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Lessons From Israel and Terrorists Next Door

I would say this speaks volumes (registration required) about taking the fight to the enemy.

When Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov visited Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on September 6, he had planned to complain about the usual litany: the stalled road map, Israel’s security fence, and the recently announced expansion of West Bank settlements close to the Green Line. But then Chechen terrorists slaughtered Russian children and instead Lavrov asked for advice:

    Ironically, Israel had just buried 16 people–many of them Russian immigrants–after the simultaneous suicide bombings of two buses in the southern city of Beersheba. According to Hamas, those attacks were retaliation for the assassination, five months earlier, of its spiritual and political leaders, Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Yet the fact that it took Hamas almost half a year–and dozens of failed attempts–to make good on its threat to inflict immediate and massive punishment proves just how successful Israel’s war against terrorism has been.

    During those same six months, the Israeli army destroyed most of what remained of Hamas’s organization in the West Bank and a substantial part of its infrastructure in Gaza. Just last week, Israeli gunships rocketed a Hamas training camp in Gaza, killing 15 operatives. Hamas leaders, who once routinely led rallies and gave interviews to the media, don’t dare show their faces in public anymore. Even their names are kept secret. Hardly a night passes without the arrest of a wanted terrorist. Hamas’s ranks have become so depleted that the organization is now recruiting teenagers: At the Gaza border, Israeli forces recently broke up a Hamas cell made up of 16-year-olds.

    Meanwhile, life inside Israel has returned to near normalcy. The economy, which was shrinking in 2001, is now growing at around 4 percent per year. Even the tourists are back: Jerusalem’s premier King David Hotel, which a few years ago was almost empty, recently reached full occupancy.

    All summer, Israel seemed to be celebrating itself, with music and film festivals and a nightly crafts fair in Jerusalem that brought crowds back to its once-deserted downtown. Everyone knows a terrorist attack can happen at any time. Still, Israeli society no longer lives in anticipation of an attack. The Beersheba bombing, which once would have seemed to Israelis part of an endless and unwinnable war, is now perceived as an aberration

write Yossi Klein Halevi & Michael B. Oren. And here is the part that has particular resonance at home:

    At every phase of Israel’s counteroffensive, skeptics have worried that attempts to suppress terrorism would only encourage more of it. They warned that Israel couldn’t close Orient House, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s de facto capital in East Jerusalem, without provoking an international backlash and strengthening Yasir Arafat’s hold there. They warned that, by isolating and humiliating Arafat, Israel would only bolster his stature at home and abroad. They warned that, by reoccupying Palestinian cities and targeting terrorist leaders, Israel would only deepen Palestinian rage and despair.

But this isn’t the only lesson we can learn from the Israelis:

    To respond effectively, [Sharon] first had to convince Israelis that negotiating under fire would only encourage terrorism and that a military solution for terrorism did indeed exist. And so, one of Sharon’s first acts in office was to meet with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) general staff and demand a plan for victory. Still, he didn’t immediately go to war. The Lebanon fiasco of the early ’80s had taught him the danger of initiating a military campaign without the support of both the mainstream left and the U.S. administration. (By contrast, Sharon didn’t waste time wooing France and other European Union countries that wouldn’t support the war on terrorism no matter what Israel did.) This is the first lesson Sharon could teach democratic leaders facing a war against terrorism: Insure domestic consensus and the support of vital allies.

    ….Americans would be wise to study this final lesson, too: Perhaps the greatest danger in fighting terrorism is the polarizing effect such a campaign can have–not just internationally, but domestically. To avoid this pitfall, a strong political consensus for military action is necessary. That means the president must actively reach out to domestic opposition. But American leaders must also heed Sharon’s other lessons. That means an ability to endure criticism from abroad and even to risk international isolation, a willingness to define the war on terrorism as a total war, and a commitment to focus one’s political agenda on winning, not on divisive or extraneous concerns. Fulfilling those conditions does not guarantee success. But it does make success possible–as Israel is, at great cost, showing the world. [TNR]

The fight must be committed, unyielding, and the enemy must know that our resolve is total. But the war must also be defensive: we must do all we can while maintaining an open and free society to prevent attacks from occurring at home; and success will always be tentative and incomplete – there is no way to ensure 100% safety, but recall the atmosphere for many months after 9/11 – the fact that it is different now, that 9/11 was a hideous “aberration” and not the beginning of a reign of terror should be credited as a success for law enforcement, intelligence, and the administration.

And regarding actions taken against terror at home, yesterday, right here in Akron, the imam of the largest mosque in Ohio was sentenced on terror-related charges:

    U.S. District Judge James Gwin sentenced Damra on Monday to two months in a federal prison and four months under home confinement for lying on his immigration papers about raising funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Damra also must pay a $5,000 fine.

    He must report to prison Nov. 22, after the holy month of Ramadan 30 days of fasting for Muslims.

    Gwin will rule on Damra’s citizenship later this week.

    His attorneys want the issue decided after an appeals court rules on his conviction, and prosecutors want the matter settled immediately. “It’s only a matter of time,” U.S. Attorney Gregory White said. “It’s going to happen.”

    ….”At the very time that he asks to be a citizen of this country, he is raising funds for terrorists,” the prosecutor said. “That organization was as anti-American as any

    ….In June, a jury convicted Damra, 42, of Strongsville, of lying on his citizenship application about his past links to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In tapes of various meetings from 1991, Damra is seen ranting about the need to kill Jews.

    In one tape, Damra says the crowd must help pay for the battle in the Middle East, describing how cash would “direct all the rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews.”

    On Monday, shaking and with his voice cracking, Damra apologized before a crowd that included more than 70 people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder to support him.

    “I admit the hateful, foolish statements against Jewish people,” he told Gwin. “They’re indefensible. . . . I sincerely pray to God that they forgive me.” []

Background on the case from the Plain Dealer here:

    On Feb. 5, 1993, an FBI agent investigating international terrorism visited Imam Fawaz Damra at his Cleveland mosque, hoping to learn more about a group of Muslim radicals in New York City.

    Do you know El Sayyid Nosair, the man accused of assassinating the founder of the Jewish Defense League? the agent asked the young cleric.

    No, Damra answered, according to court documents.

    How about Mahmoud Abouhalima, one of Nosair’s friends?

    No, Damra replied again.

    Three weeks later, on Feb. 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded beneath the World Trade Center.

    Nosair, it turned out, had helped the bombers, and Abou halima had master minded the scheme. And by year’s end, Damra had conceded to the FBI that he knew them both.

    ….For 14 years, Damra led a double life, one foot planted in the American mainstream and the other in radical Islamic circles.

    Speaking in English, he often preached interfaith brotherhood, befriending leaders of Cleveland’s large and powerful Jewish community. He taught scores of college students about the beauty and peace of Islam, and he settled into a tidy suburban development in Strongsville where he and his wife are raising three daughters.

    Speaking in Arabic, Damra once preached to those who meant harm to the United States and later, while in Cleveland, raised money for groups that recruited and paid for suicide bombers to kill Israelis.

    ….Damra’s radical history dates to the Cold War, when the United States spent billions of dollars training and arming the Muslim mujahedeen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. In 1988, when he was imam of Al Farooq mosque in Brooklyn, he wrote to the New York Commissioner of Deeds announcing plans for a humanitarian nonprofit organization called MAK that would help the Muslim fighters. It was later incorporated under the name Afghan Services Bureau and ultimately changed its name to Alkifah Refugee Center.

    On the forms, Damra listed himself as secretary and an Egyptian, Mustafa Shalabi, as president. They set up the Alkifah Refugee Center office next to Damra’s mosque in the Little Arabia section of Brooklyn.

    By all accounts, it was a great success, both at recruiting Muslim fighters and raising money for the mujahedeen. The most powerful and radical Muslim leaders from the Middle East passed through- including bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, who launched the jihad movement through Alkifah centers worldwide.

    ….Azzam wanted the mujahedeen to challenge Israel. But his wealthy Saudi pupil, bin Laden, wanted the fighters to topple existing Muslim governments he disagreed with.

    Just 10 months after Damra defended Azzam’s honor at JFK Airport, Azzam was assassinated and bin Laden took firm control of the movement.

    The following year, 1990, a blind Egyptian sheik named Omar Abdel Rahman fled Egypt following a failed assassination attempt he ordered of that country’s president. Rahman, a bin Laden ally, moved to New York, took charge of the Alkifah center and began preaching at local mosques, including Damra’s.

    What Damra thought of the changing leadership of the jihadist movement has never been clear.

    ….According to court paperwork filed this month by the federal prosecutor’s office, a Cleveland- based FBI special agent named Joe Haluscsak interviewed Damra in February 1993 at the request of the FBI’s New York office.

    Haluscsak wanted Damra to tell him about the Alkifah center, and about allegations of counterfeiting at the Brooklyn mosque while Damra was there. He also wanted to know more about Nosair, the man accused of killing Rabbi Kahane, and one of his accomplices, Abouhalima. And he wanted to know what the blind sheik was doing in New York.

    According to prosecutors, Damra told Haluscsak part of the story. He explained how Shalabi worked out of a room in the Brooklyn mosque, raising money for Abdullah Azzam’s jihad effort.

    Yet Damra denied knowing anything but rumors about counterfeiting. He told the agent he didn’t know Nosair or Abouhalima. As for the blind sheik, Damra described him as “a respected scholar in the Islamic community in New York.”

    Three weeks later, six people died and more than 1,000 were injured in the Trade Center bombing. Almost immediately, investigators suspected Nosair, Abouhalima, the blind sheik and their group of jihadists.

    The FBI wasn’t satisfied that Damra had told them all he knew. In October 1993, agents from the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force came to Cleveland to interview Damra themselves.

    Damra, prosecutors wrote in their memorandum, again denied knowledge of counterfeiting at his former mosque. He told agents that he knew of Nosair – whom he described as the leader of jihad training at a New Jersey mosque – but again insisted that he didn’t know him.

    ….Before traveling to New York, Damra submitted his naturalization forms for citizenship, omitting any reference to the Alkifah Center or to his repeated fund raising efforts on behalf of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – omissions at the center of the immigration case.

    On Nov. 15, 1993, the FBI questioned Damra for a third time. Now, under threat of a grand jury subpoena, his story changed.

    He explained in more detail how he and Shalabi had raised money for the Alkifah center. Damra said he had been the “Emir of Palestine” and Shalabi was the “Emir” of the Alkifah movement.

    Although court documents are unclear, the titles apparently meant that Damra was in charge of fund raising for Palestinians in Israel and Shalabi was in charge of money flowing into Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    Damra, according to court records, also conceded that he had attended one of the Alkifah center’s firearms training sessions, though he said he never fired a weapon there. He also said he knew a man who probably sold bulletproof vests to Shalabi.

    During this third FBI interview, Damra also admitted to something agents already knew: that he knew both Nosair and Abouhalima. And he said a member of his Brooklyn congregation had told him about Shalabi’s counterfeiting operation in the basement of the Brooklyn mosque. Damra even told the FBI the name of a man who showed him counterfeit $5 and $10 bills, according to court records.

    ….Damra’s name ultimately appeared on a federal prosecutor’s list of 172 unindicted co-conspirators in the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center and a related plot to blow up bridges and tunnels throughout New York City.

Damra is almost certain to lose his citizenship, as well he should. Much is going on behind the scenes and we only hear about it when charges are actually brought. Damra apparently didn’t want to have to choose between living his life of freedom in the U.S. and turning against support for Islamist terror – now the decision will be made for him.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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