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Latest News in Israel – 11th January

Thousands mourn at funerals for IDF soldiers killed in Jerusalem attack

Soulful screams resounded in the chilly afternoon air on Monday as the body of Lt. Shir Hajaj, 22, was lowered into the grave in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery.

“Your ‘song’ was too short,” her older sister Bar said as she stood at makeshift wooden podium that had been set up near the grave. In a short lyrical eulogy, she continued to make a wordplay out of her sister’s name, which in Hebrew means song.

“Your song was too pretty,” Bar said, adding, “Your song’s end was too bitter.”

Hajaj was one of four soldiers killed in a Sunday terror attack near the promenade in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood.

All of them were buried one day later in four different cemeteries throughout the country. One of the soldiers, Sec.-Lt. Erez Orbach, 20, held US citizenship.

“What a loss this is, I am so sorry. Where are you? Let’s talk about how difficult this is, as if this was a dream in which we didn’t know that your [loss was] what was difficult. I am so sorry that you will not be able to live out your life,” Bar said.

Her cousin Hila said Shir was smart, but also modest and quiet, and that people could tell with one glance how good and filled with love she was.

“There are not enough words to describe the beauty your gentle soul brought to the world,” she said. “There was so much strength in your silence. You seem to effortlessly conquer mountains. We so wanted to see what mountains you would conquer in the future.

“We thought we would see you on the front page of the newspaper holding a prize for an invention that would change the world. How is then that we are seeing your photograph now everywhere next to a memorial candle?” Hila asked.

Lt.-Col. Assaf Weiss recalled how he first met Shir on the phone, when she called to sway him to let her into his unit after missing the deadline because she had been abroad.

Weiss described the Ma’aleh Adumim native as sweet but determined. He said Shir called him every day until she convinced him to grant her an interview that led to her acceptance.

Similarly, when told that she would not be able to enter an officers course, she pushed to get in.

“She got in, but never returned,” Weiss said.

Shir’s unit commander Tali Parchi added that, on Monday, Shir had been scheduled to lead an educational tour of Mount Herzl for soldiers. “Instead we are parting from you here,” Parchi said. “There was no one more worthy than you to be an IDF officer. We salute you. May your memory be a blessing.”

Near Tel Aviv, in the military cemetery of Kiryat Shaul, hundreds of people gathered to mourn Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, who was from the central city of Givatayim and only recently completed her officers training course.

She leaves behind her parents and an older brother and sister.

Hundreds of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens looked on as her bereaved family took to the podium, and as her father struggled to say the kaddish memorial prayer in between tearful sobs.


Funeral of Shir Hajaj.

“We didn’t have enough time with you. You were so loved and you knew it. It was so fun to be with you. You were so sensitive, smart, caring,” he said, eulogizing his daughter.

“We never believed something like this could happen. We still don’t believe it. We don’t know what we will do with you.”

Yekutiel’s older sister Noga then spoke lovingly of her sister, alongside her brother Nadav.

“You loved everyone so much, you loved the world. You were so brave,” she said.

“You were our glue, and you were everything to me. Everything.

You were my best friend and I knew everything was ahead of us. You loved everyone so much, you loved the world. You were so brave. If the world had only knew you, you could have ruled it. You are so special. I love you so much and I will always be with you.”

Following Givatayim Mayor Ran Kunik, one of Yekutiel’s friends spoke of the “Yael who couldn’t drive. Yael who every boy wanted. Yael who loved her schnitzel.”

“You always said we didn’t hug enough. I want you to hug me. Just a few days ago you said to me, ‘Can you believe we’ve been friends for five years?’ We went through so much together. And we will still grow together. We will do everything you used to love. My crazy one, this is not goodbye. This is not good-bye.”

Shira Tzur was buried in Haifa, where she was remembered as an outstanding student and an exemplary young woman. Tzur, born to American parents, began her military service in the IAF’s pilot’s course and was later reposted to the Intelligence Corps.

Mendi Rabinovich, principal of the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa that Tzur attended, told The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv: “Her teachers said she always dreamed of being a pilot, but in the end, served in the Intelligence Corps. She was a spirited girl, socially active and very loving.

Everyone regarded her as an exemplary graduate, an outstanding girl, a social leader and also emotionally sensitive to justice and injustices.

“My heart hurts that in this crazy country a soldier in uniform becomes a target for radical Muslim terrorism and we don’t know how to ensure her well-being on the day that she goes to see Jerusalem,” Ravinovich said.

Orbach was buried in the small cemetery in his home settlement of Alon Shvut.

In an interview with Army Radio on Monday morning, his grandfather said that Orbach was an excellent student who loved his family, his Judaism and his country.

Even though he had health problems that could have exempted him from the army, Orbach insisted not only on entering the army, and then the air force, but also on joining elite units and signing up for the officers course.

When asked by the army why he wasn’t making use of his exemption, he told them, “It is my civic duty to enlist.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Shin Bet foils smuggling ring that sought to help Hamas in Gaza

Israeli authorities have foiled a Palestinian smuggling ring seeking to provide equipment to Hamas in Gaza, the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) announced Monday.

In December 2016, Israeli forces arrested two members of the ring, which had been transporting illicit materials to the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel.

The two suspects, named as Nofal Abu Siriya, a merchant from the Gaza Strip, and Nader Massalma, a merchant from the West Bank, were arrested in a joint Shin Bet, IDF and Israel police operation last month and indicted in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

According to the Shin Bet, the network had been smuggling dual-use equipment such as model airplanes and communications cables from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip for the Islamic terrorist group Hamas.

Hundreds of cameras, some of which were designated for Hamas, were also smuggled by the network. Importing dual-use goods, such as cameras, into the Gaza Strip requires a special permit.

According to the Shin Bet, the smuggled goods had been hidden inside of electronic goods, such as televisions, washing machines and refrigerators. During the investigation, the Shin Bet discovered that Massalma had assisted Abu Siriya in November in smuggling hundreds of cameras inside washing machines that had been imported from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

“The smuggling method that was discovered by the security forces underscores the efforts undertaken by Hamas, via its collaborators, in order to build up its strength and cynically exploit the commercial permits given by Israel for the benefit of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip,” the Shin Bet said.

“The security establishment views the situation with utmost gravity and will continue to locate and foil attempts to smuggle equipment, goods and dual-use materials to the Gaza Strip, which are liable to assist Hamas and other terrorist organizations to build up their strength. Those involved – in Israel, Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip – will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” the agency added.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu orders ministers to attend funerals after all skip out on terror victims

After bereaved parents complained that not a single government minister showed up to any of the four funerals for soldiers killed in Sunday’s terror attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered new rules drawn up to avoid a similar situation in the future.

The funerals of Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, of Givatayim, Lt. Shir Hajaj, 22, of Ma’ale Adumim, 2nd Lt. Erez Orbach, 20, of Alon Shvut, and 2nd Lt. Shira Tzur, 20, from Haifa, took place in quick succession on Monday. Hundreds attended each of the ceremonies, the first of which began at 11 a.m. and the last at 3 p.m.

The four victims were among a group of IDF officer cadets who were hit by a truck driven at them by Palestinian Fadi al-Qunbar in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. Two of the soldiers, Orbach and Tzur, were American citizens.

Qunbar, 28, was shot and killed by soldiers and an armed tour guide at the scene.

Netanyahu instructed Cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman to “put together a directive obligating the participation of government members — ministers and their deputies — to attend funerals of soldiers killed during operations or in terror,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Monday.

The prime minister, who was reportedly discontented after hearing reports of parents’ unhappiness, himself visited several wounded soldiers in the hospital on Monday morning, before the funerals, and then held a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset.

MKs and city mayors were present at the funerals, but no government ministers or deputies. Representatives for Orebach’s family told the Hebrew-language Walla news website that Education Minister Naftali Bennett had planned on attending the funeral, held in the West Bank community of Kfar Etzion, but was asked to stay away to keep media attention to a minimum.

The government secretary explained in a statement that currently “minsters are not obligated to attend the funerals of soldiers, each minister acts at his own discretion.”

Herzl Hajaj, Shir’s father, criticized the government for its callous treatment of the families.

“I don’t expect anything,” he said according to the Walla report. “It seems that we weren’t famous enough for it and not attractive enough, if they didn’t think it fitting to come. None of them called either. There were representatives from the army and some members of Knesset. Nothing special — she was just a girl who was run over. Who does that interest?”

“The important thing is that the family of the terrorist is pleased,” he added, referring to media reports that Qunbar’s sister, Shaida, had said she was happy her brother had become a martyr.

Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of Yad Lebanim organization that offers support for bereaved families, threatened to mobilize parents to demonstrate against the government’s attitude that, he claimed, has for a long time been derisory.

“Since the Yad Lebanim organization was established, we bereaved parents have not taken to the streets to protest. This time we won’t hesitate to take to the streets.”

Ben Shem vowed to keep the matter in the public eye.

“In another week they will forget about it, but we have promised that we will not agree to this any more. I call on the government and the speaker of the Knesset to lay down the procedures for the sake of the memory of the fallen, the deceased of Israel’s battles.”

Four of the 16 soldiers injured in the attack remained hospitalized in moderate condition on Monday afternoon. Several others who suffered minor wounds were released overnight.

On Monday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court released Qunbar’s father Ahmad and sister Shaida after ruling there was not sufficient evidence to keep the two in custody, and released them under restrictive conditions. The two were arrested along with several others hours after the attack.

The remand of five suspects — brothers Hamza, 31, and Muhammad, 28, cousin Muhammad, 30, and two residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, where Qunbar lived — was extended for a further seven days on suspicion that they knew in advance about Qunbar’s plan to carry out the attack and did nothing to prevent it.

Police are considering charges of conspiracy to carry out a terror attack, after they were said to have evidence that Qunbar identified with the Islamic State terrorist group, Channel 2 reported. (the Times of Israel)

Berlin emblazons Israeli flag on Brandenburg Gate after Jerusalem attack

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was lit with the Israeli flag Monday night in a show of solidarity following a terror attack in Jerusalem Sunday in which four IDF soldiers were killed.

Like the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks, the gate is often used as a screen for national colors to show support in the wake of attacks and other incidents.

The landmark was illuminated with the Turkish flag last week following the Istanbul New Year’s attack.


East Jerusalem resident Fadi el-Qanbar drove a truck into a group of soldiers at the Haas-Sherover Promenade in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem on Sunday.

The soldiers, all officer cadets, were getting off a bus at the promenade, a popular tourist spot in southern Jerusalem, when Fadi al-Qanbar, a resident of the capital’s Jabel Mukaber neighborhood, drive a large flatbed truck ran into them.

15 other soldiers were injured, four of them suffering moderate to serious injuries, the rest lightly injured.

The four soldiers who were killed — three women and one man — were later named as Lieutenant Yael Yekutiel (20) of Givatayim, Cadet Shir Hajaj (22) of Maaleh Adumim, Cadet Shira Tzur (20) from Haifa, and Cadet Erez Orbach (20) from Alon Shvut. They were buried in military ceremonies attended by hundreds on Monday.

Qanbar was shot dead by soldiers and an armed tour guide who were at the scene.

The soldiers were visiting the capital as part of the army’s “Culture Sundays,” in which troops are taken to important historical and national sites at the beginning of the week.  (the Times of Israel)

Israel ramps up security, says truck-ramming ‘new type of attack’

Israel is under a new threat of terrorism by lone-wolf assailants, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday, as police continued to crack down on relatives and neighbors of an East Jerusalem man who rammed his truck into a group of soldiers in the capital Sunday, killing four.

While Israel has dealt with spates of car-rammings and stabbings over the past years, Netanyahu said this attack was differentiated by the fact that the attacker seemed to take action with little to no forethought.

“I think the most important thing to understand is that we are under a new kind of attack by a lone wolf that gets inspiration and decides in a moment to act, in this case with a car-ramming,” Netanyahu said.

On Sunday, 28-year-old Fadi al-Qunbar drove a truck into a group of IDF cadets who were standing in a group after getting off a bus on a popular promenade in Jerusalem. He killed four people and wounded 16 more.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Netanyahu said Sunday from the scene of the attack that “according to all the signs he is a supporter of the Islamic State,” without elaborating further.

The attack was met with a series of preventative and punitive steps ordered by Netanyahu and his high-level security cabinet.

Following the attack, police arrested nine residents of Jabel Mukaber in connection with the attack. Five of them were members of Qunbar’s family, police said.

The neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, from which multiple terror attacks have originated over the past year, has been encircled by security forces, who placed a cordon on the village and began carrying out security checks on anyone leaving the area toward other parts of Jerusalem.

“The police force continues with increased operational activities in [Jerusalem] at all times, and it will continue to do so as needed,” the police said in a statement Monday.

Police forces checked drivers and searched parked cars and trucks throughout East Jerusalem in an effort to prevent copycat attacks, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

An investigation is underway as to how Qunbar managed to make his way on Sunday to the Jerusalem promenade where the soldiers gathered, who owned the truck he drove and whether he planned his attack ahead of time, Rosenfeld said.

Concrete Blocks[1]

Police used concrete slabs to block some entrances of Jabel Mukaber, and a police officer checked cars leaving it. Israeli special forces dismantled a mourning tent erected to receive visitors paying respects for Qunbar, who was fatally shot at the scene of the attack. Overnight, police say, Palestinians shot fireworks at Israeli forces at a police post near the neighborhood.

Netanyahu said Monday he had ordered concrete blocks placed at popular bus stops and hitchhiking posts in the West Bank and Jerusalem, in an effort to prevent further lone-wolf terror attacks.

Speaking from Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, where he was visiting three officer school cadets wounded in the attack, Netanyahu said they had told him they were eager to return to action.

“It’s simply unbelievable, they told me one thing: ‘Prime Minister, we want to go back to the course, we want to go back into service, we want to continue our mission as soldiers of the IDF,’” he said, calling it the secret to Israel’s success.

That kind of attitude, said Netanyahu, explained why Israel had always prevailed in the war against terror, and would continue to prevail.

Hospital officials said 16 people were wounded in the attack, including one soldier who was still in a coma Monday morning. Several of the injured were released late Sunday and early Monday.

Palestinian media reported that Qunbar was affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular terror group, but Qunbar’s family insisted he was “religious,” and Israeli intelligence believes he supported the Islamic State terror group.

On Sunday night, the high-level security cabinet decided on a number of steps following the attack, including ordering the Qunbar family home destroyed at the earliest possible time — limited only by possible court appeals available to the family.

Standing family-unification requests by members of the Qunbar family to allow relatives from Gaza to come live with them in Jerusalem will be denied.

The cabinet also ordered the security services to detain and investigate anyone found praising or celebrating the attack, after claims surfaced that some residents of East Jerusalem cheered and distributed sweets to passersby after the attack.

It also gave permission for security agencies to place anyone who expresses support for Islamic State in administrative detention, a controversial counter-terror measure that allows the indefinite detention of terror suspects without trial.  (the Times of Israel)

IDF: Palestinian killed trying to stab soldiers during arrest raid

The Israeli military said early Tuesday morning that a Palestinian man had been shot, later dying of his wounds, while trying to stab IDF soldiers who were conducting an arrest raid in the West Bank overnight.

Troops from the elite Duvdevan unit were on an operation in the Palestinian village of Far’a, northeast of Nablus, to arrest wanted suspects, the military said.

The Palestinian, identified in the Palestinian media as 32-year-old Muhammad a-Salahi, rushed the soldiers with a knife in hand and did not heed calls to stop, according to the IDF.

The troops, from the elite Duvdevan unit, “began an arrest process, and when the suspect kept advancing toward them, he was shot and was later pronounced dead,” the IDF said in a statement Tuesday.

A-Salahi had served time in Israeli jail, according to Israeli news site Walla.

According to the military, explosives devices were thrown at the troops and they were shot at during the raid. There were no injuries to the soldiers.

Four Palestinian suspects were arrested in the operation and transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning. In all, nine Palestinians were arrested by Israeli security forces throughout the West Bank overnight.

The operation came a day after four soldiers killed in a truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem on Sunday were buried in funerals across the country. Seventeen more people were injured in the terror attack at the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in the capital, some of whom are still fighting for their lives.

The terrorist, a 28-year-old from East Jerusalem’s Jabel Mukaber, was shot and killed by soldiers at the scene.

A previously unknown Palestinian group named after a terrorist who, along with an accomplice, killed three Israelis on a bus in Armon Hanatziv in 2015, claimed responsibility for the attack though it is difficult to verify the validity of the claim.    (the Times of Israel)

 From Arab stonethrower to IDF

Like most of the friends he grew up with, Mohammed used to throw stones at Border Policemen who patrolled his East Jerusalem village.He dreamed of perpetrating terror attacks and one day becoming a martyr. However today, after discovering that he is Jewish and meeting his Israeli grandmother, he has undergone an incredible metamorphosis and is fighting to join the same Border Police and protect Israel.

Mohammed’s father, an East Jerusalem Arab, met his mother while working in Haifa as a construction worker in the early 90s. Later his father moved back to Jerusalem and took another wife. When he was five, his mother left the house and later died. “I searched for her all the time and asked where my mother was, and they said she had died and gone to G-d, ” said Mohammed.

He knew that his mother was Jewish but didn’t realize he himself was considered a Jew. “I grew up in a Muslim house speaking Arabic, I didn’t know Hebrew. I prayed five times a day, fasted in Ramadan, did everything that Muslims should do. I studied in an Israeli-funded school where teachers taught us how to become terrorists. If there was an attack, teachers would tell us the next day how the terrorist was a martyr. It gave children the perception that this was what should be done. After school the Arab media transmitted the same message.”

Mohammed was also influenced by this. His cousin committed a terror act and was considered by his peers to be a shahid, a martyr. Mohammed felt that he too wanted to be a martyr. At the age of 16 he took part in demonstrations against Israel, throwing stones at Border Policemen.

At 14 Mohammed left his house and went to live with his paternal grandfather, eventually working in construction. Then he met a Jewish person who put on Tefillin every day. One day the Jew came up to him and said he was happy to see that Mohammed respected him and did not disturb his prayers. Mohammed replied that because his mother was Jewish, he respects Jews. The man then told him that if his mother is Jewish, he himself is Jewish.

Mohammed dismissed this as a fabrication but after doing internet research, he discovered that he was registered as a Jew in the Interior Ministry. The Yad Le’Achim organization which helps Jews who wish to escape from Arab villages helped him to contact his grandmother. Two months ago he met her after a 15-year hiatus. “I hugged her and she began crying. She told me how her father had cut her off from seeing me and how he changed telephones so that she couldn’t maintain contact.”

Meanwhile Mohammed has changed his name to an Israeli name and is trying to join the IDF. “I wish to join the Border Police. After I fought them and threw stones at them as a kid, I want to be on the other side and protect my people. This job is made for me. I’m not scared. I know Arabic and am familiar with all the alleyways in the Old City.”

Mohammed’s family view him as a renegade and have even physically assaulted him. Yet this does not deter him. “They say I’m a dog and a collaborator with Jews, but I escaped from there to enlist and live as a Jew.”   (Arutz Sheva)

Israelis to get 4 long weekends per year, ministers decide

The cabinet Sunday approved a measure to give Israelis four long weekends a year, stretching from Thursday to Sunday.

The measure is based on recommendations by a panel of directors from several ministries, who said that an earlier bill calling for six long weekends a year was excessive.

Kulanu MK Eli Cohen, who sponsored the original bill, praised Sunday’s vote.

“Having long weekends in Israel would dramatically change our work habits and could result in major benefits: less exhaustion, better work-life balance, improved quality of life, and the bolstering of economic activity, such as tourism and commerce,” Cohen said.

He said the long weekends would coincide with days that children are off from school.

The measure now heads to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, where some lawmakers will most likely try to increase the number of long weekends.

The Histadrut labor federation has been one of the main proponents of the original bill calling for six long weekends. The rationale was that this would help move Israel toward a 40-hour work week — down from 43 — and bring it closer to the average for developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The bill would also ensure that businesses such as tourist attractions and cultural venues would remain open on the long weekends, and that public transportation would operate normally. Under the provisions of the bill, those who work on those days would receive extra pay.

Once finalized, the measure will head to the Knesset plenum for final approval.

The measure is supported by many in the government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, as well as many business leaders                (Israel Hayom)

Less hesitation from the world this time around

by Herb Keinon                          The Jerusalem Post


What gives? Why responses much more empathetic this time than in the past?

Maybe the penny is starting to drop… at least for the West.

The condemnations that came in from around the world – though not from the Arab world – in response to the ramming attack in Jerusalem on Sunday that killed four soldiers and wounded another 17 seemed a bit different this time.

Gone – for the most part – were the calls for restraint, or pleas to end the cycle of violence, or hints that there are somehow extenuating circumstances for Palestinian terrorism. As one diplomatic official said, the responses this time seemed “tougher” than usual. And there was also greater empathy. For instance, in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was bathed in the colors of the Israeli flag as a show of solidarity.

The UN Security Council pretty much cut and pasted the same exact response to this attack that it issued to those from New Year’s in Istanbul and last month in Berlin.

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Jerusalem on 8 January 2017 in which four Israelis were killed and 15 injured,” a statement by the Security Council read. They expressed “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Israel.” They wished “a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”

The only real difference between this statement, and the ones after the Berlin and Istanbul attacks, was that adjectives such as “heinous and barbaric” were used to describe the terrorist attack in Istanbul, and “barbaric and cowardly” to describe the one in Berlin.

The Jerusalem attack did not warrant any descriptive adjective.

Then the statement continued: “The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.

The members of the Security Council underlined the need for those responsible for this reprehensible act of terrorism to be held accountable.”

It also stated: “The members of the Security Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”

No ifs or buts, rather a clear, strong condemnation.

The UN’s special Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov also condemned the attack, even moving away from a generic description of the attacker and identifying him as a “Palestinian perpetrator.” Mladenov, however, could not part with old patterns, and urged all to “do everything they can to avoid further escalation.”

Language about “avoiding further escalation,” however, was completely absent from the strong and unequivocal condemnations put out by Washington, Moscow and the EU. That language, in previous incidents, has often been a part of their condemnations.

Even Mehmet Simsek, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, a country that has not distinguished itself in recent years in condemning terror attacks in Israel, denounced the attack, posting on Twitter: “Again we condemn another despicable act of terrorism today in Jerusalem.

Humanity deserves nations to unite against terrorism without excuses.”

And French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault, whose country will be hosting a Mideast conference on Sunday – a conference to which Israel is adamantly opposed – said he was “greatly shocked” by the attack.

“I condemn in the gravest terms this abominable attack,” he said. “In these painful moments, France – as always – is in solidarity with Israel.

It stands alongside it in the fight against terrorism and in ensuring security.”

What gives? Why responses much more empathetic this time than in the past? According to diplomatic officials, it is likely a combination of factors. First of all, there is an apparent attempt to calm Israel down following its furious response to the anti-settlement resolution adopted last month in the UN Security Council.

Secondly, some of the responses are likely aimed at softening the blow, before upcoming diplomatic steps with which Israel may not be pleased in the days remaining before US President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

According to diplomatic officials, for instance, the strong French statement is connected to the fact that France suffered a similar type truck ramming attack in Nice, as well as to its playing host next week to the Mideast conference.

“Apparently they want to make nice before that conference,” one official said, to send the message that “we are not against you, we are not your enemies.”

Another factor behind the strong language in these statements is that the condemning nations are now, themselves, targets of terrorist attacks. It is difficult for countries to condemn terrorism as horrible everywhere else – and want it condemned when it happens within their boundaries – then deem it understandable, even acceptable, in Israel.

Well, some can do that. Take the Palestinian Authority, for example. But it looks real bad.

Protecting Palestine

Israel’s unacknowledged role on the West Bank

by Reuel Marc Gerecht                       The Weekly Standard


Not long ago, I was talking to a Fatah official about Palestinian aspirations, especially his party’s sharp emotions about Hamas, the Palestinian fundamentalist movement that rules Gaza and would gladly overthrow the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. Fear, loathing, secular outrage (which may have been amplified to please Western ears), and a certain sadness about unrequited Palestinian fraternity in the face of Israeli oppression punctuated our conversation. When I finally tired of his urgent demand that America rectify Israeli transgressions or see violence rip the West Bank, I asked him how long he thought the Palestinian Authority could survive if Israel yanked its support to Fatah’s security apparatus. I suggested one month. He remonstrated: “We could probably last two.”

What has been lost, again, in Barack Obama’s final venting against Israel through his abstention in the United Nations Security Council resolution against all Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Jewish homes in East Jerusalem is how disconnected American foreign policy on this imbroglio has been from the larger issues riling the Middle East. The truth about Fatah’s security weaknesses is symptomatic of the truth about the Palestinians: They can exist as a non-Islamist polity only if Israel protects their attenuated nation-state. If the Jews pull back, then the militant Muslim faithful will probably recast the Palestinian identity, wiping away the secular Palestinian elite who have defined the Palestinian cause among Westerners since the Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organization first started sparring with each other in 1964.

The Israelis have granted the West Bank Palestinians the opportunity to take a pass on the ongoing implosion of the Muslim Arab world. That pass also extends, with fewer guarantees, to the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, which could have a much harder time surviving with a triumphant Hamas on its border. We assume that East Bank Palestinians prefer Abdullah II, with his Palestinian wife, to fundamentalists from either bank. That might be wrong.

The Israeli pass may be conditional. It depends on whether Jerusalem wants to continue investing the manpower and wealth and absorbing the intensifying animadversions, ostracism, and harassing lawsuits over their “occupation” of Palestinian lands: the very occupation that has allowed the Palestinian Authority and the PLO vision of a nation-state to survive. Mahmoud Abbas, the 81-year-old PLO chairman and head of the Palestinian Authority, loves to castigate Israel for denying his people nationhood. But it’s Israel’s stubborn refusal to make the territorial concessions that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry dream of that has prevented the inevitable diminution of Israel’s security prerogatives on the West Bank—the ones that keep Abbas and the Fatah clique in power.

Fatah’s men actually exist in the best of possible worlds: They enjoy undisputed mastery of Palestinian politics on the West Bank; they have established a perpetuating oligarchy; foreigners pay for their dominion; the Israelis rarely take credit for maintaining Fatah’s supremacy (which would further vitiate the group’s legitimacy), while the Palestinian Authority can lambaste the Israelis for a wide variety of sins, most surreally blaming the Jewish state for the inability of the Palestinian people to come together. Abbas’s men can unofficially condone, if not encourage, low-level violence against Israelis; through credit by association, Palestinians’ knifing Israelis helps Fatah stay competitive with the Islamists. Even if violence worsened, the Israelis probably wouldn’t stop protecting Hamas’s principal foe, the only instrument Jerusalem has for keeping Islamic militancy at bay without deploying far more of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Israelis who deal with Palestinians intimately have no illusions about Fatah’s staying power if the Jewish state’s protective umbrella were removed. They have no illusions how much damage one man could do with a medium-weight, long-range mortar—and a Palestinian wouldn’t even have to target the Ben Gurion International Airport to wreak havoc—if Israel didn’t have total control over the West Bank’s highlands.

Israel and the United States have invested heavily in creating the biggest institution in the Palestinian Authority: Fatah’s police, internal-security, and paramilitary services. Americans, especially Americans who are fearful of Muslims voting, usually like to focus on “institution-building” as an alternative to supporting the “premature” development of democracy in Islamic lands. The United States, with the Central Intelligence Agency in the lead, has probably invested tens of millions of dollars, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars, in Fatah’s security services. In 2007, when Hamas dethroned Fatah in Gaza following the failure of the two organizations to resolve their differences after Hamas triumphed in 2005’s free parliamentary elections, the Islamists’ smaller paramilitary force quickly overran Fatah security units operated by the whiskey-loving Muhammad Dahlan, a native of Gaza, who had an extensive intelligence and brutal security network running through the Strip. Dahlan had been a CIA favorite (he likely is still close to Langley). It’s a good guess that the clandestine service’s upper echelons in the Near East Division, like many in the Israeli security and intelligence services, would have bet that Dahlan had the upper hand on the Islamists—until it became obvious that Fatah’s forces lacked leadership and spirit. Fatah’s security personnel often look the part—the sunglasses, expensive Swiss watches, and dark German cars—and they certainly know how to torture their enemies. But they, like so much of the Palestinian elite who now live off international aid, have turned into fearful bourgeois who know the other side is hungrier, meaner, and uncompromised. However corrupt Hamas’s senior officials may have become in Gaza, and they might be very corrupt, the organization does a vastly better job of hiding its acquisitiveness; its deeply religious, anti-Zionist mission remains real and crystal clear.

Fatah’s men have become noticeably distressed by the increasingly overt anti-Iranian alliance between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states. That alliance is undoubtedly limited: Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative Islamic state that sees itself as the guardian of the faith, isn’t going to cooperate too openly with Israel against Iran, let alone officially recognize the Jewish state, which remains in the kingdom’s Wahhabi creed an insult to Muslim supremacy—to God’s dominion—in the Middle East. Riyadh’s royalty can be energetically hypocritical and pragmatic, but there are always religious reins on their behavior. For the secular Fatah elite, however, the second Gulf war and the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Great Arab Revolt and the tidal wave of violence that has come in its wake, and the rise of Iran and its Arab Shiite militias have been an unmitigated disaster, since these events have demolished the centripetal eminence of the Palestinian cause among Arab Sunnis, especially in the Persian Gulf.

My senior Fatah official, annoyed by questions on the Syrian conflict, perhaps a more momentous cataclysm than the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, came close to yelling, “Look at us!” Caught in a dreamscape, President Obama and his secretary of state are still gazing. Devoted both to left-wing politics, where a pro-Palestinian disposition has become almost de rigueur, and Washington’s peace-process obsession, they have retreated from the Middle Eastern chaos to the safe zone of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They may well believe they are doing the Jewish state an enormous favor by saving its liberal democracy from, as Obama’s former coordinator on the Middle East, Philip Gordon, recently put it in the New York Times, everything from “European boycotts to prosecutions by the International Criminal Court to the loss of support from American Jews uncomfortable with the prospect of perpetual Israeli rule over millions of disenfranchised Arabs.” Obama, Kerry, and Gordon, who blessed the American withdrawal from Iraq and watched hell descend on Syria, talk about Israel and the Arab world as if the Arab state system, dominated by secular dictators, wasn’t cracking up, leaving hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, great urban centers in ruin or decay, and Sunni and Shiite Islamists as the primary force reimagining the Middle East.

The historical and strategic parochialism of the Obama administration has been breathtaking. As for liberal American Jews, whose potential for idealistic infatuations should never be underestimated, they have never shown an overwhelming interest in the possibilities of self-determination among Muslims. Jewish Americans who travel to Israel, who have some recollection of what Israel was and what it has become, may, just possibly, realize the country has become much more liberal, prosperous, democratic, and free as it has “ruled” over the West Bank. This has occurred despite the more prominent role of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox on the Israeli right. (As in the United States, social conservatives in Israel are probably doomed to fight a rearguard action against the West’s most sacred creed: individualism.) It may not have occurred to J-Street Americans, who are so uncomfortable with the aftermath of the ’67 war, but the only reason Fatah hasn’t created a more vicious police state—that is, created a typical Arab polity—is that Israel is right next door, checking the inclinations of the Fatah leadership, except when it comes to Hamas. The Labor party, the vehicle of Israel’s socialist, less free, poorer, and far more boring past, to which many American liberals and Europeans remain so attached, has exhausted itself for many reasons. But chief among the causes of decline is that its hopeful vision of Israelis and Palestinians became too disconnected from reality. A pragmatic people, Israelis have, for the most part, moved on. Few Israeli soldiers and internal-security officers probably enjoy their time riding shotgun in their sectors of the West Bank, but civil disobedience about such service isn’t an issue in the country because the Palestinians have given Israeli leftists so little hope.

Part of the American left and some Europeans may not be able to move on. They might not see beyond their anti-imperialist imperative—the revulsion for Westerners who dominate Third Worlders—to the underlying facts: that Fatah has always been on the cutting-edge of “disenfranchising” Palestinians; that the Fatah-Hamas struggle is a microcosm of the conflicts tearing the Arab world apart; and that Israel’s presence on the West Bank, however offensive it may be to Muslim sensibilities and pride, is the only power that has given some stability, structure, economic vitality, and flashes of free speech to Palestinians.

Future relations between Europe and Israel are likely to differ, however. Most Europeans don’t really care all that much about Palestine; it’s always been for many a feel-good endeavor, a cost-free means for Europeans, especially on the left, to align themselves with a Third World (anti-American) cause and to express dissatisfaction with a muscular little state that uses too much force too often. Israel is very much a European state of the 19th century: an ethnicity fused with a religion, prideful of its identity, national ambitions, and military. It is, as the French Marxist orientalist Maxime Rodinson first piquantly put it, “a colonial-settler state”—as are all the culturally European offshoots of Mother England. Zionism reminds many 21st-century Europeans, especially Europe’s postnational elite, of a troublesome past filled with minority problems and bigotry.

But Europe’s problems now are enormous. Not even the perfervid leftist writers of Le Monde diplomatique see the Muslim refugee waves and Islamic terrorism targeting Europe as Israel’s fault. Once upon a time, Washington, London, and Paris all looked at the peace process essentially the same way: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the core destabilizing issue in the Arab Middle East. Even the most dogged historian couldn’t catalogue all the American and European intelligence and diplomatic cables and papers over the last 40 years stressing the urgent strategic importance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian question.

No one serious thinks that way now, not even Obama. Many of the same folks who used to stress the strategic importance of the Israeli-Palestinian/Israeli-Arab clash have effortlessly shifted to a different gravamen: A solution must be found to this conflict to save Israeli democracy and bring “justice” and “dignity” to the Palestinians. But the odds of such a quixotic campaign overriding the reality of the collapse of the secular Arab state system, even in Europe, aren’t high. The Palestinian issue has risen in prominence under Obama not because it strategically merits our renewed attention but because the president has willed it. The Europeans, especially the French, have recently highlighted the imbroglio because that is what the French do, especially in the case of a socialist government that has become dependent upon the French Muslim vote, when it’s clear that is what Washington wants them to do. As a senior French official recently put it to me, if Paris had gotten Obama to engage forcefully on Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian issue likely would never have surfaced at the United Nations Security Council. Obama encouraged the French, British, and Egyptians to wander. And yet the Russians, the world’s premier troublemakers, have remained pretty indifferent to the Palestinian cause. Did Vladimir Putin vote against Israeli settlements in the U.N. Security Council? Yes. Has he unleashed the vast Russian propaganda machine against Israel in favor of the Palestinians, echoing the propaganda that Putin grew up with in the KGB? No. Has Putin even tried to make the Palestinians feel good? Fatah officials give the impression that the Russians have forgotten who they are. The Russians have replaced the Americans as the preeminent foreign power of the northern Middle East. Israelis and Russians see and speak to each other all the time. They do so mostly to ensure that they don’t shoot at each other as they fly over Syria, in the Israeli case sometimes to kill the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards, both allies of Russia in the Syrian conflict. Hard power is the coin of the realm in the Middle East. Putin takes the Israelis seriously, far more than he does the U.N. Security Council.

Only in the American academe, the weakest player in Washington’s foreign-policy debates, can one find folks who are as enamored of this issue as is the president. Whether Obama actually thought in 2008 he could deliver to the Palestinians a state during his tenure, we don’t know. The president’s sense of himself suggests it’s possible. His failure appears to have made him splenetic. If President Trump decides to push back on this issue, however, the Europeans are unlikely to follow Obama’s lead and double down. Obama’s abstention at the U.N. could prove to be the last gasp of this ancien régime. Damage has been done that cannot be undone, especially concerning the “lawfare” that may be waged against Israelis by enterprising Palestinians and sympathetic European leftists. But this is, at worst, a sideshow. The decisive factor in this largely intra-Western theater remains American leadership. If Donald Trump announced that he was establishing an American team to review the bang-versus-buck value of the United Nations, co-chaired by Mitt Romney and John Bolton, it would send a big shiver throughout the entire bureaucracy and the foreign diplomatic staffs. There is a good argument for Washington to fund a global podium where weaker nations get to vent their displeasure with the United States, but it’s always healthy to remind the “international community” who is paying for the therapy.

If Donald Trump challenges the bipartisan illusions about the two-state solution and the peace process, his disruptive inclinations might improve the fortunes of both Israelis and Palestinians, who are going to live with each other intimately and painfully no matter what happens. Moving the U.S. embassy from its beachfront perch in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem should have happened decades ago. It’s a 34-mile journey that would help everyone focus on the Middle East instead of this Westernized sliver of the Mediterranean littoral. The Palestinians are never going to control or “share sovereignty” in East Jerusalem. This is the most fundamental truth that embassies in Tel Aviv try to deny. As a byproduct, consulates in East Jerusalem usually become hotbeds of sincere Palestinian sympathy that aligns fairly closely to Fatah talking points.

Israelis could try to do more for their Arab neighbors: They could take on the thankless task of ensuring that Palestinians under Fatah’s dominion are less abused, that the ruling West Bank elite are a little less corrupt, and that Israeli-Palestinian business ventures are encouraged, especially if they can reward Palestinians who aren’t Fatah favorites. Certainly more Jews beyond Jerusalem and the big settlement communities that follow the Green Line make no security sense. If Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump’s apparent intellectual alignment on the propriety of big Green Line settlements were to extend deeper into the West Bank, that would be cause for concern that the Israeli right is undertaking a biblical voyage without relevance to the modern Middle East.

The Jewish state has no choice but to play the long game—to plan for intrusive Israeli surveillance of the West Bank for at least another 50 years—while the Muslim Middle East establishes a new political modus vivendi, which may include Islamist regimes from Libya to Pakistan. Washington should keep its focus where it matters: on the deeply flawed, temporary nuclear deal with Shiite Iran and the titanic struggle for preeminence between the clerical regime, and its growing corps of expeditionary Arab Shiite militias, and Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis it will arm to fight the Islamic Republic. We should keep our eye on Turkey’s historic reassertion of its Sunni Muslim identity and the possibility that the country (which may, too, go nuclear and reassert dominance in the northern Middle East) could also crack up from its many contradictions. We should endeavor to understand that Egypt’s ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, sits atop a volcano that could destabilize what’s left of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. Washington should try to contain the region’s convulsions, to keep them from spilling into Europe, still America’s most essential allies, and fragile Middle Eastern states worthy of our help—Jordan and the proto-nation of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

This assumes, of course, that the United States intends to remain a Middle Eastern power.

Did Netanyahu cross the line with ‘Yediot’ publisher?

by Yonah Jeremy Bob              The Jerusalem Post


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot really say that law enforcement has nothing on him after the revelations about expensive cigars and champagne from rich supporters and the recording with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon (Noni) Mozes discussing the fate of Yediot and Yisrael Hayom.

That said, has he crossed the line – from ethically problematic and politically embarrassing – to criminal? Many more details are needed to understand the circumstances of the cigars and champagne gifts. But we can already make some observations about key issues regarding the Netanyahu/Mozes powwow.

The discussion focused on whether Yediot would take a softer tone with Netanyahu, in exchange for Yisrael Hayom starting to charge instead of being handed out for free, or suspending its weekend edition.

Some experts have correctly pointed out that, even if no money was offered or exchanged hands, the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence says that a bribe or illegal benefit can be almost any kind of concrete benefit; it does not need to be money.

If, in fact, Netanyahu as prime minister had any formal authority over Yisrael Hayom, an argument could be made that he took a bribe or violated public trust – if he ordered the paper to take actions against its interests which would directly benefit Yediot Aharonot in exchange for positive press coverage.

Yet, there are several issues with that.

First, Netanyahu has no formal authority over Yisrael Hayom. It is well known that the paper usually reflects his views and tries to portray him positively, but all of that is informal.

Sheldon Adelson, Yisrael Hayom’s publisher, is close to Netanyahu. It is possible he might take into account Netanyahu’s wishes and requests on a range of issues.

But at the end of the day Adelson does not take orders from Netanyahu.

Moreover, a major reason Adelson and Yisrael Hayom support Netanyahu is because of his right-wing ideology. If Netanyahu tacked to the center as part of a deal with Yediot, it is no sure thing that his treatment by Yisrael Hayom might not change.

Second, is what Mozes asked of Netanyahu regarding Yisrael Hayom. One option was that the paper charge its readers.

Does that sound illegal or against the paper’s interests? In fact, the paper loses money because it does not charge those readers.

This may be an ideological commitment, a tactic to undermine the competition – like Yediot – and to spread its right-wing ideology. But can charging subscribers be called “against its interests”? Ending the weekend paper distribution is more complex. But considering that the edition is free, would canceling it be unambiguously against its interests? And how exactly would this directly help Yediot? If they were the only two newspapers one might be able to see Mozes receiving a direct gain. But who can be sure what would happen if Yisrael Hayom made either of these changes? Or might the results be more complex, harder to predict, and not necessarily of benefit to Yediot in any provable way? It is also unclear what “more positive coverage” from Mozes could have meant.

Presumably, the offer did not mean there would never be any negative stories.

In addition, nothing came out of all of this. And it is unclear if the police can prove that either side was serious, or if it was all a staged conversation, with each side trying to trap the other (and tape or extort the other), as some have reported.

That leaves a lot of question marks for proving a criminal case.

Finally, there is the public interest.

Would the country really be a worse place if Yisrael Hayom was less pro-Netanyahu? Or if it was not given out for free and Yediot was less blatantly “anti” and more middle-of-the-road? Even if the transaction – as ugly as it was – might have produced some significant effect on the country, it is hard to see how far this can go.