Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Passover Shopping (Aliya Diary, Page Two)

Even though it's still more than three weeks until Pesach (Passover) I've started picking up kosher l'pesach supplies when I find them in the market. I already have bought matzo meal. Actually, I use that all year instead of breadcrumbs since it makes a very nice, light breading. It just happened that the container I found was already for Passover. I also have a box of Yehuda Matzo Farfel imported from Israel which gives me some hope that I will find more of the imported products I usually buy.

Why did I start so early this year? Green Bay doesn't exactly have a huge Jewish population. OK, the conservative shul has 125 families that are members and that is a good sized congregation, but I get the idea that overall it's a small and very assimilated community, No one supermarket has a really good kosher foods section though most have at least a small selection. Israeli products are few and far between. This is very different from Cincinnati or even Raleigh.

What I end up doing is visiting different markets, especially those with the best selection (Woodmans, Copps, and Cub Foods, in that order) to find what I want. I go to a fourth market, the one nearest my home, because it has the best selection of organic produce and because it's convenient. With a name like Piggly Wiggly it isn't surprising that they don't have a kosher or Jewish foods section at all. This isn't exactly the convenient one-stop shopping I've had elsewhere.

If anyone knows of a market I've missed with a good selection of Jewish and/or Israeli foods anywhere near Green Bay by all means please e-mail me. I'm still pretty new to the area and I certainly could have missed the best one. As far as I can tell there just isn't a Yiddishe gaas (Jewish neighborhood) here and the community seems to be really spread out.

One of my motivations, albeit a minor one, for moving to Israel is that it is the one place in the world where being Jewish just isn't an issue. 80% of the population is Jewish and 30% of the Jewish population is some sort of Orthodox. While I'm not Orthodox I've decided to keep a kosher kitchen as a matter of tradition, of preserving Jewish culture, and because a little religious observance really doesn't hurt. Sure, when I lived in New York I had a Super Sol (an Israeli supermarket) that was shomer Shabbas (closed on the Jewish Sabbath). It still isn't the same as living in a predominantly Jewish country where the national culture is my culture, the one I was raised in and identify with.

So... with any luck this will be the last or at least the next to last year where I feel I have to hunt for foods for Pesach.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jericho and Justice / Kidnapping and Chaos

Let's put this widely reported story in context:

On 17 October 2001 members of the Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) gunned down Israeli Tourism Minister Rehevam Ze'evi in a Jerusalem hotel. Five Palestinian terrorists were eventually charged in the murder. In April, 2002 Israel was besieging the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his Muqata compound in Ramallah after still more terrorist attacks the previous month. The United States brokered an agreement between Arafat and the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end the siege. The IDF would withdraw but Arafat agreed to jail those responsible for the murder of Minister Ze'evi and one more wanted Palestinian, Fuad Shubaki, involved in the Karine A affair under the watchful eye of British and American jailers in Jericho. Hamas denounced the agreement stating:The PA accepted the proposal (of US President George W.) Bush to place Palestinian militants accused for the murder of a Zionist official in a prison under US and British guard. We, Hamas, refuse and denounce this measure that constitutes a new submission to American and Zionist demands and conditions.Now, nearly four years later Hamas is in the process of taking over the Palestinian Authority. Hamas earlier this month voiced their intentions to free Ze'evi's killers including PFLP leader Ahmed Sa'adat. According to a BBC report: UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he had repeatedly raised concerns about the security of the Western monitors in the jail and given a final warning about their withdrawal on 8 March. Yesterday, on 14 March the British and American monitors, fearing for their lives, pulled out. Palestinian lame duck President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Britain and the U.S. for the pullout even though he had done nothing to insure these people would not be killed. Israel moved forces into position surrounding the prison, eventually destroying the facility and capturing the prisoners. One Palestinian was killed and one more was injured in the raid.

The Palestinian response was to torch British consular and cultural facilities, to accuse the U.S. and Britain of conspiring with Israel to raid the prison, and to kidnap foreigners across the West Bank and Gaza. Abu Qusai, a spokesman for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, stated:We call upon all American and British citizens to leave Palestinian territories immediately, otherwise they will be subject to kidnapping and other consequences. Palestinian gunmen didn't just kidnap Americans and Brits, mind you, but also thought South Koreans, French doctors, Australians, and Swiss Red Cross workers were appropriate targets. PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the U.S. and Britain. Generally the 17 people who were kidnapped were people who supported the Palestinians and were trying to help them. Foreigners fled the Palestinian controlled territories in fear of their lives as Palestinian gunmen threatened to kill their hostages. European observers at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt left, never to return. By late that night the P.A. reported that no foreigners remained in Gaza. Israeli, American, and British flags were burned, partly because of the raid and partly because the supply of Danish flags had probably already been burned.

What happened in Jericho was justice, plain and simple. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority promised to break it's agreement with the U.S. and Israel and threatened the lives of U.S. and British observers. The men in question had been convicted in Palestinian courts. Israel simply couldn't allow assassins, murderers, and arms smugglers to go free to kill again.

What happened afterwards in Gaza and Palestinian-controlled Judea and Samaria was barbaric, chaotic, indiscriminate violence directed at anyone and everyone who wasn't Muslim.

The two sets of events cannot be equivocated, nor is this some sort of logical cause and effect. What did French doctors or Swiss Red Cross employees ever do to harm the Palestinians? Nothing, of course. All they tried to do was help and they were repaid with violence and threats upon their lives.

Would someone explain to me why the Palestinians deserve a state of their own again? Please, I really want to know. They've never had one before. Please also explain to me how these people are ready for self-rule. Frankly, I just don't see it.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Straw Man

Yesterday I turned on CNN International and promptly saw British Foreign Minister Jack Straw once again equivocating the Iranian nuclear threat with the "threat" posed by Israel's nuclear weapons and saying that once Iran is dealt with Israel will have to be dealt with. I don't know if this was merely a rebroadcast of his statement last Thursday or something new since I didn't catch the story from the beginning. Last week he added: "If you want to see a nuclear-free Middle East, you've got to remove that threat from Iran, including the rhetorical threat to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Once you've done that, then we can get on to work in respect of Israel.The Israeli government, for it's part, decided not to react to Mr. Straw's comments. It was felt that it would be a bad idea to change to focus of attention from Iran to Israel. It was also noted that Prime Minister Sharon had supported the idea of a nuclear-free Middle East, but only in a future where Israel had peace agreements in place with all the countries in the region.

Is anyone else outraged by this equivocation? Modern Israel has only fought defensive wars and has never threatened its neighbors. Israel, if left alone, is a threat to nobody. Iran, on the other hand, has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Doesn't anyone see the two as just a wee bit different? I can only find one possible reasons for such a statement: to placate (appease?) Muslims at home and abroad.

Do comments like this help Britain's standing in the Arab and Muslim world? Of course not. Iranian, Palestinian, and other Muslim clerics constantly have sermons claiming Islam will eventually rule Britain and America. On Friday evening, just over a day after Mr. Straw's comments, Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called the United States, Britain, and Israel the "triad of evil". Today in Gaza the the British consulate was burned and the British cultural center was vandalized. This came after British jailers left a prison in Jericho fearing for their lives. The IDF then came in to capture the killers of the late Minister of Tourism, Rehevam Ze'evi. Palestinians claimed that Britain was part of an Israeli conspiracy, as if this was justification for the destruction and the kidnapping of British subjects in the West Bank.

Nothing Foreign Minister Straw will say or can say will ever change the fact that in many corners of the Muslim world the British, like their American counterparts, can do no right. Britain simply cannot be forgiven by the radicals and fundamentalists in the Muslim world for it's role in Iraq, for failing to be sufficiently anti-Zionist, and for simply being other than Islamic. No amount of equivocation or appeasement will ever change that.

Someday the governments in both the U.K. and the U.S. will have to figure out who their friends are and who their enemies are. They clearly haven't done it yet.

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Happy Purim

A Happy Purim to one and all!

Another good reason to make aliya: I haven't found a place in the Green Bay area to buy good hamentashen. You have to make them yourself and I really didn't have the time. There is something wrong with Purim without hamentashen. I will make a very nice meal for myself to celebrate.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Green Leaf In the Israeli Knesset?

Ale Yarok (עלה ירוק), the Green Leaf party, started out as a one issue political party dedicated to the legalization of marijuana in Israel. During the run up to the 2003 elections polls showed them passing the 1.5% threshold and capturing two seats in the Israeli Knesset. Then one of their party leaders came out in favor of legalizing prostitution as well and their support went up in smoke.

Ale Yarok is back for the current election campaign and clearly some Israelis feel it's high time there was Green Leaf in the Knesset. With the threshold to gain entry into parliament now raised to 2% and polls showing Ale Yarok falling just short the party engaged in a new ad campaign to attract voters with the theme "We have other aspirations". In Hebrew "to aspire" and "to inhale" are the same word. Clever. New items in their platform include gay rights, legalization of same-sex marriage, support for struggling artists, and reducing traffic accidents. Perhaps if people are stoned enough they will realize they shouldn't drive and won't have accidents.

Anyway, one controversial ad in particular garnered significant press both in Israel and overseas by showing what seems at first like an ordinary Jewish wedding but ends with a passionate kiss by two lesbian brides. (video here) Were ads like this successful? The first poll after it aired, conducted by Dialogue for the newspaper Ha'aretz showed Ale Yarok winning two seats in the 17th Knesset. If they do receive at least 2% of the vote there will be a lot of partying at Ale Yarok headquarters later this month.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Aliya Diary, Page One

This blog, from the start, was meant to have two very different purposes that I hoped would compliment each other.

The first purpose, the one that has pretty much been what the blog has been about up until now, was a reaction to what I read in the mainstream media that just plain doesn't match reality. I read story after story about Israel that, without proper background information, end up, either deliberately or unintentionally, giving a false impression. Many stories are colored by bias, by lies that have been repeated so many times that even intelligent, honest reporters believe them to be true, by "history" that never happened, and in general stories that paint a picture of Israel that is very different than what I know first hand about the country where so much of my family lives and where I feel so much at home.

The blog, up until now, has been deeply political. It has set out to debunk inaccuracies in the media, use historical background (hopefully with solid references) to put stories into proper context, and to voice my opinions on news regarding Israel and the world's relations with Israel. The blog has been rather impersonal.

The second purpose for this blog, the one that has been neglected up until now, is deeply personal. It is a diary: the diary of my aliya, my long planned move from the United States to Israel. Aliya almost happened many times in my life and probably should have happened on more than one occasion. My parents were serious about it but ultimately my mother decided she didn't want her children to go to war. I first visited a shaliach seriously in Miami in 1985. I did so again after a fall, 1996 trip to Israel. I spoke with yet another shaliach again in 2004 and again last year. Since 1996 it really has been a question of when, not if.

Why has it taken so long? Life keeps getting in the way. There have been health issues, financial obligations that had to be met, a romance that ultimately crashed and burned, and so on. Last fall when I realized that I wasn't going to stay with Red Hat and that a job change was coming I came very close to deciding to move to Israel and look for a job there rather than in the States. While I wasn't as financially prepared as I might have liked I certainly had sufficient resources to make aliya a reasonable, practical choice.

My decision to delay yet one more time had to do with a beloved pet of all things. My ferret Nyssa had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a terminal illness, in November of 2004. Against all odds she was still alive a year later and is still alive today. Her life has been detailed in yet another blog I write. For a year now I've been hearing from her vets that she is in the final stages of the disease yet she keeps fighting and living. To someone who isn't a pet owner this must sound insane. To those who have beloved pets, particularly ferret people who know how intelligent these animals are and how closely bonded they become to each other and to their owners, it actually does make sense. Anyway, with this illness there is no way Nyssa could get the health certificate to travel to Israel and she likely wouldn't survive the trip in any case. I decided to wait until she is gone and, to my great joy, that is taking far longer than expected.

In the meanwhile I moved to Wisconsin for a job that didn't work out. That led to a change in my career direction which, if successful, would mean I could work anywhere in the world with a high speed Internet connection. While it is too early to know how this is working out for certain so far things look very, very good. It is becoming increasingly likely I will be able to move to Israel and retain my work and my income, a great luxury indeed. Making this solid will take a bit more time. I now expect to finally make aliya one way or another no later than next year sometime.

While there have been far too many detours I believe the direction of my life is now clear and I can see how I can make my dream of aliya a reality with far less risk and doubt than the typical olah. Actually that was always true. I have wonderful family support both in the States and in Israel. Still, I like being financially independent and that makes me much more comfortable with what is, after all, a major life change. I really now believe that I simply won't permit more detours, at least not long ones.

So my aliya diary begins. So I begin writing down the steps I take towards making this move a reality. Better late than never.

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Annexation? Colonies? Inflammatory U.K. Media Bias

On March 6th The Scotsman ran a story with the incredible headline Israel 'plans to annex West Bank colonies' in response to Hamas. The story, of course, was about former GSS Chief and Kadima Knesset candidate Avi Dichter's detailing of Prime Minister Olmert's plans for unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria. The headline was the most inflammatory part of the piece, of course, and it colors how a reader not intimately familiar with the history of the area and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will view further disengagement. Allow me, if you will, to dissect and debunk this headline.

First, calling the West Bank settlements "colonies" is inaccurate. Some, such as Gush Etzion and pretty much the entire Etzion bloc, were Jewish property and Jewish towns prior to 1948. Israeli forces had to evacuate the population when the Jordanian army conquered the area during Israel's 1948-49 War of Independence. Why does 19 years of illegal Jordanian occupation turn Israeli Jewish towns into colonies? Why was Jordan's occupation deemed somehow legitimate and Israel's subsequent control of the area for the next nearly 39 years somehow illegitimate?

Similarly the Jewish community of Hebron lived for many centuries in peace with their Arab neighbors. It was only the violence incited by then Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and the subsequent Hebron massacre of 1929, that drove the Jewish community out. The "settlers" in Hebron have simply reclaimed homes and property that was Jewish for centuries and restored a community in a city that is holy to the Jewish people. Hebron is, after all, the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. President Bill Clinton recognized this, proposing at Camp David in 2000 that Palestinians lease the Jewish enclaves in the city to the Jewish inhabitants and/or Israel indefinitely. His idealistic vision was one of Jews and Palestinian Arabs once again living together in peace. Does either the terrorism and slaughter of 1929 or the Jordanian occupation of Hebron from 1948 until 1967 negate the Jewish claims in the city and centuries of continued Jewish presence there?

Other settlements, such as Alfe Menashe and Gilboa, were placed at strategic high spots along the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line which divided Israel from Jordan. Alfe Menashe, for example, was a barren hill and the home of a Jordanian gun emplacement. From Alfe Menashe on a clear day one can see almost the entirety of the coastal plain, from Haifa in the north, to Hadera, Netanya, Herzliya, Tel Aviv, and even Ashdod in the south. That represents 70% of Israel's population. The Jordanians routinely used the site to shell Israeli cities. Does it make any sense at all to turn such a hillside over to a hostile enemy like Hamas? Building a town there and establishing a permanent presence was common sense and a prudent measure to insure there would be no future attacks.

The armistice line, despite attempts by the media to portray it as a recognized border, was nothing of the sort. U.N. Resolution 242 called for withdrawal from territories, but not necessarily a withdrawal to the Green Line. Rather Israel was to have secure and recognized borders reached through negotiation. Again, common sense dictates that if the pre-1967 arrangements left Israel terribly vulnerable certain adjustments would have to be made. Settlements like Alfe Menashe and Gilboa are within both the letter and the spirit of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338.

Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the U.N. in 1967 and the author of Resolution 242, put it this way speaking on the PBS new program The MacNeil/Lehrer Report on March 30, 1978:We didn't say there should be a withdrawal to the '67 line; we did not put the 'the' in, we did not say all the territories, deliberately.. We all knew - that the boundaries of '67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers, they were a cease-fire line of a couple of decades earlier... We did not say that the '67 boundaries must be forever.Russian delegate Vasily Kuznetsov was even more forceful in defending Israel's right to secure borders:... phrases such as 'secure and recognized boundaries'. ... there is certainly much leeway for different interpretations which retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only as far as the lines which it judges convenient.Nobody in their right mind would judge leaving a nation's citizens open to regular shelling and mortar attacks 'convenient'.

Mr. Dichter's announcement made no mention of annexation. Rather it said that in the absence of a partner for peace Israel would have to take unilateral steps to establish secure borders. The door is open for Hamas or any future Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as Arafat claimed to do and start a new peace process, one in which the Palestinians would again have a say in the final borders.

Finally, and perhaps most damning, is that pro-Palestinian media outlets like the BBC, The Guardian, and The Scotsman, rarely if ever mention just what Israel is giving up, what legitimate claims Israel and the Jewish people have in Judea and Samaria. The term "Jew" refers to someone from Judea. Jews, in Hebrew, are Yehudim while Judea is Yehuda. This is NOT mere coincidence. Judea and Samaria are the heart of ancient Israel, dotted with Jewish historical and religious sites. Yet Prime Minister Olmert is proposing surrendering 90% of this area to a hostile enemy that will tolerate no Jewish visitors and no Jewish worship. This would be a huge sacrifice for the sake of stopping the bloodshed on both sides and it is quite controversial within Israel. Yet the media outlets in question portray the area as Palestinian lands and the Palestinian claims to these lands as uniquely legitimate. The truth is that there are two conflicting claims. However, if one is taking sides, as The Scotsman clearly is, only acknowledging one claim helps shape public opinion, particularly considering this is presented as objective news rather than editorial.

With media outlets such as this is it any wonder that we have seen an incredible rise in anti-Zionism and even anti-Semitism in the U.K.?

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

...and Now Positive Actions By the Bush Administration and Russia

The world community continues to dance around Hamas, weaving to and fro, changing directions at such an amazing rate as to cause a sort of political whiplash for those of us observing and trying to figure out what a given country's policy really is. I've described Bush administration policy as schizophrenic. Here is a lovely example of why.

Two days ago I chastised the Bush administration for cheering a European Union decision to release €120 million ($143 million) in aid to the Palestinian Authority, pointing out that the funds would ultimately end up going to Hamas. On Thursday the Palestinians partially complied with a Bush administration demand to return $50 million in aid already send to the PA. State Department chief Middle East envoy David Welch, testifying before Congress, confirmed that $30 million had been returned and that the Bush administration was working to collect the other $20 million. Here is an example of the Bush administration and the State Department saying absolutely the wrong thing and then doing absolutely the right thing within the space of a week. As I do believe that actions speak more loudly than words I'll give the Bush administration kudos for working to isolate and pressure Hamas. I just wish I could be more certain that they will continue to work in this direction. For the moment, at least, I'm willing to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt.

We saw a similar turnaround this week in Russia. President Vladimir Putin had angered the United States, the European Union, and Israel by inviting Hamas officials to Moscow for meetings. The statements by President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after the meeting for the first time echoed the position previously taken by the U.S., the E.U., Canada, and Israel, demanding that Hamas recognize Israel and abandon terrorism. FM Lavrov's statements included the following:I don't think Hamas will have ... any future if Hamas doesn't change. [Hamas needs] to transform itself into a political party and to be sure that the military wing of Hamas become a legitimate part of the Palestinian security structures.These words are indeed helpful. Time will tell if this a true shift in Russian foreign policy. I'd like to see some actions from Russia to isolate Hamas as well.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashall, for his part, consistently refuses to consider taking destroying Israel off Hamas' agenda. Prior to meeting with Russian officials he said:The issue of recognition is a decided issue. We don't intend to recognize Israel. On Wednesday Agence France Presse reported that Mashall had harsh words for his European benefactors who had just sent the Palestinians the aforementioned €120 million, stating their aid could not buy Hamas. He added:The Palestinian people cannot sell their legitimate claims. There can be no trading on that, with money on one side and on the other side our homeland and our rights... Humanitarian aid should not be given with conditions. It's inadmissible.To Hamas destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state is a "legitimate claim".

It is time the world faces up to the reality that Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist group bent on destroying Israel. If you support Hamas you support war against Israel.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

European Union, Bush Administration Backtrack on Funding Hamas and Terrorism

On Monday the European Union released €120 million ($143 million) in aid to the Palestinian Authority before a Hamas-led government officially takes over. Tell me, oh great European humanitarians: how will you keep this money going into Hamas hands as soon as they are in charge? How can you assure that the funds won't be used to kill innocent Israelis in terrorist attacks? You cannot give any such assurances, of course. The European Union has simply found a way to keep supporting the Palestinians, including Palestinian terrorism, while maintaining some form of plausible deniability that they are, in fact, supporting Hamas and really don't care which terrorist faction is running the Palestinian Authority.

I reported last June that the E.U. was renewing contacts with Hamas at that time. If it was OK to deal with Hamas then it clearly is OK, as far as the Europeans are concerned, to deal with them now despite recent statements to the contrary. Ilka Schröder, a former Green Party member of the European Parliament from Germany, wrote an open letter to the "Working Group" of the E.U. Parliament asking for an end to the funding of and complicity in Palestinian terrorism by the European Union. In 2003 she accused Europe of siding with the Palestinians in their terror war on Israel as a proxy war against the United States. Some excerpts from her lecture follow:It is an open secret within the European Parliament and the Commission that European Union aid to the PA has not been spent correctly. Everyone knows that the PA created a black budget. After entering and searching the Headquarters of Arafat, the IDF presented a vast amount of material found there. It shows how the PA as an Institution and Arafat as a person are involved in ideological preparation, financial and political support and planning of terrorist acts against Israeli citizens. The government of Israel officially informed the European Commission that the PA misused EU money. The reaction of the Commission to the material that the Israelis presented was - to put it diplomatically - not very convincing.
The European Parliament does not intend to verify whether European taxpayers' money could have been used to finance anti-Semitic murderous attacks. Unfortunately, this fits well with European policy in this area.
The need for a solution only exists as long as the war continues. This is why the EU does not want the conflict to end before it gains a major role. And this is why the EU does not wish the PA to give up too early and why the EU is strengthening the PA. The EU is getting up to the cynicism of stirring up a conflict that it supposedly wants to see resolved by financing one side. This is the inherently inhuman purpose of EU humanitarian aid in the region. The Palestinians are playing the ugly role of being the cannon fodder for Europe's hidden war against the US.
What has changed in Europe and in European support for the Palestinians since 2003? In my view absolutely nothing has changed.

The Bush Administration, whose policy towards Israel and the Palestinians has been schizophrenic at best, praised the European decision. In the words of State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli:It is a sign that we are all working together. We are all working together to prevent a collapse of the interim PA government and to support the Palestinian people. Obviously, when there is a new government, we'll need to reasses our positions, based on the formation of that government and the composition of that government.This after President Bush has said that the United States would have no dealings with Hamas and not support the Hamas-led government in any way. As I have noted before the only real difference between Hamas and Fatah in any case is that Fatah pays lip service to a peace process while Hamas does not. How can the Bush administration claim to fight terror on the one hand when they cheer the funding of terrorism on the other? If Ms. Schröder is correct the Bush administration is cheering a policy that is designed specifically to undermine American interests in the region. Does this make sense to anyone?

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