Sunday, February 1, 2009

Concern, criticism follow Venezuelan synagogue attack




(JTA) --International Jewish groups expressed concern after an attack on a Caracas synagogue and blamed Hugo Chavez for creating an atmosphere of hate in Venezuela.

Up to 15 people attacked the Tiferet Israel Sephardic synagogue late Friday night, throwing Torah scrolls on the floor and damaging some, according to reports. They also painted epithets such as "death to the Jews" on the synagogue's walls.

The synagogue's guard had been held at gunpoint and was found on the floor of the building by members on Saturday morning, the Jerusalem Post reported.

It is not the first such attack on Jewish institutions in the country, which broke off diplomatic relations with Israel over the Gaza military operation, according to The New York Times. In response, Israel expelled the Venezuelan envoy and his embassy staff last week.

The same synagogue was vandalized early last month. The Israeli embassy was also vandalized. A Jewish community center was raided in 2007 in a search for illegal weapons. None were found.

The government of President Hugo Chavez decried the attack, the Times reported.

Chavez and local media have been increasingly critical of Israel in the past week.

"The total disrespect of a Jewish house of worship reflects the escalating climate of hostility towards Jews in Venezuela," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

Harris also said, "There are strong indications that what we are witnessing is a state-sponsored campaign of anti-Semitic persecution, spurred by both Venezuela's alliance with the Iranian regime and the surge of anti-Israel rhetoric during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas."

Harris called on the international community to declare its solidarity with Venezuela's Jewish community.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center also blamed Chavez's demonization of Israel and the Jewish community as the catalyst for the synagogue attack and called on world leaders to denounce it.

"This was no mere hate crime from the margins of society, but a reflection of President Chavez's campaign to demonize Israel and her supporters,"said Rabbis Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean, and Abraham Cooper, its associate dean, in a statement. "It is frightening to watch the inevitable consequences of Iran's chief ally in the Americas promotion of hatred of the Jewish people escalate into an attack, more reminiscent of Nazi Germany in 1938, than a democracy in 2009. The fact that the members of this synagogue stayed away from services this Friday night out of fear that the anti-Israel campaign had generated says it all."

B'nai B'rith International has asked the U.S. State Department to investigate the attack.

"This has got to stop," said B'nai B'rith Executive Vice President Daniel Mariaschin. "It is unacceptable for a government to incite hatred. Chavez has cultivated an environment where his followers feel comfortable threatening Jews."

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Chavez to protect his country's Jewish community.

"Sadly, this is not a random event in Venezuela; it is directly related to the atmosphere of anti-Jewish intimidation promoted by President Chavez and his government apparatus," Foxman said.

Chavez, Foxman said, "must ensure that his government quickly brings the perpetrators to justice."

Gazans tell Israeli investigators of Hamas abuses



Jerusalem Post - 2/1/09

Nuaf Atar spoke about the use of Gazan schools to shoot rockets at Israel. Zabhi Atar revealed that Hamas used food coupons to entice Palestinians to join its ranks and Hamad Zalah said Hamas took control of UNRWA food supplies transferred to Gaza and refused to distribute them to people affiliated with Fatah.

These are three examples of testimony from Hamas and Islamic Jihad men who were captured by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead. Details of their interrogations have been released for publication by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

More than 100 Palestinians were captured during the three-week operation but most were released and only a few dozen - members of Hamas and other terrorist factions - are still being held by Israel, officials said. Some of them may be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for abducted soldier Gilad Schalit.

Nuaf Atar, 25, lives in Atatra, in the northwest Gaza Strip, and was captured by paratroopers on January 11. In his interrogation by the Shin Bet, Atar said Hamas government officials "took over" humanitarian aid Israel allowed in to the Strip and sold it, when it is supposed to be distributed for free.

Hamas set up rocket launchers and fired rockets into Israel from within school compounds since the operatives knew that the Israel Air Force would not bomb the schools, he said.

Palestinians who opposed Hamas's use of their land and homes as launch pads were shot in the legs, Atar added.

"Atar's testimony is evidence of Hamas's cynical use of public institutions, such as schools, to attack Israel," the Shin Bet said.

Another fascinating account was provided by Raji Abed Rabo, a 22-year-old member of Islamic Jihad and resident of the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Abed Rabo told interrogators he was recruited into the organization at the age of 17 and began by distributing anti-Israel propaganda.

In 2006, he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and underwent military training. In 2007 he returned to Islamic Jihad and was recruited to the Jabalya cell. His job was to conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence on IDF movements along the Gaza border.

He stored weaponry in his house, including roadside bombs, and was knew of a number of tunnels that were to be used to kidnap and surprise IDF soldiers. He also told the Shin Bet about a large bunker that was built under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and was used as a hideout for a number of senior Hamas operatives during the recent Israeli offensive.

Hamad Zalah, 29, is also a resident of Jabalya and was captured by the IDF on January 12. During his interrogation, he revealed that together with his brother, he was tortured by Hamas at a headquarters in Jabalya for his affiliation with Fatah and his intention to light a memorial candle for Yasser Arafat.

He said that he was whipped and beaten with electrical cords. In 2007, Hamas operatives shot and killed his brother, who was a security guard at the home of a Palestinian Authority official in Gaza.

Since June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza, the terror group, Zalah said, also took control of all humanitarian aid sent into the Strip and refused to distribute it to Palestinians affiliated with Fatah.

Amad Hamed, 35, resides in Beit Hanun, and was arrested by the IDF on January 5. In his interrogation he told the Shin Bet that in 2006 he started conducting surveillance for Hamas and training to perpetrate a suicide attack against Israel.

Two of Hamed's brothers were killed by the IDF in Gaza in 2006 and 2007. Hamed told his interrogators about a Hamas training camp in a sports club next to a mosque in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, and another camp opposite the Beit Hanun municipal building.

Three months ago, Hamed gave his approval to place barrels of explosives, rockets and launchers in land that belongs to his family in Beit Hanun.