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Latest News in Israel – 11th February

Netanyahu: Israel needs fences on all borders to keep out ‘predators’ in region

Israel needs to erect a fence around the entire country to protect itself from “beasts” in the neighborhood, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday on a tour near Eilat of a segment of fence being erected along the Jordanian border.

“We are preparing a multiyear project to encircle Israel with a security fence, to defend ourselves in the Middle East as it is now, and as it is expected to be,” he said.

“They will say to me, what do you want to do, protect the mansion? And the answer is, ‘Yes.’ What, we will encircle the whole country with a fence and obstacles? The answer is an unequivocal, ‘Yes,’” he said.

“In the neighborhood in which we live we need to protect ourselves against beasts,” Netanyahu added.

The prime minister said that a plan was also being drawn up to fill in the gaps in the security fence in Judea and Samaria.

Government officials said details about completing the West Bank fence were still being worked out. Despite a master plan for a barrier around the large settlement blocs of Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion, only a small section of these routes has been built. Netanyahu’s comments on Tuesday did not seem to signal that a final decision had been made.

Last month opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called for completing the fence around the settlement blocs to both protect the settlements and send a message to the Palestinians that Israel would keep these enclaves under its control.

Netanyahu said that surrounding Israel with a security fence will cost billions of shekels, and the project would take a number of years.

Asked what Israel would do if tunnels were burrowed beneath the fence, he replied, “We are doing other things, that I will not describe here.”

Bibi at fence[1]

Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu  tours Israel’s southern border with Jordan

Netanyahu said that the advantage of putting up a barrier along the Jordanian border, in addition to that which has been built along the Egyptian border, was that there were no buildings nearby which could be used to camouflage the construction of tunnel shafts.

“That is not the situation in Gaza, or potentially in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

“If you weigh whether to build a fence there you have to take into consideration that they could dig tunnels underneath. Those who said that there is no significance to territory in the modern era, should go to [look at the situation in] Gaza.”

Every few months Netanyahu takes a tour of the fence under construction, and on Tuesday he helicoptered south to see work on a 30 kilometer stretch that begins in Eilat and works its way northward in the Arava. The price of this segment, also designed to protect the airport under construction at Timna, is NIS 288 million. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.

Gadi Eisenkot, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, and Brig. Gen. Eran Ofir, head of the Security Fence Branch in the defense ministry, gave Netanyahu a progress report. Netanyahu was also accompanied by Transportation Minister Israel Katz.

In recent years, Israel has completed a 242 km. long fence from Kerem Shalom to Eilat along the Egyptian border that includes a five-meter tall fence, a thin strip that enables IDF trackers to identify footprints and a patrol route. In addition, another 103 km. fence has been built on the Golan Heights and some 500 kms. of fence has been erected in Judea and Samaria.                  (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian rock thrower killed in clash with IDF

A Palestinian teenager who threw rocks at Israeli vehicles was shot and killed by the IDF near Al-Arroub north of Hebron on Wednesday, according to an army spokeswoman.

The incident began when an IDF unit spotted a group of Palestinians hurling rocks at Israeli traffic on Route 60. Soldiers fired live rounds, aiming at the legs of suspects, and striking one of them, an army spokeswoman said.

But Palestinians said the teen, Omar Yusef Madi Jawabra, 16, was shot during clashes with soldiers in the Al-Arroub refugee camp where he lived.

The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health said Jawabra was rushed to Al-Mezan Hospital in Hebron in critical condition and later died of his wounds.

Sources in the camp claimed that IDF soldiers shot the boy during clashes that erupted in the camp. The sources said that the soldiers also fired tear-gas at a group of teenagers who were throwing stones at them and Israeli vehicles on Highway 60.

On his Facebook page, Jawabra wrote on October 26, 2015: “If I leave the arena of life, my heart will rest; Oh eye, do not shed a tear; my homeland, call out on the day of my martyrdom.”

Members of his family who arrived at Al-Mezan Hospital condemned the killing as a “cold blooded execution.”

Palestinians said that Jawabra is the 53rd Palestinian from the Hebron area to die since the current wave of attacks against Israelis began in October 2105. Separately, Israeli police arrested a resident of the Karnei Shomron settlement on suspicion that he had attacked a Palestinian vehicle with an ax, shattering the windshield, while the driver was inside. The non-governmental group Rabbis for Human Rights disturbed a photograph of the damaged vehicle and the ax to the Israeli media.             (Jerusalem Post)

Tanya Plibersek to oppose Labor ban on sponsored trips to Israel

Tanya Plibersek will oppose moves at NSW Labor’s state conference to ban party members from accepting sponsored trips to Israel.

NSW Labor Friends of Palestine intend to move at the weekend congress to bar parliamentarians, officeholders and rank-and-file members from accepting sponsored travel to Israel while the Jewish state “continues settlements, refuses a Palestinian state (and) brutally mistreats Arab residents of the West Bank”.

Funded trips to Israel and the occupied territories are regularly offered to influential Australians by the Jewish and Israeli lobby groups.

Ms Plibersek, the federal opposition’s deputy leader and foreign affairs spokeswoman, said she did not support the motion and described the furore as “a bit of a storm in a teacup”.

“I support people travelling to inform themselves and I think on most of these trips most people spend a significant amount of time both in Israel and particularly in visiting Ramallah,” Ms Plibersek, a NSW Left MP, told the National Press Club in Canberra.

“I think on the weekend we’ll be talking a lot more about jobs and schools and TAFE, university $100,000 degrees, the things that affect most people’s everyday lives — things like the threat to penalty rates that this Government’s going after — so it will be discussed but I don’t think it’s going to be quite the issue you expect.”

Ramallah, on the West Bank, is the seat of the Palestinian Authority.

Bill Shorten, a Victorian, last month said: “I support my MPs exercising their own common sense and views. I trust Labor’s representatives, I don’t see the need to start giving them travel instructions.”

Former ALP national president Warren Mundine, who has quit the party and now advises the Coalition on indigenous affairs, criticised the Labor proposal as “verging on anti-Semitic” and “sickening to watch”.

NSW Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley said he did not support a ban on trips to Israel. But last year he ordered state parliamentarians visiting Israel on sponsored trips to spend an equal amount of time in Palestinian territory.                   (The Australian)

IDF warns Hamas is focusing on one major terror tunnel

An IDF appraisal of the current security threats published on Wednesday morning estimates that over 1,000 Hamas terrorists are currently working on digging one central terror tunnel leading deep into sovereign Israeli territory.

The estimation, published in Yedioth Aharonoth, shows a sharp break from past activity when Hamas worked on constructing dozens of smaller tunnels simultaneously. Around 30 such tunnels were destroyed in 2014 Operation Protective Edge, but Hamas has since been busy rebuilding the system.

According to the report, the digging on the main tunnel is advancing at a pace of 50 meters (around 55 yards) a day, and the decision to focus on one central and high-quality tunnel was made by Hamas management in light of the lessons of Protective Edge.

Hamas intends to use the tunnel so as to transport its terrorists deep into Israeli territory and launch a surprise massive attack. The estimation states that the tunnel already crossed under the border fence a considerable time ago.

One hundred special engineering vehicles have been deployed by the IDF to the Gazan front according to the report, including 30 drills which are digging down to search for the tunnels based on intelligence information. However, currently there are still no results to show for the efforts. On Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said the tunnels in Gaza are now the army’s main priority.

The report on one major tunnel being constructed confirms the warnings made by Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Langotzki to Arutz Sheva earlier this week. Langotzki, a leading expert on the war on terror tunnels, said that the current activities by security forces to locate the tunnels come too late, as the tunnels have already crossed under the border and reach into Israeli territory.

He also warned that the threat of tunnels exists on the northern border as well, with Iran-proxy Lebanese terror group Hezbollah’s tunnel digging abilities already having been proven in the First and Second Lebanon Wars.

Before Protective Edge Hamas had built 33 tunnels over the course of four years, which it unveiled to lethal effect during the confrontation. However, the terrorist group has yet to reestablish its tunnel system to where it was at before the war.

Israelis living in the surrounding environs of Gaza have reported hearing the sound of digging from beneath their homes, with vibrations even shaking their houses. Those reports have come from as far as four kilometers and more in from the border fence, which the IDF apparently takes as meaning that the sounds are not from digging given the distance. However, the IDF says it continues to take every warning seriously and searches for the tunnels, even though currently nothing has been found.

Last Thursday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira sent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) a draft of his report on Israel’s handling of the tunnel threat, which details serious defects in the government’s handling of the terror tunnel issue.

Hamas’s increasing tunneling activity has been seen in a series of five tunnel collapses in the last two or so weeks, in which 11 Gazans have died. One of the tunnels was a smuggling tunnel on the Egyptian border of Gaza, while all the rest were terror tunnels where the collapse victims were Hamas terrorists.           (Arutz Sheva)

After Labor rules out Palestinian state, Netanyahu says: ‘Good morning, Herzog’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a swipe at the Labor Party on Wednesday for “waking up” and realizing that “the two-state solution cannot be implemented” at this time.

During remarks to the Knesset, the premier said that Labor had belatedly come around to his view that Israel cannot agree to a Palestinian state so long as the appropriate conditions – recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and full demilitarization – are not met.

“Good morning, Buji,” the premier said, aiming his remarks at Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog. Buji is his Hebrew nickname.

“Welcome to the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.

Hundreds of Labor Party activists voted Sunday to endorse Herzog’s plan to separate from the Palestinians at a convention at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.

The plan passed with little opposition at the event, in which Herzog was welcomed warmly and not heckled, as he was at a party event in Holon last week.

“The two-state vision did not die, but it will not happen tomorrow,” Herzog told the crowd. “What can be achieved today is security for the citizens of Israel and separation between us and the Palestinians, with actions, not mere words.”

Herzog’s plan calls for completing the security fence around settlement blocs. Settlers from isolated communities to be evacuated would be absorbed into the settlement blocs. Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem would be outside the fence. He told the crowd that his plan would “end the third Intifada” and lead to a regional summit on security.        (Jerusalem Post)

Police commissioner: Crime rates in Arab sector unacceptable

The level of crime and number of illegal firearms in the Arab sector is unacceptable and a plague upon the lives of Israel’s Arab citizens, National Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich said Tuesday.

“The situation is unacceptable and the ones who suffer the most are first and foremost Arab civilians, and afterwards the other sectors of society. There is a very powerful desire in the Arab sector to strengthen the police work there, and over the decades we haven’t done this.”

Alsheich’s comments came during a committee meeting held at the Knesset as part of a day-long salute to police held by the parliament during which Alsheich also laid out some of his goals as commissioner.

According to Israel Police figures from 2015 presented by Alsheich, although Arabs make up only about 21 percent of the population of Israel, 59% of murders and 55% of attempted murders take place in the sector.

In addition, 58% of arsons, 47% of robberies and 32% of property crimes reported to police are in the sector, according to the figures.

Alsheich said police should recruit academics from within the Arab sector who can help them find ways to better carry out policing there, as part of what he described as his wider goal of increasing the agency’s ability to carry out “multicultural policing” that takes into account the unique needs and concerns of each separate community.

Increasing the number of police officers working in the Arab sector would also help improve their understanding of the needs of the community, he said.

Alsheich also spoke in a wider sense about plans to unveil a new national policing policy that will tailor performance goals to the needs of each particular station and community as opposed to adhering to nationwide goals and standards.

Under the plan, each station will compile an assessment of its priorities and major problem areas to be presented to the commissioner.

Only after this step is completed will performance goals be set by police.

The commissioner also addressed the poor public perception of the police, saying that repairing that image will be one of his major goals.

“Our challenge is that citizens won’t cross the street when they see a cop coming” and that they will feel more comfortable coming to the police to issue complaints, he said.

The approach is in keeping with statements made last week by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who described how police will adopt multicultural policing, in keeping with a study commissioned from the RAND Corporation.

Addressing Alsheich, MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) said: “The loss of public faith in the police is where the problems begin.”

Swid, a former criminal attorney, also drew issue with the recently passed “stop and frisk” law that will increase the freedom of police to execute searches on civilians.

The ceremony to honor the police was initiated by MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), the former commander of the Jerusalem District of the Israel Police.

“Recently the police have been badly rattled and have suffered from serious public criticism,” said Levy, who added that many “have forgotten the 30,000 officers who served in the police force with sacrifice and courage.”                          (Jerusalem Post)

Israel’s army chief: Soldiers must disobey patently illegal orders

In addition to stressing that the IDF’s top priority is locating Hamas’ tunnels in Gaza, Gadi Eisenkot also says that dealing with claims by Breaking the Silence ‘will make army better.’

“It’s not only a soldier’s right to disobey an order that is patently illegal, it’s his obligation. That is my demand as chief of staff,” declared the Israel Defense Forces’ Gadi Eisenkot, at a conference on Tuesday in memory of former chief-of-staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.

Referring to the actions of Breaking the Silence – the left-wing, anti-occupation NGO of former soldiers – Eisenkot said, “We expect from our soldiers that our values be adhered to in real-time, and not that they break their silence three years later at some conference. One has to carry out legitimate missions in a manner that is compatible with the IDF spirit: Where this does not occur, it’s a soldier’s obligation, not his right, to desist.”

At the memorial event, organized by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Eisenkot related how, after assuming his post after Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in 2014, he instructed the military advocate general to meet members of Breaking the Silence in order to hear their claims. “The MAG told me that he listened to them,” said Eisenkot. “We now want to deal with these things since it will make the IDF better.”

Last July, the Military Police’s investigative branch launched an investigation into several incidents that occurred during the operation, as reported by Breaking the Silence. According to the IDF’s Bamahane magazine, the army’s legal branch was specifically examining eight testimonies. The army has not offered any details regarding the incidents in question, but a report by Breaking the Silence in May intimated that it is possible that international laws had been violated.

Eisenkot also referred on Tuesday to operations under way to locate Hamas tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel, which he called the IDF’s top priority.

“We’re making great efforts, most of them hidden from the public eye,” he commented, “but anyone in the vicinity can see almost 100 pieces of heavy equipment working there. We have the most advanced capabilities in the world but it’s still a big challenge. We don’t let the fact that it’s quiet in the south deceive us.”

Eisenkot also responded to a story that aired this week on TV Channel 2 news, according to which Education Minister Naftali Bennett had recommended a pre-emptive strike to address the threat posed by the tunnels – a suggestion apparently rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

“The question of whether this is the correct move or not should be discussed in the appropriate forums for such discussions,” the chief of staff said in response.

He also referred to tensions and terror in the West Bank, saying that the IDF is responsible for providing security and also a sense of security there “without making excuses.” From conversations with terrorists who had been arrested, Eisenkot added, it appeared that the main motivation for their action was incitement in the media, as well as the feeling that their actions would advance the Palestinian cause.

The army has found the terror attacks are not being carried out by Palestinians with work permits or members of their families: Of the 120,000 who have work permits, the chief of staff noted, only one had carried out an attack (in Modi’in, although another Palestinian with a work permit carried an attack in an industrial zone near Ariel and Palestinian with a residence permit carried out an attack at Beit Panorama in Tel Aviv).

“Those 120,000 laborers impact 500,000-600,000 others in the West Bank. They provide for their families, they bring hope. It’s not hard to imagine what would happen if they were all under closure and banned from working,” he said.

An examination of the families of people with work permits revealed that they are also not involved in terror incidents, the only exception being a minor who carried out the stabbing attack in Otniel, in which Daphna Meir was murdered.

“With all the desire to do something after an attack,” Eisenkot said, “one has to be focused and to differentiate between terrorism and the entire population. I don’t mean in isolated cases, but as a concept. Someone who is unfamiliar with reality on the ground is calling for a repeat of the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield from the second intifada. Anyone who is familiar with reality knows that things have changed since then. The IDF has complete freedom of action now.”

The chief of staff was referring to a comment made in November by Minister Bennett, in an interview with Army Radio, to the effect that the only solution to the wave of terror was a second Operation Defensive Shield.                    (Ha’aretz)

New IDF tech locates terrorists through the fog

The IDF has for years had protocol in place to maintain extra vigilance and forces ready at weak points on all bases during the foggy morning hours, as it has feared that terrorists would use the fog cover to conduct attacks on bases.

Such attacks happened hundreds of times during the IDF’s presence in Lebanon and during the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in Gaza. However, the IDF has just developed a method of combating this threat, which will allow them to literally see through the fog.

The new technology, which is based on the drone system, is an advanced specified spy package which contains all of the regular equipment that is used in drones, day and night vision cameras, broadcasting systems, GPS, and others, but now also includes a specialized option for seeing through fog. The specialized camera is called “Savir,” and it allows the operator to see and photograph images in high resolution even through fog or cloudy conditions. The Savir can identify people or moving trees or plants from a distance of over two kilometers and can see other images, depending on the need at a distance of up to 20 kilometers.

The Savir system can be operated on land or by sea. The systems are mounted on a rig that is called “Speed LR” which is produced by the Israeli company “Controp,” which specializes in surveillance technology and is based out of Hod Hasharon. Yedioth Aharonot reports that the first systems will be ready for installment beginning next month.

The Savir can get a clear picture during heat waves that often cause imaging problems, or during fog and haze. Until now IDF forces have been using radar and radar imaging to locate movement close to their bases during foggy or hazy weather. The radar imaging has drawbacks when it comes to large amounts of movement or movement of wildlife which will trigger the system inaccurately.

The platform can be installed on towers or buildings and include a day camera, as well as a night vision camera that uses a laser to determine precise depth and coordinates. (Arutz Sheva)

Iran hacked former IDF chief’s computer

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards managed to hack the private computer used by a former IDF chief of staff, Channel 10 reported on Tuesday night.

According to the report, Iranian cyber hackers over the past year have penetrated dozens of computers belonging to Israelis, markedly senior security officials.

However, the extent of damage and withdrawn information remains unknown.

Iran in recent years has boasted of its cyber warfare capabilities and undoubtedly has continued to make more advancements in the field.

According to the reported Channel 10 findings, hackers working for the Islamic Republic have breached computers belonging to more than 1,800 individuals.

Victim of the cyber attacks included hundreds of Israelis, primarily past and present senior officials.

The report noted that Israeli cyber security experts were able to identify one negligent hacker working for Iran, Yasser Balachi, who mistakenly revealed his e-mail address.

“Balachi said that he had not operated on his own initiative, rather for another cyber organization that commissioned the work,” Channel 10 quoted Ron Davidson, the head of security services at Israeli cyber firm Check Point, as saying.

The report added that the cyber activities stopped a few months ago when the Iran realized that its operations had been exposed. Nevertheless, the hackers allegedly managed to extract information in one of the latest instances of ongoing global cyber warfare.   (Jerusalem Post)

Soldier badly wounded in 2014 Gaza war released from hospital

Ohad Ben-Yishai, a soldier in the elite Egoz unit who was critically wounded in the battle of Shujaiyya in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, has returned home after completing a year-and-a-half-long period of rehabilitation at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

Ben-Yishai sustained a severe head wound. He had to relearn how to walk and speak, as well as how to read and write.

Ohad Ben Yishai[1]

Ohad Ben Yishai is kissed by his parents

At a going-home party held in his honor on the Rehabilitation Ward at Sheba, Ben-Yishai’s father, Shimon, thanked the hospital staff, saying, “We’re happy that this stage is over. It’s touching and joyful. Living at home and returning to his normal, supportive environment will also play a part in [Ohad’s] rehabilitation.

“Ohad is very happy and wants it very much, and it comes at a time when most of the people he was drafted with are finishing their army service and starting to travel and work and study, so moving home will be a positive change.

“Ohad’s fight to return to his life and [regain] his functioning continue. We’re very encouraged and hope that the process will continue.”              (Israel Hayom)

New Israeli Bandage Can Stop What Was Once Thought to Be ‘Uncontrollable’ Bleeding

A new Israeli-developed bandage aims to save lives in cases of severe bleedings, where conventional treatment procedures could fail to stop a deadly hemorrhage.

According to Yuval Yaskil, owner and CEO of developers Core Scientific Creations (CSC), the bandage, called WoundClot, not only stops severe bleedings within minutes – without the need to apply pressure on the wound – but also enhances the blood’s natural process of clotting.

Cases of severe, uncontrolled bleedings are the number one cause of death in the battlefield, Yaskil told Reuters at his office in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba. While the traditional protocol for treating such bleedings include applying pressure on a wound to stop it from bleeding and rushing the patient to hospital, Yaskil said that in some cases like stab wounds to the neck or head trauma injuries, pressure does not work.

“These products allow us to treat very severe bleeding in the field, with minimum amount of, I would say, training, with minimum amount of interfering with the regular medical treatment or protocols that are used today,” said Yaskil.

Just stopping the blood from leaving the patient’s body is not enough, Yaskil explained, as it can sometimes take hours before a patient reaches a hospital. He says that this is why WoundClot was chemically crafted to stop bleeding, enhancing the natural clotting process while maintaining its own stability for 24 hours.

“Our product is unique because it is the only product in the market that is non compressional application for severe bleeding while at the same time being bio absorbable. Because this is a contradiction: Bio absorbable means you want the product to break down, but with holding severe bleeding means you have to have a very stable membrane. And that is basically the trick, or the patent that we develop,” he said.

The mind behind the science of WoundClot is Dr. Shani Eliyahu Gross, Vice President and CTO of CSC. Holding up a dry WoundClot — which looks like any other bandage — and soaking it in water, Dr. Eliyahu Gross explained that its unique chemical structure allows the absorption of large amounts of liquids without disintegration.

“When it is exposed to liquids, this product starts to absorb enormous amount of blood and then it transforms into a gel state,” she said, adding that the more blood absorbed in the bandage, the quicker the clotting process will proceed.

“The special molecular structure actually holds the whole physical structures together with the blood that (is) absorbed within the product and allowing the blood to remain active, to help the wound to clot and stop bleeding,” she said.

Video footage of a trial surgery documented and edited by CSC, shows how a 10 by 10 centimetre strip of WoundClot stops a liver wound from bleeding in less than three minutes.

Yaskil said that CSC is providing WoundClot to Israeli police forces and the army, as well as selling it to hospitals, where treating bleeding consumes precious time and expensive products in the emergency or operation room.

WoundClot costs from less than 10 U.S. dollars per bandage and up to around $100 USD for larger surgical products. While this price range is within the high end of the market, Yaskil said the bandage can replace other products or procedures that cost up to thousands of dollars.

“We are replacing very very expensive products because… our product doesn’t have any active ingredients in it, it just works on a physical level, on a biological level, on a physiological level, that’s what it does. But it does it so efficiently that in many cases we replace products that have active ingredients that are suppose to promote coagulation.”             (Haaretz)

Medical Breakthrough: Israeli Scientist Heading International Research Team Reverses Alzheimer’s Symptoms in Mice

An Israeli research professor, heading an international team of scientists, has discovered a way to inhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Monday.

Dr. Shira Knafo, head of the Molecular Cognition Laboratory at BioCruces Health Research Institute in Basque Country, Spain was able to do this by studying the plasticity of the brain, fundamental to learning and memory.

According to a paper she and her team published last month in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Knafo discovered that the synapses of the brain can be made more plastic using a certain small protein, which inhibits the processes normally associated with impairment, from depression to full-fledged cognitive disability. Brain-impaired mice administered the protein were reportedly restored to full cognitive function.           (The Algemeiner)

Confessions of a Jerusalem Wanderer

by Judy Lash Balint          Letter From Jerusalem

I’ve been reluctant to admit it to all but a handful of close friends, but after a lifetime of pretty regular Shabbat morning shul-going I’ve now substituted long walks through Jerusalem’s almost deserted streets and parks as my preferred Shabbat spiritual sustenance.

Years of erratic prayer experiences in modern orthodox shuls on three continents have left me with the feeling that there are multiple ways of connecting with God, and not all of them are to be found in the confines of a shul. Especially when you happen to be in Jerusalem and it’s a glorious day. Modeh ani,(I give thanks) indeed.

I wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that I’m not alone in this feeling among those of similar age and background. At Shabbat dinner this past Friday, old friends who were once very active in their Jerusalem shul admitted that they too now make much less frequent appearances there. Both our shuls are graced with dynamic rabbis who are exemplary leaders and outstanding orators. The rabbis are not the problem. It’s the difficulty we have maintaining a meaningful prayer experience that’s led us to quietly seek an alternate Shabbat scenario.

Sometimes my early Shabbat morning wanderings take me to the Old City and the Kotel; other weeks it’s through the quiet streets of the German Colony and along the Mesila Park toward the peaceful, flower-framed alleyways of Yemin Moshe.

Yemin Moshe[1]

Yemin Moshe

Occasionally I’lI meet up with a friend, but most weeks I’m happy not to have to schedule a meeting place ahead of time, or plan a particular route in order to get my Jerusalem Shabbat fix.

This past Shabbat, a bright day pierced by a bracing wind, I took the advice of the old friends from dinner the night before, and took off toward the Valley of the Cross. The pathway passes the Monastery of the Cross, an 11th century hulk of a structure that looks slightly incongruous in modern day Jerusalem.


Monastery of the Cross

It’s still too early to see any of the few Greek Orthodox monks who live and pray in a small section of the compound, and I’m slightly disappointed that the almond trees in the valley surrounding the monastery leading up to the Israel Museum are not yet in full bloom. On the path I pass several anxious-looking runners who must be training for the upcoming Jerusalem marathon.

Through the pedestrian tunnel that leads seamlessly to Gan Sacher, Jerusalem’s Central Park, I find myself looking over the main lawn where so many concerts and events take place in the warmer months. How many great Israeli performers have I heard there over the years? Everyone from Yehudit Ravitz to Idan Raichel and even a rendering of the iconic Bustan Sephardi musical.

At this hour the park is virtually deserted, with little presence of the dozens of city-dwelling dog owners who will fill the precious urban green space later in the day.

From the park I cross Sderot Ben Tzvi to Betzalel Street, one of the city’s busiest intersections on a weekday. Not a single car is to be seen in any direction at this hour on a Shabbat morning. There are several little shuls on the lower part of the southern side of Bezalel and familiar Shabbat shacharit melodies waft out over the quiet street. I stop for a breather on a bench outside the Turkish shul to watch as a man wearing a tallit, together with his son, scans the horizon to try to hustle up a minyan. It’s now almost 9 a.m and he’s looking a little desperate. A few likely suspects wearing kipot and Shabbat clothes hurry by, politely refusing his plea since they’re needed to make the minyan in their own shuls. Eventually he corrals the four guys he was missing, and he almost sweeps them into the shul with his tallit and a broad smile on his face.

Synagogue in Nachlaot[1]

Synagogue in Nachlaot neighborhood

I turn off onto Even Sapir Street that leads into the heart of Nachlaot. Many of the buildings bear faded plaques with the name of the family that built the house, mostly around the early 20th century. Gentrification is slowly encroaching here, but there are still plenty of buildings that could be the setting for any number of movies on religious life in Jerusalem.

An unusual sight catches my eye — two twenty-something women emerge from a side street, dressed in skirts, with no head covering, and one of them is carrying a Torah scroll covered respectfully with a tallit. I follow them as they walk purposefully up the street and disappear around a corner — perhaps heading for the Mayanot Shul?

As Even Sapir hits Narkis Street, I climb the stairs into Hirschenberg, one of those tiny Jerusalem streets that feels so secluded and other-wordly and connects Nachlaot to the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood. Over the past two decades, this network of eight or nine tiny streets and pedestrian courtyards, founded by two rabbis in 1909 to accommodate religious Jews, has become the epitome of Jerusalem gentrification.

Jerusalem Gentrification[1]

Jerusalem gentrification

Along Parush Street, majestic three and four story homes with shiny new Jerusalem stone facades hide behind ornate iron security gates, while across the street one or two of the original houses still stand in a benign state of neglect. Many of the newer residents of Shaarei Chesed today are wealthy, religious, English and French-speaking Jews who relish the barricades that close off the area to traffic to preserve the Shabbat tranquility.

As Parush crosses Keren Kayemet it becomes Haran Street, and both the properties and the population changes. This is the edge of Rehavia, built a decade or two later than Shaarei Chesed, and originally peopled by the Ashkenazi intellectual elite of Jerusalem. On this sunny Shabbat morning, students are sitting on rattan chairs on the balconies of the yet-to-be-renovated buildings and a few older folks are emerging for a Shabbat stroll.

I make my way across Ibn Ezra to Alkharizi — one of my favorite little Jerusalem streets. Here, behind the greenery lining the narrow street, you can still see a few of the original single-family homes built in the 1930s, complete with the name plaque of the first families that lived there. Far grander buildings dominate the shady street today, home to some of Jerusalem’s most prominent residents.

The signature Rehavia Garden City-style walkways and a little urban park surround the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute, once the home of Israel’s second president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. In the spirit of this peaceful Shabbat morning and the shul experience I’m passing up, I contemplate the fact that the street names of this part of Rehavia — Abarbanel, Ibn Gvirol, Ibn Ezra, Alkharizi, Ben Maimon — all conjure up the great scholars of the Golden Age of Spain.

My understanding is that both Rambam and Ibn Ezra were insistent that men had the obligation to daven with a minyan. The Talmud asserts that someone (male or female?) who lives in a city that has a shul but chooses not to go is called a shachen ra — a bad neighbor (Berachot 8a).

Are my friends and I who drink in the Jerusalem Shabbat morning atmosphere “bad neighbors,” or can we get away with being a new brand of spiritual seeker, grateful for every moment of Sabbath peace in this holy city?

Should we stand by knowing that Hamas intends to attack us?

By Isi Leibler                 The Jerusalem Post


Few envy the painful decisions Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be obliged to make in the months to come.

He faces grave challenges that impact on the life and death of Israelis. The current wave of Palestinian terrorism seems to be escalating from stabbings to shootings and there is considerable concern that the Palestinian Authority may well implode, which would lead to even greater chaos.

Hezbollah has thousands of rockets aimed toward us but, for the time being, is diverted by its bitter battles in Syria on behalf of its Iranian patron.

Diplomatically, at least until after the US elections we face a hostile environment as the Obama administration signals its contempt for the Israeli government and while the Europeans seem willing to abandon us and even impose sanctions against us.

Despite the barbaric behavior of our neighbors and the criminal Palestinian society, and being aware that the Palestinians remain utterly committed to an end of Jewish sovereignty, the Europeans continue pressing Israel to make further unilateral concessions.

But the most urgent issue today is how to respond to Hamas, which, unlike the duplicitous Palestinian Authority, loudly spells out its genocidal objectives. It has always bitterly rejected any negotiation and made it abundantly clear that its ultimate mission – “no matter how long it takes” – is to “fight the Jews and kill them” and to replace the Jewish state with an Islamic caliphate.

Article 7 of the Hamas Charter is explicit: “The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to realize the promise of Allah, no matter how long it takes. The Prophet, Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, says: ‘The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,” except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.’” In recent months, Hamas has repeatedly proclaimed that it is resurrecting its army with the intention of liberating and imposing Shariah law on all of “Palestine.”

Its leaders continuously exhort their followers to kill Jews and hold celebrations every time an Israeli civilian has been killed by one of their crazed supporters. It is brainwashing its young children into becoming “martyrs” in forthcoming battles against Jews, stressing that these are not defensive actions but preparations for a new military confrontation against Israel at a time of its choosing.

Hamas has desperately sought to import and manufacture missiles to replenish its inventory following the losses accrued during the most recent war. Israel maintains that it can and will eliminate these missiles if required.

But far more disconcerting are Hamas’ recent frenzied efforts to reconstruct the tunnels destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces during the war, in addition to creating new ones. The pounding of drills as the tunnels reach (and possibly even traverse) Israel territory is understandably alarming for Israelis living near these areas.

There is no way that these tunnels leading to Israeli territory could be construed as being defensive. Indeed, Hamas leaders do not conceal their intentions. Their spokesmen have stated that a number of tunnels have already penetrated deep into Israeli territory and repeatedly boast publicly that they will be used to invade Israel and at the very least to kill or kidnap Israeli civilians who would become hostages to leverage concessions such as the release of mass murderers. Subsequent occasional reassurances that they seek to retain the cease-fire with Israel and are not preparing for another war are hardly convincing.

From evidence disclosed by Hamas, these new tunnels are far more sophisticated than those destroyed by Israel. It is also clear that the desperately-needed building materials provided by foreign aid to rebuild homes for Gaza citizens has and is being siphoned by Hamas for this tunnel construction. There seems to be a frenzied urgency to complete the project speedily, as is attested by the number of Hamas leaders and activists recently killed during construction accidents.

This poses a very serious threat. Hamas may have learned lessons from its failed efforts to infiltrate into Israel via tunnels during the last war. Should they, God forbid, succeed in sending hundreds of suicidal terrorists into Israel through tunnels, they could wreak immense damage and bloodshed before elimination by the IDF.

I am not privy to military intelligence. But from all the “reassuring” government statements, it would appear that despite our extraordinary technological achievements including the Iron Dome, we have not yet devised the means of identifying or locating the tunnels.

After the most recent war, the IDF declared that it would intervene militarily if Hamas resumed the tunnel project. These were clearly empty words that failed to deter Hamas, which has the chutzpah to engage in tunnel construction 500 meters from the border, in plain sight of the IDF.

Does that mean that we simply stand by and await an impending attack that would take place at a time chosen by the terrorists? Ironically, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog, backed by his partner, MK Tzipi Livni, has emerged as a hawk on this issue and castigated the government for not responding. Herzog warned: “Why are we waiting for terrorists with drawn weapons to emerge in a kibbutz or moshav? …The political leadership must stop hesitating …and instruct the IDF to bomb the tunnels and destroy this threat. …One day, we will wake up and discover that once again, we underestimated the seriousness of the threat. …It will cost us in blood and terrible sorrow.”

Herzog is on solid ground in uttering such warnings.

What country would stand idly while its neighbor constructed tunnels to penetrate its borders with suicidal terrorists whose objective was to kill as many civilians as possible? Netanyahu is aware of this. However, having regard for the international situation and the almost certain condemnation by the US if Israel were to take preemptive action to destroy the tunnels, he is fearful that in the present climate, this could lead to a UN Security Council condemnation, accompanied by sanctions from which the US would abstain.

While acknowledging these concerns, we should recall how our preemptive action resulted in the dazzling victory of the Six-Day War and conversely, how our fear of antagonizing our friends by firing the first shot led to the disaster of the Yom Kippur War.

There is no doubt that we will be condemned if we take preemptive action. But a government’s prime responsibility is to protect its citizens. To wait for these frenzied killers to indulge in a murder spree against us before reacting is utterly untenable. Besides, despite the inevitable howls against us for defending ourselves, the current chaos in the Middle East and the war against Islamic State make this as good a time as any to deal with the threat.

What is needed is a short, sharp global public campaign directed toward governments, highlighting the threat to our citizens, backed by evidence and public statements from Hamas. We should clearly state that unless the tunnels constructed with the intention of penetrating our borders are closed and future tunneling brought to a halt, Israel will have no choice other than preemptive steps to secure its borders and protect the lives of its citizens. Besides, we can relate to a precedent.

The Egyptians overcame their problem with Hamas tunnels, which were used to smuggle arms to Islamic terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, by digging deep ditches and periodically flooding them with sea water.

Israel does not seek another war, but to stand idly while the enemy boasts of its murderous intentions is utterly irresponsible and simply procrastinating may subsequently lead to far greater casualties.

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