last week, histrionic spin trumped historical substance and Abbas’s sinister subterfuge went unnoticed – and certainly unchallenged.
Disingenuous and deceptive
Disingenuously, Abbas attempted to suggest the Israeli military action last month was an unprovoked assault on a pacific Palestinian population, charging that “this aggression also confirms the Israeli government’s adherence to the policy of occupation, brute force and war.”
Really? Aggression?
The fact that it was precipitated by continuous barrages of missiles and rockets on Israeli towns and villages from the (unoccupied) Gaza Strip was of course never conveyed to his audience.
But arguably the most deceitful insinuation by Abbas is that there was any connection between Operation Pillar of Defense and the Palestinians’ UN bid, and that Israel had tried to dissuade them from it by means of a military threat.
Shamefully – or is that shamelessly? – he proclaimed: “You too have heard specifically over the past months the incessant flood of Israeli threats in response to our peaceful, political and diplomatic endeavor for Palestine to acquire non-member observer state in the United Nations. And, you have surely witnessed how some of these threats have been carried out in a barbaric and horrific manner just days ago in the Gaza Strip.”
This, of course, is a grotesque distortion of truth. For clearly had there been no rocket attacks on Israel civilians, there would have been no need for any action to stop them.
Palestinians in glass houses...
Abbas railed on: “This Israeli occupation is becoming synonymous with an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement.”
Well, some might find such vilification more than a little galling, especially coming from someone whose official regime-sanctioned media regularly portrays the Jews as pigs and monkeys – or at least the descendants thereof – whose wholesale slaughter is the key to redemption.
Funny, isn’t it, how Israel – purportedly tainted with “the plague of racism” – is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has increased over recent decades (as has its Muslim population). By contrast, in territories under Palestinian administration, with its allegedly “principled and moral support for freedom and the rights of peoples and international law and peace,” it has been denuded dramatically.
Thus, in Bethlehem, under the Arafat- Abbas regime, the Christian population has been eroded from an over 75 percent majority to a minority, now reportedly under 20 percent – vividly underscoring how the ominous premonitions expressed as early as 1993 by Dr. George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury, have in fact materialized.
Following a visit to the Holy Land he stated: “My fear is that in 15 years, Bethlehem – once [a] center of a strong Christian presence – might become a kind of Walt Disney Christian theme park.”
By December 1997, The Times reported that due to “unceasing persecution under the Palestinian Authority... his vision of the birthplace of the Christian religion... is becoming more a reality with each celebration of Christ’s birth.”
Now there’s institutionalized incitement and entrenched hatred for you!
Falsehood, fabrications, fibs
As for Abbas’s charges of “racism and apartheid” – true, there are differential administrative systems in place beyond the 1967 Green Line pertaining to Israelis (both Jews and Arabs) and non-Israelis. But to suggest that this reflects any ideology vaguely akin to apartheid is to maliciously misrepresent the facts.
Indeed, it is a deliberate attempt to ignore or obscure the fact that Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is driven not by a discriminatory doctrine of racial superiority but by proven security concerns and accumulated experience of Judeocidal attacks. It is a claim which implies that it is unacceptable for Israel to distinguish between friend and foe, and should treat both with the same undifferentiated even-handedness. Indeed, there is little daylight between such a position, and the denial of the Jews’ right to self-defense, which is itself the epitome of Judeophobic racism.
We could go on enumerating falsehood after fabrication after fib, but opinion pieces have their constraints. So in conclusion, perhaps the most staggering display of hypocrisy by Abbas was his invoking the UN declaration endorsing the establishment of Israel in support of his claim for recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Abbas: “Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel.”
This is barefaced duplicity, because Palestinians have always rejected the validity of that resolution. Indeed, Article 19 of the their national charter proclaims unequivocally: “The partition of Palestine in 1947, and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time, because they were... inconsistent with the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”
Incredibly, this permanent repudiationcum- defamation of UN Resolution 181 is still posted on the previously mentioned official UN website of the Palestine Observer Mission to the United Nations.
Beyond bizarre?
So get this. The Palestinians are basing their claim for statehood on a UN resolution which, to this day, they consider irretrievably invalid – regardless of the passage of time. As I said, bizarre, huh?
But perhaps even more bizarre was the spectacle of the General Assembly rising to a standing ovation as Abbas’s vicious vilification of a UN member state drew to a close – which of course significantly reinforces the sentiment expressed in the opening citation: “They are only concerned with using the concept of Palestinian freedom as a weapon against Israeli freedom.”
*Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

Israel: the number one growth economy of the developed world

From JPost, 27 Dec 2012:
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday announced that Israel's economy would grow faster in 2013 and 2014 than was initially predicted.
Steinitz revealed that The Ministry of Finance Research Division had updated its growth forecast for 2013 to 3.5% and 3.9% for 2014.
The ministry previously predicted growth rates of 3% and 3.4% for 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Steinitz warned, however, that "additional growth does not in this instance mean additional state revenues, because [the government] has taken revenues from taxes on gas into account." Therefore, he said, "The effect on job creation will be limited."

Steinitz described the new prediction as "realistic" and said that "assuming that the growth forecast is realized...Israel will continue, for the next two years as well, to be the number one growth economy among all the countries of the developed Western world."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cancer Patients from Ashdod and Khan Yunis become Best Friends

From The Daily Beast, 12 Dec 2012, by Itay Hod:
A heartwarming Hanukkah tale of two teens fighting the same rare cancer, whose friendship transcends nationalist stereotypes.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, pediatric oncology patients at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center gathered in the hospital’s auditorium for a big Hanukkah party. They lit the menorah and sang the traditional songs about the tiny Maccabean rebellion that defeated the mighty Greeks in 167 B.C.E.
But while the miracle of Hanukkah was being celebrated downstairs, a modern-day miracle was happening on the second floor. Tal Zilker, a 17-year-old cancer patient from Southern Israel, was chatting with his new best friend, Qsuy Imran (prounounced ‘Hussai’), a 17-year-old boy from Gaza.
Having just gone through a particularly aggressive round of chemo, Imran was too weak to join the festivities, and Zilker decided to forgo the first half of the party to keep him company.
“Chatting” may be stretching it a bit to describe the boys’ interaction. Zilker can say, “Are you in pain?” and, “When’s your next treatment?” in Arabic. Imran can manage “Do you have a fever?” and a few cuss words in Hebrew. But when you’re a teenager, vocabulary is nowhere near as important as being ambidextrous.
“We’re both Playstation fanatics,” said Zilker.
This friendship between two teenagers of the same age—who look alike, have the exact same type of cancer, and share the same love for video games—shouldn’t be all that surprising or newsworthy. But add their respective zip codes into the equation, and it becomes as fantastical a tale as a Tolkein novel.
Zilker is from Ashdod, a city in Southern Israel. Imran is from Khan Yunis, in Gaza.
During the seven days of “Operation Pillar of Defense” last month, Hamas fired more than 1,400 rockets into Israel, most of them aimed at the Ashdod-Ashkelon area. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck more than 1,500 sites in the Gaza Strip, a tiny patch of land twice the size of Washington, D.C.
What’s more astounding is that while Hamas was launching those explosives, it continued sending patients to be treated in Israeli hospitals, many of them located in the same areas Hamas was targeting.
Israeli hospitals have been accepting Palestinian patients for years.
There are simply not enough medical facilities in Gaza to treat its growing population. Those that are there are ill-equipped. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 24 medical centers in Gaza, which serve 1.7 million people. Israel, in contrast, has 377 hospitals and a population of about 8 million. Last year alone, more than 100,000 Palestinians received medical care in Israel. Israeli hospitals continued to treat patients from Gaza even at the height of the fighting in November.
To make things even more complicated, many of the Israeli doctors who treat these patients are also soldiers in the IDF, in which service is mandatory. In fact, Dr. Dror Levin, the oncologist treating Zilker and Imran, spent the entire week of Operation Pillar of Defense patrolling the border with Gaza alongside the rest of his reserve platoon.
Though such contradictions might sound crazy to anyone else, here in the Middle East, it’s par for the course.
“It’s actually quite simple,” said Dr. Levin, now out of uniform. “Qsuy is not a representative of Gaza. All I see when I look at him is a boy who needs my help. That’s where it begins and that’s where it ends for me.”
Despite the bloody battle raging between their governments, Zilker and Imran seemed less concerned with geopolitics than with playing a game of virtual soccer, their favorite pastime.
The two met in May, when Zilker came in for his biopsy. An MRI done just days earlier revealed a tumor in his left knee. Imran was the first person he met at the oncology floor of the hospital.
They hit it off immediately.
Having gone through surgery to remove his osteosarcoma—an aggressive bone cancer—less than a week before, Imran was a “veteran” in hospital protocol. He quickly took Zilker under his wing and gave him the lowdown, carefully explaining what to expect should Zilker’s biopsy come back positive. (Imran’s father, who speaks Hebrew, translated for the boys, who also used a lot of pantomime.)
The fact that Imran had the same cancer that Zilker was suspected of having, in the exact same place, made their meeting—as they say in this corner of the globe—“bashert”: meant to be.
“At the time, we needed every bit of information,” said Anat, Zilker’s mother. “Qsuy was the only person we knew who had the same cancer. He became our lifeline.”
Imran’s father, Jihad, whose name incidentally means “holy war” in Arabic, became their unofficial guide through the difficult maze of doctors and treatments. “This terrible fate brought us together in a way that’s hard to explain,” said Anat.
Jihad says Anat has been a ray of hope for his family as well. Being a resident of Gaza, he and Imran are not allowed to leave the hospital except for a few organized trips. For the last 10 months, Anat has been bringing him and Imran home-cooked meals and clothes. Being so far away from his family and friends, he turned to Anat and her son for comfort.
“One of the only good things to come out of this is the fact that I found a new family,” said Jihad, referring to the Zilkers.
When the rockets began flying over Israel in November, Anat rushed to make sure the Imrans were OK. She was a bit worried at first about how the war would affect their newly formed friendship. “I wanted them to know it didn’t matter to us and that we loved them,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t their doing.
A self-proclaimed liberal, she says she never thought of them as anything but friends. But the experience has opened her eyes in one respect.

“I knew Palestinians love their children. But I also knew that they were willing to send them on suicide missions. I guess I was surprised to see that they love their kids the same way we love ours. I look at Jihad’s dedication to Qsuy and it’s the same. No difference.”

Zilker wanted to know if Imran’s relatives were safe. “I asked him if any of the missiles hit his hometown. I felt bad.”
Asked whether he was worried at the time that their friendship might suffer, he said no. “We’re best friends.”
Imran wasn’t worried either. The only argument they’ve ever had is who’s better at PlayStation. They’re still fighting about that.
Jihad, who is a construction worker by trade, says he knew there were “good Israelis” from his days working in Israel before the blockade. But he was touched by the level of care he received during his stay in Tel Aviv. “They treated us like family. I have nothing but love for the doctors and staff and Anat and Tal, of course.”
Zilker summed it up perhaps the best, the way only a 17-year-old can.

“I used to think that there were some good Palestinians but most of them were bad. Now I know that it’s the opposite. There are a few bad ones, but most of them are good.”

Both Zilker and Imran are getting ready to return home. In both cases, doctors were able to successfully remove their tumors. Imran says he’s looking forward to school, but the first thing he’ll do is dust off his soccer ball and hit the playground. Zilker is planning a trip to California.
They don’t know when or where they’ll be able to see each other next. But in the meantime, they plan on meeting on the virtual soccer field for their first ever post-cancer game, to settle the score once and for all.