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      Fundamentally Freund
      by Michael Freund
      An alternative approach to Israeli political commentary.
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      Michael Freund is Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister´s Office under former premier Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He has lived in Israel for the past decade.
      Tishrei 1, 5766, 10/4/2005

      Free Pollard Now

      When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets US President George W. Bush in Texas, it seems safe to say that they will not have any trouble finding issues to talk about.

      From Israel’s planned Gaza withdrawal to the Palestinians’ ongoing failure to fight terror to the terrorists’ renewal of mortar attacks in the past few days, the two leaders will have to tackle an intricate and complex agenda.

      But there is one matter which they should be able to resolve fairly easily, if only they have the will to do so: the case of Jonathan Pollard.

      For the past 20 years, Pollard has been rotting in jail in the United States after being sentenced to life in prison for passing confidential information to Israel.

      The facts of his case are well-known, so there is no need to repeat them here. But suffice it to say that the sentence he received violated the plea-bargain agreement he made with the US government, and that spies convicted of working for America’s enemies have received far more lenient terms of imprisonment than Pollard did.

      Prime Minister Sharon has demonstrated a decided lack of interest in the case, doing virtually nothing to seek clemency for him – and that has got to change. Whatever one may think of Pollard and his actions, the fact is that he worked on Israel’s behalf and it is therefore the Government’s responsibility to help him.

      With Sharon doing his best to please the American government in just about every possible sphere, there is simply no reason why he can’t “cash in” a chip or two and ask Bush to set Pollard free.

      After all, Pollard did the crime, and he has done the time. And now it is time to bring him home.

      Elul 28, 5765, 10/2/2005

      Who's Afraid of Public Opinion?

      He has led men into battle, braved enemy gunfire and engaged in some of Israel’s most daring and well-known military operations. But for all the courage he has shown on the battlefield, when it comes to the political arena Ariel Sharon has suddenly lost his nerve.

      “There will definitely be no referendum,” Sharon told reporters at the Knesset yesterday, referring to mounting demands that the Israeli people be allowed to vote on his Gaza withdrawal plan. “The public supports the disengagement plan,” he insisted, “as does the Knesset.”

      Chicken And yet, Sharon’s statement actually raises more questions than it answers. If indeed he is so sure that the country backs his move, then why is he afraid to put it to the test of public opinion? And if a majority actually opposes such a plan, then how legitimate would any withdrawal actually be?

      Sharon also sought to argue that a referendum would divide the nation still further – but that is simply untrue. The whole idea of giving the public a voice on the issue is to stifle the growing split within the country, because the outcome would necessarily result in the bulk of the Israeli public accepting whatever the majority would decide.

      Moreover, if Sharon refuses to hold a referendum, and goes ahead with the withdrawal anyway, it will leave an open wound on Israel’s national psyche. Rightly or wrongly, huge portions of the public feel that Sharon has no mandate to pull out from Gaza, leaving a heavy scent of illegitimacy hanging over the entire affair.

      The only way to dispel that notion, and to re-unite the country, is to hold a referendum as soon as possible.

      Deep down, I think that Sharon knows that. But whether or not he still has the courage of his convictions, as he did long ago during his military career, only time will tell.

      Elul 27, 5765, 10/1/2005

      A (Military) Heatwave in the North

      Even as the world’s attention is turned to Gaza, Israel’s northern border is once again flaring up.

      The Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon claimed responsibility for a bomb attack yesterday which blew up an Israeli armored jeep, killing Capt. Sharon Elmakayis and wounding several other Israeli soldiers.

      Hezbollah This was a direct assault on Israeli troops patrolling Israeli territory. It was a violation of international law, an affront to Israel’s borders, and a clear message from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah’s key patrons, that they will continue to try and “bleed” Israel as much as possible.

      And this was hardly the first time they have done so. In the nearly five years since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, some 21 Israelis have been killed along the northern border by Hezbollah terrorists.

      In November, Hezbollah sent an unarmed drone into Israeli airspace, which managed to penetrate as far as the town of Nahariya before crashing into the sea. The incident was a dangerous provocation – had the drone been packed with explosives, it could easily have caused a mini-9/11 type of attack on an Israeli civilian target.

      A few weeks ago, Hezbollah fired two Katyusha rockets into the northern Galilee, mimicking the daily rocket attacks on Israeli civilians being carried out by their Palestinian colleagues in Gaza.

      The government’s unwillingness to act to stop these brazen assaults is simply incomprehensible and inexcusable. On both our northern and our southern borders, Israel is now coming under regular assault, and along both fronts, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has shown that he is unwilling to do what needs to be done to halt the ongoing attacks.

      The danger here is two-fold: first, to the Israeli civilians living in the shadows of the rockets and bombs, who are being forced to endure the unendurable.

      But it is also a threat to the rest of the country as well, because if our foes see that they can attack Israel with impunity from all directions, it will only embolden them to intensify their campaign of terror.

      It is time, therefore, for the government to issue an ultimatum to all those targeting Israel and its civilians – cease and desist now, or face the full (military) consequences of your actions.

      Elul 24, 5765, 9/28/2005

      Mr. Osama's Neighborhood

      Israel, it appears, has a new neighbor – Osama Bin Laden.

      In a lecture at Tel Aviv University, Major-General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the head of Israel’s Military Intelligence, confirmed that Al-Qaeda has now established a presence in Gaza in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal from the area.

      Mr_rogers You’ll recall that in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s retreat, there was chaos along Gaza’s southern boundary with Egypt, as thousands of people moved freely in both directions without anyone there to check them.

      As a result, analysts feared that terrorists would exploit the opening to move men and equipment into Gaza for possible use in future attacks against the Jewish state.

      Now, Maj.-Gen. Farkash has confirmed precisely that.

      I don't want to beat my own drum here, but in a post back on July 24th, several weeks before the Gaza pullout, I wrote the following:

      “Terrorists love a vacuum, and that is what an Israeli pullout from Gaza would create, providing groups such as Al-Qaeda with a foothold at the Jewish state’s doorstep.

      Moreover, Egypt’s ongoing failure to clamp down on the terrorists demonstrates that they can not be relied upon to patrol the boundary between Gaza and Sinai – a step that Sharon has reportedly already accepted as part of his pullout plan.

      …however difficult it might appear to be to maintain an Israeli presence in Gaza, the consequences of withdrawal might only prove far more devastating – and lethal.”

      So now, as a result of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s abandonment of Gaza, the people of Israel have yet another terrorist group poised next door to worry about.

      Nice going, Arik.

      Elul 18, 5765, 9/22/2005

      Standing up for what is holy

      Barely a week and a half has passed since the destruction of Gaza's synagogues by rampaging Palestinian mobs, yet it seems as if the entire affair has already been largely forgotten.

      The world hardly uttered more than a peep of protest, and Israel stood by and watched as Jewish houses of worship went up in flames.

      Netzarim_synagogue In the article below that I contributed to the Jerusalem Post on the subject, I argue that it is incumbent upon Israel not to allow this outrage to go unpunished.

      A dangerous precedent has been set, and it is essential that Israel stand up for what is holy, rather than cower helplessly as our heritage is mercilessly trampled upon by our enemies.

      The Jerusalem Post, September 13, 2005

      Take back the holy sites
      by Michael Freund

      The scenes from Gaza were as ghastly as they were predictable.

      Energized by Israel's retreat, thousands of Palestinians wasted little time in descending on abandoned Jewish communities, torching yeshivot and bulldozing synagogues in a frenzy of hate and destruction.

      Among those leading the charge was none other than Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who dismissed these places of Jewish prayer and study as "empty structures" and vowed that all such buildings would be destroyed.

      Indeed, in the former Jewish community of Netzarim, Palestinian policemen chose not to intervene as rioters assaulted the synagogue, with one Palestinian officer telling a Western journalist: "The people have the right to do what they are doing."

      Shortly thereafter the PA even dispatched a bulldozer to help the mob complete the demolition.

      And so we were all treated to the bitter and painful irony of watching anti-Semitic mobs gleefully flattening synagogues as the Israeli army beat a hasty retreat.

      But this is hardly the first time our government has stood by and watched as Palestinians desecrated a place held sacred by Jews.

      Remember Joseph's Tomb?

      It was just five years ago, on October 7, 2000, that the IDF withdrew from the site under cover of darkness after a joint assault launched by Palestinian police and terrorists. The PA, of course, then agreed to protect the Tomb, but that promise quickly went up in smoke. Several hours later the burial ground of the biblical Joseph had been reduced to debris.

      Palestinians armed with pick-axes and hammers attacked the tomb, smashing the stone structure and ripping it apart, brick by brick. They burned Jewish prayer books and other religious articles and subsequently began transforming the site into a mosque.

      It was then and there, at Joseph's Tomb, just days after the start of the second intifada, that the Palestinians learned two very dangerous lessons, which continue to haunt Israel until today.

      First, they saw that violence pays. Israel's retreat from Joseph's Tomb was the first time Israel had fled under fire, abandoning territory to Palestinian control under threat of the gun.

      Secondly, the Palestinians also learned that they could deliberately assault Jewish sites of immense historical, religious or emotional significance without fear of retribution from Israel.

      After all, if they got away with an attack on Joseph's Tomb, why not take down a couple of abandoned synagogues in Gaza?

      The same holds true of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where successive Israeli governments have failed to stand up to wanton Palestinian acts of desecration.

      THEREIN LIES the "original sin" of various Israeli policymakers, who have consistently capitulated, retreated and withdrawn whenever the Palestinians have trampled on some of our most important national symbols. Instead of displaying some elementary Jewish pride and confronting the rioters to prevent them from torching what is holy to us, we prefer to shrug our collective shoulders, look away in shame, and hope for the best.

      That may have made sense when the extent of our national power was limited to community councils in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, but surviving in the modern-day Middle East requires an entirely different approach.

      For far too long we have inculcated in the Palestinians a sense of impunity when it comes to vandalizing or defiling Jewish holy sites, and it is time for this to change forthwith.

      In light of the Palestinians' behavior in Gaza this week, it should be clear to all that they cannot, must not, be entrusted with safeguarding or administering Jewish religious sites under any circumstances whatsoever.

      The Palestinians have once again failed to demonstrate even the modicum of decency and civility that calls for respecting houses of worship that belong to others.

      And so Israel should not hesitate to do what should have been done already: take back Joseph's Tomb, reassert its sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and eject the PA-controlled Muslim Wakf from the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

      These three sites, more than any others, symbolize our ties to this Land, and the abiding faith upon which they are based. It is time for all of them to return to sole Israeli control.

      Such a step would send a clear and unequivocal message to the Palestinians that there is a price to be paid for treading on Jewish religious rights and assaulting our holy sites. It would also underline Israel's determination to retain these sacred spaces in any future arrangements that might be reached.

      There is a limit to what a nation can be expected to tolerate when its most hallowed places repeatedly come under attack.

      Israel's patience reached that limit long ago. It is time we let the Palestinians know that their abuse of our heritage, and all we hold dear, will no longer be tolerated.