[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]

September 9, 2005


This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin



Explosions in Gaza


This morning began with reports of Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza to Sderot.  Following quick clarifications, Defense Minister Mofaz announced that the explosions heard in Sderot were not rockets. The army began blowing up the buildings of the DCO – the District Command Office in Erez. This is one of the last remnants of the Israeli occupation in Gaza and one of the symbols of the Oslo agreements. Over the next few days Israel will be removing the last buildings of the Erez crossing which will now be moving a couple of hundred meters north to the international border – the corrected “green line” that was established as part of a land swap with Egypt in early 1950. The Attorney General and the Minister of Interior have instructed the relevant authorities to make preparations for turning the Gaza-Israel border crossings into international borders. Eventually, in the not too distant future, the Ministry of Interior and the Border Police will take over the running of those crossings. As such, Israel, a state with provisional borders, will be finally determining one more of its final borders. Now, Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the southern border with Egypt, parts of the eastern border with Jordan, and the border with Gaza will become permanent internationally recognized borders.  What remains to be completed is Israel’s northern border with Syria and Israel’s eastern border with Palestine. It would now be wise for Israel to request that the UN Security Council formally recognize the Gaza-Israel border as an international border. When Israel finalizes its de-occupation of Gaza by transferring full sovereignty to the Palestinians, it would be wise for Israel to request that the United Nations Security Council pass a resolution affirming that Israel has fulfilled its international legal obligations on UN Resolution 242 with regards to Gaza.


The Synagogues dilemma


Two of the 26 synagogues in Gaza have been transferred to Israel proper.  The remaining 24 synagogues are supposed to be demolished by the Israeli army according to the decision of the Israeli government. But this week the settlers petitioned the High Court to request that the Government be ordered not to destroy them. The settlers’ spokespeople were quoted stating that it would be better to have the Palestinians destroy the synagogues and in that way we can demonstrate to the world what kind of barbarians we are dealing with.  PA Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erikat said that that the PA did not want the synagogues and that leaving them in place was a trap that the Palestinians did not want to have to dismantle.  In the end, the High Court rejected the petition and the army was given the green light to go ahead with the demolition.  But in the last moment, Defense Minister Mofaz changed his mind and has requested that the Government re-debate the issue on Sunday morning.  The Government will probably give the go-ahead to demolish the synagogues and after that Israel can complete the disengagement and full withdrawal.


This, needless to say, is a very sensitive issue with great emotional value to it. The buildings, after they are vacated and all of the symbols and Holy artifacts of the synagogues are removed remain empty buildings. The essence of the synagogue as a Holy Place is what is done inside of the buildings when they are being used for their religious purposes. Jews, as a wandering people, have left synagogues everywhere they have been –from eastern Europe to Iraq, from Argentina to New York. I have visited buildings around the world that are now churches, mosques, community centers and old age homes that were once synagogues. There are former mosques in Israel today that are now restaurants and art centers. The settlers tried to incite the public once more by painting pictures of the synagogues being used by the Palestinians as mosques. What would be so terrible if a synagogue was used as a mosque – aren’t they praying to the same God?


Surprisingly, the former king-maker Rabbi Aryeh Der’i from Shas spoke some sense in stating that if we left the synagogues in place and the Palestinians destroyed them, he feared that Israeli Jews would respond by destroying mosques around Israel. What a disaster that would be!  But in reality, Israel should have invited the Palestinians to make good use of those buildings for serving the needs of the Palestinians – maybe for mosques, but also for schools, community centers, clinics, and other needs for the public benefit. There could have been a different and better way to handle this sensitive matter.


Words of the wise???


Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, once again spoke words of wisdom (?) and controversy. Yosef is famous for making the most absurd and outrageous statements.  If the man didn’t have such a large following it would be funny, but because he does have such a large flock, it is very sad and even dangerous. Bush and the American people, he said, were punished by God in the form of Katrina, because he supported Sharon on the disengagement. One almost senile fundamentalist Rabbi is bad enough, but the tens of thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands who follow him and lust for each word that he speaks is a tragedy.


Money, money, money…..


Israel has an outstanding request submitted to the US Government for some $2 billion to assist in the development of the Negev and the Galilee. The soon to be former US Ambassador to Israel, Dr. Daniel Kurtzer hinted that perhaps Israel should reconsider that request now to Congress after Katrina.  The Congress has already allocated some $90 billion to the reconstruction of the US Gulf Coast and it will probably require considerably more. In light of the disaster there and the obvious need of the US government to rapidly invest in infrastructures across the US, it would not be surprising if there were calls soon in Congress to redirect US foreign aid back into the US itself.  Who could blame them after watching the pictures from New Orleans (a city that I lived in for a year)?  Some of the scenes there could have been taken out of Africa or Asia – hard to imagine that kind of destruction and loss of law and order in a major US city.  It would be more than wise for Israel to reconsider what it requests from the US at this time.


Bibi is crashing


How we could end the week in review without talking about Bibi? Both Bibi and Sharon never cease to amaze us.  Sharon has nerves of steel. Bibi, on the other hand obviously has over-taxed sweat glands. As Sharon predicted, Bibi’s support amongst Likud voters and in particular amongst members of the Central Council of the Likud has taken a nose dive. The public opinion polls are all showing that the Likud under Bibi would lose about half of its seats. Sharon’s appeal to the public is based on the sound logic that there is no immediate need to cut short the time left in government which legally ends in November 2006. It is no longer a sure bet that the Likud Central Council will support Bibi’s call for early primaries in the Likud. Bibi can hardly afford to lose that vote – a loss would most definitely weaken his position in the Likud.  As expected (something I already wrote about) Bibi has stated that he is the real Likud and that Sharon has deserted the Likud values a long time ago.  Sharon will contest that of course, but in reality Sharon did implement the platform of the Labour Party and not of the Likud. At this point it seems less likely that the split in the Likud will happen in the coming weeks, but a split is inevitable. Sharon no longer represents many of his voters – at least the more ideological of them. Sharon will probably have more time at his disposal for building a new political house for himself. That house will be placed right in the center of the Israeli political map.