Thursday 31 January 2008

Israeli inquiry blasts war effort

Olmert's government, military ripped for 'failures and flaws' in 2006 combat in Lebanon

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE : Thursday, January 31, 2008

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is fighting for his political life after a 16-month government inquiry Wednesday slammed his conduct of the 2006 war in Lebanon.

The inquiry, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Eliyahu Winograd, blasted Olmert's government and the Israeli army for "serious failings and shortcomings," blaming them for "a great and severe missed opportunity" in the 33-day war with Hezbollah militia.

Reservists, some families of soldiers killed during the conflict known as the Second Lebanon War along with Israeli opposition leaders quickly called on Olmert to resign.

"The Winograd Committee placed clear responsibility on the political echelon, which is led by the prime minister, and he must take personal responsibility and quit," said a statement from the right-wing opposition Likud party.

The five-member committee did not call for any resignations, but it detailed "structural and systemic malfunctioning" and referred repeatedly to "failures and flaws" in the decision-making process, which it said were shared equally between military officials and politicians. All military leaders involved in the 2006 conflict already have resigned, including the former army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz. Ex-Defense Minister Amir Peretz was replaced in an internal party contest.

"Israel embarked on a prolonged war that it initiated, which ended without a clear Israeli victory from a military standpoint," Winograd told reporters after delivering his 629-page report to Olmert. "A quasi-military organization (Hezbollah) withstood the strongest army in the Middle East for weeks," Winograd said.

"We found serious failings and flaws in the quality of preparedness, decision-making and performance in the (Israel Defense Forces) high command, especially in the army," Winograd said. "We found serious failings and flaws in the lack of strategic thinking and planning, in both the political and the military echelons. We found severe failings and flaws in the defense of the civilian population and in coping with its being attacked by rockets."

Within minutes of the report's publication, Olmert was assailed by politicians from both sides of the political spectrum.

"Olmert will enter history as Israel's most failed leader," said Arieh Eldad, a legislator for the rightist National Union-National Religious Party.

Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, said "critical decisions for the future of Israel were made without using judgment and without understanding their potential outcomes."

"If the prime minister understands that he bears personal responsibility, the only conclusion is not that he is the only one who can amend his mistakes, but that he must resign," Beilin said.

Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz called the report "a damning and inescapable indictment. In one of its central assertions, the report noted that Israel cannot survive in this region without the political and military leadership, military capabilities and social robustness to deter and if necessary overcome its enemies," Horovitz wrote. "And in its withering depiction of the capabilities of the government and the IDF senior command that oversaw the Second Lebanon War, the committee made appallingly clear how absent those fundamental, existential qualities were."

Although it seems unthinkable that a prime minister could continue in office following such severe criticism from a committee which he himself appointed, Olmert has said he will not be forced out.

"The prime minister intends to take responsibility and lead a process to fix the flaws," said Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel, a key government adviser. "Taking responsibility means staying on, fixing, improving and continuing to lead the way forward."

Owing to the vagaries of Israeli politics, Olmert's political future rests with his largest coalition partner, Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak promised last year to quit the government and force early elections if the report criticized Olmert, but recently he has shown signs that he, too, wishes to remain in the current government.

But if Barak pulls Labor's 19-member faction out of the coalition, Olmert will no longer have a parliamentary majority and could be forced to call an election. Recent polls indicate that Israeli voters would bring back former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party.

On Wednesday, dozens of reservists demonstrated outside Olmert's Tel Aviv office to remind him of his promise to step down if the report criticized his handling of the war. At the same time, critics within his Kadima party remained silent, but his closest allies appeared confident that the prime minister would survive.

"Unless Ehud Barak springs something dramatic on us, the report will be history by next week," said Vice Premier Haim Ramon. "No one in Kadima will rise against the prime minister."

The Winograd report, however, did exonerate Olmert from the most serious accusation leveled against him - that he needlessly launched a last-minute offensive in the final days of the war at the cost of the lives of 33 Israeli soldiers. The dead included Jonathan Grossman, the son of renowned author David Grossman, who has been among the most prominent Israeli figures calling for Olmert to quit. The committee said the decision to launch the final ground offensive was "legitimate."

Israel launched what became the Second Lebanon War on July 12, 2006, after Hezbollah forces killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two more on patrol along the Israel-Lebanon border. The militant Shiite group also attacked nearby Israeli villages with Katyusha rockets.

At least 1,109 Lebanese were killed in the subsequent Israeli invasion, most of them civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, while 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians were killed. More than 1 million Israelis were forced to leave their homes or huddle in shelters under daily Hezbollah rocket bombardment.

This article appeared on page A - 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday 26 January 2008

Students visit Arab countries for MIT

Group promotes education in US

MIT students Rameez Qudsi (left) and Ibrahim Kanan, seen here in Jerusalem, were among seven students on a weeklong trip through the Middle East to raise awareness of the school.

MIT students Rameez Qudsi (left) and Ibrahim Kanan, seen here in Jerusalem, were among seven students on a weeklong trip through the Middle East to raise awareness of the school. (David Blumenfeld for the Boston Globe)

BOSTON GLOBE : January 26, 2008

By Matthew Kalman Globe Correspondent

JERUSALEM - The two MIT students stood in the austere surroundings of a 130-year-old high school in the historic Old City of Jerusalem, pitching a high-tech future that reached across cultural and national boundaries.

In the first gathering of its kind here Wednesday, Ibrahim Kanan and Rameez Qudsi urged more than 200 Palestinian students, segregated by gender in keeping with Muslim tradition, to dream big and apply to elite Western colleges like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Not only will education transform their lives, they told the students, but their presence on campus will enrich the schools and their communities.

"We don't see enough students like us on campuses," Kanan, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering senior who was born in New Jersey to Palestinian parents, said as he and Qudsi guided the enthusiastic audience from 10 high schools through MIT's admissions process in English and Arabic.

"You have the chance to take your culture to the leaders of tomorrow," he said. "You have the chance to change the image of Palestine in America. You can help your country by going to those colleges, meeting the future leaders, and taking from the resources they have in the United States. Then you can come back here and help our people."

The two are among seven members of MIT's Arab Students' Organization on a weeklong trip through eight Middle Eastern countries in a hunt for untapped potential.

The students believe it is the only organized project of its kind, although MIT encourages foreign alumni to introduce high school students back home to the possibility of studying in the United States.

For this trip, students raised most of the money themselves, and MIT is covering the balance and helping to provide contacts and other support.

MIT says that over the past four years, it has accepted, on average, about 10 undergraduate students a year from Arab countries, and that students from those counties account for about 10 percent of MIT's international undergraduate population. The school does not have precise figures for the number of Arab-Americans in the domestic student population.

MIT officials applaud the Arab students' Middle East initiative.

"I think it's a great idea," said Stuart Schmill, interim director of admissions, who said his office had helped the students prepare for the trip and connected them with MIT alumni in several countries. "There's a lot of talent across that region we'd like to develop."

In little over a week, Kanan and Qudsi visited Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as East Jerusalem. In their final stop today, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, they were scheduled to meet local students and hold a video conference with students in the Gaza Strip.

Four more colleagues visited Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing. A third MIT student did not come to Jerusalem because she is a Syrian national who would probably have been barred from entry by the Israelis. Kanan and Qudsi were detained for much of Tuesday by Israeli security officials as they crossed the Allenby Bridge from Jordan to the West Bank.

"It was a bit frustrating," Kanan said, though they anticipated delays because they had traveled to Syria and Lebanon.

Kanan and Qudsi said their motivation in starting the traveling program is their desire to see more students from the Middle East in top American universities as relations between the West and much of the Arab world have suffered.

"I think it's a two-way street," said Qudsi, a 23-year-old graduate student in health sciences and technology who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and grew up in New York. "I want people in the US to get exposed to people who live in the Middle East and then learn about the Middle East through them."

In Jerusalem, Kanan and Qudsi were hosted by Amal Alayan, an MIT alumna and venture capital pioneer in the Arab world. She volunteers as an educational counselor to interview potential applicants and said she hoped the road show would broaden the appeal of MIT and other top US colleges for Arab students from conservative, traditional homes.

"A lot of families don't want to send their kids to America," she said. "Until now, only the very rich and very liberal families have sent them."

After the presentation in East Jerusalem, a demure girl in a headscarf approached Kanan and Qudsi with her mother and asked whether they would send their own sister to MIT.

Qudsi said that he would. "There is security; all the services are there," he told them. "There are all-female dorms, if you'd like that. We think it's really worth it."

Monday 21 January 2008

Israeli Universities Extend Summer Semester as 3-Month Faculty Strike Ends

Monday, January 21, 2008



Israeli universities finally began their fall semester on Sunday,
three months behind schedule, after the end of a 90-day strike by
tenured professors.

The strike was settled on Friday after all-night talks lasting 20
hours involving representatives of the senior faculty members, the
Israeli ministries of education and finance, and university

The agreement gives the professors a 24-percent pay increase in three
stages over the next two years, which includes a 14-percent supplement
to make up for the erosion of salaries since the last collective
agreement was signed in 1997. The professors had argued that their pay
had systematically eroded in recent years as part of deep budget cuts
in government education spending.

The universities will extend the summer semester by up to two months
to catch up on lost teaching time, with classes added in the evenings
and on Fridays, which are usually free days.

Professor Zvi Hacohen, leader of the professors' union, described the
deal as "excellent, the best in the past decade."

"It was achieved after a long and difficult struggle. We think it will
be a solution and an answer to the brain drain and help the State of
Israel," he said on Friday after signing the agreement. "We apologize
to the students. For lack of an alternative, we were forced to do them

As part of the agreement, the professors pledged not to strike again
before 2010.

Government Wants Change

But Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, who had opposed the professors'
demands, warned that in order to avoid a future crisis, the deal must
go hand in hand with government-backed proposals "to change the
content and essence of higher education, not only the wage structure
of a small sector of lecturers."

"Without reform, I emphasize, there will be no change," he said.

The government has been pushing for wide-scale reform of the
higher-education system, including an increase in tuition and the
introduction of government-backed student loans. Those proposals
triggered a lengthy strike by students at the end of the last academic

The 90-day strike, which involved 4,500 professors, was not the
longest in Israeli academic history. That dubious record is held by a
five-month strike of junior teaching staff in 1997.

Effect on Students

There was widespread relief on university campuses on Sunday as
students returned to class, but many said they still did not know
exactly how the faculty planned to organize the remainder of the year
to cover the course work missed because of the strike.

Some classes were taught by junior, nontenured professors, who are
members of a different union, but most students found at least some of
their courses canceled, with some cut off from as many as 75 percent
of the courses they signed up for.

Shlomo Levy, chairman of the student union at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, said the students had supported the professors' strike but
were pleased it was over.

"There was a united front among students, graduate students and the
professors," said Mr. Levy, a third-year student in social sciences
and economics. "They all saw this as a long-term struggle for the
future of the entire academic system. The struggle of the professors
for higher salaries was a struggle to stop teachers leaving the
universities, which in the end will lead to lower teaching standards
for the students."

He said many students would suffer from the extension of the summer
semester since it was normal practice for Israeli students to spend
the summer vacation working in order to finance their studies for the
following year.