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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05TELAVIV4766 2005-08-02 09:23:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  

Gaza's moderate Islamists muse on "after

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					UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 004766 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR ECA
STATE INFO IIP/G/NEA, NEA/PPD, NEA/IPA
JERUSALEM PASS ICD DANIELS, PD JLARSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: GZ PREL KPAO OEXC SCUL GAZA DISENGAGEMENT ISRAELI PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS
SUBJECT: Gaza's moderate Islamists muse on "after
disengagement" and the US

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

REF: TEL AVIV 3338, 20 JUNE 05



1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A trio of Islamic scholars from Al
Azhar University, like many Gazan interlocutors, on 28
July cited freedom of movement for Gazans and their
goods as the test of disengagement. Recently returned
from an International Visitors program, the leaders
also spoke favorably of religious and intellectual
freedom in the US and welcomed possible USG cooperation
with their new initiatives to promote moderate
interpretations of Islam and religious tolerance. Dr.
Ismail Bolbol, the senior member of the group,
confirmed that he is now the mufti for Palestinian
security forces in Gaza. END SUMMARY.



--------------------------



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IF DISENGAGEMENT MEANS FREEDOM, TERROR LOSES APPEAL


--------------------------



--------------------------





2. (SBU ) "First, we need to see results on the
ground" from disengagement, said Dr. Mohammed
Abdulwahed, a frequent mosque speaker and an assistant
professor of Islamic studies at Al Azhar. "If we have
freedom of movement, it will work. But we can't build
our country without freedom." Abdulwahed said that, as
a religious leader, his focus is on changes in the
social rather than political sphere. He sees a
pressing need to rebuild Gaza's social institutions to
move away from fanaticism and towards Islamic values
such as peace and tolerance. Bolbol likewise linked
his hopes for disengagement to the key factor of
freedom of movement, tying easy passage at the border
crossings, the seaport, and the airport to economic
revival and the prospects for social change.
"Palestinian society needs rehabilitation," explained
Mohammed Mansour, because the Israeli occupation has
brought "powerful strikes" against it. Disengagement
will work according to "the reality on the ground." If
this reality means freedom of movement, then, Mansour
argued, he and his colleagues will be able to advance
their work toward the goals of peace and progress, and
to counter the terrorism that they reject as
inconsistent with the Muslim faith.



--------------------------


THE US CAN DO MORE TO HELP


--------------------------





3. (SBU) "Like US coffee, US foreign policy is not
always good," said Abdulwahed. "The US is not serious
about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,"
because it deals with Palestinians as a humanitarian
and not a political issue. Bolbol, for his part, said
he agreed with the US expert who told him that the
Palestinian struggle for statehood would succeed or
fail on its humanitarian, not its political, argument.
The three participants concurred that ordinary
Americans seem ignorant about international affairs,
and that an elite appears to dominate the nation's
foreign policy. Abdulwahed observed that even the
experts in US think tanks fail to look for the root
causes of important problems such as violence in the
Middle East; Mansour noted that the media play too
large a role in shaping Americans' view of foreign
affairs.



4. (SBU) Bolbol and Abdulwahed argued that the USG
should continue and expand its efforts to promote
interfaith dialog in Gaza. Drawing on their
experiences in the US, the three academics offered
examples of commonality to begin such a dialog.
"Everyone in the US is free," said Abdulwahed, and
"this is the substance of Islam." Bolbol noted that in
the US "even sinners know their relationship to God,
and pray for forgiveness. This is something in common
between Islam and Christianity." The two stressed,
however, that religious experts, not "politicians,"
should lead such activities. They were mildly critical
of the credentials of engineer and political activist
Sheikh Imad Falouji, who in co-operation with the UK-
based International Centre for Reconciliation and with
some US funding has recently opened an interfaith
dialog center in Gaza. Bolbol and Abdulwahed said they
prefer to work independently of Falouji, to preserve
their own "credibility" as religious leaders. Bolbol,
who hosts a radio program in addition to his mosque
sermons, teaching at the university, and ministry to
the security forces, said he will soon begin work on a
center for battered women and a project to increase
women's political participation. (Note: The Gaza
Program Office of Embassy Tel Aviv will follow up with
Bolbol to discuss possible USG support for these
activities. End note.)



--------------------------


OPENNESS, TOLERANCE CHARACTERIZE THE US


--------------------------





5. (SBU) The three leaders said they saw, and
appreciated, Islam without extremism and religious
tolerance in their tour of the US. "Islamic centers in
the US are not biased," said Bolbol, "not fanatics, not
terrorists." Mosques are next to synagogues and
churches and Buddhist centers, and relations between
government and Muslim leaders are good. "This is the
real Islam," declared Bolbol; Abdulwahed added, "We can
learn from this example." Bolbol and Mansour also
cited with approval other values they deemed Islamic
that they observed in US society: religious faith,
equality before the law, freedom for women, respect for
work, social responsibility, and respect for life.
Bolbol underscored his points with the example of US no-
smoking laws: everyone obeys them, unlike in Gaza, and,
moreover, "smoking is forbidden in Islam!"



6. (SBU) The group also identified with and admired
the reasoned, consensus-based decision-making they saw
during their introduction to the US foreign policy
process. Important decisions are made "like in Arab
countries," with consultations, committee discussions,
and meetings between the President and his advisors,
said Bolbol. "Disagreements are based on evidence and
facts," said Mansour, and all three agreed they would
like to see Palestinian society give a greater role to
academics and intellectuals in political debate, on the
model of US think tanks. (Note: Gaza's intellectuals,
like their US counterparts, enjoy high social standing.
The trio did not distinguish between the policy role US
experts and academics play, and the more varied game of
politics. End note.) US patriotism also drew envious
admiration: the United States' history is brief but
impressive, said Mansour, and this motivates us as
Palestinians to work for progress in our own country.
Pride in belonging to a nation, said Bolbol, has helped
Americans achieve their success and creates a sense of
progress.



--------------------------


AL AZHAR AND THE US


--------------------------





7. (U) The state-funded Al Azhar, sometimes
characterized as Gaza's "Fatah" or secular university,
faces increasing competition for prestige with its
chief rival, the Islamic University of Gaza. Its
administration, by a three-person temporary council,
remains in some disarray after student protests ousted
the reform-minded president whom President Abbas tried
to install in February. Nonetheless, the university
has recently proposed to the Gaza Program Office to
open an American Corner on its premises. It likewise
appears to be making progress in its effort to create a
department of American Studies, which would be Gaza's
first.

KURTZER