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Palestinianlandconfis.JPG (44028 bytes)
Israeli soldiers confiscating Palestinian land, November 28, 1995 (story).
(photo: al-Majalla)

1995    Israel continued construction on West Bank Jewish settlements. The number of Jewish settlers in Arab territories increased by 5%, according to Israeli statistics, bringing the total population of Jews in Gaza to 7,000, and in the West Bank, 134,000. Before the Oslo Accord, Israel had confiscated 65% of West Bank Arab lands. At the end of 1994, the figure stood at 73%, including nearly 1,000 acres (955 fedans) set aside on the Arab side of the U.N. Green line for settlement expansion and for a system of highways to link a ring of settlements and bolster their security.

Palestinian protests erupted in mid January over Israeli land confiscations in the West Bank at Elkana, Safa, and in areas south of Jerusalem.

On Sunday, January 22, Islamic Jihad suicide bombers detonated two bombs at an Israeli bus stop in Beit Lid near Nordiyya killing 19 and wounding 61, the fifth major suicide bombing since last April by Arab extremists opposed to the peace accord. In all during this wave 54 were killed and 200 wounded. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin sealed off the West Bank and Gaza preventing 50,000 Palestinians from being able to get to their jobs inside Israel. Israel began importing workers from Thailand, Romania, and other countries to fill the vacancies in mostly menial jobs left by the Palestinian workers.

The attacks by Arabs on Israelis chilled support for the peace process inside Israel. Criticisms of Rabin's government began to mount on all sides. Hardship and anger spread across Gaza as Palestinians began to feel the effects of Israel's closure of the territories.

In February, human rights groups worldwide began formally citing the Palestine National Authority (PNA) for abuses committed in Palestinian jails.

In March, Arab newspaper editorials angrily criticized the United States for supporting Israel after Israel refused to ratify the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. At the same time, the U.S. had pressured Arab countries to sign the agreement.

On April 27, Israel announced its intention to confiscate 130 acres of Arab land in Jerusalem. Within days, United States Senator Robert Dole, running for President in 1996, publicly called for the building of a new American embassy on Arab land in Jerusalem. A mini-summit of Islamic nations was hurriedly scheduled to meet in Rabat to discuss these plans.  Surprised by Muslim protests worldwide, Rabin, in May, decided to postpone the expropriations, and the Muslim summit was called off.

The storm over Jerusalem having been (at least temporarily) calmed, Palestinians and Israelis began a new round of talks in Cairo. The mood began to turn more cooperative and optimistic about the prospects of a settlement in the next phase of the Oslo Accord. The parties set July 1 as the target date for a final agreement on the pullback of Israeli troops from populated areas of the West Bank (under phase two of the Oslo accord, a step which had been slated for implementation the previous year). Palestinians eyed September 1 as the date for elections.

In early June, optimism was rising, too, on the Syrian-Israeli peace negotiation front as representatives from both sides prepared to meet in Washington. The chief issue between these two parties was the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Syria wanted complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. Israel wanted a peace treaty first, then, talks about the extent of its withdrawal from the heights.

In June, 1995, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak escaped unhurt after an assassination attempt in Addis Ababa.  Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden was suspected. 

In July, 1995, Serbian forces besieging the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica massacred more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys under the noses of U.N. peacekeepers in what was supposed to have been recognized by all sides as a U.N. designated "Safe Area." (see also)

In August, Israel was rocked by revelations that Israeli soldiers had killed hundreds of Egyptian  prisoners of war during the 1967 war, deaths that army officers, some of whom were then serving in leading positions in the government, had known about right along. The revelations came hard on the heels of reports of killings of Egyptian POWs in the 1956 war. Egypt demanded a full investigation.

On August 13, Jewish settlers near Jebel Artis, north of Jerusalem, fired upon Palestinians protesting recent confiscations of Arab land there. One Palestinian, Khair Kassam, age 23, was killed.

Also in August, 1995, speculation began to mount over Saddam Hussein's grip on power in Iraq following the defection of two of his top aides to Jordan. Saddam's humiliation was compounded by the fact that the aides were married to his daughters both of whom had fled with their husbands.  Iraqi troop movements on Iraq's border with Jordan were detected. The United States vowed to defend Jordan against any Iraqi incursions or attacks. The United States found itself in the double bind of both wanting Saddam removed from power, yet worrying that his exit would precipitate the disintegration of Iraq into a Kurdish enclave in the north and a Shiite entity in the south setting the stage for a hostile and formidable Iran next door to the east to increase its influence in the oil rich region.

On September 28, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met again in Washington at a ceremony presided over by President Clinton to sign the Taba Agreement (named after the town in the Egyptian Sinai where the negotiations took place). Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from Arab populated areas paving the way for the expansion of Palestinian authority throughout the West Bank. The terms of the accord called for Israel to begin withdrawing from West Bank towns (Jenin being the first) in November. Withdrawal was to have been completed by March, 1996. Palestinian elections were to follow. Left unresolved was the status of 400 militant settlers who lived in the town of Hebron along with a force of Israeli troops assigned to protect them, and the roughly 140,000 other Jewish settlers who lived throughout the West Bank. Two days later on September 30, approximately one hundred Jewish settlers went on a rampage in Hebron breaking windows and roughing up people in the street claiming that Hebron was part of Jewish "Judea."

In October, 1995, France suffered the eighth in a wave of bomb attacks since July (most of them in Paris) which had killed seven and wounded over one hundred. Claims of responsibility came from Algerian Islamist militants. The insurgents were angry with France for its support of the military backed Algerian government with whom it had been locked in a civil war since 1992 and in which by that time over 40,000 had died. French officials, impatient at Britain's slowness in extraditing the Algerian militant Rachid Ramda who had taken refuge in London (along with other prominent Islamist militants), sneeringly began referring to London as "Londonistan." (Ramda was finally extradited to stand trial in France in December, 2005). (By 2005, some had begun calling Europe "Eurabia.")

In October, Hizbullah troops in Southern Lebanon resisting Israeli occupation there killed several Israeli soldiers. Israel blamed the attack on Syrian and Iranian attempts to disrupt the peace process.

On October 25, 1995, the United States Congress overwhelmingly approved a measure to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 1999, but added a provision allowing the President to delay action indefinitely. The White House denounced the legislation as disruptive to the ongoing peace talks. Arab leaders were vehement in their condemnation of the initiative.

On October 26, Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shaqaqi was gunned down in Malta (presumably by Israeli agents).

On November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by Yigal Amir, a 25 year old Israeli law student and alleged member of a right wing Israeli organization opposed to the peace process. Shimon Peres was appointed Prime Minister to lead the interim government. This event was seen as a direct result of the chasm in Israeli society between supporters and opponents of the call to return lands to the Arabs occupied since the 1967 war in exchange for peace, a chasm that first began to appear following the failed 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

On November 28, 1995, Palestinian women demonstrated at al-Khader against the confiscation of some 100 acres of Palestinian land bordering the Jewish settlement of Neve Daniel. Israeli soldiers cleared demonstrators who were blocking a bulldozer (see photo at top of page).

Statistics in 1995 indicated that the Christian population of Jerusalem had decreased by two thirds since the 1967 war: down from 25,000 to less than 8,000. Bishop Elia Khoury, retired Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem, warned that if current rates of depletion persisted, "When you come to the Holy Land, you will find stones, churches, shrines, without worshippers."  (see also 1991 report)

Also in November, 1995, seven people were killed (five Americans and two Indians) and 60 injured in an explosion at a car park near a U.S.- run military training center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (see also)

In December, 1995, the United States brokered a deal ending the war in Bosnia that had been raging since 1992.  This war had been egged on  in part by veteran jihad fighters from the war to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan whose aim it was to set up an Islamic republic in Bosnia. The pact was named the "Dayton Accords" after Dayton, Ohio where the leaders gathered to hammer it out.  The Afghan-Arab mujahideen were quickly herded out of the country and replaced by "godless" American peacekeeping forces, a bitter pill for them to swallow given their conviction that God had willed them to usher in theocratic Islamic rule in Bosnia. Instead of theocracy, Bosnia set itself on a track toward civil government (see remarks by Enes Kariç)

Also in 1995, Ibn Warraq published a book entitled Why I am Not a Muslim. Ibn Warraq was a pseudonym used before in Muslim history by dissenters wishing to avoid persecution. The current bearer of the name was Indian-born, educated in England, and said to be residing somewhere in Europe. He was acclaimed by some as the Muslim world's "Voltaire" for his open criticism of Islam. (See also; and also.)

1996   On January 5, Yahya Ayyash, known as "The Engineer" and believed to be the mastermind behind a wave of Islamic suicide bombings against Israel, was  killed in the Gaza Strip when his cell phone blew up. The militant Islamic group HAMAS vowed to avenge his death, which it blamed on Israel.

On January 15, Israeli soldiers pushed Jewish settlers onto a bus as they were arrested in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. Israeli police forced the settlers out of government-owned buildings on the outskirts of this settlement next to Hebron which police say they illegally took over some six months ago. It took hundreds of police and special forces troops to evict the settlers.

On January 20, 1996, the first national Palestinian elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza Sector. The turnout was estimated at 70%. Yasser Arafat garnered 90% of the vote and was elected President.

On Sunday, February 25, two bombs exploded in Israel - one on a bus in Jerusalem, the other in Ashkelon - killing 25 and injuring 77. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by HAMAS in retaliation for the assassination of HAMAS bomb expert, Yahya Ayash on January 5.

In February, 1996, the Arab world was stung by the announcement of a comprehensive mutual defense pact between Israel and Turkey providing, among other things, access for Israeli warplanes to Turkish air space. Syria, which saw itself hemmed in by hostile neighbors both to the north and south, was especially anxious. Tensions between Syria and Turkey had been mounting over water rights along the Euphrates River which supplied both countries. Turkey had recently completed construction on a huge dam with the potential of cutting off Syria's access to the river's resources completely. Some Arabs read the alliance as Turkey's revenge on the Arabs for turning against their former rulers in World War I, and as part of Turkey's plan to reassert itself as a regional powerbroker in the Middle East. (more on the struggle for water in the Middle East)  By the spring of 2004, the Turkish-Israeli alliance was showing signs of strain. 

In 1996, reports from Afghanistan indicated that the Taliban, a Muslim revivalist student movement that controlled one third of the country, had unleashed a reign of terror on Herat and other areas. Mixing religious puritanism with banditry, the Taliban gagged the local press, quashed due process (reports of executions without trial were on the increase), prohibited women from working outside the home, and banned women from appearing in public except in the company of men and only if clothed in the burqa, a traditional head-to-toe garment with a small slit for the eyes.

On March 3, a HAMAS suicide bomber on a bus in Jerusalem killed 18 people. Israel declared all-out war against HAMAS. The following day, another HAMAS suicide bomber killed13 people at a busy Tel Aviv shopping mall. Israel withdrew its team from negotiations with Syria which had been taking place near Washington.

On March 10, World leaders converged on Egypt for a "Summit of Peacemakers'' aimed at saving the five-year-old Middle East peace process from collapse following a wave of suicide bombings in Israel.

On April 11, 1996, following attacks by pro-Iranian Hizbullah on her northern border, Israeli helicopters and jets poured into Lebanon, bombing targets in the south and in Beirut itself. Israel dubbed its operation "Grapes of Wrath." Within a few days, up to 500,000 Lebanese refugees had fled their homes in the south seeking safety in the north. On April 18, the bloodiest day of the campaign, Israel shelled a U.N. camp in the village of Qana killing 102 civilians. A U.N. investigation subsequently concluded that Israel had shelled the camp intentionally, not accidentally as it claimed. A ceasefire was agreed to on April 26. (see also)

Meanwhile, on April 24, 1996, the Palestine National Council voted to remove the clause from its national charter calling for the destruction of Israel.

Israeli elections in May, 1996 resulted in a narrow defeat (by ten percentage points) for Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Likud party hard liner, Binyamin Netanyahu became the new prime minister. Netanyahu's election emboldened a group of opinion makers at the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank with ties to the American Enterprise Institute (some of them would come to be known as "neoconservatives" -  see PNAC) to conceive a new and more aggressive strategy for Israel in its dealings with its neighbors in the Middle East.  Entitled  A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, their report urged Israel to work closely with Turkey and Jordan to "contain" implacable enemies like Syria, called for a policy of "preemption" to supplement the current policy of "retaliation," and urged replacing the Madrid formula ("land for peace") with one advocating "peace for peace."  (see also)

On May 31, Saudi Arabia beheaded four men found guilty of the November, 1995 bomb attack in Riyadh. Their confessions included claims that they had been members of Afghan mujahideen militias which had fought in the insurgency against Soviet rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s. All four were unemployed, deeply devout members of the ultra orthodox Wahhabi Islamic movement that helped bring the current royal family of al-Saud to power but which since 1990 had increasingly been at odds with the government over its charges of corruption within the royal family and the government at large.

Also in May, 1996, a bloodless coup took place in Qatar, a country that had gained its independence from Great Britain in 1971.  Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 46 years old, seized power from his conservative father.   Educated in Britain's Sandhurst Military Academy, Sheikh Hamad was reform minded.   He abolished the nation's Information Ministry, including its repressive system of censorship.  He founded a new television network, al-Jazeera, which some dubbed the "Arabic CNN."  The new station went on the air in November, 1997 and quickly gained fame throughout the Arab world for uncensored reporting and discussion of issues still taboo throughout much of the Arab world:  the status of women, and political and religious freedom, for example.  Qatar had the third largest natural gas reserves in the world and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. 

On June 23 in Cairo, the first Arab Summit held since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait concluded with a call for Israel's newly elected Likud government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respect the principles enunciated at the 1991 Madrid Conference of "land for peace" and the right of Palestinian self-determination. The delegates also took the opportunity to "express their concern over the Israeli-Turkish military agreement" and called "on Turkey to reconsider this agreement, in a way to prevent any negative bearing on the security of Arab states."

The final communiqué restated conditions Arabs that had been the backbone of Arab public positions on Middle Eastern affairs since the end of the 1967 war:  that Israel "fully withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights to positions of 4 June 1967 and fully and unconditionally withdraw from southern Lebanon and its Western Bekaa to the internationally recognized boundaries, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 and the principle of land-for-peace."

On June 26, 1996, a massive truck bomb exploded outside a U.S. military dormitory (the Khobar Towers) in Dharan, Saudi Arabia killing nineteen Americans and wounding several hundred others. Some suspected the attack may have been in retaliation for the executions of four Saudi nationals in connection with the November, 1995 bomb attack. (United States dependence on Arab oil had risen to nearly 50%, compared with 6% in 1973 during the oil crisis).

On June 28, 1996, six months after the closest election in Turkey's history, the head of the Refah (Welfare) party, Necmettin Erbakan, became the first Islamist prime minister in Turkey's history, joining former prime minister, Tansu Ciller, in a coalition government. President Suleyman Demirel approved his government and premiership. Under the terms of the arrangement, Erbakan was to serve as Prime Minister for one year, and then, relinquish the post to his coalition partner, Ciller.  The ascent of Islamists to power in Turkey horrified many Kemalists (followers of Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" who had abolished the caliphate and introduced other reforms strictly limiting the role of religion in civil life). The army forced Erbakan out in June, 1997, and Refah was dissolved in 1998

On July 17, following Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's statements indicating his approval for settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem, "Yesha" (the settlers' council) prepared plans for the expansion of existing settlements and the establishment of new ones that would increase the settler population by 300,000 to 500,000 people. Netanyahu himself the previous month had called for, "the unqualified right of the Jewish people to settle anywhere in the land of Israel" (New York Times, 26 June 1996). The Israeli government "Guidelines for the Government of Israel" stated that "in any political arrangement, Israel shall insist on ensuring the existence and security of Jewish settlements and their affinity with the state of Israel" (17 June 1996).

On July 19, nearly 200 protesters turned out in Qariout village, near Nablus on the West Bank to protest the unilateral confiscation of 400 dunams (100 acres) of agricultural land by settlers from Shilo and Rachel Settlements.  Settlers from these settlements had seized the land and surrounded it with barbed-wire. (Robert W. McGee, Dumont Institute for Public Policy Research, No. 7, July 23, 1996)

On July 25, hundreds of Palestinians protested against attempts by rightwing Jewish demonstrators to enter the al-Aqsa Mosque. Dozens of demonstrators arrived waving flags, shouting slogans and sounding rams' horns while lining up to enter the area under police escort.

On July 26, 1996, United States President Clinton again denied clemency to Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel in 1987. A former Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to spying for Israel and got the maximum sentence in a case that strained U.S.-Israeli relations. Clinton had previously denied clemency in March 1994 as had President George Bush in January 1993 (source: Reuters). (See also 1998)

Speaking at a press conference as he left Doha, Qatar on July 8, French President Jacques Chirac said, "For my part I am proud of the French empire and what France did in the French empire. As far as I am concerned it is a glorious page in the history of our country." (more on European colonialism in Africa and the Middle East)

In August, 1996, riots occurred in Jordan after the government removed the subsidies on bread. The price of a kilo of bread more than doubled overnight (from 13 cents to 28 cents).

Also in August, 1996, an Egyptian appeals court upheld the divorce decree imposed upon Professor Nasr Abu Zaid and his wife Ibtihal Younis (also an academic) who had been charged with ridda ("apostasy" against Islam). Abu Zaid's marriage had been annulled on the grounds that his writings contained blasphemous thoughts (for example, Zaid stated in one of his works that some parts of the Qur'an should be read metaphorically instead of literally). The divorce decree was also upheld by the new Sheikh of al-Azhar, Muhammad Said Tantawi. (more on "Wars of Words and Images")

On August 1, 1996, the New York Times cited Associate Press sources saying that a secret blueprint for a final peace pact between the Peres government and the Palestine National Authority (PNA) had been reached in October of 1995. The most surprising feature was the willingness of the PNA to set up their capital outside Jerusalem.

On August 2, the Netanyahu government in Israel announced it was lifting the four year old freeze on the expansion of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

On August 28, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved construction of 1,800 new housing units in the West Bank. The day before, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai had decided to authorize construction of apartments in the settlement of Kiryat Sefer near the town of Ramallah. Earlier in the same month Mordechai authorized the dispatch of 300 mobile homes to existing settlements. Under the Oslo accords, the fate of Zionist settlements and the status of East Jerusalem were to be determined in future negotiations.

The Maariv newspaper about this time said Israel would add 700 housing units to the settlement of Kiryat Sefer, 1,050 to Hashmonaim, 900 to a nearby Jewish seminary, 200 to Matityahu and 700 to Betar Ilit. All were in the West Bank, near the pre-1967 Middle East war border. Israel Radio put the number of new homes at 2,000. Some 130,000 Jews had settled by then amidst the nearly two million Palestinians in the territories since Israel captured them in the 1967 (Reuters, August 29, 1996). A spokesman at the U.S. State Department responded, "I have nothing to say," when asked about the latest move to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in East Jerusalem held a general strike and marched in protest. Israeli authorities bulldozed a Palestinian charity headquarters in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem's Old City saying the building was illegal. The Palestinian spokesman, Fahim Kilani, said the demolished building housed the Burj al-Laqlaq Society which provided services to handicapped persons and the elderly and was also used as a kindergarten and youth club. "Burj al-Laqlaq operated with Israeli authorization and had no links whatever to the Palestinian Authority," he said. Kilani also said the action was part of a "campaign to empty the Old City of Jerusalem of Palestinians and replace them with Jews."

In the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, two of the main movers behind the American "Neo-Con" movement and the PNAC, published an article ("Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy") in which they called for a an American "benevolent global hegemony." (see also)

On September 3, 1996, the United States launched the first of two aerial attacks targeting air defense installations in northern Iraq. The attacks were in retaliation for Iraqi incursions into Kurdish safe areas. Iraq had come to the aid of the Kurdistan Democratic Party which had been battling the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan backed by Iran in and around the city of Erbil.  Reaction from one official in Syria typified that of all Arab countries except Kuwait (which strongly endorsed the U.S. action against Iraq):   "Now the United States is violating the sovereignty of an Arab country as Iraq violated the sovereignty of Kuwait when it occupied it in August 1990.''

On September 20, Israel announced plans to build 4,000 additional residences for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and to end restrictions on settlement building in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

On September 25, 1996, the most serious violence to erupt in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem since the first (1987) intifada broke out as Palestinians, including some Palestinian police, exchanged gunfire with Israeli police. Riots occurred in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Gunfire was exchanged between Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers. Five Palestinians were killed and 300 injured. The riots were sparked by the opening of a new tourist tunnel abutting the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, but, the real issue was Palestinian resentment over Israel's delay in redeploying its troops from Hebron (which, according to signed agreements, was to have been completed by the end of last March). In an interview on CNN that evening, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said, "No one could have foreseen the events that have taken place in Jerusalem today."

More rioting by Palestinians erupted three days later and spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The violence ended on the fourth day with the death toll at 58 Palestinians and 15 Israelis. A summit hosted by the U.S. in Washington failed to move the peace process tangibly ahead, but, the parties did agree to resume negotiations within a week.

A report by Connie Bruck in the October 14, 1996 issue of The New Yorker explained the anger of Palestinians at the snail's pace of the peace process. Countering former Prime Minister Shimon Peres' reputation as a dove was the fact that he was one of Israel's toughest negotiators. He wrested from Arafat agreements on West Bank control which left the larger part of that area under Israeli, not Palestinian, control. Under the terms of the pact in the first phase, only 3% of the West Bank was to come under sole Palestinian jurisdiction, with 24% under joint Israeli-Palestinian administration, and the balance - 73% - under sole Israeli control. The agreement called upon Israel to begin pulling troops out of areas under its control in three six month phases beginning the previous month (one month later those pull backs had not yet begun), but Israel was not compelled to surrender any land.

On September 26, 1996, Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic militia took control of the capital Kabul and declared it would enforce an Islamic system in the country. The movement's supreme leader Mullah Omar declared Afghanistan a "completely Islamic state." Former president Najibullah was captured and executed the following day. The current President Burhanuddin Rabbani was forced out of Kabul. Within twenty four hours, the Taliban began to set in place the strictest Islamic rule to be found anywhere in the world at that time. (Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2000), 50) 

On November 4, 1996, the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was dismissed by the nation's president, Faruq Leghari, amidst allegations of widespread corruption in Bhutto's family. This was the second time she had been deposed in her career (it happened first in 1990 on the heels of similar allegations).

In the deadliest violence since September, Israeli troops killed one Palestinian and wounded 11 others on November 10 during a demonstration involving 200 Palestinians protesting the Israeli government's expansion of the Qiryat Sefer orthodox Jewish settlement in the West Bank near the town of Ramallah.

A New York Times editorial on November 12, 1996 indicated Israel's economy was growing at the rate of 6 percent. Israeli income levels on average started above $15,000 per person, four times higher than those of its neighbors.  In the Palestinian economy, on the other hand, unemployment rates rose to over 50 percent in the wake of Israel's decision to close its borders to most Palestinian workers following bombings earlier in the year. The number of Palestinians working in Israel had fallen from about 150,000 to about 35,000. Palestinian incomes had decreased by a third since 1993 to below $4,000 per person.

On November 19, Israeli authorities announced plans to double in size the West Bank Jewish settlement of Immanuel eight miles south of Nablus.

On December 11, the New York Times reported that an Israeli planning commission Tuesday had approved construction of the first housing development for Jews in the Arab neighborhood of Ras el-Amud in East Jerusalem, an initiative Palestinians began referring to as the "Hebronization of Jerusalem."  The plan called for the building of 132 housing units.

On December 16, United States President Clinton spoke out sharply for the first time against the Israeli policy expanding settlements in the West Bank. The White House called the policy "a complicating factor." (NPR reported on December 17 that U.S. reaction to Israeli settlements had moderated over the years. In the 1970s, the U.S. called them "illegal." Under President Bush, they were called "obstacles to peace." The usual refrain from President Clinton was that they were "unhelpful" to the peace process.)

On December 31, according to the UPI, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics said the country's population had reached 5.764 million, a 2.6 percent increase from the end of 1995. The demographic makeup of Israel was 80.8 percent Jewish, 14.6 percent Muslim, 2.9 percent Christian and 1.7 percent Druze. The country's growth rate dropped a 10th of a percent from the previous year, due mainly to a reduced immigration rate that saw only 69,000 new residents arrive. Since 1990 more than 600,000 immigrants had arrived in the country, the majority from the former Soviet Union. But the birthrate had grown by 4 percent as 122,000 babies were born. Israel's growth rate was in 1996 one of the highest in the world for an industrialized country, due mostly to the high birthrate among the country's ultra-Orthodox Jewish sector and religious Arab population.

1997  On January 1, Noam Friedman, an Israeli soldier with a history of mental problems opened fire on Palestinians in a crowed market area of Hebron wounding five.

On January 15, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Arafat signed the long overdue accord on Hebron. Two days later, Israeli troops had withdrawn from 80% of the city leaving the Palestinian Authority in charge of the 160,000 Arabs, while a contingent of Israeli security forces remained to provide protection to the 450 Jewish settlers living in the city center.

The Israeli army was to have withdrawn from 80 percent of Hebron by March 1996. But, Arab suicide bombings inside Israel in February and March led to a postponement which was extended when the government changed hands the previous summer. According to confidential and unreleased "letters" signed by the parties, Israel was to have completed three more withdrawals from the West Bank by mid 1998.

On February 26, 1997, the Netanyahu government, under extreme pressure from Jewish nationalists, gave the green light to develop the first 2,500 of a planned 6,500 housing units on a wooded lot in Arab East Jerusalem which the Arabs called "Jabal Abu Ghneim" and the Israelis "Har Homa." (New York Times, February 27, 1997).

On March 7, the Israeli cabinet approved the handover of more West Bank territory for self-rule by Palestinians but the Palestinians protested that they were getting only a third of what they had been promised.

On March 8, 1997, U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson cast the only "No" vote when the 15-member United Nations Security Council considered a resolution submitted by Britain, France, Portugal and Sweden. The American vetoed the resolution which called on Israel to "refrain from all actions or measures that altered the facts on the ground'' or prejudiced future talks on the status of Jerusalem. The defeated resolution also urged Israel to "abide scrupulously'' by its obligations under international law. Key passages from the resolution affirmed "once more that the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war of 12 August 1949 is applicable to the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem," and that the council, "determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure of status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of setting parts of its population and new Immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

On March 21, a HAMAS suicide bomber blew himself up in a Tel Aviv cafe killing three others and wounding 43.

On May 6, 1997, Amnesty International condemned Israel for practicing torture against detainees in its jails. Israel allowed the use of "moderate physical pressure" - which was defined in detail in secret guidelines - during interrogations. This included sleep deprivation for prolonged periods while being tied in painful positions, hooding with filthy sacks, being forced to squat like a frog for hours and violent shaking (which had caused the death of at least one detainee). In November 1996, Israel's Supreme Court had ruled that security services could use physical force during the interrogation of Palestinian security suspects. The Israeli Government claimed that the methods used were lawful and necessary to combat the terrorism in spite of the fact that torture had been banned by the 1991 Convention against Torture which Israel had signed. Article 2 (2) of the Convention states:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Israel banned torture in interrogations in 1999. 

On May 21, American diplomats announced that a quarter of the homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and half of those in the Gaza Strip were vacant, raising questions about the Israeli government's contention that it was expanding the settlements to accommodate natural growth. According to the figures, 25 percent of the homes in West Bank settlements were empty, and 50 percent in the Gaza Strip. In the Golan Heights, 25 percent of homes in Jewish settlements were vacant, and 5 percent were vacant in Jewish neighborhoods built in East Jerusalem. Approximately 140,000 Israeli settlers lived in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On May 29, Israel's Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani declared that the 1993 peace agreement with the Palestinians was a "fundamental mistake'' and insisted that Israel must retain half of the occupied West Bank in any final accord. These comments came one day after an Israeli newspaper reported (Haaretz) that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to offer the Palestinians only about 40 percent of the West Bank during final negotiations. Reports of the plan and Palestinian outrage in response to it began complicating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which had been stalled since March when Israel had begun work on a new Jewish settlement in annexed East Jerusalem.

On May 23, 1997, voters in Iran elected a new president, Mohammed Khatami, a cleric with a reputation for moderation and tolerance. Khatami's victory came on 2 Khordad, 1376, according to the Islamic calendar and evoked memories of the massacre of reformists by pro-government elements in 1981, which ironically, also occurred during the month of Khordad and which had become popularly known as the "Khordad Massacre."

On June 6, 1997, the first multiparty elections since the ill-fated ones of 1992 were held in Algeria. The National Democratic Rally, a party created just two months before to represent the interests of President Liamine Zeroual, took 155 seats in the 380-seat assembly, more than double the number of its nearest rival, the Interior Ministry said. The result insured that Zeroual, a retired general, would dominate the assembly through this party and another closely allied one that took 64 seats. Low voter turnout (65.5%) and accusations of vote-rigging cast a shadow on government claims that a big step toward peace and democracy had been taken. More than 50,000 people had been killed since 1992 in attacks by Islamist militants.

On June 18, 1997 in Turkey, the Erbakan government was forced out of office by the army (which had a history of intervening in the political life of the country -- see 1960, 1971, 1980).  Mesut Yilmaz, a secularist, was appointed the new premier on June 30 as Turkey's yearlong experiment with Islamic rule came to an end.  

Since general elections were held in Algeria on 5 June, between 500 and 600 people, including young boys and girls, had been kidnapped and murdered (many with their throats slit) by Islamic militants belonging to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Sheikh Abbasi al-Madani, president of the now outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), had been released from prison the previous month halfway through a 12-year prison term. His deputy, Sheikh Ali Ben Hajj, a firebrand preacher widely believed to be the spiritual head of the most militant wings of the rebellion, remained in jail. More than 60,000 Algerians had died in the carnage which began when elections in which Islamist candidates emerged the victors were nullified in 1992 (see above).

On June 27, 1997, an Israeli woman provoked a violent response from some of the Arab residents of Hebron on the West Bank by pasting posters in shop windows depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a pig. (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

On July 25, 1997, the Associated Press reported that Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert had approved a permit for the construction of 65 homes on 3.5 acres in an Arab area of the city known as Ras al-Amud. The project was being financed by Miami millionaire Irving Moscowitz. Palestinian leaders warned that this action spelled the end of the peace process. Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, told Israel Army Radio that the move amounted to a conscious declaration of war against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the Palestinians in general. The following day (July 26), Israel Radio announced that under a storm of criticism Moscowitz had put his plan on hold. Prime Minister Netanyahu was among the many critics who regarded the timing of the project as inept.

On July 27, 1997, three months after the Taliban appeared to be cementing their control over the last remaining pockets of resistance to their Islamist regime in Afghanistan, they suffered a series of defeats and fell back along a battle front just north of the capital, Kabul.

On July 29, Israeli and Palestinian officials announced they were resuming negotiations after a four month Palestinian boycott brought on by the Har Homa settlement project that had begun in March. U.S. envoy Dennis Ross was preparing to travel once again to the region to begin mediating the next round of talks. Syria said it would stay out of talks with Israel altogether until Israel withdrew from the Golan Heights. The same day, a Palestinian legislative panel report charged that massive corruption existed in all eighteen ministries of the PNA (Palestinian National Authority). To the disappointment of many, the report stopped short of finding fault with Arafat himself who was widely believed to bear much of the responsibility. The investigation was spurred by a recent Palestinian comptroller's report that $326 million of the PNA's annual budget of $800 million had been lost to corruption or mismanagement.

The following day, July 30, two HAMAS suicide bombers disguised as Orthodox Jews and carrying briefcases loaded with explosives blew themselves up in the busy open air market of Mahane Yehuda in Jewish West Jerusalem. Thirteen others were dead and 170 were wounded. HAMAS issued a communiqué afterward stating that the bombing was in retaliation for a June 27 incident in Hebron when a young Jewish woman put up handbills depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a pig. U.S. envoy Dennis Ross who was due back in the region the following day (July 31) postponed his trip.

Reverberations from the Mahane Yehuda bombing continued to echo: Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinians, sealed off Gaza and the West Bank, and threatened to enter Palestinian areas to seize "terrorists'' if Arafat's forces failed to do so. An aide to Arafat said the moves were "a declaration of war against the (Palestinian) Authority and against the Palestinian people.'' There were fears among Palestinians that Israel planned to re-occupy some Palestinian areas. Israel cut off the flow of funds owed to the PNA, and the United States announced that Congressional funding ($100 million annually) to the PNA, due to expire this week, was not likely to be renewed until September at the earliest. All but two members of Arafat's cabinet offered their resignations in light of the current corruption scandal.

Editorials in the Jordanian daily al-Dustour  and the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam decried what they called "collective punishment" against all Palestinians by the Netanyahu government, and in the name of human rights called upon the United States and other Western governments to put pressure on Israel to relax its hard-line treatment of Palestinians,  such as the demolition of four Arab homes in East Jerusalem (which Israel claims were erected without building permits), the closure of all crossing points between Palestinian controlled areas and beyond, and the detention of more than 145 Palestinians being held without charge in the wake of the double bombing. In addition, Israel suspended the flow of reimbursements of taxes it owes the PNA (levied upon Palestinians who work in Israel), funds which accounted for nearly two thirds of the PNA's annual revenues and which amounted to nearly $513 million.

On August 5, 1997, the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat quoted the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar (Cairo), Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi who spoke out in defense of suicide bombings by Palestinians. Sheikh Tantawi said that divine law does not approve of the killing of children, the elderly, and peaceful citizens. He went on to argue, however, that suicide bombers were exercising their Islamic right to defend themselves against attack (by Israel). These individuals were "in a state of legitimate self-defense against those who attack them and do not show mercy to old people, children, or women." He said, "When land is usurped and injustice intensified, fury spreads and explosions happen in self-defense."  By the spring of 2003, Tantawi's position had shifted as the Muslim world began to confront the threat of religious extremism in its midst. 

On August 6, the number of Arab house demolitions by Israeli authorities since the most recent suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem rose to 12 with more scheduled. Israeli officials maintained the homes were torn down because they were built without construction permits, but they also admitted that the demolitions carried a political message. "We are signaling the Palestinian Authority that they will not be able to resume normal life until they take certain measures to combat terrorism," said an unidentified Defense Ministry official (according to the New York Times). The demolition policy was not new. Approximately 90 Arab homes had been destroyed since January of 1997 in the West Bank on the grounds that they were built illegally in areas under Israeli control. More than 500 other homes had been slated for destruction for the same reason.

On August 26, 1997, the New York Times reported that Israel had announced its intention to construct a dam on the Yarmuk River at a point inside territory claimed by Syria where the current border claimed by Israel meets that of Jordan. Jordan's foreign minister, Fayez Tarawneh, said that, even though Jordan would benefit from the dam as well as Israel, nevertheless, to build the dam in territory claimed by Syria would be "totally against the spirit" of the peace accord that Israel and Jordan signed in 1994(click for more on Middle Eastern "water wars.")

In Algeria on August 28, 1997, at least 300 citizens of the village of Rais, south of Algiers, were massacred by attackers who slit their throats, decapitated many of them leaving the heads on doorsteps, and then burned their bodies.  This was the worst such incident since the Islamic insurgency began five years earlier, a conflict which by 1997 had claimed more than 60,000 lives (1,500 since June, 1997). The following day, another 47 were slashed to death in a pre-dawn raid on the farming village of Maalba, about 120 miles southeast of Algiers, and in the Frais Vallon neighborhood in the hills above the capital. The Paris-based news weekly Jeune Afrique linked the attacks to renegade militants aiming to sabotage reported talks between Algeria's military-backed regime and the Islamic Salvation Front. Others said the government itself was involved in the attacks with the goal being to curry favor with Western leaders.

On September 4, three suicide bombers struck in the busy Ben Yehudah Street market area of West Jerusalem killing seven (including the three bombers) and wounding 192. HAMAS claimed responsibility for the attack. In response to the attack, Israel reimposed its blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip barring all Palestinians from entering Israel. Israel also imposed internal closure preventing Palestinians traveling between towns and villages in the West Bank.

The following day, an Israeli raid on targets inside its self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon was thwarted by Shiite guerrillas and Lebanese army troops who killed ten Israeli soldiers, the largest losses from a single operation in ten years.

On September 25, 1997, Israeli Mossad agents bungled an assassination attempt on an official from HAMAS in Amman, Jordan named Khaled Meshal and were captured by the Jordanians.

On October 1, Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, leader of HAMAS, was released from prison in Israel in exchange for Jordan's release of two alleged Mossad (Israeli Secret Service) agents arrested after the botched assassination attempt of HAMAS official, Khaled Meshal in Amman. After his return to Gaza, Sheikh Yasin offered Israel a truce in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.

On November 17, 1997, fifty eight foreign tourists were massacred by a band of six militants claiming to be members of the Jamaat al-Islamiyya ("The Islamic Group") as well as Jihad Talaat al-Fath ("Holy War of the Vanguard of the Conquest"), a combination of Talaa al-Fath and its parent group, Jihad. The incident took place at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt.

On November 18, Amnesty International accused Algerian security forces of complicity in massacres blamed on Islamic extremists and called on the United Nations to investigate. An estimated 75,000 people had been killed in Algeria since 1992. The "Amnesty" report cited massacres committed in the capital, Algiers, the Blida and Medea regions, and elsewhere in which the elderly and babies alike had been hacked to death and pregnant women disemboweled. The report claimed that Algerian police and security forces had often been slow to respond to calls for help and had often failed to investigate the massacres.

On November 20, 1997, the United Nations said it would press Afghanistan's Islamic  "Taliban" government to treat women as equals, calling Afghanistan the second-worst region in the world behind Sierra Leone with respect to women's rights. The Taliban denied women full access to health facilities and had closed girls' schools in the two-thirds of the country they controlled The Taliban said women should not meet or be seen by men who were not relatives. Women were only allowed to leave their homes wearing the burqa, a traditional Afghan veil that covered women from head to toe, with a small patch of gauze over the eyes, considered by most Muslims to be a pre-Islamic style of dress.

On December 1, 1997, a conservative magazine in the United States The Weekly Standard published an article co-written by Paul Wolfowitz, one of the key Pentagon planners for the war on Iraq in 2003.  The article called for the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Earlier, in June of that same year, Wolfowitz had joined the magazine's publisher William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Donald Rumsfeld, former Vice President Dan Quayle, future Vice President Dick Cheney, and others (among them Norman Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, William Bennett, James Woolsey, Gary Bauer, and Jeb Bush) in forming a new lobby  named the Project for the New American Century. In 1998, the group petitioned President Clinton to work actively to remove Saddam from power (results).  (see Todd Purdum, A Time of Our Choosing:  America's War in Iraq (New York: Times Books, 2003), 16)  Building on recent defense department planning that went back to at least 1992, the PNAC called for more aggressive American engagement in world affairs along the lines of what the members defined as "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity," a philosophy that attained the level of official American policy in the "Bush Doctrine" of 2002 (see also, "A Clean Break," a policy statement very similar in tone issued after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel).  PNAC rhetoric reminded some of the "manifest destiny" arguments used to justify American expansionism in the nineteenth century. Others supporting this "neoconservative" cause included Robert Kagan and Francis Fukuyama, who along with Wolfowitz, Kristol, and Allan Bloom, had been followers of University of Chicago professor and German émigré Leo Strauss (1899-1973). (Some argued that Strauss himself was not a "neo-con": see Steven B. Smith, Reading Leo Strauss, University of Chicago Press, 2006). Additional intellectual weight to the cause of toppling Saddam came from Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis (also). Neoconservatism was seen to be the major force behind the George W. Bush administration's aggressive 2004 campaign to push for democratic reforms in the Middle East. By late in 2004, critics of this policy had begun to weigh in (see Richard Bulliet, for example). By the end of 2006 with Iraq in a state of civil war, neocon policies were being sharply challenged inside the U.S. government.

On December 3, 1997, a Turkish court sentenced 33 people to death for their roles in a mob attack in 1993 on a hotel in the Anatolian city of Sivas in which 37 secular intellectuals were killed. The intellectuals had gathered to discuss ways of promoting secularism in Turkey. Prosecutors said at least some of the condemned men were members of underground Islamic cells. The most prominent thinker among the conferees was the satirist Aziz Nesin, who escaped from the hotel unharmed but died of a heart attack in 1995. In his writing Nesin often ridiculed what he described as religious fanaticism. He also translated parts of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims consider blasphemous. Sivas was known as a stronghold of religious conservatism, and some residents were outraged that a meeting promoting secularism had taken place in their city.

At year's end, Palestinians and Israelis were staking out negotiating positions under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright to make progress toward a settlement.

Also in 1997, Enes Kariç, a Bosnian Muslim scholar summed up the mood of the new pluralist, democratic Muslim Bosnia that had taken root since the Dayton Accords of 1995 ended the war there:  "'Bosnia is on the soil of Europe, and it is very important that Bosnian Muslims have for many years before now accepted the principle that they should practice Islam within the context of a civil society and a civil state.'"  (quoted in Gilles Kepel, Jihad:  The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA:  Belknap Press, 2002), 253)

1998    On January 3, the Associated Press reported the worst single massacre of civilians in the history of the six year struggle between Islamist militants and government forces in Algeria. Gangs dressed in baggy Afghan-style pants (many of them reportedly fought in the Afghan war against Soviet occupation) and armed with axes, hoes, and knives slaughtered 412 peasants in four western villages near the town of Relizane, 180 miles west of Algiers. The massacre started at sunset just as the inhabitants were ending their daily Ramadan fast. The killers slit the throats of victims, cut off their heads, and bashed children to death against walls. More than 75,000 had died in the insurgency up to that point which in recent years had intensified during the holy month of Ramadan when militants escalated what they called their "jihad." 

Also on January 3, 1998, in what was called a serious setback for human rights in Pakistan especially for minorities and women, Tablighi (or Tableeqi) Muslim Rafiq Tarar was elected president, the most religiously orthodox chief executive since military dictator Mohammed Zia-ul Haq who died in 1988. Zia had brought back public hangings, death by stoning, and public beatings in keeping with strict Islamic law.

The Tablighi were a missionary movement founded in India in 1927 by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas and believed in aggressive preaching of Islam worldwide, veiling of women, segregation of the sexes, and the strict interpretation and application of Islamic law and punishments.

Pakistan's Ahmedi Muslim minority was seen to be at highest risk of persecution under the new leadership. The Ahmedis took their name from Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (1835-1908), a Punjabi who in 1882 declared himself a mujadid ("renewer") of Islam. The Ahmedis shunned jihad (holy war) as a method of resistance against non-Muslims and taught that Jesus had escaped death on the cross and lived to the age of 120 before dying and being buried in Srinagar.

On January 18, 1998, the Turkish Constitutional Committee dissolved the Islamist Refah ("Welfare") party that had ruled Turkey for one year.  A new Islamist party, Fazilet ("Virtue") took its place the following year but was soundly defeated in the April 18, 1999 general elections.  This was heralded as the end of serious Islamist political challenges in Turkey and came at a time when similar defeats to Islamist causes were occurring throughout the Muslim world. (see, for example, Egypt and Algeria) For all its efforts, Refah never managed to gain the trust of the secularist urban classes.  (See Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2002), 357) 

By the end of January, 1998, momentum was building for new air attacks against Iraq which had for several months been obstructing the work of United Nations weapons inspectors.

On February 23, 1998, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a deal with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein which temporarily preempted the possibility of U.S. air strikes. A 24 year old Baghdad pharmacist named Kazem Hani summed up the feelings of many who believed that U.S. President Clinton's decision to mobilize an attack on Iraq was motivated at least in part to distract public attention from the latest sexual scandal surrounding himself and a former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Hani said, "'I think this may be the first time a lot of people may die because your President has turned the White House into a brothel.'" (New York Times, February 23, 1998, A9. ) Editorial pages in Arabic newspapers decried the military buildup as the latest example of American hypocrisy and prejudice in its dealings with the Middle East.

Also on February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden's "World Islamic Front" issued a fatwa saying it was the duty of every Muslim "to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilian and any country in which it is possible to do it."  (complete text) (more on bin Laden)

In late February, 1998, French Muslim philosopher Roger Garoudi, age 84, was fined 120,000 francs ($20,000) for casting doubt upon the extent of  the Nazi holocaust in a his book, The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics. (More on "Wars of Words and Images")

In Afghanistan in 1998, the ruling Taliban Muslim militia banned kite flying and television. Home schooling for girls older than eight years old was decreed illegal. Women and girls were forbidden to study, work, receive medical care, or leave their homes.

On March 6, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli government could hold ten Lebanese detainees as hostages to secure the release of Israeli servicemen missing in action. Amnesty International condemned the ruling. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, which Israel ratified, two of the detainees, Mustafa al-Dirani and Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim 'Ubayd, had never been given access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On March 13, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) and the Jewish Agency announced that they were making available 1,200 lots for residential construction to immigrants from affluent countries. This was an effort to prevent Arabs from settling on land in the Negev, the Galilee, and along the Green Line that divided Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 war.

On March 14, 1998, Ariel Sharon, Infrastructure Minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, told Israeli television Channel 2 that Israel would try again to assassinate HAMAS leader Khaled Meshal. Israeli Secret Service (Mossad) agents had bungled an attempt on his life in the fall of 1997. A HAMAS spokesman in Gaza, Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi said in response to Sharon, "This demonstrates the terrorist mind of the Zionists. If they kill Khaled Meshal, they will pay a very high price." (New York Times, March 15, 1998) Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mousa denounced Sharon's words as an example of Israeli "state terrorism."

On March 17, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook provoked an angry response from Israel when he broke with previously agreed upon protocol and engaged in dialogue with Palestinian officials while visiting the planned Israeli settlement of Har Homa on a piece of Arab land called Jamal Abu Ghneim. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu abruptly canceled a dinner in Cook's honor. Cook explained, "I came here to advance the peace progress. One of the big obstacles to the peace process is the expansion of settlements."

On May 12, 1998, in a move designed to win early release from prison for Jonathon Pollard, convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel, Israel officially recognized Pollard, an American Jew jailed in the United States for spying for Israel, as its agent. (see also 1996)

On May 26, Jewish settlers set up nine makeshift huts on disputed property in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. A riot broke out. Conservative Mayor Ehud Olmert ordered the huts demolished.

On June 21, the Israeli cabinet announced plans to annex several townships to the west of the city forming a super-municipality of "Greater Jerusalem" and boosting its Jewish population by some 30,000 people. Israeli authorities had long expressed concern about the rising Palestinian population in the city (it had risen to 180,900 Arabs compared with 421,100 Jews according to the latest Israeli figures). The project had also drawn criticism from both the Palestinian Authority, which had branded it "illegal," and from the United States, which described the project as a "provocative step."

On June 23, 1998, The New York Times reported that the pace of Palestinian building demolitions had sharply escalated: 23 Arab houses had been demolished in June alone on the grounds that they had been built without permits, according to the Israeli group Peace Now. The Times noted that, "The Israeli military government in the West Bank, the Civil Administration, said that it had destroyed 80 illegally built Arab houses this year and that additional hundreds were scheduled for demolition. Last year, 171 were wrecked, according to official figures."

On July 6, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian National Authority, and King Hussein of Jordan issued a joint communiqué following a mini-summit in Cairo. The communiqué stated: "The leaders assert their absolute rejection of  the Judaizing of Jerusalem, which the Israeli government launched on June 21,1998, and demand the abolition of such a project immediately and that no measures be taken to implement it on the ground."

On July 7, 1998, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to give Palestinians a larger role in the United Nations. The Palestinians, already members of several groups of developing nations, hailed the vote as a first step toward full U.N. membership. The resolution cited elections in Palestinian territories in January 1996 and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, a self-governing entity in the West Bank and Gaza as warrants for greater Palestinian involvement in United Nations activities. Israel's representative, Dore Gold, denounced this link as a "transparent effort" to influence talks about the final status of disputed territories. His comments reflected growing fears in Israel that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was likely to declare a Palestinian state the following year raising the possibility of new bloodshed. The vote, 124-4 with 10 abstentions and 26 countries not present, overcame the strong opposition of the United States. There were no vetoes in the General Assembly and the majority vote carried (New York Times, July 8, 1998).

In August, Bahja Abu Gharbia, former member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, wrote in the Arabic weekly, al-Majalla (no. 967, August 23-29, 1998, 6-7) that the only options now open to the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel were "rebellion" (Arabic, intifada ) and armed struggle. The Palestine National Authority (PNA), in his view, had erred in recognizing "the enemy state" to begin with at the time the Oslo Accords were signed, and, it erred in relying on U.S. support and mediation, which failed because the U.S. was aligned with Israel.

Also in August, HAMAS leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yasin condemned the PNA for giving the go-ahead to setting up a casino in Jericho, citing Islamic sharia law, sunna ("tradition") and hadith ("sayings" of Prophet Muhammad, second highest authority in Islam superseded only by the Qur'an) against gambling and liquor.

On August 21, 1998, dozens of United States Tomahawk Cruise Missiles destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan (believed to be manufacturing chemicals used in nerve gas), and alleged terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The raids were in retaliation for the bombings of two United States embassies two weeks earlier on August 7 in Nairobi, Kenya, and, Dar as-Salaam, Tanzania. Aug. 7. The bombings killed 12 Americans and nearly 300 Africans. (see bin Laden fatwa)

U.S. officials claimed they had proof the embassy bombings were financed by ex-Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden

Also in August, 1998, Afghanistan's Taliban carried out a massacre of Shiites in and around Hazara.  The U.N. estimated 5,000 - 6,000 were killed. 

In September, 1998, fighting broke out in Kosovo, a troubled area in the former Yugoslavia.  From March to September, 1981 (one year after the death of Yugoslav leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito), ethnic Albanians in Kosovo had rioted demanding independence.  In 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had stripped Kosovo of its autonomy and in 1990 dissolved Kosovo's government.  Tensions rose through the nineties until full scale fighting erupted in September of 1998.  By October, NATO allies were carrying out air raids against Serb targets. From March to early June in 1999, after diplomatic pressure by the U.S. and NATO failed to persuade the Yugoslav government to stop Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, NATO started an air war against Yugoslavia. The Serbs retaliated by terrorizing an estimated 850,000 Kosovars into fleeing to neighboring Albania and Macedonia.  On June 9, Milosevic signed an agreement promising to withdraw Serbian troops from Kosovo.  By September, most of the refugees had returned home.  (source:  Peter N. Stearns (ed.), The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth Edition (Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin, 2001), 891-894)  (See also war in Bosnia, 1992)

On October 9, 1998, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed right wing former General Ariel Sharon to the post of Foreign Minister prior to a new round of negotiations to open with the Palestinians in Washington.

On October 31, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the "Iraq Liberation Act" into law committing the United States to overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

In late October, 1998, following ten days of negotiations at the Wye Plantation (Maryland), Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a new set of conditions (Text of Wye River Memorandum at Yale's Avalon Project). The Palestinians agreed to amend 26 clauses in the 1964 PLO Charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from an additional thirteen percent of the West Bank in stages over the following twelve weeks, with ten percent to be controlled politically by the Palestinians with security provided by Israel, and three percent to be designated a "nature reserve" in which construction would be prohibited. The nature reserve would also be under Israeli security control. About fourteen percent of West Bank territory that had been under joint Israeli-Palestinian control would pass to full Palestinian control. The Wye pact further called for a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee that would discuss additional withdrawals of Israeli troops. Israel agreed to provide safe passage for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Details remained to be worked out. Israel agreed to the release of 750 jailed Palestinians. This was a big concession on the part of the Palestinians since over 2,500 Palestinians were in Israeli jails. As soon as the leaders returned home, critics from both sides assailed the Wye pact. Netanyahu announced almost immediately that implementation of Wye would be delayed.

Then, on November 6, two HAMAS suicide bombers blew themselves up in a car loaded with explosives which they had driven into a crowded Jerusalem market in Jewish West Jerusalem. There were no additional deaths, but, twenty four Israelis were injured.

Also on November 6, the New York Times reported that U.N. Peacekeeping troops had since September observed Israelis crossing into the Israeli controlled self-declared security zone inside south Lebanon to steal rich topsoil and haul it back inside Israel.

The spirit of the Israeli settlement movement was echoed in a speech Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon delivered on November 15,1998 at a meeting of the right-wing Israeli Tsomet Party.  Sharon told West Bank settlers, "It is the duty of Israeli public leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands...Everyone living there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that's grabbed will be in our hands, everything that we don't grab, will be in their hands." (Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998)

In December, 1998, political chaos in both the United States and Israel (the impeachment of President Clinton, Operation "Desert Fox," a limited U.S. bombing campaign on Iraq, and a challenge to Prime Minister Netanyahu's fragile coalition government) threatened to arrest the new momentum generated by the Wye Agreement. Prime Minister Netanyahu froze implementation of Wye in the face of approaching Israeli elections. Palestinians complained that Israel was slowly annexing the West Bank under the camouflage of agreements it never kept. The air strikes in Iraq were preceded by the departure of U.N. weapons inspectors who claimed Iraq persistently thwarted their attempts to verify that Iraq had disarmed and was no longer harboring weapons of mass destruction per the surrender terms imposed at the end of the second Gulf War

Also in 1998, Egypt announced its Toshka water project, which the government touted as "the birth of a new civilization."  The plan was to divert water from Lake Nasser, the huge lake behind the Aswan Dam, to parts of the desert to the west in order to boost agricultural production.  By its projected completion date in 2017, the plan would see 175 billion cubic feet of water annually pumped 180 miles westward into the desert where it would be distributed throughout more than 500,000 acres of desert land.  The cost was estimated at more than $100 billion prompting many skeptics to brand it a boondoggle. (see also)

1999  On February 8, King Hussein, the Hashemite monarch who had ruled Jordan since 1952, succumbed to cancer at the age of 63.  His son, Abdullah II, age 37 and a graduate of Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy, was crowned the new king of the 76 year old kingdom within hours of his father's death.  Jordan's population was more than 60% Palestinian. Abdullah's Queen was a Palestinian woman named Rania. 

In May, 1999, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was defeated in elections.   The new Prime Minister was Netanyahu's former commanding officer in the army and the most highly decorated soldier in the Israeli armed forces, Ehud Barak.  Netanyahu's hard line policies and intransigence vis-à-vis the Palestinians had led a slight majority of Israelis to vote for a change in approach.  Barak was not known as a dove.  His approach was most often compared with that of former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin.  Tom Segev, a correspondent with the Israeli paper Ha'aretz   who had followed Barak's career closely, doubted whether Barak would demolish any Jewish settlements or permit Palestinians to establish their capital in East Jerusalem. Barak's exploits included a daring commando raid in Beirut in 1973

Also in  May, Egypt passed a law that put NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other groups, including human rights monitoring groups, more firmly under state control.   The state now had the power to shut down any group it wished. 

Also in May, 1999, India and Pakistan began a new round of hostilities in their fifteen year old border war over Kashmir.  (see also flare-up of May, 2002)

On May 24, the most powerful pro-Israeli lobby in America, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officially dropped its opposition to a Palestinian state (although it did not go further by endorsing such a state). This shift was seen as having a potentially major impact on U.S. policy in the future. 

In June, 1999, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, which had observed a ceasefire in its struggle to overthrow the Algerian government, declared it was  abandoning its campaign altogether.  Civil war had raged in Algeria since 1992 after the authorities canceled a general election in which the Islamic Salvation Front had taken an overwhelming lead in the first round.  Since that time, an estimated 100,000 people had perished. 

Also in June, 1999, in response to the killing of a Lebanese woman by Israeli forces in the self-declared Israeli security zone in South Lebanon, Hizbullah troops launched a Katyusha rocket attack on the northern Israeli border town of Qiryat Shemona.  Israel countered with a massive bombing raid that ranged as far north as Beirut where power was knocked out.  Some speculated that Hizbullah was anxious to maintain recognition as a player in regional affairs and had become worried over the recent warm-up in relations between Syria and Israel.  The rocket attack came hard on the heels of an unprecedented exchange of compliments between Syrian leader Hafez al-Asad and incoming Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak.  Hizbullah had the most to lose in any agreement between Israel and Syria.  On the other hand, Israel made it clear it would not even discuss returning the Golan Heights to Syria until Syria reined in Hizbullah. 

On June 29, 1999, a Turkish court sentenced Kurdish guerilla leader Abdullah Ocalan to death for treason and separatism.  37,000 had died during the fifteen year struggle for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey.  

In early July, the people of Kuwait voted in what many believed would be the last all-male elections in the country's history.  The Emir of Kuwait issued a decree calling for women to participate in the next elections expected to take place in 2003.  Parliament was required to approve the decree.  Debate on the subject had been fierce.  Resistance had been greatest among conservative Islamists who argued that Islam forbids men and women from mixing in public. 

On July 5, 1999, the Associated Press reported that in a surprise plea, a U.S. teenager, Samuel Sheinbein, who had fled accusations he committed murder in Maryland to seek asylum in Israel pleaded innocent to all but a minor charge, setting the stage for a trans-Atlantic trial likely to further strain the close U.S.-Israel relationship. Over American objections, Israel's Supreme Court had ruled in February that Sheinbein could not be extradited because he was technically an Israeli citizen. His father had been born in Israel  but emigrated with his family in the 1950s.  Angered over Israel's refusal to extradite the boy, some U.S. lawmakers threatened to cut foreign aid to Israel.

On July 8, 1999, a letter written by Hillary Clinton to a Manhattan rabbi was made public.  In it, the candidate running for the office of Senator from New York stated, "I personally consider Jerusalem the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel...If I am chosen by New Yorkers to be their senator, or in whatever position I find myself in the years to come, you can be sure that I will be an active, committed advocate for a strong and secure Israel, able to live in peace with its neighbors, with the United States embassy located in its capital, Jerusalem."  The letter came less than a month after her husband the President had defied Congress by refusing to move the American embassy, and it came one year after Hillary Clinton had boosted the hopes of Palestinians by declaring that Palestinians should have their own country.  (Middle East International, no. 604, 16 July, 1999, 6-7)

Also on July 8, 1999, the largest demonstrations since the revolution of 1979 took place in the capital of Iran, Tehran.  Students, impatient with the slow pace of reform under President Mohammed Khatami (who had been elected in 1997 with broad popular support, but, was regarded as a puppet of the unelected hard-line religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), took to the streets to protest a raid on a Tehran University dormitory by religious vigilantes as well as the government shutdown of a left-leaning newspaper.  By July 13, the unrest had spread to eighteen other cities in Iran. (Student unrest erupted again in the summer of 2003.)

On July 31,  the Palestinian cabinet rejected a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to skip implementation of some parts of the Wye Accord, including one of two pullbacks of Israeli troops from the West Bank, and move immediately to final negotiations on a peace agreement. Wye called for three Israeli troop pullbacks from a total of 13.1 percent of the West Bank.  Barak's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, had withdrawn from two percent of the land before suspending the pact amid allegations that the Palestinians had not fulfilled their security commitments.   The Palestinian Cabinet also demanded that Barak dismantle what it said were 37 hilltop outposts that had been set up by Jewish settlers in the West Bank since the signing of the Wye.

Also in July, 1999, Morocco's King Hasan II died and was succeeded by his 35 year old son who reigned as Mohammad VI.  The new king was the Arab world's youngest ruler. 

In August, Islamic Wahhabi militants took over parts of the Russian province of Dagestan and declared the region an "Islamic state." 

A major earthquake rocked Turkey in August, 1999 killing at least 12,000 people.

Also in August, 1999 in Palestine, amidst reports of serious splits in the movement,  HAMAS spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yasin was quoted in the Arabic language weekly al-Majalla as predicting that an Islamic state in Palestine was "inevitable," and, that before the end of the first quarter of the next century "we will witness the extinction the Israel."  (al-Majalla, August 15-21, 1999, 21-23). 

On September 4, Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President Yasir Arafat signed a new peace accord that, in sum, reaffirmed the Wye agreement signed the previous year in Maryland by Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In addition to implementation of the decisions made at Wye River Plantation, both sides made new pledges.  A target date of September, 2000 was set for a final peace agreement.  Israel promised to build no new Jewish settlements on Arab lands it occupied.  The Palestinians pledged not to declare independence.  Israel agreed to  withdraw from a further 11% of the West Bank and release 350 additional Palestinian prisoners. 

On September 7, 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court in a landmark decision banned the use of torture in interrogations.  Security agents from the Israeli secret service were no  longer allowed to employ such practices as tying Palestinian suspects with their hands behind their backs to a rail under an air conditioner in the middle of winter, nor grab suspects from behind and shake them violently.   They were no longer permitted to force Palestinians into the dreaded "shabeh'' position, bent backward over chairs, hands and legs shackled beneath, or be allowed to put putrid, vomit-encrusted hoods over their heads.  In a backhanded comment on the decision, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that while he respected the court's decision,  "it seems as though the decision will make things very difficult for the Shin Bet, and, in order to save lives, we need to find a way'' to extract information from suspects about imminent attacks. (see above)

On October 12, 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from power in a bloodless coup led by Pakistani army chief General Pervez Musharraf, an admirer of Turkish President Ataturk whose attempts to "laicize" government in Turkey Musharraf hoped to imitate in Pakistan. The influence of fundamentalist Muslim ideas had been growing in the army since the United States cut off military funding earlier in the decade.  India and Pakistan, both of whom had recently tested nuclear devices,  arrived at the brink of their fourth war the previous spring when India held back armed Pakistani troops who had occupied strategic mountain positions on India's side of the disputed region of Kashmir

On October 17, in what was being  hailed as a victory for Arabs living in Jerusalem, Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky ended a policy that had stripped thousands of Palestinians of their right to live in East Jerusalem, a policy many human rights activists had condemned as "ethnic cleansing"  and "quiet deportation."  Palestinian officials welcomed the announcement and urged Israel to restore residency rights to Palestinians whose rights to live in East Jerusalem had been revoked. 

On November 18, 1999, Atef Khalifa, Director of the United Nations Population Fund support team said at a meeting in Beirut that patriarchal traditions in in the Arab world were blocking access for women to health care and education.  His remarks were made at a meeting of a commission composed of delegates from thirteen Arab countries whose charge it was to discuss population strategies agreed upon at the United Nations Population Conference in Cairo five years before.  "Women are the key to population," Khalifa said. "An educated woman who has equal rights and plays her rightful role in society will automatically choose a smaller family and better quality of life...Empowering women is the key to determining the quality of life."  Khalifa blamed ancient and tribal customs for the backwardness of Arab women and predicted it would take years for change to occur.  United Nations figures indicated  that illiteracy rates for Arab women averaged 55% while the use of contraceptives ranged as low as 4%.  There were an estimated 275 million people living in Arab countries, a figure that was predicted to rise to 470 million in 25 years.  Population rates in 1988 were 2.5%.  "Arab societies are extremely resistant to sex education for youngsters, which means we have generations who start families armed with misinformation or nothing at all," Khalifa said.  (New York Times, November 19, 1999)  (More on women in the Islamic world)

On November 22 and 23, churches throughout the West Bank and Israel closed their doors to protest an Israeli government ruling allowing Muslims in Nazareth to erect a new mosque adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where tradition says the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.  Arab Christians viewed the government's action as a cynical attempt to "divide and conquer" Palestinian Christians and Muslims.  Anglican Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal noted that, "Even under Muslim rule during the Ottoman period, no one would have been allowed to build a mosque here."  (Gerald Butt, Episcopal Life, January, 2000, 4)

On December 15, Syria and Israel reopened high-level negotiations aimed at forging a peace treaty in Washington (Israel broke off the last round of talks in 1996).  Syria was represented by Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and Israel by Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Also in December, 1999 in the Sudan, military ruler General Omar Hasan al-Bashir removed Islamist advisor Hasan al-Turabi in a move seen as a defeat for Islamist forces there. Turabi was to spend much of the next five years under house detention during which he underwent a conversion which shocked may of his former hardline conservative allies. For example, he began to argue that men and women should be treated equally and that apostasy should not be a crime, the latter opinion from a man who secretly ordered the execution of a popular Sudanese Muslim mystic, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha in 1985.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Fahmy Huweidy, an Islamist writer, carried on a polemical debate with the West. He was adept both at arguing against Christianity itself and at Christianity’s successor, the Modern-Secular West.  With respect to the former, in an article published in al-Majalla (October 15-21, 1995, pp. 36-37), Huweidy registered his dismay at several recent new translations of the Christian gospels (al-injiil ).  He was upset about the liberties the world (ad-dunnya ) seemed prone to take in altering the word of God to suit the tastes of  its various constituencies (what we in the West were wont to label "political correctness") at the expense of  authenticity and exactness of the text.  He noted - with alarm - how freely words had been struck out and added along with attempts to condense the "holy" book (the quotation marks are his).  He found ludicrous a recent Oxford edition in which the Lord’s Prayer began, "Our Father and Our Mother which is in heaven."

Huweidy wondered uneasily whether these sorts of editorial liberties might someday infect future editions or translations of the Qur'an.  While noting that a new Turkish edition of the Qur'an had deleted certain verses dealing with religious observances, he reminded his readers that God promised His believers in the Qur'an, "Verily, we have sent down the message, and we will surely guard it from corruption" (Huweidy’s paraphrase of s.15:9).  This article brought into sharp focus the respective attitudes toward sacred scripture in Christianity and Islam.  Textual criticism had a long history in Christianity while in Islam the holy text had nearly always been regarded as sacrosanct and unalterable.

Huweidy was not shy about attacking the secular West either.  In another article published in al-Majalla (February 16-22, 1997, pp. 32-33),  Huweidy argued that recent instances of "Satan-worship" in Egypt were directly due to the corrupt influence of the West.  He reminded his readers that the Church of Satan had been founded in San Francisco in 1966 by Anton LaVey.  Huweidy cited a 1994 trial in Nairobi of a group of Satanists accused of raping, then murdering the children of some of its members after which they "drank the blood of those children as a sacrificial offering to him [Satan]!" These criticisms were not especially novel (they could be found in the West as well).  But, what set them apart and begged their classification as polemical were two features:  1. Huweidy's claim that they derived from what he regarded as that most demonic wellspring of all: Western secularism; and 2. his characterization of them as "heresies (mubtad‘aat)." 

"These new heresies in the Western world come as no surprise to those who have studied modern Western affairs and development which began with the renunciation and marginalization of religion in the name of secularism...Under the influence of the modern age, the Absolute has disappeared and everything has become relative, including beliefs and moral standards...Under these circumstances those new paganisms have appeared, and some in Western societies have reverted to primitive religions which are accompanied by three characteristics: sex, violence, and drunkenness."

(See also "Wars of Words and Images")

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Last Revised: February 23, 2009