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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘army’

Who by the Sword, Who by Wild Beasts, Who by Hunger, Who by the Plague

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

In the supplemental prayer of The Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, we say these words almost mechanically, theoretically, because this is the text. But in Syria this is reality. The regime’s war against the citizens’ demonstrations, which began two years and seven months ago, has become a dirty, despicable and accursed war, where everyone is fighting everyone else. People from both sides have lost the likeness of man, thrown human values to the winds, lost any semblance of humanity, and have become predatory animals, (“and who by a wild beast”).

Assad’s army has besieged the eastern neighborhoods of Damascus because they serve as a corridor of passage to the capitol for the jihadists who come from Jordan and Iraq. In these neighborhoods in recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have been besieged, cut off from all sources of life: food, water, electricity, and from Asad’s point of view they might as well all die from starvation. These were the neighborhoods that suffered the great attack of chemical weapons on the 21st of August in which approximately 1500 people were killed, men, women and children. As a result of the hunger, a group of Muslim religious arbiters issued a ruling that allows the residents of these neighborhoods to eat cats, dogs and donkeys, in order to survive the siege and the starvation.

There are reports about places like Mu’adhamiyat al-Sham where there have been many cases of death by starvation because of the siege imposed on these places, in addition to cases when injured people have died because they did not receive treatment in time. In addition, there are places where diseases like cholera are rampant, which are caused by spoiled food, contamination of water and the environment, and from pests such as mice, rats, and snakes that multiply alarmingly in ghost towns and ruins of cities like Homs, Hama and Idlib.

Approximately seven million Syrians are destitute refugees in neighboring countries and within Syria. The approaching winter threatens to pose great harm to their health and their lives, as if the misery that people – if it is possible to call them people – have caused them was not bad enough. Because of the distress and poverty, the refugees do anything they can in order to live: the men work for pennies, and many women are forced to do unethical things in order to earn a piece of bread. Families sell their daughters in forced marriages, to get a handful of dinars and reduce the number of mouths that they must feed.

Asad’s army systematically refuses humanitarian aid organizations to operate in the besieged cities, claiming concern that the lives of the volunteers will be endangered by fire from the opposition. But soldiers of the opposition to the regime are not guiltless either: they fight with each other over ideological differences, mainly regarding the future of Syria: will it be a civil state or an Islamic state. In the city of Aleppo “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” is in control and the city is run by an Islamic court that imposes Islamic Shari’a by force of arm, whip and sword. Lately several tribes that live around Aleppo have announced that they have joined “The Islamic State” organization, in order to shelter in the shadow of the dominant force, and stay out of trouble.

The fact that children are present in the battle areas causes them severe emotional damage because of the terrible sights that they are exposed to. Children join the battle and take an active part in killing anyone who is thought to be an enemy. Asad’s militias, the “Shabiha”, are constantly on the lookout for the families of soldiers and officers who have deserted the army so that they can kill the men and abuse the women. In many cases they document and photograph this abuse to show it to those who are still serving, to discourage them from deserting.

This past month several dozens of jihad organizations operating in Syria came to the conclusion that the disagreements among them harm their fighting cause and strengthen Asad. This conclusion led dozens of organizations to put aside their differences and unify under an organizational umbrella by the name of “Jaysh al-Islam” – “The Army of Islam”. The other large organization – “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” – is considering joining the “Army of Islam”, and it may be that “Jabhat al-Nusra”, which blessed the consolidation with “The Army of Islam”, will also join in the future.

51 Dead in as Egyptians Celebrate 40th Anniversary of Yom Kippur War

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Deadly clashes erupted in Cairo on Sunday as pro-Morsi marches protesting the military junta rule headed to Tahrir Square, where thousands were cheering the same junta, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the army’s 1973 “victory” against Israel.

Confrontations there and outside Cairo resulted so far in the death toll rising to 51, according to Al Ahram, with 268 injured.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said security forces arrested 423 people during clashes in Cairo and Giza.

The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a coalition of Islamist forces supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi, said at least 11 had been killed in clashes with security forces in Ramses Street in central Cairo.

Official news agency MENA also reported that gunshots were heard amidst the clashes on Ramses Street.

Backers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have staged thousand-strong marches in several parts of Cairo, Giza and other governorates, Al Ahram reported.

Rallies took a violent turn in central Cairo’s Garden City and Giza’s Dokki district, where police fired rounds of teargas after local residents clashed during pro-Morsi protests heading towards Tahrir, eyewitnesses and Ahram Online reporters said. The sound of heavy gunfire was later reported, as well as army jets and F-16 fighters hovering in formations over Cairo, Alexandria and other cities.

Each year, Egypt’s army traditionally celebrates the state holiday commemorating the October war against Israel—which eventually led to the recovery of the Sinai Peninsula through peace negotiations—with military performances and flyovers.

Egypt has been gripped by prolonged violence since the overthrow of Morsi on 3 July after mass demonstrations against his turbulent year in office.

The ouster of the former elected president, which was part of a roadmap agreed upon by many political groups and the armed forces, has enraged Islamists who have denounced the move as a violation of democratic “legitimacy.”

Hundreds were killed on 14 August when security forces moved to forcibly disperse two protest camps set up by Morsi loyalists in Cairo and Giza, unleashing days of violent turmoil and deepening polarization.

Militants elsewhere have taken up arms against the state. The army has been battling an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, adjoining Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, where Islamist terrorists have mounted almost daily attacks on security and army targets, killing dozens.

Egypt Coptic Christian Leadership Condemns Western Media Coverage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

In the face of an unprecedented wave of violence directed against Coptic Christians amid the turmoil in Egypt that has left hundred’s dead, the church’s leadership issued a statement condemning the Western media’s biased coverage of the events in Egypt.

“We strongly denounce the fallacies broadcasted by the Western media and invite them to review the facts objectively regarding these bloody radical organizations and their affiliates instead of legitimizing them with global support and political protection while they attempt to spread devastation and destruction in our dear land,” reads the statement, according to a Google translation.

“We request that the international and western media adhere to providing a comprehensive account of all events with truth, accuracy, and honesty,” the statement added.

The Coptic Church also reaffirmed its support for the military-backed government, calling on the army and security forces to continue their fight against the “armed violent groups and black terrorism.”

One of the oldest communities in Christianity, Coptic Christians have survived numerous persecutions in the past. But the recent violence is unprecedented. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organization, has documented 39 attacks against Coptic Christian churches, schools, monasteries and businesses since late last week, NPR reported.

Coptic Christians constituted a majority of Egypt’s population until the Middle Ages, when Islam, introduced by the Arab invasions in the 7th century, eclipsed their religion. Today, Coptic Christianity comprises nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, making it the largest single Christian community remaining in the Middle East.

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Evidence that Morsi Actually Lost the Egyptian Presidency

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Just days after his apparent victory, Cynthia Farahat and I expressed our skepticism about the validity of these election returns:

SCAF exploits the Muslim Brotherhood and other proxies as its civilian fronts, a role they are happy to play, by permitting Islamists to garner an outsized percentage of the parliamentary vote, then to win the presidency. During the suspicious week-long delay before the presidential votes were announced, SCAF met with the Muslim Brotherhood’s real leader, Khairat El-Shater, and reached a deal whereby Morsi became president but SCAF still governs.

Earlier, we had doubted two earlier rounds of elections (see “Egypt’s Sham Election” and “Don’t Ignore Electoral Fraud in Egypt.”)

Though few analysts have embraced this version, there have been hints of it:

(1) On July 31, 2013, Josh Goodman and James Parks wrote in “Morsi Was Neither Democratically Nor Duly Elected” that

hailing Morsi as the democratically elected representative of the Egyptian people appears to be based on a rather loose understanding of “democracy.” The Brotherhood has been accused of bribing and intimidating voters and rigging ballots during the 2012 elections. The election suffered from abysmally poor voter turnout (43.4% of registered voters), which is especially troubling given the ostensibly historic nature of the race. Out of 23 million voters in the first round of elections, 12 million did not vote for either of the two candidates ultimately placed in the run-off vote. Capping this all off was a blatant power grab from the military, which changed the constitution mid-election to limit the power of the newly elected President.

(2) On Aug. 3, 2013, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi gave an interview in which he both denied having rigged Morsi’s election and (more interestingly) asserted that he could have done so had he wanted to.

Q: So you were giving the president advice on Ethiopia and the Sinai, for example, and he was ignoring you?

A: We were very keen and predetermined on his success. If we wanted to oppose or not allow them to come to rule Egypt, we would have done things with the elections, as elections used to be rigged in the past.

Now comes a testimonial from an un-named Egyptian official via the Israeli politician Yossi Beilin in “Morsi didn’t win the elections” that

Ahmed Shafiq, the former air force commander and former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, actually won the race by a narrow margin. But the army generals—wanting to ensure that law and order would be upheld following the elections—feared that if Morsi was defeated, the Muslim Brotherhood would refuse to recognize the results and would end up conducting themselves just as they are now.

The official results, 51.73 percent for Morsi and 48.27% for Shafiq, were almost the exact reversal of what actually happened at the polls. After the results were published, we barely heard any calls for protest or opposition among the secular-liberals, while on the religious side—loyal either to the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi parties—voters were happy with their achievement.

Beilin goes on to explain that military officers expected the inexperienced Morsi to respect the army but he did not. Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi came under pressure from fellow generals some months ago but Sisi gave Morsi a chance to make amends.

Trading In Maryland for the Mediterranean

Monday, August 19th, 2013

When Sergeant Brandon Berry made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), he did not come looking for the easy life. If he wanted that, he would not have left his hometown of Potomac, Maryland to serve in the army of a foreign country half a world away from his family.

Sgt. Berry also was not looking for an easy job in the IDF – he wanted to serve wherever he was most needed. He wanted to take his talent and drive with him to contribute one hundred percent.

Sgt. Berry passed all the tests to serve in the prestigious Paratroopers Brigade. Instead the American immigrant took to the sea as a member of the Israel Navy’s Dvora-class patrol boat squadron.

It is not everyday that a young man from Potomac, Maryland travels for tens of thousands of miles to join the Israel Navy. “It was clear to me that I was destined to serve in the Navy,” he said. Sgt. Berry, stationed on a base overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is able to indulge his love for wide-open spaces every day of his service.

Aside from his thick American accent, Sgt. Berry is indistinguishable from the other soldiers at his base – completely at home on a boat with a tan to match. He credits the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers for helping him through the entire enlistment process.

“The work the association does is a blessing,” he says. AWIS helps soldiers in a number of ways, which included providing assistance to lone soldiers, running soldier homes and recreation centers, and providing support for bereaved families.

Sgt. Berry says that even though he grew up with a strong Jewish identity and attended a Jewish day school, he always felt like something was missing. Now, as a soldier for Israel, it seems he has truly come home.

Visit IDF Blog.

NY Times Blaming Israel for Egyptian Havoc

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The first outright finger pointing at Israel was published in the Sunday NY Times (Pressure by U.S. Failed to Sway Egyptian Military Leaders from Crackdown):

The Israelis, whose military had close ties to General Sisi from his former post as head of military intelligence, were supporting the takeover as well. Western diplomats say that General Sisi and his circle appeared to be in heavy communication with Israeli colleagues, and the diplomats believed the Israelis were also undercutting the Western message by reassuring the Egyptians not to worry about American threats to cut off aid.

Israeli officials deny having reassured Egypt about the aid, but acknowledge having lobbied Washington to protect it.

When Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, proposed an amendment halting military aid to Egypt, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent a letter to senators on July 31 opposing it, saying it “could increase instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.” Statements from influential lawmakers echoed the letter, and the Senate defeated the measure, 86 to 13, later that day.

The fact is, Israel—and the Saudis—are trying desperately to save America from its own delusions about a democratic Arab world springing forth with equality and freedom for all. Egypt’s neighbors are anxious about the possibility of a civil war in Egypt and understand that a firm government is the essential first step towards recovery from the events of the past three months and the past two years in Egypt.

But now, according to the way the NY Times sees the world on Monday morning, Israel is “Escalating Efforts to Shape Allies’ Strategy.”

The original headline, according to NewsSniffer, was “Israel Puts More Urgency on Shaping Allies’ Actions” and was modified twice since the earlier posting.

An unnamed Israeli government official told the Times that Israel is going to spend this week twisting European and American arms in an attempt to prevent them from pulling their support from the Sisi regime, even though his soldiers have been brutal in their treatment of the Muslim Brother demonstrators.

The official explained the Middle east realities in blunt terms: “We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative? If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.”

And he added, even more bluntly:

“At this point,” the official added, “it’s army or anarchy.”

Speaking of anarchy, no one is certain that even with full Western support the Sisi regime would be able to withstand the onslaught of highly motivated, unafraid Muslim Brothers. While the army is bound by some modicum of restraint, the Muslim Brothers recognize no such boundaries. While about a thousand of their number have been killed, they have been joyfully burning down Coptic churches and murdering Egyptian Christians in the streets. Over the long haul, if the Brothers are not stopped effectively, they could wear down the regime and demoralize the army. That could throw Egypt into a full blown, Syrian style civil war.

In addition to it being a public relations disaster for the Obama Administration, as caring individuals like senators Paul and McCain rip the president mercilessly on his policy and call for cutting off $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, there’s President Barack Obama’s injured ego. A project he began right after his election has collapsed right before his eyes, and despite all of his efforts to communicate his strong views on the matter (Sec. Hagel called Sisi 17 times), the Muslim Brothers revolution is no more.

“The violent crackdown has left Mr. Obama in a no-win position: risk a partnership that has been the bedrock of Middle East peace for 35 years, or stand by while longtime allies try to hold on to power by mowing down opponents,” the Times wrote on Sunday.

So now, it appears, the largely quiet efforts on the part of Netanyahu to communicate to Obama (the two are yet to speak directly since the start of the crisis) how crucial it is that American support—and the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal—remain intact, will be used to portray Israel as some kind of puppet master, goading the generals to shoot into the crowd.

Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

It’s very difficult to ignore what is going on in Egypt. Daily news coverage of the army slaughtering fellow Egyptians easily engenders sympathy for the victims. One can easily conclude that we are witnessing the actions of a vicious military crushing its unarmed protesting population. Indeed the world community including the United States has been condemning the army for that.

Those daily images of the bloody carnage will generate the same attitude in most people. It is difficult to see dead bodies lined up in makeshift morgues, severely wounded bloody victims, and wives and mothers who cry out in pain at the loss of a husband or child.

It is easy to sympathize with them. The reportage is extremely sympathetic to the underdog victims. But as always the case with media reports – rarely do they see context. It’s always about the underdog. In this case the underdog is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Let us take a moment and look at some historical and religious context.

Egypt’s former dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, was ousted from office after a popular uprising by Egyptian citizens . Democracy was their cry. They had apparently had enough of Mubarak. But he fought back. People were killed. Mubarak was eventually overthrown by his own military and arrested. After a brief military rule elections were held and Musilm Brotherhood candidate Muhamed Morsi was (somewhat surprisingly to me) elected by a majority of Egyptian voters.

Mosri pushed through a new constitution that was largely based on Islamic law. In the meantime Egypt’s economy collapsed and is in shambles. People started protesting again. The Egyptian military once again stepped in and quickly removed Morsi from office.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members were outraged seeing themselves robbed of their freely elected leader. They started protesting in huge numbers. The army fought back with live ammunition. The result is what we are now witnessing in the daily news coverage.

The US has wisely not reduced it financial support of Egypt. But it has not been shy about criticizing the Egyptian military’s lethal tactics in trying to suppress Brotherhood protests.

How are we to see what is going on there? How does what is going on in Egypt affect us, the Jewish people? Whose side should we be on… if any?

I think the first thing we have to do is look at what the Egyptian army is really fighting. They are fighting a movement that is extremely anti Semitic as a part of its religious theology. They believe that Israel is a gang, not a country and they will fight it until they destroy it.

The Muslim Brotherhood honors Osama Bin Ladin and condemned his assassination by the United States. Ayman Al Zawahiri the current head of Al Qaida is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood denies the Holocaust while praising Islamic Jihad and martyrdom. They condemn the peace treaty with Israel and they consistently call for the destruction of Israel. In addition, their Arabic website alleges that Jews have created evil in the world throughout history.

It is therefore my view that it does not serve Israel or US interests to support the Muslim Brotherhood – even though the Egyptian military tactic is brutal.

No one supports man’s inhumanity to man which is what it seems like the Egyptian military is doing. But as Chazal tell us – when one is kind to the cruel, they will end up being cruel to the kind. To peace loving democracies like the United States and Israel and to most other Western countries, the Brotherhood should be seen in the same light as Hamas, Hezbollah, and any other Islamist Jihadist group. They should be seen as determined to prevail at all cost. Including at the cost of innocent lives as anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 can tell you.

What about the Egyptian military? They reflect the will of secular Egypt and have their support. But there is no love lost between Egypt’s secular population and Israel. As Muslims – they are in theory just as opposed to the Jewish State as the Muslim Brotherhood. But they are not in favor of hostilities with the Jewish State and are probably more willing to stand by the peace treaty with Israel as a means of achieving stability in the region. Secular Egyptians are more interested in improving their lives materially and having a government that responds to their needs. Israel’s legitimacy is in their minds a back burner issue for now.

What about the current carnage of Brotherhood members? I’m sorry. I don’t have too much sympathy for religious fanatics whose ultimate goal is to destroy the Jewish State and kill Jews… a movement that has spawned the likes Ayman Zawahiri.

They look like innocent victims in the eye of the camera. They portray themselves as devout Muslims whose only goal is to restore their Islamist leader and live religious lives. And they seem to be systematically slaughtered for simply expressing their protest in large numbers. But that is far from the complete picture – to say the least.

In my view the United States should take a ‘hands off’ approach. Let the Egyptian people fight it out. Let nature take its course. The Egyptian military should not be hampered. Financial aid should not be withheld since it helps ensure the continuance of the peace treaty. The Muslim Brotherhood must be defeated. If we allow them to succeed, we allow religious extremism to succeed and increase. And that is the last thing the world needs right now.

I wonder how many secular Egyptians miss Mubarak right about now? He may have been corrupt. But Egypt was a lot better off when he was around. And the Middle East was a lot more stable. The democracy that was hoped for by the west after he was deposed – never happened. Democracy is not only about having a free election. It is about including free and democratic principles that do not force religious law upon all its citizens. That’s what happened with Morsi. And that is why I’m glad he’s gone.

A word about fighting terrorism as perpetrated by the above-mentioned movements .The world should once and for all realize that what they are really fighting is not terrorism but an ideology. I don’t think they do. This is not about supporting a poor underdog… or a brutal military bent on destroying innocent people. This is a holy war initiated by a militant and fanatic religion that loves death more than we love life. How do you fight an idea? I don’t know. But the more the world realizes this fact, the better prepared they will be to deal with it.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

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