Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is Israel's Mossad Targeting Iran's Nuclear Scientists?

The Iranian nuclear expert assassinated in Tehran on Monday was the top scientist and senior manager of Iran's nuclear effort. Majid Shahriari was killed when an explosive charge placed in his car was detonated by remote control after he climbed into the vehicle, according to a Western intelligence expert with knowledge of the operation.
The assassination carried the signature of Israel's Mossad, which has carried out similar operations on foreign soil over the decades. Typically, a team of agents reconnoiters the target and his routines over a period of months, assessing vulnerabilities and opportunities to escape afterward. Most of the operatives are usually on their way out of the country by the time the charge is detonated by a member who sees the target enter the booby-trapped car. "It's like a suit," says the intelligence expert. "An assassination must be custom-made." (See how Israel is pressing for a tougher U.S. line against Iran.)
Only political appointees ranked higher than Shahriari in Iran's nuclear effort. His death dealt a double blow to the Iranian nuclear program. The most immediate cost was the loss of operational expertise and detailed knowledge of an effort that has gone on for decades. But his death also brought home to every other scientist the risk of remaining in their line of work.
Like other senior nuclear scientists, Shahriari had been assigned bodyguards, according to Parviz Davoodi, head of Shahid Beheshti University, where Shahriari lectured on physics and held a position on the faculty of the department of nuclear engineering. Speaking to the Iranian press, the university president, who earlier served as Vice President under Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, noted that security must be improved. (See the top 10 Ahmadinejad-isms.)
A second nuclear scientist escaped alive from a similar attack the same day. Fereydoun Abbasi was being driven to work, according to Iranian media reports, and may have escaped death because a bodyguard was at the wheel. Abbasi is an adviser to the Defense Ministry and a professor at Imam Hossein University, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Contrary to the account given to TIME, Iranian officials insisted that motorcycles figured in both incidents, with riders attaching explosives to the exteriors of the cars. "In the second incident, the driver noticed the motorbike approaching and he distanced from it - that is why the explosion did not damage his car so badly," said Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia, according to the Fars news agency. (See pictures of terror in Tehran.)
Ahmadinejad blamed the attacks on the U.S. and Israel, referring to the latter as "the Zionist entity." In Israel, which regards Iran's nuclear ambitions as an existential threat, the news media made the same assumption, offering asides about the attacks in news stories announcing the appointment of a new head of Mossad. The daily Israel Hayom observed that Mossad's director, Meir Dagan, "will be leaving an organization that is far sharper and more operational than the organization he received, and all of the accusations from Tehran yesterday are a good indication of that. Iran will be the focal point for the next Mossad director too."
Among Dagan's known triumphs is the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the senior Hizballah official responsible for a series of terrorism attacks, including the 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed more than 350 people. Mughniyeh perished in Damascus from the detonation of explosives hidden in the driver's headrest of his car. In response to the terrorism attacks on Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics, Israel killed a series of Palestinian militants in the succeeding years. Among the victims was Muhammad Boudia, who died after an explosive placed under the driver's seat of his Renault was detonated by remote control on a Paris street in 1973.

Agenda of Islam A War Between Civilizations There is no fundamental Islam, By Professor Moshe Sharon, Professor of Islamic History, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

The war has started a long time ago between two civilizations - between the civilization based on the Bible and between the civilization based on the Koran. And this must be clear.
There is no fundamental Islam.

MEMRI: Palestinian Officials: Western Wall Is Islamic Waqf, We Won't Give It Up A Single Stone

Palestinian officials have condemned the decision by the Israeli government to renovate the Western Wall plaza.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that the Wall is part of occupied eastern Jerusalem and that its historic, cultural, and religious characteristics must not be changed.
PA Deputy Information Minister Al-Mutawakkil Taha stated in a study he published that the Wall is Islamic Waqf and an integral part of Al-Aqsa mosque, that the Jews have no historical religious ties to it, and that not a single stone or grain of soil from it or from the other holy sites can be relinquished.
Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Sheikh Muhammad Hussein said that Al-Aqsa mosque belongs to the Muslims alone and that the occupation will not manage to plunder the Arab and Islamic identity of Jerusalem.

NYT: Western Wall Feud Heightens Israeli-Palestinian Tensions

JERUSALEM — The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday strongly denounced a Palestinian Authority paper that denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall, the iconic holy site and place of Jewish worship in the Old City of Jerusalem, describing the report as “reprehensible and scandalous.”
The episode appeared to signal a worsening atmosphere after a two-month hiatus in peace talks.
Mr. Netanyahu’s statement referred to a long article that appeared in Arabic on Monday on the Information Ministry Web site of the Western-backed Palestinian government, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank. Its publication was previously reported by The Jerusalem Post.
Jerusalem and its holy sites are one of the most intractable and emotional issues of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Israel conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Jordan in the 1967 war, and annexed it in a move that was never internationally recognized. About 200,000 Jews live in areas of East Jerusalem that have been developed since 1967, among about a quarter-million Palestinians. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the retaining wall of a plateau revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the site where their ancient temples once stood. The plateau is also the third holiest site in Islam. Known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the compound now includes Al Aksa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.
In Muslim tradition, the wall is the place where the Prophet Muhammad tethered his winged steed, Buraq, during his miraculous overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem in the seventh century.
The Palestinian paper denying any Jewish historical connection with the site was written by Al-Mutawakel Taha, an Information Ministry official. In it, he stated that “the Al Buraq Wall is the western wall of Al Aksa, which the Zionist occupation falsely claims ownership of and calls the Wailing Wall or Kotel.”
Palestinian officials have often denied claims of Jewish heritage in Jerusalem, arguing that there is no evidence that the plateau was the site of ancient temples.
In the principles for a peace accord laid out by President Bill Clinton in late 2000 after the failure to reach a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement at Camp David, the suggestion was for Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif and Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, with mutual consent needed for any excavation in the area.
Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, proposed in his talks with Mr. Abbas in 2008 that the holy sites in and around the Old City be administered by an international trusteeship made up of Israel, the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United States. Mr. Olmert, who left office in early 2009, says that he got no response.
Mr. Netanyahu has insisted on continued Jewish building in the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, like all Israeli governments since 1967, but he has not spelled out his intentions regarding the future status of the city since taking office.
The unofficial competition for control of Jerusalem takes place stone by stone and house by house. On Tuesday, Jewish activists moved into a building they had acquired in Jebel Mukaber, a predominantly Arab neighborhood overlooking the Old City and its holy shrines, and on Wednesday another group of Jewish activists moved into an apartment on the Mount of Olives, in a Palestinian neighborhood, A-Tur.
Mr. Taha’s paper appeared on his ministry’s Web site a day after the Israeli government approved a $23 million five-year project to renovate and develop the Western Wall Plaza and its environs.
Mr. Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office, said the Western Wall “has been the Jewish people’s most sacred place for almost 2,000 years, since the destruction of the Second Temple.” He added that the Palestinian Authority’s denial of a Jewish link “calls into serious question its intentions of reaching a peace agreement, the foundations of which are coexistence and mutual recognition.”
Mr. Netanyahu called on the authority’s leaders to disavow the document. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.
But in another indication of the strained atmosphere, the Palestinian government issued a statement titled “Israeli crimes of destruction,” listing Israeli actions in Jerusalem and Israel’s demolition in recent days of numerous Palestinian structures that were built without permits in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank.

ISRAEL MINISTRY OF TOURISM RELAUNCHES CHANUKAH WEBSITE Website visitors can light candles, learn about Israel and win free trips

To mark the upcoming Chanukah holiday, which begins on the evening of December 1, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is relaunching its popular Chanukah microsite which first launched in 2009, where visitors can log on and light virtual candles for each night of the eight-day holiday, also known as the "Festival of Lights." The site was developed last year to gauge the interest of online users. The site was an overwhelming hit and has been expanded in 2010. The Chanukah website was developed in cooperation with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and will go live on December 1, 2010.

Jerusalem must remain undivided -- and Palestinians must stop pretending it's an obstacle to peace BY Nathan Diament

Jerusalem, the historic capital of Israel, should not be an impediment to Mideast peace. But thanks to the current intransigence of Palestinian leaders, that is precisely what it has become.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in November 2009 to coax Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table, Israel stated clearly that construction in Jerusalem would continue. Despite this important caveat, Special Envoy George Mitchell lauded the move as "substantial" and Secretary of State Clinton called it "unprecedented."
Even now, as the Obama administration described the recently announced building projects in the Har Homa and Ramot neighborhoods as "counterproductive" through Clinton, it acknowledges that more construction in Jerusalem is inevitable. It has done so by exempting Jerusalem from a proposed 90-day extension of Israel's prior settlement freeze.
Yet the Palestinians demand a total freeze in Jerusalem as a precondition for talks. This is a new demand. Construction in Jerusalem has never been an impediment to peace or peace negotiations. Historic agreements were reached with both Egypt and Jordan despite ongoing construction in the city. While cement trucks rolled through Jerusalem, indirect talks were held with Syria in 2008. More than 15 years of construction in Jerusalem went on while Israel held meaningful peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
The simple reason is that previous Arab negotiators understood reality. Jerusalem is not a settlement and will forever remain the undivided capital of Israel - every prime minister dating back to 1967, including Golda MeirYitzhak Rabinand Ehud Barak, has held to this policy. This also happens to be the policy and goal of the United States, as described by multiple measures and resolutions passed by Congress.
Jerusalem enjoys this status for historic and religious reasons, but also because dividing a city never works. No city in all of recorded history has been cleaved into two halves without damaging the whole. This is the assessment of experts in the fields of public planning and urban design. Their scholarship indicates that a divided city faces daunting challenges from a social, civic and economic perspective.
Without fail, divided cities suffer either intense economic stagnation or general atrophy. It is frankly unimaginable that this prime minister, or any responsible prime minister for that matter, would allow the city to falter in such a way on his watch.
And a divided capital would not only be worse for Jews, it would be worse for the Palestinians. Today, the Palestinians living within Jerusalem's municipal area enjoy the benefits of free movement and access to Israeli work and services. Such rights would likely disappear under Palestinian rule. Indeed, in a July 2010 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, only 52% of Palestinians living in Jerusalem support Palestinian sovereignty over eastern portions of the city.
While we support a two-state solution that guarantees Israel's security and Jewish character, the choices required to bring us to that point must be grounded in reality. To keep Jerusalem growing socially and economically in the 21st century and beyond, the city must be unified under a single flag that recognizes and guarantees the rights of all its citizens.
It is time for the U.S. government to make that point clear - rather than continuing to equate building in Jerusalem with building elsewhere in disputed land.
For the Palestinians, relenting on Jerusalem will be a painful compromise, but no more painful than the litany of compromises the Israelis are already willing to make. At some point during any successful peace negotiations, the Palestinian leadership will have to choose between an opportunity to build a Palestinian state, or pursuing a weak and unrealistic claim to Israel's capital.
Diament is director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Israelis built national carrier office: reports Iran outraged as Star of David revealed on airport

A satellite image of Tehran airport taken by Google Earth service outraged Iranian government officials as the Star of David appeared on the roof of the headquarters of the national carrier Iran Air.

The Iranian became angry when local media reported Saturday the discovery of a Google Earth image that shows the Star of David on top of the main building of the Airline of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also known as Iran Air, and called for its instant removal, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported Sunday.
As speculations rose about the presence of the Zionist symbol in the Islamic republic that has severed all ties with Israel since the 1979 revolution, Iranian media explained that the Iran Air building was, in fact, constructed by Israeli engineers during the time of Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi.

Amid calls for removing the symbol, several local media reports focused on the close ties that existed between Israel and the pre-revolution government.

According to the reports, not only did the government of the Shah hire Israeli engineers to build the headquarters of the national airliner, but starting 1960 regular flights were scheduled between Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

The reports added that Israel also sold weapons to the army of the Shah in return for oil and that there were training programs between both countries where Israeli experts trained Iranians in agriculture and trade.

This is not the first time that the Star of David stirs outrage in Iran, as it was spotted in August on top of one of the buildings in Tehran’s Revolution Square. The square itself had hundreds of Stars of David, in what local media viewed as a symbol of evil trying to destroy the heart of the Islamic republic.

The presence of such a large number of stars stirred confusion amongst Iranians as the media wondered what made the person who designed the square draw the symbol of the Hebrew state.

An article in a local news website raised the question of whether the designer was ignorant of the symbol altogether or was too indifferent to think of its political associations.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 29, 1947: The Story of a Vote

 On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1947, Abba Eban and the Jewish Agency delegation to the UN were concerned that the Zionists did not have enough support to pass the Partition Plan.
    Rodriguez Fabraget, Uruguay's UN delegate, kindly obliged Abba Eban's request for a filibuster that succeeded in postponing the vote until after Thanksgiving, to give them enough time to secure the requisite two-thirds majority to approve the establishment of a Jewish state.
    This is the story of the November 29, 1947, UN vote for the Partition of Palestine, when 20 centuries of Jewish homelessness came to an end.

Mystery Surrounds Cyber Missile That Crippled Iran's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

In the 20th century, this would have been a job for James Bond.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn't get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran's nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they've all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department's acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.

And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace.

That is what we are learning happened at Iran's nuclear facilities -- both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran's nuclear power plant.

At Natanz, for almost 17 months, Stuxnet quietly worked its way into the system and targeted a specific component -- the frequency converters made by the German equipment manufacturer Siemens that regulated the speed of the spinning centrifuges used to create nuclear fuel. The worm then took control of the speed at which the centrifuges spun, making them turn so fast in a quick burst that they would be damaged but not destroyed. And at the same time, the worm masked that change in speed from being discovered at the centrifuges' control panel.

At Bushehr, meanwhile, a second secret set of codes, which Langner called “digital warheads,” targeted the Russian-built power plant's massive steam turbine.

Here's how it worked, according to experts who have examined the worm:
--The nuclear facility in Iran runs an “air gap” security system, meaning it has no connections to the Web, making it secure from outside penetration. Stuxnet was designed and sent into the area around Iran's Natanz nuclear power plant -- just how may never be known -- to infect a number of computers on the assumption that someone working in the plant would take work home on a flash drive, acquire the worm and then bring it back to the plant.

--Once the worm was inside the plant, the next step was to get the computer system there to trust it and allow it into the system. That was accomplished because the worm contained a “digital certificate” stolen from JMicron, a large company in an industrial park in Taiwan. (When the worm was later discovered it quickly replaced the original digital certificate with another certificate, also stolen from another company, Realtek, a few doors down in the same industrial park in Taiwan.)

--Once allowed entry, the worm contained four “Zero Day” elements in its first target, the Windows 7 operating system that controlled the overall operation of the plant. Zero Day elements are rare and extremely valuable vulnerabilities in a computer system that can be exploited only once. Two of the vulnerabilities were known, but the other two had never been discovered. Experts say no hacker would waste Zero Days in that manner.

--After penetrating the Windows 7 operating system, the code then targeted the “frequency converters” that ran the centrifuges. To do that it used specifications from the manufacturers of the converters. One was Vacon, a Finnish Company, and the other Fararo Paya, an Iranian company. What surprises experts at this step is that the Iranian company was so secret that not even the IAEA knew about it.

--The worm also knew that the complex control system that ran the centrifuges was built by Siemens, the German manufacturer, and -- remarkably -- how that system worked as well and how to mask its activities from it.

--Masking itself from the plant's security and other systems, the worm then ordered the centrifuges to rotate extremely fast, and then to slow down precipitously. This damaged the converter, the centrifuges and the bearings, and it corrupted the uranium in the tubes. It also left Iranian nuclear engineers wondering what was wrong, as computer checks showed no malfunctions in the operating system.

Estimates are that this went on for more than a year, leaving the Iranian program in chaos. And as it did, the worm grew and adapted throughout the system. As new worms entered the system, they would meet and adapt and become increasingly sophisticated.

During this time the worms reported back to two servers that had to be run by intelligence agencies, one in Denmark and one in Malaysia. The servers monitored the worms and were shut down once the worm had infiltrated Natanz. Efforts to find those servers since then have yielded no results.
This went on until June of last year, when a Belarusan company working on the Iranian power plant in Beshehr discovered it in one of its machines. It quickly put out a notice on a Web network monitored by computer security experts around the world. Ordinarily these experts would immediately begin tracing the worm and dissecting it, looking for clues about its origin and other details.

But that didn’t happen, because within minutes all the alert sites came under attack and were inoperative for 24 hours.

“I had to use e-mail to send notices but I couldn’t reach everyone. Whoever made the worm had a full day to eliminate all traces of the worm that might lead us them,” Eric Byres, a computer security expert who has examined the Stuxnet. “No hacker could have done that.”

Experts, including inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, say that, despite Iran's claims to the contrary, the worm was successful in its goal: causing confusion among Iran’s nuclear engineers and disabling their nuclear program.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program, no one can be certain of the full extent of the damage. But sources inside Iran and elsewhere say that the Iranian centrifuge program has been operating far below its capacity and that the uranium enrichment program had “stagnated” during the time the worm penetrated the underground facility. Only 4,000 of the 9,000 centrifuges Iran was known to have were put into use. Some suspect that is because of the critical need to replace ones that were damaged.

And the limited number of those in use dwindled to an estimated 3,700 as problems engulfed their operation. IAEA inspectors say the sabotage better explains the slowness of the program, which they had earlier attributed to poor equipment manufacturing and management problems. As Iranians struggled with the setbacks, they began searching for signs of sabotage. From inside Iran there have been unconfirmed reports that the head of the plant was fired shortly after the worm wended its way into the system and began creating technical problems, and that some scientists who were suspected of espionage disappeared or were executed. And counter intelligence agents began monitoring all communications between scientists at the site, creating a climate of fear and paranoia.

Iran has adamantly stated that its nuclear program has not been hit by the bug. But in doing so it has backhandedly confirmed that its nuclear facilities were compromised. When Hamid Alipour, head of the nation’s Information Technology Company, announced in September that 30,000 Iranian computers had been hit by the worm but the nuclear facilities were safe, he added that among those hit were the personal computers of the scientists at the nuclear facilities. Experts say that Natanz and Bushehr could not have escaped the worm if it was in their engineers’ computers.

“We brought it into our lab to study it and even with precautions it spread everywhere at incredible speed,” Byres said.
“The worm was designed not to destroy the plants but to make them ineffective. By changing the rotation speeds, the bearings quickly wear out and the equipment has to be replaced and repaired. The speed changes also impact the quality of the uranium processed in the centrifuges creating technical problems that make the plant ineffective,” he explained.

In other words the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.

One additional impact that can be attributed to the worm, according to David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Studies, is that “the lives of the scientists working in the facility have become a living hell because of counter-intelligence agents brought into the plant” to battle the breach. Ironically, even after its discovery, the worm has succeeded in slowing down Iran's reputed effort to build an atomic weapon. And Langer says that the efforts by the Iranians to cleanse Stuxnet from their system “will probably take another year to complete,” and during that time the plant will not be able to function anywhere normally.

Allegations of West Bank torture increase

Naiema Abu Ayyash’s worst fears were confirmed this month when she finally managed to visit her husband in Jericho prison.
Badr Abu Ayyash, 42, a farmer and local politician in the west Bank, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security unit on September 14. Aside from two brief and apparently supervised phone calls, his family was denied all contact with him.
“He looked very different,” said Ms Abu Ayyash, a mother of four. “He could hardly walk. He had difficulty breathing and was very thin. When he shook my hand, I noticed that he had no strength at all.”
She has no doubt her husband was tortured. “I started screaming at the officer: ‘What are you doing to him?”’ Her pleas fell on deaf ears. After a few cursory exchanges, her husband was led back to his cell.
According to former inmates and activists familiar with Palestinian prisons, Ms Abu Ayyash has every reason to be worried. They say prisoners affiliated with the Islamist Hamas movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, are beaten regularly and deprived of medicine and basic comforts such as blankets and mattresses.

Internecine rivalry

The secular Fatah party and Islamist Hamas group are the two biggest and most influential political forces in the Palestinian national movement. They are also deadly rivals.
Hamas gunmen ousted the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in June 2007, leaving Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and PA president, with only the West Bank to govern.
In an attempt to cement control in their respective strongholds, both parties launched an often brutal crackdown on their rival.
Hamas and Fatah officials have met repeatedly over the past years to negotiate a reconciliation agreement, but have made little progress so far.
There is evidence that a significant number of detainees are tortured during interrogation. The most common form of abuse is known as Shabeh, in which detainees are handcuffed and bound in stress positions for long periods.
Claims of torture and abuse by members of the Palestinian security forces are not new. There has, however, been a sharp rise in reported cases, leading Human Rights Watch to remark last month that “reports of torture by Palestinian security forces keep rolling in”. The New York-based organisation also bemoaned the “rampant impunity” of officers allegedly involved in the abuses.
Many analysts and observers fear that life in the west Bank is taking on an increasingly authoritarian hue. “I feel real concern that we are reaching the level of a police state,” says Shawan Jabarin, the director of al-Haq, a Ramallah-based human rights group.
It is a concern shared by Randa Siniora, the director of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, the ombudsman responsible for processing complaints against Palestinian officials. Her commission received more complaints about torture in the west Bank in October than in any month since mid- 2009. “We are looking at a very gloomy situation,” she said. “I am afraid that this [problem of torture and abuse] will become systematic.”
Groups such as al-Haq, which once only documented human rights abuses by Israeli authorities, say they are spending an increasing amount of time on cases in which Palestinians abuse their fellow countrymen.
The deterioration is linked closely to a crackdown on Islamist activists and sympathisers after a deadly attack on Jewish West Bank settlers by Hamas gunmen in August. In an attempt to counter the renewed threat from Hamas, and keen to prove the PA capable of dealing forcefully with its rival, the authority’s General Intelligence and Preventive Security units rounded up more than 700 suspects.
Human rights groups say almost all were arrested without proper warrants and held, contrary to Palestinian law, without the assent of civilian judges or prosecutors. Many were denied access to lawyers and family members. In several dozen cases, including that of Mr Abu Ayyash, the Palestinian High Court of Justice ordered an immediate release – only for its decision to be either ignored or circumvented by the security apparatus.
For governments in Europe and North America, the worsening human rights situation poses a thorny political dilemma. Many of them provide generous financial support to the PA and regard Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, as an indispensable ally.
The US, fearing an Islamist takeover of the west Bank, has provided much of the training for Mr Fayyad’s security forces.
Some western diplomats say the harsh tactics will spark a popular backlash and undermine the PA. “This is of concern to us,” says one European diplomat. Human rights abuses threaten not only to “damage the long-term legitimacy and credibility of the Palestinian Authority” but raise difficult questions for donors: “If we are building a police state – what are we actually doing here?”
The PA dismisses much of the criticism as an “exaggeration”. Ghassan Khatib, director of the government media centre, concedes that there have been isolated cases of abuses but disputes the figures cited by al-Haq and others. “I am not trying to say there are no violations,” Mr Khatib argues. “But they are the exception, not the norm. They are against the orders. And whenever there are complaints we hold violators accountable.”
Diplomats and Palestinian activists say Mr Fayyad and his cabinet are keen to end the human rights violations. The problem, they believe, is that the prime minister lacks the authority to crack down on the two most problematic units – General Intelligence and Preventive Security – which have close ties to the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
Many argue that only concerted pressure by the US and the European Union, as well as joint action by Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad, can bring about lasting change. There have been some signs that donor countries are starting to raise human rights concerns more forcefully.
For Ahmad Salhab, any change will come too late. The 42-year-old former mechanic says he was tortured on two occasions by Palestinian security officers. Repeated application of Shabeh during detention in late 2008 had left him with torn spinal discs.
He was arrested again by Preventive Security officers on September 19 and later transferred to the same Jericho prison as Mr Abu Ayyash. Mr Salhab says he was held in solitary confinement, deprived of the medication he requires as a result of the earlier abuse and subjected again to Shabeh. His condition deteriorated so badly that he could neither walk nor stand upright.
“I had to eat lying on my back. I had to pray on my back and other inmates had to carry me to the toilet,” he says.
Mr Salhab was released on October 16 but had to spend 10 days in Hebron hospital before he could return home. Now he walks on crutches and has little hope of ever making a full recovery.
“I never broke the law. I never assaulted anybody,” he says. “In the past, nobody would have believed that the PA would torture its own people. But now everybody knows that they do not respect human rights.”

PMW: Group that sings about destruction of Israel named national band by Abbas

A song and dance group that has recently performed hate and violence promotion songs in the PA has been honored and turned into an official Palestinian national band by decree of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Among the performances that have been broadcast by the Alashekeen band on PA TV was a dance and song about conquering Israel through war. Israeli cities Lod and Ramle as well as Jerusalem are presented as Palestinian cities to be liberated through "Jihad" by Palestinians who have "replaced bracelets with weapons." The song says: "Pull the trigger" to "redeem Jerusalem, Nablus and the country." It also describes Israelis as "despicable" and says that "the Palestinian revolution awaits [them]."
The band's logo includes the Palestinian flag next to the map of Israel presented as "Palestine" covered by a Kafiya, the Arab scarf.

Palestinian Media Watch reported when this song was first broadcast on PA TV on Sept. 12, 2010:

"Fight, brother, the flag will never be lowered,
the torches will never die out."
On [Mt.] Carmel (in Israel) and in the [Jordan] Valley,
we are rocks and streams.
In Lod (Israeli city) we are poems, and in Ramle (Israeli city) - grenades.
We, my brother, shall remain the revolution of the fighting nation."

"The Zionists went out from [their] homelands,
compounding damage and enmity.
But the Palestinian revolution awaits [them].
The orchard called us to the [armed] struggle.
We replaced bracelets with weapons.
We attacked the despicable [Zionists].
This invading enemy is on the battlefield.
This is the day of consolation of Jihad.
Pull the trigger.
We shall redeem Jerusalem, Nablus and the country."
[PA TV (Fatah), Sept. 12, 2010]

This was the announcement in the PA daily:

"The Palestinian Alashekeen band discovered yesterday that President Mahmoud Abbas recently published a presidential decision to turn the band, established in 1978 in Damascus, into a [Palestinian] national institution. Director of the Alashekeen band, Maisa Harb, said that the President had approved the decision as part of the presidential directives which he had announced during a banquet which he held in honor of the members of the band...
The director of the band introduced her speech with gratitude to President Mahmoud Abbas for his interest in and admiration for the band."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Nov. 22, 2010]

Chazzan Shimon Leitner sings Elokai Neshomo from Yoselle Rosenblatt

Yaakov Shwekey: Live In Caesaria II... Kol Mevasser

Jews and Baseball An American Love Story

Menachem Herman performs the Beatles' song I Get By With A Little Help From Hashem! מנחם הרמן שר שיר של הביטלס עם מילים של אמונה

Candlelight - The Maccabeats - Chanukah Song Goes Viral On YouTube Over 1 Million Hits

New York - The Maccabeats, Yeshiva University’s fourteen man a capella group consisting of ten undergraduates and four alumni are on fire. Their Chanukah video, Candlelight, a remake of a popular secular song has gone viral with over 1 million hits on YouTube in just one week, with over 500,000 hits in the past 24 hours alone.
Candlelight has become so popular that it has been featured on CNN, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, The Huffington Times and is on both MTV’s and AOL’s home pages. The song was also played this morning on The Today Show and the Maccabeats have taped segments for both CBS and NBC News.
Featuring members of the Maccabeats in white dress shirt with black skinny ties against primary colored backgrounds, dressed in togas at Fort Tryon Park and enjoying a Chanukah party in the Manhattan apartment of a Fordham University law student, the video tells the story of Chanukah in three minutes and forty two seconds, amid latke flipping, jelly donut eating and dreidel spinning fun.
The songs was the brainchild of Fordham University law student Immanuel Shalev who was listening to the original song on his iPod one day when the words “I throw my latkes in the air” came into Shalev’s head. Sticking as close to the original song lyrics as possible, Shalev and co-lyricist David Block manage to tell the story of Chanukah without ever using the word “Chanukah” in the song at all.
“We never expected anything like this,” said Shalev in an exclusive interview with VIN News. “The Maccabeats follow Yeshiva University’s motto of Torah U’mada and while we do listen to secular music, we try to only do meaningful songs, bringing kodesh into the secular.”
The video was filmed by Uri Westrich who was a major force behind Candlelight, using his creativity and eye for detail to produce a top notch video. In fact, while the actual filming of the video took only four days, Westrich spent three weeks editing the video until the final cut was ready.
A behind the scenes video on YouTube offers a peek into the filming of the video, showing the brightly colored cloth backgrounds being taped to a whiteboard in Yeshiva University with silver duct tape, latkes being flipped in the air and ending up on the floor and toga clad Maccabeats in Crocs and sneakers chasing each other around Fort Tryon Park with swords.
Shalev confesses to being stunned by the success of the video, saying “We are just shell shocked and are trying to internalize what is going on here.”
But the most meaningful comment Shalev has received so far came from one viewer who said that after watching the video, he opened up a gemara and learned a daf of gemara, something he would not normally do.
“It is just insane,” said Shalev. “We never expected anything like this to happen.”
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Amish community asks forgiveness of Jews at Kotel; Representatives take highly unusual step of using modern transportation to make journey to the Holy Land; commit to loudly supporting Jews.

Representatives of the Amish community from the United States and Switzerland paid a visit to the Western Wall on Saturday night, where they asked the Jewish people’s forgiveness for their group’s silence during the Nazi extermination of Jews in the Holocaust.

Part of what made the visit special was that the Amish, a sect of the Mennonite Church that largely rejects modern technology, do not normally use contemporary forms of transportation such as the aircraft on which they made the journey to the Holy Land.

But according to an announcement issued by the office of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, with whom the group met, the Amish delegates saw great importance in coming to Israel and expressing their contrition, as well as declaring their unreserved support of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

The delegation members stressed that they were neither seeking any kind of gesture from the Jewish people nor looking to proselytize – only to support Israel for the simple reason that in the past they hadn’t.

Rabinovitch was presented with various tokens at a ceremony in the Hasmonean chamber, including a parchment with a request for forgiveness in the name of the entire Amish community, along with a commitment that from now on, it would loudly voice its support of the Jewish people, especially in the wake of the expressions of hatred by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his extensions.

The delegation left Israel on Sunday.