Luke Baker http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker Luke Baker's Profile Thu, 05 Nov 2015 16:00:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 In Gaza and Israel, danger of incitement to violence lurks http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/05/us-israel-palestinians-incitement-idUSKCN0SU2BM20151105?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/11/05/in-gaza-and-israel-danger-of-incitement-to-violence-lurks/#comments Thu, 05 Nov 2015 15:34:56 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1262 JERUSALEM (Reuters) – In Gaza, a clothing store called “Hitler 2″ has mannequins posed outside holding knives and dressed in T-shirts with “Stab!” written across the chests.

In Israel, a news website closely followed by religious Jews hosted a video game in which children were urged to “neutralize” attackers dressed as Arabs.

After six weeks in which Palestinians have killed 11 Israelis in stabbings, shootings and other violence, and Israeli forces have shot dead 68 Palestinians, including 41 alleged assailants, both sides accuse the other of incitement.

While there are some signs of the violence dying down, with the frequency of attacks slowing, there is little let-up in the anger and hatred that have long stoked the 70-year conflict.

In Gaza, the Islamist group Hamas that controls the territory has openly encouraged violence, publishing videos online that urge Palestinians to join a new “knife intifada”, or uprising, against Israeli occupation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been more circumspect, but has praised those killed by Israel as martyrs and been vilified by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not seeming to do enough to halt the violence.

Outside “Hitler 2″, whose owner declined to be interviewed, young Palestinians this week said they liked the shop and were eager to carry out attacks.

“The name of the shop is Hitler and I like him because he was the most anti-Jewish person,” said 20-year-old Hijaz Abu Shanab. “It is better for us now to go and die since we are living like the dead. I like the clothes and the name.”

This week, Israel shut down a radio station in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, accusing it of glorifying attacks on Israelis. Palestinians said the station had urged people to join stone-throwing demonstrations but nothing more.

In a conflict with two diametrically opposed narratives in which words and history have long been used as weapons, Netanyahu has also been accused of fuelling tensions.

Before a visit to Germany last month, he asserted that the Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem in the 1940s instigated the Holocaust, saying he gave Adolf Hitler the idea. His comment drew strong criticism from Holocaust experts, who accused the him of distorting the historical record.

Palestinians acknowledge that there has been widespread incitement on social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp, encouraging people to attack Israelis.

Israelis have also highlighted cases in which websites and social media have carried unsavory content.

Arutz Sheva, a news site popular among Israel’s religious community and its largely rightist Russian immigrant population, on Thursday took down a video game on its children’s pages in which players used sticks and umbrellas to “neutralize” bearded and robed attackers bearing knives and guns.

“It was a mistake,” an employee told the Jerusalem Post.

After an eight-month-old Palestinian child died near Bethlehem last week, some people wrote comments in Hebrew on Facebook praising his death, which was initially thought to have been caused by tear gas fired by Israeli forces. The exact cause of death remains unclear, but doctors said the baby had a pre-existing health problem involving water on the brain.

Israeli mayors have urged citizens who have gun licenses to carry their weapons, a move that human rights groups say has encouraged vigilantism.

Some Palestinians seen holding knives have been shot on suspicion that they were about to carry out an attack. In at least two instances, this wasn’t the case, Israeli authorities have conceded.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

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Jewish-Arab friction runs raw in the heart of Hebron http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2015/11/04/jewish-arab-friction-runs-raw-in-the-heart-of-hebron/ http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/11/04/jewish-arab-friction-runs-raw-in-the-heart-of-hebron/#comments Wed, 04 Nov 2015 09:37:05 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1259 (A Palestinian woman paints a mural, depicting a masked Palestinian holding a knife, in support of Palestinians committing stabbing attacks against Israelis, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

(A Palestinian woman paints a mural, depicting a masked Palestinian holding a knife, in support of Palestinians committing stabbing attacks against Israelis, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Israel shut down the main radio station in Hebron on Tuesday and turned part of the city in the occupied West Bank into a closed military zone, with troops clamping down on a district that has become the focal point of violent unrest.

The city, 30 km (20 miles) south of Jerusalem, is the largest in the West Bank, with a Palestinian population of 200,000, among whom live 1,000 Jewish settlers under close military protection, leaving Hebron split into two zones.

At a heavily fortified checkpoint controlling entry into the sector where many of the Jews live, soldiers kept their fingers near their triggers, closely vetting Palestinians, including school children with backpacks, turning some back.

The checkpoint – a mass of high steel fencing, one-way turnstile gates and a reinforced lookout tower – has been the site of demonstrations in recent days, with Palestinians throwing stones, tossing fire bombs and burning tires.

Nearby, merchants were selling eggplants, bananas and other fruits and vegetables, prepared to roll their wooden stands away quickly at the first sign of a disturbance.

The anger, due partly to tensions over the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and partly to a sense that peaceful efforts to end to Israel’s occupation have gone nowhere, has fueled violence across Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank since late September, with the focus now on Hebron.

In that time, 11 Israelis have been killed in stabbings, shootings or other attacks. At least 67 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli forces, including 40 who Israel says were armed with knives or other implements. Many were teenagers.

Of the Palestinians killed, 25 were from Hebron, including several shot dead near the checkpoint. Soldiers at the post have frequently been the target of knife attacks.

(A Jewish settler holds a weapon after an attack in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin, near Hebron April 2, 2009. A Palestinian with an axe and a knife killed a 13-year-old Israeli boy and wounded a seven-year-old boy in Bat Ayin on Thursday, two days after a right-wing government took power. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

(A Jewish settler holds a weapon after an attack in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin, near Hebron April 2, 2009. A Palestinian with an axe and a knife killed a 13-year-old Israeli boy and wounded a seven-year-old boy in Bat Ayin on Thursday, two days after a right-wing government took power.
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

“No stabbings or stone-throwing today,” said one of the soldiers with a hint of relief, before adding: “Yet.”

When the violence started, most of the attacks were carried out by what Israel described as “lone wolves”, with no sign of coordination by Palestinian political factions, as had been the case with uprisings in the past.

More recently, however, that has changed, at least when it comes to the stone-throwing demonstrations across the West Bank, with political factions busing in participants from local universities. That has been the case in Hebron, where the Islamist group Hamas has traditionally been strong.

Local people said the radio station shut down by Israel had carried messages encouraging people to demonstrate, but added that this was normal and described the station as “liberal”. “It plays lots of music; it’s everyone’s favorite,” said one.

The Israeli military said the station “glorifies attacks against Israelis”.

DIVIDED CITY

Hebron has long been a source of tension between Jews and Muslims, with a holy site in the center divided between the faiths: one half is known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives, are believed to be buried. Muslims call the shrine the Sanctuary of Abraham, where the Ibrahimi mosque stands. The religious heritage of the city has made it a focal point for settlers, who are determined to expand the Jewish presence. Since they are in the heart of the city, they require intense security, with around 800 Israeli troops protecting them.Yaakov Sultan, a 21-year-old Israeli who was born in the settlement, said he would never leave. He has a job delivering fast food around the tiny, locked-down community. Palestinians throw stones at him, he says, but it doesn’t deter him.

“We Jews will always be here, we’re never leaving,” he said.

On the other side of the checkpoint, where sharp stones and broken glass are thick on the ground and graffiti on the walls reads “Boycott Israel” and “Zionism = Racism”, Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights activist, is not convinced that the settlers will be around forever.

They are a fanatical fringe, he says, with many of them involved in violence against Palestinians. While they have support for now, he believes it will run out eventually.

“They can’t keep the occupation without apartheid and you can see it is apartheid,” he said, nodding towards the checkpoint. “You can’t maintain that, especially in a world of social media where everything you do is recorded.

“In four or five years, the settlers will be gone.”

via Jewish-Arab friction runs raw in the heart of Hebron | Reuters.

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With secret prayers, Jews challenge ‘status quo’ at Jerusalem holy site http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/26/us-israel-palestinians-statusquo-idUSKCN0SK1GP20151026?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/26/with-secret-prayers-jews-challenge-status-quo-at-jerusalem-holy-site/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 16:40:11 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1256 JERUSALEM (Reuters) – As the group of Orthodox Jews came near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, one began to mumble while staring down at his mobile phone. Another looked up in awe, eyes half shut in concentration. The woman’s lips moved silently.

Asked afterwards whether they had prayed, a violation of an 800-year-old ban on non-Muslim worship at the holy site, two of the group said they had done so in their hearts, while the woman declared proudly: “I prayed with my mouth moving.”

Monday’s visit to the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount was low-key by most standards – no fighting broke out, no one was ejected by the police, everyone left calmly and life returned to normal.

But in critical ways it cut to the heart of an issue fuelling the worst violence between Palestinians and Israel in years: whether the status quo at the site, also known as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, is being properly enforced.

In a region full of complexity, the Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount status quo occupies a special place. It upholds a rule that has effectively existed since 1187, when Muslim warrior Saladin defeated the Christian crusaders and held on to Jerusalem: non-Muslims may enter the sacred compound, but only Muslims can pray.

Before Muslims built the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, two Jewish temples, the second destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, stood at the site, which is both the holiest place in Islam outside Saudi Arabia and the most sacred place in Judaism.

After Israel seized the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, it agreed to continue the status quo, recognizing the risks of igniting a religious war if anything were changed. It gave Jordan special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites via the Waqf, an Islamic trust.

That agreement was reinforced when Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. There have been many periods of friction over the years, but to all intents and purposes, the status quo has held.

For a special report, see here: here:DOME.pdf

Over the last decade or so, since then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site in 2000, the Waqf says Israel has been slowly chipping away at the rules, with increasing numbers of religious Jews visiting the area and many of them surreptitiously praying.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected those suggestions, saying repeatedly that the government has not changed the rules and has no intention of doing so.

He reiterated that position after meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week, and Kerry said after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that there was a renewed commitment from all sides to ensure the status quo was respected.

Yet despite the verbal efforts to quell the problem, the Muslim authorities at the site remain convinced the status quo is being slowly eroded by steady Jewish encroachment.

CHANGING TIMES?

In the past, said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of the Aqsa mosque, the Waqf was responsible for letting visitors into the compound. But since the mid-2000s, Israeli authorities have taken over. As a result, the Waqf says, more and more religious and ultra-nationalist Jews are visiting as tourists.

The Israeli government points out that only about 12,000 Jews visit the site each year, as against four million Muslims.

Figures from the Israeli police show a steady increase in Israeli Jewish visitors. Combined with that, groups that advocate more Jewish access to the site, and the rebuilding of a Jewish temple there, have become more organized in their efforts, casting it as an issue of religious freedom.

“If a religious war is to be avoided, it is up to Israel to enforce the rules,” Sheikh Kiswani told Reuters on Monday.

As well as the increased number of visitors, and the heavy presence of Israeli police and army units to protect them, the Waqf is angry at what it sees as clear efforts to pray.

Before ultra-nationalist or religious Jews enter the site, Israeli guards confiscate any prayer accoutrements they have. They are allowed in only in closely monitored groups of five or ten.

Some walk barefoot on the ancient marble stones in obeisance. Many walk backwards away from the holiest places, never withdrawing their gaze. Others carry mobile phones that they say display prayers on the screen.

While no one prays openly – they are warned and ejected by police if they do – the groups usually drift off into a grove of olive trees at the eastern edge of the compound where more secretive prayer is possible. Some have written on blogs about worshipping there, proud to have violated the rules.

“If they say prayers in their heads, how can we know?” said Nader Shaheen, a Waqf guard, who says he frequently sees Jews praying and is frustrated when the police do nothing.

As the group of Orthodox Jews came to the end of their visit on Monday, they stopped near the Dome of the Rock, close to where Jews believe the Ark of the Covenant once held the stone tablets of the ten commandments inscribed by God. They looked up silently, their faces fixed in concentration.

All around them, kept back by the police, Muslims crowded in, chanting loudly “Allahu-Akbar” (God is Greatest).

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Plenty of diplomacy but slim hope for new Middle East peace push http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/23/us-israel-palestinians-negotiations-idUSKCN0SH11N20151023?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/23/plenty-of-diplomacy-but-slim-hope-for-new-middle-east-peace-push/#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2015 10:35:03 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1254 JERUSALEM/VIENNA (Reuters) – Flare-ups in violence between Israel and the Palestinians have often accelerated peace efforts – the first intifada led into the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s and the second gave rise to the Arab and Geneva peace initiatives.

But the latest surge in violence, while barely a month old and less intense than past uprisings, comes at a time when the ability or willingness of all sides – Israeli, Palestinian and international partners such as the United States – to have another go at forging peace has rarely seemed more lacking.

Whereas politics has always underpinned the conflict, with its focus on land, borders and statehood, there is an added religious element to the latest turmoil that makes the situation more volatile and potentially even harder to resolve.

After three weeks in which Palestinians have stabbed or shot dead nine Israelis, and Israeli security forces have killed 50 Palestinians – half of them attackers, many of them teenagers – international efforts to quell the violence have picked up.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to the region this week, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and held further talks with King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman on Thursday.

Netanyahu went to Berlin to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Kerry was due to fly to Jordan on Friday to meet Abdullah and Abbas.

The revamped Middle East Quartet – bringing together the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the EU, as well as key Arab states – was also meeting in Vienna on Friday.

But the aim is mostly just to put a lid on the current violence and reinforce the status quo at Al-Aqsa, the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City that is a root of the violence.

There is no substantive talk of launching a new, comprehensive effort towards a two-state solution – an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel – especially so soon after the last, U.S.-backed attempt collapsed in early 2014 after nine months of largely fruitless discussion.

“It is absolutely critical to end all incitement, to end all violence and to find a road forward to build the possibility, which is not there today, for a larger process,” Kerry said on Thursday, acknowledging the absence of a broader horizon.

TO THE TABLE?

The crux of any peace effort is getting the chief actors – Israel and the Palestinians – to sit down with one another. That may sound simple but there is little incentive on either side at this point and, even if there were, it is not clear that either party could deliver what is required with popular support.

Netanyahu has said he is ready to sit down with Abbas at any time, but has also accused him of inciting the current violence and dismissed him as a peace interlocutor. Relations between the two have never been so sour.

Even if he were to agree to new negotiations, Netanyahu’s government has just a one-seat majority in parliament, with ultra-Orthodox and national-religious parties holding leverage over him. Any hint of a move in a direction unacceptable to them could lead to the collapse of his coalition.

After Netanyahu and Kerry met in Berlin on Thursday, one U.S. official expressed deep pessimism about the chances of any renewed, broader peace effort.

“There’s a million reasons (why not),” he said. “Look at (Netanyahu’s) coalition.”

Even getting Netanyahu to agree to elements that have been prerequisites for the launching of peace negotiations in the past, such as a halt on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank, would be likely to make his government collapse.

Abbas faces just as many obstacles to a return to peace talks. His popularity is rock bottom, with two-thirds of Palestinians wanting him to resign, according to a poll published last month.

When he came to power a decade ago, Abbas promised the Palestinian people he could deliver an independent state via peaceful means but he has not managed that. Part of what is fuelling anger among young Palestinians now is the sense that peace has failed and armed struggle is the only recourse.

“The (current) unrest,” said Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, “reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end.”

Even if Abbas were able to sit down for new talks, it is questionable whether he could deliver on behalf of all Palestinians and whether he would have a democratic mandate to do so. He was elected to a four-year term in 2005 yet remains in power 10 years on without new elections having been held.

He can speak for the Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, but Gaza is in the hands of Hamas, an Islamist group opposed to negotiations with Israel.

AFTER OBAMA

For the United States – for decades the critical outside actor pushing negotiations – the outlook is challenging too. There is a little over a year left of the Obama administration and it has already had one failed Middle East peace effort.

With conflict in Syria and much of Iraq, the Iran nuclear deal just getting underway, Saudi Arabia battling in Yemen and NATO-ally Turkey facing a host of threats, there is more than enough going on in the region to demand attention.

In the past, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been something of a “legacy” issue that U.S. presidents tackle in their second terms – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had a go. For Obama, that window is closing and the legacy is more likely to rest on the Iran deal or a domestic issue such as healthcare.

The failure of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, the 2003 Geneva Initiative and the 2002 Arab peace initiative, re-endorsed in 2007, to bring permanent peace also acts as a deterrent for all sides to re-engage in peace negotiations. 

The idea propounded by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the problems of Islamist extremism had their root in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – solve one and you help resolve the wider Middle East – has fallen by the wayside as groups like Islamic State have cut a swathe across the region.

While the European Union, and the Quartet, would like to play a bigger role in shaping Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the United States remains the critical driver. But its willingness to get back in the front seat is lacking.

U.S. officials also point out the poor personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. Netanyahu would rather bide his time and wait for the next administration.

If Democrat Hillary Clinton becomes president, he will expect a more sympathetic ear. If a Republican is elected, he would be likely to see it as an even better scenario.

(Writing by Luke Baker, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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Netanyahu stirs up trouble with Muslim Holocaust comments http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2015/10/21/netanyahu-stirs-up-trouble-with-muslim-holocaust-comments/ http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/21/netanyahu-stirs-up-trouble-with-muslim-holocaust-comments/#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2015 13:50:57 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1249 (Haj Amin al-Husseini)

(Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler in the latter’s chancellery in Berlin, 28 November 1941.  The original caption said “The Führer, in the presence of Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, receives the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Sayid Amin al Husseini, for a cordial discussion important to the future of the Arab countries”. German Federal Archives/Heinrich Hoffmann)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked controversy on Wednesday, hours before a visit to Germany, by saying the former Muslim elder in Jerusalem convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews.

In a speech to the Zionist Congress late on Tuesday, Netanyahu referred to a series of attacks by Muslims against Jews in Palestine during the 1920s that he said were instigated by the then Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Husseini famously flew to visit Hitler in Berlin in 1941, and Netanyahu said that meeting was instrumental in the Nazi leader’s decision to launch a campaign to annihilate the Jews.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said in the speech. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’

“‘So what should I do with them?'” Netanyahu said Hitler asked the mufti, who responded: “Burn them.”

Netanyahu, whose father was an eminent historian, was quickly harangued by opposition politicians and experts on the Holocaust who said he was distorting the historical record.

Palestinian officials said Netanyahu appeared to be absolving Hitler of the murder of six million Jews in order to lay the blame on Muslims. Twitter was awash with criticism.

“It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews,” Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s secretary general, said.

“Mr Netanyahu should stop using this human tragedy to score points for his political end,” said Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with the Israelis.

A German government spokesman, asked about Netanyahu’s comments, said the Holocaust was Germany’s responsibility and there was no need for another view on it.

Responding to the criticism, Netanyahu said on Wednesday there was “much evidence” to back up his accusations against Husseini, including testimony by a deputy of Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust, at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War Two.

Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office, did not name the aide, but he seemed to be referring to Eichmann assistant Dieter Wisliceny, who has been quoted in news reports dating back to the late 1940s as having told the war crimes court that Husseini repeatedly suggested the extermination of European Jews to Nazi leaders.

Even Netanyahu’s defence minister, close ally Moshe Yaalon, said the prime minister had got it wrong.

“It certainly wasn’t (Husseini) who invented the Final Solution,” Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio. “That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself.”

It is not clear what sources Netanyahu was relying on for his comments. A 1947 book “The Mufti of Jerusalem” and a newspaper report at the time said a former Hitler deputy had testified at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that Husseini had plotted with the Nazi leader to rid Europe of its Jews.

Husseini was sought for war crimes but never appeared at the Nuremberg proceedings and later died in Cairo.

HISTORICAL RECORD

But the point several historians made was that Netanyahu was distorting timelines and drawing false conclusions.

The meeting between Husseini and Hitler in Berlin took place on November 28, 1941. More than two years earlier, in January 1939, Hitler had addressed the Reichstag and talked clearly about his determination to exterminate the Jewish race.

“To say that the mufti was the first to mention to Hitler the idea to kill or burn the Jews is not correct,” Dina Porat, a professor at Tel Aviv University and the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, told Israel Radio.

“The idea to rid the world of the Jews was a central theme in Hitler’s ideology a long, long time before he met the mufti.”

Porat and others pointed out that the murder of the Jews began in June 1941. Even if the mufti wanted the Final Solution to be expanded, he wasn’t the one who came up with the idea.

“For somebody who knows something about history and grew up in the house of historian Professor Benzion Netanyahu, he should know well,” Porat said of the prime minister. “But in my humble opinion, to say that the mufti gave Hitler the idea is wrong.”

via Netanyahu stirs up trouble with Muslim Holocaust comments | Reuters.

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Israel’s Netanyahu stirs trouble by linking late Muslim leader to Holocaust http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/21/israel-netanyahu-hitler-idUSL8N12L2X920151021?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/21/israels-netanyahu-stirs-trouble-by-linking-late-muslim-leader-to-holocaust/#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2015 13:18:56 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1251 JERUSALEM, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu provoked a Holocaust controversy on
Wednesday, hours before a visit to Germany, by saying that the
Muslim elder in Jerusalem during the 1940s convinced Adolf
Hitler to exterminate the Jews.

In a speech to the Zionist Congress late on Tuesday,
Netanyahu referred to a series of Muslim attacks on Jews in
Palestine during the 1920s that he said were instigated by the
then-Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Husseini famously flew to visit Hitler in Berlin in 1941,
and Netanyahu said that meeting was instrumental in the Nazi
leader’s decision to launch a campaign to annihilate the Jews.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he
wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said in the speech. “And
Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel
them, they’ll all come here (Palestine).’

“‘So what should I do with them?'” Netanyahu said Hitler
asked the mufti, who responded: “Burn them.”

Netanyahu, whose father was an eminent historian, was
quickly harangued by opposition politicians and experts on the
Holocaust who said he was distorting the historical record.

They noted the meeting between Husseini and Hitler took
place on November 28, 1941. More than two years earlier, in
January 1939, Hitler had addressed the Reichstag, Nazi Germany’s
parliament, and spoke clearly about his determination to
exterminate the “Jewish race”.

“To say that the mufti was the first to mention to Hitler
the idea to kill or burn the Jews is not correct,” Dina Porat, a
professor at Tel Aviv University and the chief historian of Yad
Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, told Israel Radio.

“The idea to rid the world of the Jews was a central theme
in Hitler’s ideology a long, long time before he met the mufti.”

It is not clear why Netanyahu decided to launch into the
issue now, but his remarks came with tensions between Israelis
and Palestinians at a new peak, particularly over a Jerusalem
holy site overseen by the current mufti.

A German government spokesman, asked about Netanyahu’s
comments, said the Holocaust was Germany’s responsibility and
there was no need for another view on it.

NETANYAHU HITS BACK

Responding to the criticism, Netanyahu said on Wednesday
there was “much evidence” to back up his accusations against
Husseini, including testimony by a deputy of Adolf Eichmann, an
architect of the Holocaust, at the Nuremberg war crimes trials
after World War Two.

Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office, did not name
the aide, but he seemed to be referring to Eichmann assistant
Dieter Wisliceny, who has been quoted in news reports dating
back to the late 1940s as having told the war crimes court that
Husseini repeatedly suggested the extermination of European Jews
to Nazi leaders.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine
Liberation Organization, accused Netanyahu of using the human
tragedy of the Holocaust to try to score political points
against Palestinians.

“It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli
government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to
absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf
Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews,” Erekat said.

Netanyahu dismissed any such notion.

“It’s absurd. I had no intention of absolving Hitler of his
satanic responsibility for the annihilation of European Jewry.
Hitler is the one who made the decision,” he said.

But he added: “At the same time, it is absurd to ignore the
role the mufti … played in encouraging and motivating Hitler”
and other Nazi leaders to take such action.

Husseini was sought for war crimes but never appeared at the
Nuremberg trials, and later died in Beirut.

Netanyahu’s defence minister, close ally Moshe Yaalon, said
the prime minister had got it wrong. “It certainly wasn’t
(Husseini) who invented the Final Solution,” he told Israel’s
Army Radio. “That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself.”

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in
Jerusalem and Noah Barkin in Berlin; Writing by Luke Baker;
Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Wave of unrest leaves Palestinian president with no good choices http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/20/us-israel-palestinians-abbas-idUSKCN0SE1VA20151020?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/20/wave-of-unrest-leaves-palestinian-president-with-no-good-choices/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 14:16:13 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1244 JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – A three-week-old uprising by knife-wielding, Internet-generation teenagers against Israelis has left 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas looking like yesterday’s man, unable either to oppose the violence or openly endorse it.

Having promised the Palestinian people when he came to power a decade ago that he could bring about an independent state through peaceful means, he now finds himself sitting on top of a wave of unrest he did not call for but cannot easily stop without further eroding his crumbling popularity.

With 67 years separating him from the youngest knife attacker, it is hard enough for Abbas to tap into the frustrations driving a new generation connected by Facebook and WhatsApp. But he also faces threats from without.

Palestinian police under his command may still be coordinating with Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses Abbas of inciting the violence and vilifies him on a daily basis.

Meanwhile Hamas, the Islamist group based in Gaza, is actively encouraging a new Palestinian uprising, or intifada, bolstering its popularity and potentially outflanking Abbas’s Fatah party, which has seen its support slide. If elections were held tomorrow, polls show Hamas would win them handily.

“This upsurge is mostly all bad for Abbas,” said Nathan Thrall, a senior Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Any change in confronting Israel is necessarily a weakening of Abbas and a strengthening of his Palestinian political opponents, both within Fatah and outside it.”

Almost every option the Palestinian president faces is fraught with difficulty.

If he were to throw his support fully behind the violence, it would be a repudiation of what he has stood for decades, shut off any chance of a return to negotiations with Israel towards independence and alienate world powers he has tried to win to the Palestinian cause.

If he denounces the violence full-throatedly, he risks being seen as a sell-out who has misread the mood and turned his back on the national cause. His popularity is already weak, with a poll last month showing two-thirds of Palestinians want him to resign.

Instead, he has been steering a middle course, using traditional language to praise “martyrs” killed by Israeli forces while condemning attacks like last week’s firebombing of a Jewish shrine. His position has disappointed Palestinians while continuing to enrage the Israelis.

Abbas may be hoping for international engagement to come to his rescue, with foreign leaders responding to the violence by pushing for a resurrection of the peace process, in limbo since the last U.S. push for talks collapsed last year.

OUTSIDE ATTENTION

“Abbas is half way up a tree,” said Talal Okal, a writer and political analyst based in Gaza. “He’s not at the top yet, but he’s waiting for the ladder, a ladder in the shape of international intervention, that will allow him to climb down.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in the region on Tuesday and will try to find ways to calm the violence. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Netanyahu in Germany on Wednesday or Thursday and Abbas in Jordan later in the week.

International attention is something Abbas covets. In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month he decried the lack of attention the Middle East conflict was getting, and he has tried to internationalize his cause by joining global bodies like the International Criminal Court.

If three weeks of violence, in which eight Israelis have been stabbed or shot dead and 42 Palestinians have been killed, including 19 assailants, prompts the world to reengage on a two-state solution, Abbas may feel something positive has emerged.

“Historically, diplomatic activity in this conflict has increased in response to violence,” said Thrall, pointing out that the main peace plans still being discussed were created during the second intifada, which lasted from 2000-2005.

“The U.S. is shifting from largely ignoring this conflict to sending the secretary of state to reinvest in dealing with it. That is something Abbas desires. But the risks that attend this upsurge are much greater for him than the potential benefits.”

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Viral video puts Israelis and Palestinians at sharp odds http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/15/us-israel-palestinians-videos-idUSKCN0S91RF20151015?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/15/viral-video-puts-israelis-and-palestinians-at-sharp-odds/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2015 14:08:05 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1242 JERUSALEM (Reuters) – To Palestinians, the video shows a 13-year-old boy being left to die in the street as Israelis shout abuse at him. To Israelis, it shows a teenage knife attacker bleeding as police keep angry locals back and wait for an ambulance.

The two minutes of amateur footage has become one of the most divisive videos to emerge from a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem, where clips of attacks are being shared at high speed on social media in what has been dubbed a smartphone intifada.

The problem, as with so much in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is about interpretation.

Palestinians watch the shaky video, with voices in Hebrew shouting “Die, son of a bitch”, and draw one set of conclusions that fuel anger and alarm. Israelis watch the same – and subsequent police CCTV footage showing the two Palestinian teenagers running through the streets with knives and attacking an Israeli boy – and come to totally different conclusions.

“Both sides are living in different dimensions,” said Daniel Nisman, an intelligence and security analyst who runs the Levantine Group. “You can have an incident happen and it’s interpreted in two completely different ways instantly.”

And it is also immediately shared with tens of thousands of people on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, where each community’s outrage is reinforced in an echo chamber, driving an ever-deeper wedge between the two sides.

The video in question shows 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a nearby Jewish settlement, with his legs twisted behind him and blood coming from his head after being hit by a car.

It was taken on Monday, minutes after two Israelis, including a boy on a bicycle, were stabbed outside a nearby shop. Israeli police have accused Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin of carrying out the attacks. The family has denied they did it.

The footage shows police keeping passersby back while abuse is shouted. After a minute or so, an ambulance arrives, although it is not immediately clear if Manasra is treated. At one point he sits up, but the police tell him to lie back down and they can be seen checking him for explosives. No knife is visible.

OUTRAGE ON BOTH SIDES

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders quickly expressed outrage, referring to the boy and his cousin as having been “executed” by Israel “in cold blood”.

Ahmed’s uncle told Reuters the boys had done nothing wrong, were not carrying knives and had gone to the area to rent video games. The boy was killed senselessly, he said.

In fact, Ahmed Manasra is still alive and is being treated in an Israeli hospital. His cousin was shot and killed by police at the scene. The Israeli boy stabbed remains in serious condition, while the second victim was lightly wounded.

Israel on Thursday released photographs showing Manasra sitting up in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, wearing green medical overalls and bandages around his head. In several of the pictures he is looking straight at the camera.

On Wednesday, two days after the first video emerged, Israeli police circulated closed-circuit TV footage showing the build up to the attack and the incident itself.

Two boys, one wearing the same t-shirt as Ahmed Manasra, can be seen chasing after a man with knives drawn. The man runs away and the boys turn towards some nearby shops. Another camera then captures them running along the street with knives drawn.

A third camera angle shows the moment they appear to stab the boy on the bicycle, and a fourth angle shows one of the stabbers running across the street before being shot by police.

CCTV DELAY

All the evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to the fact the teenage cousins carried out the stabbings has done little to quell Palestinian anger – the first video is still being watched much more than the CCTV footage.

Akram Attallah, a Palestinian political analyst who spoke before the CCTV images emerged, described the video of Manasra lying wounded as akin to the photograph of the Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Greece.

“It was provoking to the national dignity of every Palestinian and therefore an immediate response was inevitable,” he said, suggesting it may have spurred other attacks.

From Israel’s point of view, the way the videos of attacks are being distributed rapidly on social media, often whipping up a frenzy of anger, is a difficult phenomenon to counteract. Seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been killed in a two-week surge in violence.

“The Israeli side that has the CCTV footage showing the actual attack had to wait two days before putting it out because of internal investigations,” said Nisman. “By then, the damage had already been done. It’s too late.”

Abbas has not responded since the images of the boy alive in hospital were released. In online postings, many Palestinians have said they believe he is dead and a “martyr”. Asked for comment on Thursday, one Palestinian official said he now believed Ahmed was alive, but was still not convinced he and his cousin carried out the stabbings.

(Additional reporting by Nidal Almughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Luke Baker, editing by Peter Millership)

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On the line between East and West Jerusalem, tensions abound http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/14/us-israel-palestinians-jerusalem-idUSKCN0S81QO20151014?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/14/on-the-line-between-east-and-west-jerusalem-tensions-abound/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2015 14:00:49 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1240 JERUSALEM (Reuters) – In the narrow corners of Jerusalem, where Jewish neighborhoods abut Palestinian ones, apprehension ran deep on Wednesday as Israel authorized the police to block access from Arab areas after a two-week wave of violence.

The hilly backstreets that twist around the eastern, predominantly Arab half of the city were quieter than normal, as were the streets on the western, Jewish side, where several knife and car attacks have taken place since Oct. 1.

Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a 1967 war, declaring it part of its “united capital”. But politics, religion and an invisible seamline continue to divide the two sectors of the holy city.

“You can’t shut this street down. I have Jewish and Arab customers,” said Ammar, who helps run a falafel and kubbeh restaurant on Abu Rabi’a street in Jabel Mukabar, 20 feet from Meir Nakar street in the Jewish district of Talpiyot Mizrah.

Across the road from the restaurant, on a raised plateau protected by a fence, stood two Israeli policemen, one an Arab Christian, the other a Druze, watching closely from the shade of an umbrella. Two stun grenades hung from the awning.

“It’s quiet for now,” said one of them, wearing a stab vest and carrying a riot helmet by his side. “But you never know.”

Down the street, a handful of Israelis waiting at a bus stop said they were nervous after the surge of violence, in which seven Israelis and 30 Palestinians, including children and assailants, have been killed – the worst unrest in years.

A little further away, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men dressed in black hats and coats in the warm sunshine peered through a gap in the fence down towards the Arab neighborhood.

DIVIDED CITY

At a meeting that ended in the early hours of Wednesday, Israel’s security cabinet agreed measures to try to combat the violence, including allowing the police to close off Arab districts if deemed necessary and revoking residency rights of Palestinians who carry out attacks.

Israeli security specialists called the threatened closures – which would be the most severe restrictions imposed in Jerusalem in a decade – unworkable, saying it was impossible to fully cut off Arab areas and risked further fuelling tension.

Palestinians condemned the security steps as collective punishment. They want East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state that includes Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

In a city of more than 800,000 people – around 65 percent Jewish and 35 percent Palestinian – sealing off the Arab areas is not only a logistical challenge but economically problematic. A large number of Palestinians work in the west, as bus drivers, in bakeries, hotels, shops and petrol stations.

In all, the virtual seamline runs for about 12 km (7 miles), from the district of Beit Hanina in the north, around the edges of the walled Old City, and down to Jabel Mukabar and Sur Baher in the south.

“I don’t think the Israeli government would be stupid enough to do it,” said Mustafa, 47, a father of five who lives in Abu Tor, a mixed neighborhood on the dividing line. “It’s like shooting yourself in the leg – it would kill the economy.”

He shook his head, hoping the wave of violence would pass and the closures wouldn’t end up being fully imposed.

“They tried it in the first intifada, but it only made things worse,” he said, referring to a Palestinian uprising that took place from 1987-1993. “Not again.”

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Behind surge in Palestinian-Israeli attacks, angry youth and women http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/13/us-israel-palestinians-uprising-idUSKCN0S71Q320151013?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/2015/10/13/behind-surge-in-palestinian-israeli-attacks-angry-youth-and-women/#comments Tue, 13 Oct 2015 16:06:08 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/luke-baker/?p=1234 JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The teenage Palestinian girls helping to carry rocks to the frontlines of stone-throwing protests in Ramallah have their nails brightly painted, are dressed in tight jeans and carry the latest smartphones in their fashionable handbags.

“My family does not know I am here,” said one young girl, a high-school student in Ramallah, where daily, almost ritualistic clashes have taken place with Israeli paramilitary police over the past two weeks, as a growing wave of violence has swept throughout Israel, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

The stone-throwing, stabbings and shootings – in which seven Israelis and 27 Palestinians, including nine alleged attackers and eight children, have died – have prompted comparisons with previous Palestinian uprisings in the 1980s and early 2000s, even if the violence is not yet equivalent.

But what marks the current wave of turmoil out from earlier eras is the fact that the knifings and attacks on police are mostly being carried out by teenagers, female as well as male, without political ties or apparent coordination from above.

“I came here after I saw on television what happens at Al-Aqsa,” the Ramallah student said, talking through a gap in the black-and-white keffiyeh wrapped around her face and collecting stones to take to the young men at the head of the fighting.

Others, most of them students at nearby Birzeit university who come to join the stone-throwing after class, echoed her words on Al-Aqsa, the holy site in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City that has become a rallying cry for angry, hope-drained Palestinians determined to challenge Israel.

“We want the occupation to end and we want violations against Al-Aqsa to end,” said an MBA student standing nearby, a young man masked by a keffiyeh and using a sling shot to hurl stones at the Israeli forces some 200 meters away.

SMARTPHONE INTIFADA

The people who began using knives in sporadic but almost daily attacks this month have been described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “lone wolves”, their anger ignited by Facebook postings and shared on social media, making it almost impossible to predict who will strike next.

Mohammed Halabi, a 19-year-old law student from Ramallah, wrote on his Facebook page hours before stabbing dead two Israelis in the Old City: “Defending Al-Aqsa … is our honor and defending it by all means and forms is legal.”

In an attack on Monday, Israeli police said two Palestinian boys, a 13-year-old and his 15-year-old cousin, stabbed two Israeli boys in a settlement to the north of Jerusalem. One attacker was shot dead and other hit with a car and wounded.

Some of the assailants are so young they were not even born when the last uprising, or intifada, broke out in September 2000. They are a generation that has grown up on failed efforts towards Middle East peace, is angry with its own leadership and is losing faith in the prospect of a Palestinian state.

In the absence of any negotiations towards a two-state solution to the conflict – the last talks with Israel collapsed in April 2014 – Al-Aqsa has taken on a national symbolism beyond its religious significance for all Muslims.

Walls in Gaza are spray-painted with images of the mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock at the center of the compound, Islam’s third holiest shrine. The area is also revered by Jews, who call it Temple Mount, the site of two ancient temples and the holiest place in Judaism.

Anger over Al-Aqsa is fueled by the perception among many Palestinians that Jewish groups are being given freer rein to visit the site and frequently try to pray there, despite non-Muslim prayer being banned since the 12th century.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he has no intention of changing the status quo, but his reassurances have done little to calm Palestinian anger. Every perceived violation is quickly shared on social media, creating an echo-chamber of outrage.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 80, appears to have been caught off-guard by the disparate, Internet-generation nature of the violence. While he has used traditional language to praise “martyrs” killed by Israeli forces, sources say he has also urged Palestinian media to stop glorifying attacks and replaying video of violent incidents.

HISTORY ALL OVER

With its stone-throwing, the current violence mirrors the first Palestinian uprising that ran from 1987-1993, before the Oslo peace accords brought some calm to the region. But in its focus on Al-Aqsa, today’s unrest is more like the second uprising, often called the Al-Aqsa intifada.

That unrest began shortly after Israel’s then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, visited Temple Mount in 2000 and ended five years later, after a campaign of suicide bombings of cafes and buses had left 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians dead.

Since 2003, Israel has built a vast steel and concrete barrier cutting most of the West Bank off from Israel and East Jerusalem. While thousands of Palestinians cross the barrier every day for work, checks and searches are common and smuggling a car bomb or other bulky weaponry is significantly harder.

As a result, the violence now has mostly been carried out with easy-to-conceal knives and screwdrivers. While there are signs of a shift in tactics – there was a shooting on Tuesday and a suspected car bombing attempt on Sunday – Palestinian media are referring to it as the knife intifada.

Many of the latest assailants are residents of East Jerusalem, who are able to travel without restrictions because Israel regards that area as an integral part of the country.

Two elements remain the same: Israelis are again living in fear and panic, and Palestinians seem despairing at the failure of peace efforts and the sense that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and settlement building, will never end.

“Negotiations have gone nowhere, they are pointless,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a veteran statehood campaigner. “The Palestinian leadership has lost support. The Palestinian electorate is very frustrated… There is a loss of hope.”

Even so, some Palestinians question where the current wave of violence will lead.

“This is not an intifada, for an intifada to continue there should be a leadership to conduct it,” said Khamis Anabtawi, a man in his 20s watching the stone-throwing in Ramallah.

“There must be an armed intifada. If the situation remains as stone throwing only and nobody helps organize the youth or takes care of the wounded it will not last long.”

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in GAZA, writing by Luke Baker; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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