The Green Prince Recalls the Amazing Saga of Mosab Hassan Yousef

Its documentary form more functional than innovative, The Green Prince recounts a harrowing and consistently surprising real-life tale of sacrifice, trust, and loyalty.

Nadav Schirman’s film recounts the amazing saga of Mosab Hassan Yousef, whose father was one of the founding members of Hamas, and whose teenage desire to fight Israel was undone after he was arrested and, over the course of the aughts, became a spy for Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet.

Collaborating closely with his handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who would eventually prove to be his greatest ally, Yousef covertly undermined Hamas terrorists’ efforts while maintaining his own safety — both from Palestinians who would kill him if they knew about his work and from Israelis who thought him an enemy because they didn’t know about his clandestine assignments.

Adapting Yousef’s memoir, Son of Hamas, director Schirman employs a wealth of to-the-camera interviews, archival and surveillance footage, and staged reenactments — stock devices that do much to make the film feel formulaic and pedestrian.

Despite being an aesthetic bore, The Green Prince sets itself apart from the nonfiction pack via a recent story of two unlikely comrades’ heroic sacrifice, moral courage, and cross-cultural dedication to peace that’s not only gripping, but all too timely.


Making Peace Look Possible in Budrus

The little-told story of a small but growing nonviolent opposition movement among rural West Bank Palestinians gets an airing in Julia Bacha’s mostly fair-minded documentary. Budrus tells of one village’s struggle to push back the Israeli security barrier that would uproot its olive trees, raze its cemetery, and cut off contact with the rest of the occupied territories. Using footage shot by members of Just Vision, her own bi-national peace organization, as well as interviews with members on both sides of the battle, Bacha documents the 10-month war of attrition with Israeli soldiers and border police, fought by the residents of beautiful Budrus under the canny leadership of Ayed Morrar, a former militant with a sophisticated grasp of the key tools of peaceful protest. Morrar’s patience and tolerance liberated the women of Budrus to join the struggle (his own teenaged daughter jumped cheerfully into a hole left by an Israeli bulldozer), and he extended a warm welcome to both international and Israeli peace activists, and—astonishingly—brought together warring local factions of Fatah and Hamas under one restrained banner. That the strategy worked, with help from media coverage, is nothing short of remarkable given that, along the way, both sides had to contain angry, frustrated young men—boys, really—with ammo in their hands.


Why I Oppose the Downtown Mosque

In the old days, reporters, in the pages of the Voice, went after one another. Readers enjoyed taking sides in these civil wars, and we ourselves sometimes discovered what we should have known before we so confidently wrote. I’m glad to see the return of this tradition—even though I’m the target.

My old friend, colleague, and former shop steward, Tom Robbins—in an August 30 blog item, “Nat Hentoff’s Best and Worst, All in One Month“—charged me with having become the Benedict Arnold of the First Amendment, having betrayed my previous “unrelenting defense of tolerance and freedom of speech.”

His traumatic discovery of my disgrace, he sighed, “kind of breaks your heart, or, as Abbey Lincoln once said, ‘I’ll Drown in My Own Tears.’ ” I was at my best on that fateful month, Tom said in his threnody, because when I ran Candid Records, I recorded Abbey in Max Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite.”

If you have ever heard and seen Abbey, how could I have not recorded her? Abbey recently left us, but her penetrating integrity remains—not only on her many recordings but also in the jazz musicians she impelled to keep discovering more of their true voices, as she continually did.

But how did I break Tom’s heart? He cited one of my syndicated United Media columns that also appeared in the Jewish World Review, Cato Institute, Realpolitics, and a range of daily newspapers. According to tearful Tom, “Here’s Hentoff, who has now found a little corner of the world where his prized Bill of Rights does not apply, a No-Muslim Zone in Lower Manhattan. He fails to tell us how many blocks it should extend.”

Though not in tears, I feel sorry for Tom. As often happens, passionate indignation leads to blinding distortion of what actually triggered the shock. In the column he cited—the first of several I’ve written on Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf—dig, word for word, what I wrote in the very second paragraph: “. . . Of course, all American Muslims have their First Amendment right to exercise their freedom of religion in their place of worship. There have been other mosques in New York City without opposition. That freedom is not at stake here” (emphasis added).

What I have been questioning—as have a number of Muslims here and abroad—is why Rauf insists on building this mosque two blocks north of Ground Zero.

As I wrote in my next syndicated column, “The resulting national furor that has anguished and enraged opponents of the mosque [has also] alarmingly increased hostility toward American Muslims in general—including those who reject violent jihadism. . . . As someone affected for years—most threateningly as a boy in a Boston Jewish ghetto by anti-Semitism in this country, I can understand the anxiety of a considerable number of Muslims.”

Around this country, the exploding furor over Imam Rauf’s choice of location has now ignited fierce and bigoted opposition to existing mosques.

An August 23 Washington Post report on unexpected resistance to a proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee—a community where “Muslims had worshipped quietly” for more than 30 years—led reporter Annie Gowen to make the (by then) obvious and menacing judgment that beyond Murfreesboro, “the intense feelings driving that [New York] debate have surfaced in communities from California to Florida in recent months.”

Imam Rauf may well have been surprised at the conflagration his location had started. But why does he stay fixated on that location? An August 23 Wall Street Journal news story by Jonathan Weisman cited angry, threatening reactions on radical Islam websites around the world. But more significantly, that report quoted Jarret Brachman, director of a security consulting firm, Cronus Global, who pointed out that “these violent website postings ‘are not just al-Qaida linked but [also] on prominent mainstream Muslim chat forums.’ ” Added Evan Kohlmann, “an independent terrorism consultant” at Flashpoint Partners, where he monitors jihadist websites: “We are handing al-Qaida a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup.”

As Dana Milbank has recognized (Washington Post, September 13): “It is difficult to think of somebody who has done more harm to the causes he purports to represent than Faisal Abdul Rauf—the so-called Ground Zero Imam. He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding among religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. . . . He has set back all three of his goals” (emphasis added).

A growing number of American Muslims agree with Muslim Abed Z. Bhuyan (August 18, Washington Post), saying of the explosion over the Rauf mosque: “This is not a fight that ever really needed fighting.”

And Tom, think about this question Bhuyan asks: “If they [Rauf and his wife] didn’t expect this fallout, just how connected are [Daisy] Khan and Imam Abdul Rauf to the American Muslim community? There is a difference between building a building and building a community. . . . If we [Muslims] are to grow as a community, we must demand strong leadership.”

He cites—and agrees with—Anne Bernard’s complaint in the New York Times that Rauf and Khan “did not [first] seek the advice of established Muslim organizations experienced in volatile post-9/11 passions and politics.”

Finally, a positive result of Imam Rauf’s “mission” (as he often calls it) is the decision of American Muslim leaders to create a National Muslim Leadership Alliance (Washington Post/Jewish World Review, September 8). An urgent reason, says one of them, Naeem Baig, director of the Islamic Circle of North America, is: “There’s a real serious threat of violence against individuals.” It is already happening.

As I wrote in another syndicated piece about this alliance, further reason for its formation is explained by another member, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council: “The story of what mainstream American Muslims stand for has not been told effectively.” A clarifying footnote by Washington Post reporter Tara Bahrampour tells why: “The diversity of sects, native languages and ethnicities has made it harder for a unified voice to emerge.”

Far too many Americans are convinced that all Muslims are the same, and are jihadists underneath.

I have an unsolicited suggestion for Imam Rauf about his own need for remedial education. On ABC-TV’s This Week (September 12), he told Christiane Amanpour that he would never have gone forward [with the inflammatory] mosque if he had any notion it would trigger such a firestorm: “I would never have done it. I’m a man of peace.”

This proudly self-described moderate Muslim might think again about another unyielding conviction he has steadily held. Though often asked, he repeatedly refuses to characterize Hamas as a terrorist organization. On September 1, soon after returning from his State Department–financed Mideast tour telling, among other things, of his interfaith efforts at home, the American and world press reported that, as the Daily News described, “Hamas gunmen slaughtered four Israeli settlers—including a pregnant woman—in an ambush yesterday in the West Bank” near Hebron.

Could that have been a coincidence just before face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington? The Hamas assassinations orphaned seven children in the worst terror attack in the West Bank in four years. A Hamas spokesman praised the killings as the “heroic operations in Hebron.”

There’s not been a word about these murders from this “man of peace,” Imam Rauf.

With regard to the hurt that I—not a man of peace—have caused Tom Robbins, I do hope, Tom, your broken heart will mend. You’re far too important to Voice readers to be distracted to tears by what has turned out to be one of your extremely rare misapprehensions of what was before you.

You might get a lift from Abbey Lincoln’s CD, It’s Me (Verver), I recently received. Abbey looking straight at you on the cover will cheer you, and her singing—as it always does for me—will clear your head, my old comrade.


New York Jewish Film Festival Reflects a Semitic Identity Crisis

Given the rainbow muddle that is Jewish identity today—from born-again to secular and all the way to couldn’t-care-less—what does a Jewish film festival mean? A very big tent is what, to judge by some of the movies previewed in this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival.

For starters, there’s not a Jew to be found in Young Freud in Gaza, one of the 18th annual showcase’s most arresting entries. Yet Jewish (and, more pointedly, Israeli) identity hovers painfully in the shadows of Swedish filmmakers PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian’s fair-minded, intimately probing documentary about a field psychologist serving the besieged West Bank city’s Jabaliya refugee camp. By no means do all the cases shouldered by the 28-year-old Ayed—among them an anorexic teenager and an unhappy woman mired in polygamy and poverty—lead directly back to the Palestine-Israel conflict. But there’s no question that the very definition of psychotherapy means something different under occupation. The movie’s title unwittingly misleads, since there’s no place for psychoanalysis in the essentially palliative care (which, for lack of support and resources, boils down to empathic listening and relaxation techniques) dispensed by Ayed, an educated freethinker who’s hampered at every turn by regular strikes from Israeli forces, internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah, and Hamas’s reflexive Islamic rejection of all things secular and scientific.

If Young Freud in Gaza‘s presence on the festival’s program reflects a clear, long-standing Jewish conviction that our ethical responsibilities reach beyond our own spiritual welfare, the question of what it means to be Jewish grows murkier in those films with a Jewish focus. I’ve loved every movie made by Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman, up to and including his latest, Empty Nest, but despite a trip to Israel, this breezier-than-usual comedy about a couple whose grown children have flown the coop is curiously empty of the secular Jewish inquiry in Burman’s other films. And I’m not sure on what grounds visual artist Gay Block’s Camp Girls belongs here, other than by cultural default: Its group of extremely-put-together young matrons recall their time at a high-end summer camp mostly attended by Jewish girls, yet wholly without Jewish content beyond the perfunctory lighting of Shabbat candles. Block’s photos are nice and the women are bright and appealing, but the doc lacks an organizing idea about the way the camp shaped their lives.

Then again, maybe cultural default is the question. If so, it comes with far more wigged-out élan in Susan Mogul’s Driving Men (double-billed with Camp Girls), in which the Los Angeles–based filmmaker takes on a subject that, in less candid hands, might come off hopelessly wanky—herself, in relation to the men who have influenced her unorthodox life as a woman and an artist. Though there are probably too many shots of Mogul showing off her naked breasts, more edifying are her car rides with the now-paunchy dudes as she riffs on all her life journeys, including why it took her 34 years to find a man who loves her. It’s a mystery whose answer, Mogul hints with admirable restraint, lies at least in part in the dilemmas of all Jewish women who grew up adoring and resenting their, shall we say, strong-minded fathers.

A similarly diffuse sense of identity pervades some of the festival’s dramatic features. Uncle Vanya has been shipped abroad countless times, and though the polluted beauty of Northern Israel makes a suitably lush backdrop for Weekend in Galilee, veteran Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi’s eco-reading of Chekhov, it’s the universal truths addressed by this intelligent, if formally uninspired, movie that come across more forcefully than any specifically Jewish or Israeli predicament. A German girl prepares unwillingly for her bat mitzvah in Anna Justice’s charming, if familiar, domestic comedy Max Minsky and Me, but that’s about as Jewish as this budding romance between two kids with unraveling families gets, until the girl’s mother drops a zinger by casually announcing that “the essence of Judaism isn’t God, but acting as if there were one.” I’m more or less with her there, though I wish the movie hadn’t raised the wide-open question of whether Judaism is possible without God, even in the assimilated or rapidly secularizing Jewish communities of the West.

The apocalyptic Christian conservatives in the festival’s alarmingly good closing-night documentary don’t think so. Jews and Israelis who take comfort from the unsolicited affection of evangelical Christians—a group that gives more than $75 million annually to Israel—might think again once they see Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s incendiary Waiting for Armageddon, which brings the interesting news that we Jews are loved because Israel has been chosen as the site for the upcoming end of the world. With friends like these, enemies need not apply.


Will the Latest Jerusalem Bloodshed Be Followed By Talks or Intifada?

The late Ala Abu Dhaim was a 25-year-old deliveryman in Jerusalem. A Palestinian Arab with Israeli citizenship, he lived with his family in East Jerusalem, and so was free to travel into West Jerusalem, where, on the night of March 6, he used his Kalashnikov assault rifle to shoot to death eight Israeli students attending a yeshiva, a religious school.

In his neighborhood, he was known as a gentle fellow who was looking forward to getting married this summer. But his family says that the recent retaliatory Israeli attacks in Gaza, which killed nearly 120 Palestinian Arabs, including children, had infuriated him.

Dhaim’s revenge seemed at first to be a solo operation, but on March 7, Hamas—after initially simply congratulating him—stepped forward to claim credit for the executions, according to a Reuters report. Whatever the truth of the case, with many Israelis now fearful that a third Palestinian intifada could soon begin, ushering in a new wave of suicide bombings, it’s clear that this first major murderous assault inside Jerusalem in four and a half years could well forebode many more human body parts strewn on the city’s streets.

When I first heard of the killings of the mostly teenage Israeli students, I remembered the worldwide shock and revulsion in February 1994, when an Israeli settler on the West Bank, Baruch Goldstein, rushed into the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and shot to death 29 Muslims as they were deep in prayer.

In his new book, A History of Modern Israel (Cambridge University Press), Colin Shindler, a historian at the University of London, notes that the Goldstein atrocity “radicalized more Palestinian Arabs and persuaded Hamas to extend its campaign into Israeli proper [with] suicide bombers.”

And some radical Jews, venerating Goldstein’s willingness to sacrifice his life for a Greater Israel, were strengthened in their own extremism by his example—including young Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for being “soft” on the Palestinians. (On Amir’s bookshelf was a collection of essays honoring Baruch Goldstein; Rabin had shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yasir Arafat and Shimon Peres for their attempts to reach a peace agreement.)

After Goldstein’s barbarous killing of Muslims at prayer, he was reviled by just about every sector of Israeli society, including those most unforgivingly hostile to Israelis working for peace.

This year, after Ala Abu Dhaim cut off the brief lives of those eight yeshiva students, there was jubilation in the streets of Gaza, with thousands of Palestinians celebrating and shooting off their guns in satisfaction. And at the mourning tent in Dhaim’s East Jerusalem home, waving over the heads of more than 100 grieving Arabs, were the green flags of Hamas.

Yet despite the burning anger among Israelis, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—resisting the inflamed demands of some Israelis that he send the full punitive force of the Israeli army into Gaza—insists that he will not abandon his negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. In a fierce contrary obbligato, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Israelis shouted “Death to the Arabs!” outside the yeshiva on the night of the murders—and Rabbi David Shalem, the director of the Institute of Talmud Studies at the yeshiva, yelled to the press outside (including a New York Times reporter): “Let the government go to hell! Write that down! Let the government go to hell!”

All of this brought me back to when I was a child in Boston—some 20 years before Israel was established in 1948 as a Jewish state. Almost as soon as I could walk, I joined other Jewish boys on the streets of my neighborhood carrying a blue-and-white tin container, collecting donations to plant trees in Palestine, which would somehow hasten the coming of a Jewish homeland. (Soon the Nazis would try very hard to remove the need for such a place.)

I had no idea back then, knocking on my neighbors’ doors with my little container, of the continuous bloodshed that would be generated by the ever-perilous existence of the Jewish state. Over the years, I’ve read the histories by advocates on both sides, as well as the revisions of history (by Israelis as well as Arabs)—and I have come to understand certain deep grievances that have been spawned by “the Occupation,” as have the Israeli Supreme Court and Israeli human-rights organizations.

Despite the new festering wounds in Gaza and Jerusalem, I am now somewhat encouraged by the wrenching realism—as reported in The Economist (March 8)—of “those Israelis who favor talks with Hamas,” as loathsome as the prospect may well be to both sides. They include “former heads of all three of Israel’s fabled and often deadly intelligence services: Ephraim Halevy [Mossad] . . . Shlomo Gazit [military intelligence] . . . and Ami Ayalon [Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic-security network].”

As I indicated last week, there are also Palestinians—including some in Gaza who are not celebrating the murders of the yeshiva students—who want all the killing to stop. And there are Arab governments who fear that a wildfire of Israeli-Palestinian violence could begin to engulf them all, inciting Muslim fundamentalists and other resisters to rebel against the authoritarian governments in those states. Egypt, for instance, has met with a Hamas delegation to try to work out a cease-fire in Gaza.

There is also a potential scenario that The Economist calls “fanciful” at present, even though it “may become more realistic” over time: an agreement between the bristlingly hostile Hamas and Fatah organizations “to let Mr Abbas continue to negotiate with Israel, [while] both Palestinian parties would agree to hold new elections—and to respect their results.”

More in line with the present grim reality is the reaction by Israeli citizen Moshed Harel, whose 15-year-old son was inside the Jerusalem yeshiva when Ala Abu Dhaim began firing randomly in the library. After waiting an agonizing half-hour to learn that his son was safe, Harel said heavily: “It’s a long war. It didn’t start today. It won’t end tomorrow.”

Across the street, a 19-year-old rabbinical student, Chaim Schur, told The Washington Post: “We just want to stop. We don’t want to go on killing kids in Gaza. It’s not our fault.”

Some years ago, I was told that the trees we Boston kids helped to plant in Palestine—in the hopes of seeing a Jewish homeland there one day—have survived. For the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, I hope they remain standing.


The Cold, Cold Heart of Hamas

When I was in Israel, reporting for the Voice in the 1980s, I interviewed—and supported—members of Peace Now (Shalom Achshav), an organization of 348 soldiers and reserve officers in the Israeli army’s combat units that had been formed in 1978. Their movement supporting an independent Palestinian state next to Israel continues to operate, with Peace Now monitoring and protesting, for example, the building of illegal Israeli settlements.

And I spent an afternoon back then in East Jerusalem with the Palestinian editor of a fiercely anti-Israel newspaper. As if in a reverie, heleaned forward and said to me: “Imagine what it would be like if the two states did co-exist. With all the resources in this region, we could create an extraordinary garden of industries and exports.”

A couple of minutes later, he returned angrily to what he called “the occupation,” and the vision vanished.

Since then, in writing and in lectures on that broken fantasy of the cooperative garden, I’ve been listed among the enemies of Israel and also of the Palestinians. I have been critical of both. I’m still convinced that only an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel—with the Palestinian nation recognizing Israel’s right to exist—could bring an end to the death and bitterness on both sides.

Even now, with Condoleezza Rice back on her treadmill of jerry-built statecraft after at least 116 Arabs, including children, were killed by Israeli forces in two days in Gaza—the largest number of corpses in one day since the intifada began—there remain Palestinians and Israelis who are not caught in the quicksand of hopelessness that says a mutually disastrous Armageddon is inevitable.

For example, when Israeli army chief of staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi and the head of military intelligence, General Amos Yadlin, declared that 90 percent of those killed in Gaza in retaliation against the Hamas rockets were terrorists, the Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem contradicted Ashkenazi and told The New York Times (March 4): “At least 54 [of the 116] had not taken part in the hostilities.” They were civilians.

The day before, the BBC reported from Gaza’s streets that among the crowds reviling Israel, there were Palestinians who were angry that Hamas’s persistent sending of Katyusha rockets to maim and kill Israelis was resulting in the retaliatory killing of Palestinians! In its report of the Hamas celebrations of the Israeli withdrawal after two days, the Times wrote: “Many Palestinians in Gaza also expressed reservations about the Hamas celebrations, given the number of people who have died.” When Hamas promised money to repair the damage, 85-year-old Aisha Abde Rabbo said: “All I want is the return of those who were killed.”

As for those rockets—now longer in their range, like those used by Hamas’s mentor, Hezbollah—imagine yourself living in a city or a rural area being targeted almost every day for months, and even years, by these missiles that keep you in constant fear.

You might expect your government to negotiate with these faceless people who want to destroy you. But what if they don’t recognize the right of your government to exist? What then?

Insisting that it had no choice but to retaliate, Israel maintains it had no intention to kill civilians and has always tried not to. The deadly problem is that, like Hezbollah, Hamas deliberately operates its rocket attacks from deep inside civilian Palestinian neighborhoods, and sometimes in the very homes of noncombatants.

The likelihood of Israeli civilian casualties is essential to Hamas’s strategy of resistance. Its leaders know that their rockets will not only cause injury and death, but also an enveloping dread among Israelis of impending attacks. And they will guarantee armed retaliation from the hated Israeli army.

That’s precisely what Hamas desires, because once again the United Nations’ Secretary General, the European Union, international human-rights organizations, and appalled people around the world will accuse Israel of savage, “excessive force.” Israel, once more, will be a pariah among nations—and the reason for such retaliatory force will be ignored.

Meanwhile, the great majority of those describing Israel’s retaliation as inhuman because of the civilians killed do not mention that using civilians as human shields is a war crime under international law.

I am not at all unaware of the legitimate, deep grievances that Palestinians have—the tragedies, for instance, of people in immediate need of life-saving hospital care being stopped cold, and eventually dying, at Israeli checkpoints. It isn’t enough for Israeli human-rights activists to protest. There could be medical professionals at checkpoints to validate the needs of desperate Palestinians and insist that they get through—often to Israeli hospitals that treat many Palestinians.

There’s more the Israel government can do to show that it listens to its own human-rights organizations, like B’Tselem. But it also needs to negotiate—even with this entity, Hamas, that wants to wipe it off the map.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the tirelessly inept Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, made a useful point about Hamas’s own need to negotiate on National Public Radio (March 3): “In Gaza [now], people are asking Hamas, ‘What actually do you want? Do you really believe that shooting rockets into Israeli cities is going to help Palestinians?’ And that’s ultimately the challenge: We [Israelis] have . . . to show the Palestinian people that the path of moderation, the path of negotiation, brings tangible benefits. The terrorists, they don’t really have solutions to anybody’s real problems.”

While Arab-language television around the world is continually showing pictures of the recent dead and wounded Palestinians (including children) in Gaza, lost in nearly all the coverage here as well was a report in a leading Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, that a February Tel Aviv University poll reveals that 68 percent of Israelis favor talks with Hamas.

Next week: After an Arab Israeli citizen killed eight Israeli students in a Jerusalem religious school on March 6, Hamas crowed: “We bless the operation. It will not be the last.” So what now? And can they be negotiated with?


Blood and Tears

A well-balanced primer on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Blood and Tears takes just over an hour to go from the roots of Zionism to the recent electoral victory of Hamas. Workmanlike at best, with a regrettable tendency toward cheap filters and effects, the film’s strength lies in its remarkable list of interviews. To name just a few: former Israeli prime ministers Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak; Palestinian politicians Saeb Erekat and Sari Nusseibeh; assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Azis al-Rantissi; and controversial Middle East scholars Bernard Lewis and Rashid Khalidi. Those aren’t the kind of gets you’d expect from a doc that’s barely made it past the university circuit. Still, most espouse the standard narratives. There is one remarkable moment, from the distinguished Israeli historian Michael Oren. Recounting an assault on a Hamas compound that left 23 Israeli soldiers dead, Oren says that given the choice between flattening the compound with a missile or sending his son door-to-door—he’d send his son door-to-door.


Hamas Victory Is Bush’s Nightmare

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Hamas’s stunning victory in the Palestinian elections represents not just another setback in American foreign policy, but a real debacle. Ever since Khomeini took power in Iran, the U.S. and many of the Western nations have feared the creation of a militant Muslim presence stretching from Iran across the Middle East.

With Hamas’s democratic victory yesterday, the people of Palestine have spoken, and what they want is George Bush’s nightmare.

As things now stand, Iran remains under Shiite control. The recent elections in Iraq have resulted in a Shiite-dominated central government there. (That government is almost sure to shrivel as the country breaks into three parts–the southernmost is Shiite, and has control over important oil reserves.) With Hamas in power in the Palestinian territory, there is yet another militant Muslim group with a grip on the wheel of state.

Despite assertions to the contrary by the Bush administration, al Qaeda appears to have grown and spread its operations. The Taliban is once more active in Afghanistan. Where bin Laden was at loggerheads with Saddam Hussein before the war, now al Qaeda has inserted itself into Iraq where it operates with apparently considerable freedom.

All this is coming at a time when reports are showing the American military strained to the breaking point–as if that outcome should have been at all unexpected.

Hamas is widely condemned here and by the European Union as a terrorist group. Israel will not work with it. However, a spokesman for the European Union told the BBC this morning that it would recognize and work with a peaceful elected victor, whatever its politics.

President Bush told the Wall Street Journal in an interview earlier this week, “A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace. And so you’re getting a sense of how I’m going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is: Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you.”

Hamas says it will work with Fatah, the party that had been in control, but Fatah refused. Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, told Reuters: “Fatah rejects participating in a government formed by Hamas. Hamas has to take up its responsibilities. Fatah will act as a responsible opposition.”

Another Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, warned that Hamas would not hold peace talks with Israel, the BBC reported this morning. “Negotiations with Israel is not on our agenda,” he said. “Recognizing Israel is not on the agenda either now.”


‘We Are All Targets’

Silence settles on the clocks;

Nursing mothers point a sly

Index finger at the sky,

Crimson in the setting sun;

In the valley of the fox

Gleams the barrel of a gun.

—W.H. Auden, “Domesday Song”

Years ago, talking with Palestinians about their demonstrable grievances against Israel, I was told mordantly, “You know, we used to be called ‘the Jews of the Middle East.’ ”

Crisply intelligent, deeply concerned with educating their children, these Palestinians, furious as they were at Israelis, cited that description of themselves as a kind of compliment.

But the bitterness of the occupation has turned many Palestinians—those in the streets as well as leaders in Arafat’s Fatah, not to mention Islamic Jihad and Hamas—into equivalents of Haredim, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Some of them do not even recognize the Jewish state because the messiah has not yet come. They even have their own Web site:

These ultra-Orthodox Jews believe in Greater Israel; they say that all of these lands were given to Jews by God: Judea, Samaria, Gaza. Therefore there can be no Palestinian state. The Web site says that Hitler was “a messenger of divine wrath,” punishing Jews “because of the bitter apostasy of Zionism.”

The hatred of Israel has also turned some Palestinians into unyielding irredentists who want their land and their ancestral homes back by any means necessary—including the sacrifice of their very sons.

Hassan Hotari, father of the 22-year-old suicide bomber who killed 21 people, including himself, in Tel Aviv, told Reuters:

“I was extremely happy when I heard that my son is the one who did this operation, and I hope I [have] many sons to carry out the same act, and I wish myself I had done it.”

On June 4, three days after the bloodbath in Tel Aviv—for which Hamas claimed credit—National Public Radio reported, “A Palestinian poll released today found 76 percent of the public support suicide bombings.” And Palestinian radio continued to broadcast songs that celebrated and glorified martyrdom.

Meanwhile, many Israelis, not all of them ultra-Orthodox by any means, were demanding that Ariel Sharon launch massive retaliation for the murders in Tel Aviv. Alex Kapilushnik, a 20-year-old Israeli soldier in Tel Aviv on leave, said, “This was the end—the only thing on our mind now is to kill Arabs.”

In Gaza, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, president of a private emergency medical service, told The New York Times: “People [here] have this terror of an Israeli attack. How can the Palestinian Authority possibly control a cease-fire? How can it control every single group, every single person?”

But the suicide bombers are not “every single person.” They are a select group who, however bent on martyrdom, do not act alone, spontaneously. As George Melloan noted in The Wall Street Journal: “They are trained in the arming of the bombs strapped to their bodies or rigged to a vehicle. And they are instructed to trigger the explosion in a crowded place to take as many Israelis as they can with them.” The Tel Aviv bomb was held at head height to cause maximum death and injury.

Israeli intelligence is convinced that Arafat and his Palestinian Authority know, or can track, the names of the recruiters and organizers of the suicide bombers. Will Arafat control—that is, imprison—them?

Svetlana Bloom, an Israeli high school student, said: “We are all targets.” She had Israelis in mind, but everyone in this conflict is a target.

Zev Chafets, a Daily News columnist I have been attentively reading since the days when he wrote from Israel in The Jerusalem Report, quotes a joint declaration from Hamas and Fatah, the latter supposedly under the control of Arafat:

“If the insane old man Ariel Sharon and his bloodthirsty government do not halt their threats of murder and conquest, not a single Zionist will be safe.”

Theodor Herzl, who founded the Zionist World Congress in 1897 as a solution to pervasive anti-Semitism, said he would never convert to Christianity. But he did not want his son Hans to have a “life as sour and blackened” as his had been as a Jew. So, said Herzl bitterly, “One must baptize Jewish boys. . . .They must disappear into the crowd as Christians.”

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians can disappear into the crowd, but each one is eligible to be a statistic in the casualty lists.

On June 6, Uri Dan, who writes from Israel for the New York Post and is not notably sympathetic to Palestinians, wrote a front-page story about an operation in Jerusalem that transplanted the heart of a Palestinian, Mazen Julani (a father and pharmacist), into the body of Yigal Cohen, a Jew (who, in critical condition, had been waiting four months for an organ transplant).

Mazen Julani was shot and killed from a passing car, and—Uri Dan reports—his family suspects the murder was by Israelis in retaliation for the Tel Aviv suicide bombing.

His father, Lutfi Julani, was asked if he would permit the donation of his son’s organs, and he consulted a Muslim clergyman, who said, “Any act to save lives, whether of Muslims, Christians, Jews, or others, is permissible.” After the operation, Lutfi Julani met Yigal Cohen’s father at the hospital, and they embraced. Said the surgeon, Dr. Jacob Lavee:

“When I held in one hand the heart of an Arab Muslim and in the other, the heart of a Jew, I was moved.”

In the Voice (Letters, June 5), 19-year-old Hanna Mourad-Agha, a Muslim writing that she’d never met any Jews until she came to England, said, “I realized that the ostensible ‘enemy’ is just people, like anybody else, trying to live their lives decently.”

I still believe Arafat, who spurned Ehud Barak’s extensive plan for peace, holds these lives in his hands.

If I’m wrong and he cannot control the martyrs, the abyss beckons.


Pogrom in Tel Aviv

I saw people lying on the floor. Some had no legs, no arms. —Alex Brodsky, 19, a witness at the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Daily News, June 2

This kind of operation is the right of the Palestinian people to terrorize the enemies. —Hamas, New York Post, June 2

Palestinians have long memories. The occupation; the collective punishments by the Israeli government, which destroyed homes and evicted families; the torture of imprisoned Palestinians, as documented by Israeli and Palestinian civil liberties organizations.

Jews have long memories. Israeli settlers and their children shot to death on the road; the collective memory of Jews everywhere. When I heard of the bombing in Tel Aviv, what first came to mind was the night of November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when the Nazis ruthlessly coordinated attacks on Jews that presaged the Holocaust and the long, hard road to the Jewish state.

I was in Israel for the Voice in 1986, not long after Israeli colonels—most of whom had fought in every war against the Arabs—started the Peace Now movement. I talked with a number of them; and for years, I have strongly supported not only that movement but also the campaign for an independent Palestinian state.

When Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon, I exposed the horrifying results of that invasion in the Voice—including the children left without legs and arms. After I also wrote of Sharon’s passive complicity in the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, death threats were sent to me at the Voice.

On a two-hour late-night radio program at the time, Jewish callers offered continuous suggestions for how I could most painfully and slowly end my life as a self-hating Jew.

Nonetheless, I went to Washington to accept an award from an Arab American organization for giving both sides in my reporting on the Middle East. During a debate at the Central Synagogue in New York, I was roundly booed.

When in Israel for the Voice, I spent time in East Jerusalem, interviewing Palestinian journalists. One editor, whose newspaper was one of the fiercest critics of Israeli actions, told me of his vision of a time when Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate economically and technologically to create a model, a peaceful flowering of the Middle East.

Later, I spoke with Faisal Husseini, who on May 31 of this year died suddenly of a heart attack. Back then, he was Yasir Arafat’s main man in Jerusalem, and I quickly understood why he was so respected by both Palestinians and Israelis in the peace movement. He spent much of the 1980s in Israeli prisons, but as the June 1 New York Times reported after Husseini’s death, he became a leading advocate of making Jerusalem an open city, the capital of both Palestinians and Israelis.

And the Times quoted Husseini’s frequent description of his first visit to West Jerusalem in 1967, when he saw Israelis “as people and not only as soldiers.” He spoke of seeing “weak people, strong people, intelligent people, stupid people, children, and even an old man and an old woman sitting together holding hands.” Why, Husseini asked himself, couldn’t both peoples live together without killing each other?

But do Hamas, Palestinian Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad see Israelis as people? They send the suicide bombers, who look into the eyes of the men, women, and children they murder.

I have spoken to some Israeli settlers who also do not see Palestinians as people, but others I’ve visited do believe Palestinians are as human and vulnerable as Israelis. These settlers want desperately not to have to carry guns wherever they go. And there are soldiers on both sides who do not want to kill, except in self-defense.

The killings will not end until terrorism ends. There are a few murderous Israeli zealots—Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, the doctor who shot to death Palestinians at prayer—but organized terrorism is committed against Israel by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian Hezbollah. During Israel’s 10-day unilateral cease-fire, there were 150 violent incidents by terrorists.

After the Tel Aviv atrocity, Arafat condemned it and called for a cease-fire by his side. But meeting in Gaza, 14 Palestinian factions, including Hamas, rejected that call. I have seen no response to that from Arafat.

In any case, there can be no durable, enforceable mutual cease-fire unless and until Arafat can disband these terrorists. A basic question is whether his Palestinian authority can exercise its authority. If it can’t, what is its role in negotiations?

In 1989, Faisal Husseini, leaving an Israeli prison, said, “We are fighting to build our state, not to destroy another state.”

The strategy of the terrorists, on the other hand, is to make fear of death or mutilation so much a part of everyday Israeli life that there will be massive retaliations. War will follow. The terrorists’ vision is that some of the Arab states will join in. Massive destruction of Palestinians will then make Israel a pariah to the rest of the world, certainly to Europe, so that eventually, the Jewish state will erode into the sea. This has been Arafat’s intermittent fallback strategy from the beginning, especially when he sees no other alternative for getting what he wants.

As always, the terrorists hugely underestimate the will of Israel to survive. But as Dennis Ross, Clinton’s longtime Middle East negotiator, told The New York Times: “The hole may become so deep, the atmosphere so sour, the mistrust so profound, that the task of stabilization later on may be impossible.”

It will not be easy for Arafat to stop the terrorists, if that is now his actual intent. There are Palestinian mothers who celebrate the deaths of their sons—suicide bombers—in the fervent belief they will ascend to paradise because their cause is so just. And after the carnage in Tel Aviv, Palestinians danced in the streets in Ramallah.