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entries tagged with: Gilad Shalit

 

Tenafly student club highlights Shalit’s plight

Josh LipowskyLocal | World
Published: 23 October 2009
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Noam Nathaniel, center, holding a pamphlet, explains the story of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to students at Tenafly High School. Noam is the founder of the school’s Israeli culture club, which wore T-shirts with the soldier’s picture last week.

Students at Tenafly High School learned firsthand about Gilad Shalit last week when members of the school’s Israel culture club showed up in T-shirts bearing the captured soldier’s picture.

The terrorist group Hamas captured Shalit, then a 19-year-old corporal, on June 25, 2006. He has been held captive in Gaza since. Last month, Hamas released a recent video of Shalit in exchange for 20 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Though Shalit’s plight is familiar to Israel’s supporters and the politically savvy, the average teenager isn’t as knowledgeable about the soldier’s fate, according to the Israel club’s founder, 17-year-old Noam Nathaniel. As a result, the club decided to print dozens of T-shirts and spend Oct. 12 talking about Shalit’s ordeal.

“We wanted to raise awareness about the kidnapped soldier,” said the Tenafly senior who created the club last year. “It was amazing. So many people participated and asked questions. I was surprised by how many people got involved.”

According to Noam, some 90 students ended up wearing the shirts throughout the day, including many who purchased them from club members.

With such a politically charged subject, organizers first had to convince the administration that the event would not cause a disruption. Noam said some students who sided with the Palestinians asked club members if they were sure they were supporting the right cause, but otherwise the day proceeded incident-free.

In response to those types of questions, Noam showed questioners an article from the New York Times citing Israel’s release of 20 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a videotape demonstrating that Shalit is still alive. The article, he said, barely mentioned Shalit’s ordeal or Hamas’ failure to follow international law and allow aid organizations access to him.

“People take those articles and use it to form their opinions,” he said. “They don’t represent the whole picture.”

Because of Shalit’s age, his cause has captured the attention of younger activists, said Anat Firnberg, the club’s adviser.

“A lot of people, especially young people, are involved in the campaign for [Shalit’s] release,” she said. “[Club members] wanted to show solidarity and show that just like the people in Israel, they are concerned.”

Though Tenafly has a large Israeli population and Noam said the atmosphere in the school is generally positive, he started the club in response to what he saw as a public backlash against Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

“People were saying that [Israelis] are too violent,” he recalled. “People in school were talking about it. I thought it would make people look at us differently.”

With the help of AP chemistry teacher Firnberg, Noam launched the club in early 2009. It quickly gained the attention of some 90 students, according to Noam, and now runs several events a year. Last year, the club held two bake sales to raise money, which it used to run a Yom HaShoah memorial program and to mark Israel’s independence day.

The club is a celebration of Israeli culture, Firnberg said.

“It’s a place for Israeli kids to be together, because a lot of them are here for a very short period of time,” she said, noting that many students’ families are here on short-term work assignments.

Club members will often discuss current events, but organizers walk a fine line to avoid causing political discord. Firnberg noted that the club had to call its Yom Ha’Atzmaut event a celebration of Israeli culture rather than a celebration of Israel’s birthday.

The club must also separate Israeli culture from Jewish religion, in compliance with school regulations. It instead focuses on Israeli culture, history, current events, Israel-specific holidays, and social activities.

“It should be open to everybody,” Firnberg said. “Israelis, Jews, non-Jews….”

Calls to the high school’s principal, Dora Kontogiannis, were not returned by press time.

Only one anti-Israel incident has been recorded in the club’s short history. The burnt remains of one of the flags used in the independence day celebration were found in a Tenafly street several hours after the event. A police report was filed but nothing came of the investigation. Overall, though, Noam said he is pleased by the club’s results.

“The [Israeli] image is much better,” he said.

 
 

Captives —  with an ‘s’

 

Hamas official blames Bibi for dooming Shalit talks

JTA StaffWorld
Published: 05 February 2010

JERUSALEM – Negotiations to bring about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have collapsed, a Hamas official said.

Mahmoud Zahar told the BBC Tuesday that the process to swap prisoners has “failed” over the “interference” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The main cause ... is that after the interference of the political element, after the interference of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction,” Zahar said during an interview from Gaza on BBC World News’ “Hardtalk” program. “For this reason, everything now is stopped.”

Last month, Netanyahu called on Israeli negotiators to take a tougher stance on the deal being mediated by Germany, Reuters reported.

Hamas was angry that Israel planned to deport dozens of the up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners that would be released in the deal.

Other reports have suggested that Hamas halted the negotiations after the murder of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Hamas still publicly blames Israel for his assassination even though its own internal probe reportedly showed that Arab agents killed him.

Shalit was kidnapped in Gaza during a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Activists for Shalit on Tuesday morning demonstrated at the Karni and Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, preventing fuel trucks from crossing into Gaza. Police disbursed the demonstraters.

JTA

 
 

The U.S. should not give Palestinians a free pass

 

Happy birthday, Israel — and many, many more

 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Flotilla fallout becomes rallying cry for U.S. Jews

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Baltimore Jews rally June 4 in support of Israel. Rebecca Gardner/Baltimore Zionist District

The last time American Jews took to the streets in significant numbers to make the case for Israel’s right to defend itself, during Israel’s war with Hamas in early 2009, rockets were raining down on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

This time it’s a public relations war rather than a military one that has sent American Jews into the streets warning that a campaign is under way to wipe Israel off the map.

In indignant statements to the media, in Op-Eds, and at rallies around the country, American Jews jumping to Israel’s defense are casting the fallout to last week’s flotilla incident — and the mounting opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza — as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Why did Israel even have to resort to blockade?” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote. “Because blockade is Israel’s fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself — forward and active defense.”

“If none of these is permissible, what’s left?” Krauthammer asked rhetorically. “Nothing,” he answered. “The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide.”

As with the Gaza war, and the Lebanon war of 2006, Israel’s defenders see in the global assault on Israel’s enforcement of the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza — a territory controlled by an organization committed to Israel’s destruction — nothing less than a threat to Israel’s existence.

“Once again, my friends, Israel is under siege,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, declared at a pro-Israel rally Sunday in Los Angeles opposite the local Israeli consulate.

Some 3,000 people showed up for the demonstration, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The international outcry against Israel is an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state, Israeli Consul Jacob Dayan warned the crowd.

“Enough of the campaign of lies spread by the defenders of terror,” Dayan said. “Those on the flotilla were not peace activists.”

The precipitating incident occurred May 31, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turks upon encountering violent resistance to their effort to board a ship in international waters that was part of a Gaza-bound flotilla bearing aid materials and pro-Palestinian activists.

The incident became a rallying cry for pro-Palestinian activists, who held rallies across the country and around the world protesting against Israel, including at some Jewish sites. In downtown Cleveland, some three dozen protesters stood outside the Jewish federation building last Friday chanting slogans and holding signs including “Stop Israel Pirates.” In Washington, activists flocked to the Israeli Embassy calling for it to be shut down.

Many Jewish groups said the worldwide reaction to the flotilla incident smacked of hypocrisy.

“Why did we not hear the same voices of condemnation raised as thousands of rockets poured down on Israel or on behalf of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas more than four years ago and held incommunicado ever since?” the main Jewish umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, asked in a statement.

The Jews countered with rallies of their own in communities across the country.

In Baltimore, several dozen demonstrators stood at a busy intersection in 90-degree heat waving Israeli flags and placards calling for the release of Shalit, an Israeli soldier, and blaming Turkey for the flotilla incident. In New York, demonstrators gathered across from the United Nations and at other rallies scattered around the metropolitan area. In Philadelphia, some 250 pro-Israel demonstrators gathered last Friday across the street from the Israeli consulate at a rally organized by the Zionist Organization of America, providing a counterpoint to the pro-Palestinian demonstration that had taken place three days earlier at the same site.

To be sure, American Jews have not been uniformly supportive of Israel’s actions on the high seas. Some American Jewish groups questioned the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the way the flotilla raid was conducted. J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Ameinu all issued statements critical of Israel’s Gaza policies.

“There wouldn’t have been a flotilla if Gazan children had enough food, had schools, and clean water to drink,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, the left-wing pro-Israel lobbying group, told JTA.

“This is not a hasbara problem,” he said, using the Israeli term for public relations. “For decades Israel and friends of Israel have complained about a hasbara problem. What they have is an occupation problem,” Ben-Ami said. “We can either complain about the way the world views Israel or change the way we behave.”

While some American Jews and many Israelis said they support the blockade of Gaza in principle but disagree with elements of its implementation and the way the Israeli navy handled the flotilla interception, that nuance was not readily apparent at the pro-Israel rallies across the nation. Rather, the message at the demonstrations was kept simple: We stand behind Israel.

One speaker at the L.A. rally, David Pine, West Coast regional director for Peace Now, tried to deviate from that message, saying, “Despite the way one individual military operation was handled, ultimately it will take a negotiated resolution that provides for a two-state solution.” He was drowned out by a chorus of boos. When the chairman of the local Jewish federation, Richard Sandler, tried to quiet the crowd, audience members continued to boo Pine, with one yelling out, “Traitor!”

In Philadelphia, Steve Feldman, director of the greater Philadelphia district of the ZOA, summed up the approach he expected of supporters of Israel.

“I would not be satisfied,” he said, “until every Jewish person in the Philadelphia area, every person of good conscience in the area, everybody who knows right from wrong in the area, will be out supporting Israel, because Israel is in the right.”

JTA

 
 

Reaction mixed to announcement on easing of Gaza blockade

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On Monday, the day after Israel announced that it was easing the Gaza blockade, an Israeli truck driver walks by trucks filled with goods bound for Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – Israel’s decision to loosen its blockade of Gaza is drawing both praise and criticism.

Israel’s security cabinet voted on Sunday to ease land-based civilian imports to the Gaza Strip; the naval blockade will remain in place.

The move garnered praise from the White House, which released a statement Sunday saying it welcomed the new policy toward Gaza.

“Once implemented, we believe these arrangements should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza while preventing the entry of weapons,” the statement said. “We strongly re-affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, and our commitment to work with Israel and our international partners to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.”

Turkey, which lost nine citizens when Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla determined to break the blockade, continued to slam Israel following the announcement.

“If the Israeli government really wishes to prove that they have given up the act of piracy and terror, they should primarily apologize and claim responsibility in the slaying of nine people on May 31,” said Egemen Bagis, Turkish minister for European Union affairs, according to The New York Times.

The blockade of Gaza was put into place by Israel and Egypt in June 2007 after Hamas violently wrested power in the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. It was designed to thwart the import of weapons or weapons-capable material into Gaza and pressure the coastal strip’s rulers into releasing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid in 2006.

An economic blockade had been in place since Shalit’s abduction.

Pressure on Israel to ease the latter blockade, which had been climbing steadily, increased dramatically following last month’s Israeli interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla.

Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, who joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening to announce the easing of the blockade, reportedly played a central role in establishing the new protocols for Gaza. The Quartet — a grouping of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia — issued a statement after Israel’s announcement calling for its rapid implementation and an easing of the conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Under the new rules, all items except those on a published blacklist will be allowed into Gaza. Until now, only items specifically permitted were allowed into Gaza. The blacklist will be limited to weapons and war materiel, including “dual-use items” that can be used for civilian or military purposes. Construction materials for housing projects and projects under international supervision will be permitted, according to a statement issued by Israel’s security cabinet.

The plan also calls for increasing the volume of goods entering Gaza and opening up more crossings, as well as streamlining the movement of people to and from the strip for medical treatment.

Despite the easing of the land blockade, Israel will continue to inspect all goods bound for Gaza by sea at the port of Ashdod.

Israel called on the international community “to stop the smuggling of weapons and war materiels into Gaza.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague praised Israel’s plan but took a wait-and-see attitude.

“The test now is how the new policy will be carried out,” he said.

German officials called for a complete end to the blockade in the wake of Israel’s refusal to allow Germany’s minister of economic cooperation and development, Dirk Niebel, to enter Gaza during a four-day visit to the region.

For their part, Hamas officials said the easing of the blockade was not good enough to relieve the distress of the Gaza population. They called the changes “cosmetic,” according to Ynet.

In Israel, the announcement received mixed reviews. Some lawmakers, including ones from the centrist Kadima Party and the center-left Labor Party, criticized the government for buckling under pressure, saying the move would strengthen Hamas. But others, such as Labor’s Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, praised it. Arab-Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zoabi called it insufficient, saying the blockade should be lifted completely.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the French news agency AFP that the blockade should be abolished altogether.

“These steps alone are not sufficient,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said, “and all efforts must be exerted to ease the suffering of the people of Gaza.”

JTA

 
 

Local town affirms support for Israel

The Fair Lawn Borough Council passed a non-binding, non-partisan resolution Tuesday night supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

Sponsored by Fair Lawn resident Sam Heller, a member of Shomrei Torah Orthodox Congregation, the resolution had been moved to the top of the council’s agenda at its working session last Tuesday.

According to Heller, the idea came to him when he was driving home from Daughters of Miriam in Clifton, where he is a volunteer. The resolution — which includes a concise history of the State of Israel and describes in detail acts of terrorism by Hamas — states that Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from getting materials to use against Israel and other parties. It further states that only after cargoes are inspected may humanitarian aid supplies pass through to Gaza.

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Sam Heller

Citing recent events and describing what happened when Israel Defense Forces soldiers tried to board the sixth ship in the flotilla from Turkey, the conclusion of the one-page resolution read, “We therefore resolve to demonstrate our support for Israel during this crisis in its efforts to control its borders and protect its people.”

Councilman Edward J. Trawinski said that passage of the resolution would be “the proverbial no-brainer” and that once it passed, it should be sent to Sens. Lautenberg and Menendez and Rep. Steven Rothman. Trawinski, a Republican, also asked that the resolution be amended to contain a statement that President Obama be called upon “to reverse his anti-Israel stand.”

Heller insisted, however, that his intention was to create a non-partisan resolution. A compromise was proposed in which wording would be included calling upon the president to speak out in support of Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of ongoing terrorism. The proposal was accepted and included in the original resolution.

Heller later told The Jewish Standard that some of his supporters felt that the language he used was not strong enough in condemning the administration for its policies on Israel.

“But that’s not what I wanted,” he said. “I learned from NORPAC that the non-partisan approach works best. That’s why I first approached the Democratic councilman, Steven Weinstein, and asked him to introduce the resolution.” Heller is a registered Republican who left the Democratic Party to vote for Ronald Reagan.

He also approached Jeanne Baratta, a Republican, and Trawinski and told them that he sought a non-partisan statement.

“I’m really surprised it went so fast,” he said, “and I am glad it happened in a non-partisan way. My personal views are stronger than those expressed in the resolution, but that is not what this is about. I also wanted to add something about Gilad Shalit and what was really happening in Turkey, but this couldn’t become a history lesson. I wanted to keep it short and sweet, so people would accept it.”

Asked if he was worried that anti-Israel demonstrators might show up at the council meeting to create an incident, Heller said he was very careful in sending out his information.

“I am an advocate for Israel trying to win the PR war for Israel. I count this as one for the good guys. Yes, it took some political skill, but a win is a win. That is how I see it.”

 
 

Gilad Shalit, four years on

 

New Jersey NCSY teens encounter Israel

From yeshivas and public schools, they meet Israelis — and each other

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Noam Shalit (with bare head) stops his convoy to greet NCSY Kollel campers. Over Shalit’s right shoulder in a blue-striped shirt is Doron Levine of Teaneck. Behind Doron, in a white shirt, is counselor Corey Fuchs of Teaneck. Yosef Brander of Teaneck can be seen to the left of the boy in the red-and-white-striped shirt in the foreground.

BEIT MEIR, ISRAEL – For four years now, Tzvika Poleyeff of Englewood has been praying for IDF Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Armored Corps soldier captured by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip on June 25, 2006, and held hostage ever since.

But the plight of Shalit and his family took on a new dimension for Tzvika — a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior — when he and fellow campers in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (Orthodox Union) Kollel program met Noam Shalit, the captive’s father. Shalit was at the head of a mass 12-day march at the beginning of July in support of efforts to release the soldier.

According to Teaneck native Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, the kollel director, the 150 high school boys and their counselors were emotionally overwhelmed by the experience.

“We were aware of the march and we checked the itinerary and saw the Shalits would be passing through Beit Meir,” said Benovitz. This village 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem accommodates the kollel program during the summer on the campus of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim. It was along the route taken by the hundreds of marchers making their way from the Shalits’ hometown of Mitzpe Hila in the north to Jerusalem.

“We realized that even though this was not a formal stop, it would be an opportunity for our NCSYers that we could not pass up, just to lend support by showing him we were with him.”

Organizers told Benovitz not to expect any personal interaction as Noam and Aviva Shalit’s motorcade came by, but “Noam had the driver stop the car when he saw our boys standing there,” Benovitz said. He got out of the car and greeted the campers, explaining that the purpose of the march was to raise awareness for his son and to make sure he is not forgotten. On Aug. 28, Gilad Shalit will turn 24.

“Since his capture, I have been praying for Gilad. Watching his family drive by and listening to his father speak, the entire situation suddenly became very real to me,” said Tzvika.

Akiva Blumenthal of Teaneck said he was struck by the difference between the campers’ situation and that of the captive’s family. “We waited on the road for 15 minutes or so, and it was an uncomfortably hot day,” said the Yeshiva University High School for Boys junior. “When the Shalits pulled up, it occurred to me that those 15 minutes are a tiny fraction of the awful years of waiting the Shalits have endured.”

Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, a Bergenfield resident and camp rabbi, taught part of his morning class while the boys stood outside. The kollel program combines seven hours of Torah study with three and a half of sports five days a week and also encompasses touring. After the encounter with Noam Shalit, many of the teachers encouraged the boys to continue focusing on Gilad Shalit in their learning and prayers, and “to bring back home the message that we should not forget about him,” said Benovitz.

The campers were painfully aware of the dilemma facing Israel’s government, which is under pressure to release thousands of imprisoned terrorists in exchange for Shalit — a situation that many Israelis fear would result in further kidnappings and terrorist attacks. “If getting him out will cost a lot, it might not be worth it, but we all want him to get freed somehow,” said Tzvika.

“We must do everything we can to ease the pain and suffering of the Shalits, and to reduce the dangers of any family having to go through this again,” added Shaul Morrison of Bergenfield. Shaul, an incoming Torah Academy senior, said meeting Noam Shalit made the boys rethink their positions on the prisoner exchange plan. “A lot of people here started to change their minds,” he said. “It comes a little closer to home when you see his parents.”

Ambassadors

Benovitz was instrumental in arranging a different sort of encounter for the kollel campers earlier that week. In his overall capacity as a coordinator for several NCSY summer programs in Israel, he scheduled three days of interaction between the kollel boys and participants in a new NCSY camp, Jerusalem Journeys Ambassadors.

The program aims to provide 47 North American public high school students with tools to advocate for Israel on college campuses. From June 30 to Aug. 3, the students — including two from Bergen County — are meeting with Israeli officials and visiting key locations to gain an understanding of current and ongoing struggles in the Jewish homeland.

“We wanted them to see the land in a real and intense way,” said Benovitz. “We decided there was one more thing they needed: competency and literacy in basic Jewish texts and ideas. The place to do that was at kollel and Michlelet,” the parallel NCSY summer camp for girls.

Benovitz said the integration of public school students and yeshiva students was mutually beneficial. “Both sides have prejudices and assumptions,” he said. “Learning and playing ball together was an extraordinary experience.”

Program Director Rabbi Ben Zion Goldfischer, formerly of West Orange, said the Ambassadors track is a new offering in NCSY’s Jerusalem Journeys programs for public high school students.

“The kids are growing tremendously,” said Goldfischer. “I’ve been doing Jerusalem Journeys for 13 years but I’ve never been as inspired as this year.”

Aaron Karp, an incoming senior at Teaneck High School, said the NCSY program “is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it’s been amazing. I’m so tired because we’re doing so much every day.” The camp’s final week was to be devoted to running a day camp for children from Sderot.

International Director of NCSY Rabbi Steven Burg said the Jerusalem Ambassadors had audiences with the former chief of staff for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; members of the Israeli Knesset; chief rabbis; generals of the Israeli Defense Forces; members of an Israeli emergency response team; and the parents of a navy commando involved in the recent controversial flotilla from Turkey. They also had training with Dale Carnegie professionals.

“Not a day goes by that our teens are not questioned about why Israel is so unfair to the Palestinians,” said Burg. “We need to arm them with the historical facts of Israel and the spiritual resolve to be committed to the land of Israel.”

Aaron said one highlight was an Israel advocacy seminar with Neil Lazarus, who trains Israeli diplomats and army spokesmen. “When I get to college, unfortunately I’m going to be facing people who are not so pro-Israel and this gives me a basis to start from,” said Aaron, whose family belongs to the Jewish Center of Teaneck. “I don’t know all the facts, but I know that I need to do the research to explain to people that the things they hear are not true.”

When the Jerusalem Ambassadors — including Philip Katz of Upper Saddle River, a senior at Northern Highlands Regional High School — return to America, they will be expected to develop and implement Israel advocacy programs at their schools.

 
 
 
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