An Era Passes – Tommy Lapid dies at age 77

A champion of a secular Israel, who opposed the growing influence of the religious-national right but who may have inadvertently invigorated its growing and purposeful strength, has died Sunday in a Tel Aviv hospital.

Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, who suffered a heart attack a few months ago, was admitted to hospital on Friday. He died today of cancer, according to news reports.

He is the man who once said, as Minister of Justice in 2004, that photos of a Palestinian woman trying to salvage something from the ruins of her IDF-razed home in Rafah made him think of his own grandmother who suffered under the Nazis.

Born 77 years ago in the former Yugoslavia, Lapid was a prominent journalist who headed the secular ‘Shinui” (“Change”) party. Israel, Lapid said, should be a Jewish state with freedom of — and from — religion.

“I don’t mind them carrying on their religion but I do mind when they try to impose their views on the secular majority in this country”, Lapid said of the religious-national right. “I think Israel should be a modern, Western civilisation and not a medieval ghetto”.

The current Shinui platform states that Israel should be “Jewish, Democratic, Zionist and Liberal”. It also states that the party will “fight religious coercion”, and believes in “separation of religion and state, without reducing the ‘Jewishness’ of the country. Religious belief will not be legislated nor will it be financed by the state. Our party believes in civil marriages (and divorce) – public transport on festivals and Shabbat and equal rights for the various Jewish religious streams. We will cancel the Tal law which differentiates in the conscription of religious and non religious citizens”.

In this last provision, there appears to be a convergence of aims between Shinui and its religious-national opponents.

Shinui was the largest winner in the 2003 general elections, winning nearly as many Knesset seats as the Labour party — but left the ruling coalition in December 2004 in a dispute over funding of religious institutions. Shinui then spilt in the run-up to 2006 elections, in the aftermath of a major shift of Israeli political alliances that surrounded Israel’s 2005 “Disengagement” from Gaza, and no longer has any representation in the Knesset.

In between, Lapid served as Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, then resigned from political life after Shinui split before the 2006 elections. He then became chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial council. Lapid was himself a Holocaust survivor who had a number of family members, including his father and grandmother, perish in Nazi concentration camps prior to the end of World War II.

As Justice Minister, Lapid made news headlines by opposing, in a May 2004 cabinet meeting, the destruction of Palestinian homes in Rafah during an IDF operation in southern Gaza. After the cabinet session, Lapid told Israel Radio that “I did think, when I saw a picture on the TV of an old woman on all fours in the ruins of her home looking under some floor tiles for her medicines – I did think, ‘What would I say if it were my grandmother?’ ” In the interview with Israel Radio, Lapid said it made him “sick” that the army was considering demolishing as many as 2,000 Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp to expand an Israeli-patrolled zone along the Egyptian border.

Plans to destroy Palestinian homes in Rafah are still alive, as former IDF commanders have explained to journalists on several recent occasions. Reserve Major-General Yom-Tov Samia, former commander of the Southern front, said at a recent briefing to journalists in Jerusalem that he had even been willing to help Palestinian families living in Rafah, which has grown on both sides of the now-walled Egyptian-Gaza border, to move their furniture if they would be willing to move several hundred meters away from the border to create a sort of supervisable sterile zone that could more easily be monitored by the IDF.

More recently, Lapid said in a weekly commentary on Israel Radio in early 2007, after airing of video footage showing a Palestinian woman being viciously verbally attacked through the iron bars on the veranda of her downtown Hebron home by a neighboring Israeli woman settler – who among other things called the Palestinian woman a “Sharmuta”, (“whore”), that what was happening in Hebron reminded him of persecution endured by Jews in his native Yugoslavia on the eve of World War Two. “It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us, but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation,
spitting and scorn,” Lapid said in his radio commentary.

After the widespread airing of this footage, Israel’s mainstream politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then also chimed in to denounce the Israeli woman settler’s behavior as “shameful”.

But, Israeli religious-nationalist commentators have accused Lapid of “shamelessly playing on sterotypes similar to those which appear in Nazi and other anti-Semitic press”.

Meanwhile, the religious-national right has been organizing. It has moved away from a preoccupation with religious life and a study of the scriptures, and sent many of a generation of yeshiva students – not a few of whom are American by birth, and for whom a pioneer ethic has a doubly patriotic resonance — out to settle the West Bank, and the same time to serve into the Israeli Defense Forces, where a number have now reached high ranks.

These soldier-settler-scholars appear to have been inspired in part on the transformation in the American military, which formerly chose generals who relied on their charismatic personalities and “seat-of-the-pants” instincts, but which in recent decades has been sending its most promotable (and certainly more compliant) officers off to become more multi-dimensional leaders by doing stints of academic study in post-graduate and doctoral institutions, in American service academies and internationally.

The current stated aim for these soldier-settler-scholars is to take over the government in Israel – and they are gaining in strength and political power.

This is the second important document needed to understand the current situation at Rafah

This is the second important document needed to understand the current problem at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which was breached in recent days by up to 700,000 Palestinians on a shopping spree after having been cooped up for months in Gaza (since the Hamas rout of Fatah security forces, actually).

This is the agreement that Condoleeza Rice stayed up all night on her birthday in November 2005 to negotiate. The then-President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, was also involved (he was the Quartet envoy referred to in this document).

I have not seen any useful analysis of this agreement. Suffice it to say that virtually none of it was ever implemented in practice.

Please note that the memorandum of understanding with the EU about Rafah is not appended, as this document might suggest — and I haven’t found it yet…

Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement on movement and access and Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing

Agreement on Movement and Access

“To promote peaceful economic development and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground, the following agreement has been reached. It represents the commitments of the Government of Israel (GoI) and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Its implementation and further elaboration will be assisted by the Quartet Special Envoy for Disengagement and his staff and/or the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) and his staff.

1. Rafah

The parties have agreed to the attached statement of principles. Rafah will be opened as soon as it is ready to operate at an international standard in accordance with the specifications of this agreement and as soon as the 3rd party is on site, with a target date of November 25.

2. Crossing Points

The parties have agreed that:

The passages will operate continuously. On an urgent basis, Israel will permit the export of all agricultural products from Gaza during this 2005 harvest season.

The new and additional scanner will be installed and fully operational by December 31. At that time, the number of export trucks per day to be processed through Karni will reach 150, and 400 by end-2006. A common management system will be adopted by both parties.

In addition to the number of trucks above, Israel will permit export of agricultural produce from Gaza and will facilitate its speedy exit and onward movement so that quality and freshness can be maintained. Israel will ensure the continued opportunity to export.

To enhance operation, the parties agree that:

— When a new generation of x-ray equipment able to scan trailers as well as containers becomes available it will be used. Once it arrives in the country, testing will also be carried out with the assistance of the Quartet Special Envoy.

— The USSC will ensure continuing consultation, with unresolved implementation issues to be discussed as needed with the parties.

— The PA will ensure that the passages will be protected on the Palestinian side of the border and will train and upgrade the management of all crossings to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. The PA will establish, without delay, a unified system of border management.

— The management system that has been developed for Karni should, with suitable local variations, be adapted to the passages at Erez and Kerem Shalom. Israel also undertakes to put in place similar arrangements as appropriate that will make West Bank passages fully operational as soon as possible. A bilateral committee, with participation as needed of the Quartet Special Envoy and/or the USSC, will develop operational procedures for those passages.

3. Link between Gaza and the West Bank

Israel will allow the passage of convoys to facilitate the movements of goods and persons. Specifically:

— Establish bus convoys by December 15.

— Establish truck convoys by January 15.

— Work out detailed implementation arrangements in a bilateral committee of the GoI and PA with participation as needed from the Quartet team and the USSC.

It is understood that security is a prime and continuing concern for Israel and that appropriate arrangements to ensure security will be adopted.

4. Movement within the West Bank

Consistent with Israel’s security needs, to facilitate movement of people and goods within the West Bank and to minimize disruption to Palestinian lives, the ongoing work between Israel and the U.S. to establish an agreed list of obstacles to movement and develop a plan to reduce them to the maximum extent possible will be accelerated so that the work can be completed by December 31.

5. Gaza Seaport

Construction of a seaport can commence. The GoI will undertake to assure donors that it will not interfere with operation of the port. The parties will establish a U.S.-led tripartite committee to develop security and other relevant arrangements for the port prior to its opening. The 3rd party model to be used at Rafah will provide the basis for this work.

6. Airport

The parties agree on the importance of the airport. Discussions will continue on the issues of security arrangements, construction, and operation.

Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing

To be supplemented prior to opening by agreements on security, customs and 3rd party implementation procedures


Rafah will be operated by the Palestinian Authority on its side, and Egypt on its side, according to international standards, in accordance with Palestinian law and subject to the terms of this agreement.

Rafah will be opened as soon as it is ready to operate at an international standard in accordance with the specifications of this agreement and as soon as the 3rd party is on site, with a target date of November 25.

Use of the Rafah crossing will be restricted to Palestinian ID card holders and others by exception in agreed categories with prior notification to the GoI and approval of senior PA leadership.

The PA will notify the GoI 48 hours in advance of the crossing of a person in the excepted categories-diplomats, foreign investors, foreign representatives of recognized international organizations and humanitarian cases.

The GoI will respond within 24 hours with any objections and will include the reasons for the objections;

The PA will notify the GoI of their decision within 24 hours and will include the reasons for their decision;

The 3rd party will ensure the proper procedures are followed and will advise both sides of any information in its possession pertaining to the people applying to cross under these exceptions.

These procedures will remain in place for a period of 12 months, unless the 3rd party delivers a negative evaluation of the PA running the Rafah crossing. This evaluation will be done in close coordination with both sides and will give due consideration to the opinion of both sides.

Rafah will also be used for export of goods to Egypt.

Objective criteria for the inspection of cars will be established by consensus. The criteria are as follows:

Search equipment will be installed, including

— Black lights

— Power tools and a compressor for the tools

— Technology to be agreed, possibly including sonic imagery, gamma detection (full vehicle or hand held), and/or millimetre wave imagery

— Mirrors and bore scope equipment to search hard to reach places

Personnel will be trained to search vehicles and on the use of this equipment by the 3rd party to international standards

Cameras will be installed to monitor the search process

The 3rd party will evaluate the capacity of the PA to inspect cars according to these criteria and to international standards. Once the PA develops the capacity to inspect cars to the satisfaction of the 3rd party, cars will be allowed to pass through Rafah. Until that time, cars will pass through on an exceptional basis, subject to specifications agreed in the security protocol.

Rafah will be the only crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (with the exception of Kerem Shalom for the agreed period).

The PA will establish clear operating procedures.

Until Rafah is operational, the PA will open Rafah crossing on an ad hoc basis for religious pilgrims, medical patients, and others, in coordination with General Gilad’s office on the Israeli side.

Israel will provide the PA with all information needed to update the Palestinian population registry, including all information on Palestinian ID card holders who are currently outside the country.

A liaison office, led by the 3rd party, will receive real-time video and data feed of the activities at Rafah and will meet regularly to review implementation of this agreement, resolve any disputes arising from this agreement, and perform other tasks specified in this agreement.


The PA will act to prevent the movement of weapons and explosives at the Rafah crossing.

The PA will establish baggage limits for each passenger as part of the procedures. Limits will be the same as currently applied by the GoI; very frequent travellers (suitcase policy) to be agreed.

Travellers, including returning residents, may use the crossing point to bring in personal effects as defined in Rule 1(e) to Heading 7 of the Annex to the prevailing Customs Tariff. Any other personal belongings or other goods shall be cleared at the Kerem Shalom crossing point.

The PA will provide the 3rd party a list of names of the workers at Rafah crossing which will be shared with the Israelis. The PA will take the Israelis concerns into account.

Security services from Israel, PA, the U.S., and Egypt will continue to coordinate on security issues and will participate in the security working group.

On a case by case basis, the PA will consider information on persons of concern provided by the GoI. The PA will consult with the GoI and the 3rd party prior to the PA making a decision to prohibit travel or not. During this consultation, which will not take more than six hours, the person in question will not be permitted to cross.


GoI and PA will continue to apply the Paris Protocol of 29 April 1994.

Rafah will be operated according to international standards and rules and the Paris Protocol.

GoI and PA agree on widest possible co-operation and information sharing.

GoI and PA will co-operate on training issues.

GoI and PA customs will hold regular meetings to which the GoE will be invited as appropriate.

Kerem Shalom

PA customs officials will clear incoming cargo at Kerem Shalom under the supervision of Israeli customs agents.

Both sides will discuss operating procedures at a later stage.

Operations at Kerem Shalom will provide training and capacity building to PA customs staff.

The 3rd party will review the PA’s customs capacity in 12 months and make a recommendation to both sides for a joint decision regarding future arrangements. In the event of a disagreement, the U.S., in consultation with the GoI, the PA, and the 3rd party, will resolve the issue expeditiously.

Third party

The 3rd party will have the authority to ensure that the PA complies with all applicable rules and regulations concerning the Rafah crossing point and the terms of this agreement. In case of non-compliance the 3rd party has the authority to order the re-examination and reassessment of any passenger, luggage, vehicle or goods. While the request is being processed, the person, luggage, vehicle or cargo in question will not be allowed to leave the premises of the Rafah crossing point.

The 3rd party will assist the PA to build capacity — training, equipment and technical assistance — on border management and customs.

Details of the 3rd party’s role are specified in the attached memorandum of understanding.

The 3rd party will be the European Union”.

The text of this agreement – but minus the supposedly attached memorandum of understanding – is posted