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Latest News in Israel – 12th January

Relative of TA killer Milhem held as key accomplice

A relative of Tel Aviv gunman Nashat Milhem was remanded into custody for seven days on Sunday on suspicion of playing “a central role” as an accomplice in the January 1 killings, a TV report said.

The male suspect was first arrested on January 5, and police have “strong evidence” connecting him to the killings, Channel 10 said.

Two days after Israeli Arab Milhem was cornered in his home village of Arara and shot dead when he opened fire on the forces that had come to arrest him, security forces continued to arrest suspects who may have helped him before and after he killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv on January 1, and continued to search several homes belonging to the wider Milhem family in Arara.

The killer’s father Mohammed and his brother Ali were released from detention Sunday, with limitations placed on their movement, and the family had anticipated burying the gunman at a small ceremony. However, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan instructed the Israel Police to delay the return of the body, for fear that the ceremony would be hijacked by extremist groups, and the funeral was reported unlikely to take place before Monday.

“If I had been an accomplice, you wouldn’t be seeing me here now,” said Mohammed Milhem after his release.

He also said he was not angry with the Shin Bet for arresting him, and that he had fully cooperated with the Israeli law enforcement authorities.

Channel 10 said the father told one of its reporters that he wished Nashat had been captured alive, as the security forces had also intended. “Why did they have to kill him?” he reportedly asked.

Some relatives from the wider Milhem family protested that security personnel had destroyed property, and even stolen valuables, during searches Sunday in Arara. Adel Milhem, a relative whose home was searched, pointed to a silver family car that had been smashed, and said the forces had stolen gold, silver and jewelry when searching his home. “I had nothing to do with (the crime),” said Adel. “My car and home are destroyed. They should just kill me.”

Another relative, Umeila, said the searchers had ripped the sink out of her wall, destroyed her TV set, and trashed her home.

Suspects were arrested in Arara and also in the nearby village of Bartaa, where one arrest was filmed.

Nashat Milhem was killed in a shootout with police and the Shin Bet on Friday, a week after he killed three Israelis — Alon Bakal, Shimon Ruimi and Amin Shaaban — in Tel Aviv on January 1 and then fled a massive police manhunt to hide in his hometown in the northern Israeli village of Arara. According to officials, he was not affiliated with any organized terror group, but is believed to have been motivated by a jihadist ideology.

Public defender Nechami Feinblatt, who represents the Milhem family, told Army Radio earlier on the day that he had secured the release of Mohammed and Ali Milhem after reaching an agreement with the Shin Bet.

“I think the Shin Bet understands that the family wanted to help capture him and not help him [escape],” he said.

In the days following the shooting, Milhem’s father and brothers Juadat and Ali, together with five other relatives and friends, were arrested on suspicion of premeditated manslaughter, being an accessory to murder, illegal association and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Hours after the shootings on January 1, Mohammed went to local police and told them he had recognized his son as the gunman from TV broadcasts of security camera footage of the attack.

On Monday, he made a televised plea to his son to turn himself in, as Tel Aviv residents hunkered down amid ongoing searches for the gunman. “Contact me,” Mohammed said, appealing directly to his son. “I will help you. Let’s end this saga. These are difficult days for the family.”

On Wednesday, Juadat Milhem, the terrorist’s brother, repeated that plea after he was freed from police custody.

Last week, Feinblatt told Israeli media that while Mohammed had been in touch with his son after the murders, he had “certainly not” helped him escape. He said that security officials were made aware of the phone call between the two.

On Monday, police found DNA evidence indicating Milhem was in his hometown of Arara, and he was eventually tracked to an abandoned house in the town.

The structure was surrounded on Friday afternoon, and according to police, Milhem spotted the forces converging upon him. He fired on them from the window of the apartment, fled the building, and ran some 200 meters before he was gunned down by security forces. The forces had been ordered to take him alive if possible.                     (The Times of Israel)

Police capture woman suspected of planning terror attack in Nahariya

Police captured a female resident of Tayibe suspected of planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Nahariya on Monday night, according to reports by police.

A security warning was issued earlier on Monday evening for Nahariya after warnings a woman was planning to carry out a terror attack in the city.

Police then set up roadblocks and began inspecting cars in the area. The suspect was discovered riding in a taxi that was stopped by a roadblock.

The suspect was taken into custody by police officials for further questioning.

Earlier on Monday, a terror alert prompted security forces to set up roadblocks and heighten security across the Lachish region in southern Israel, according to a statement by Israel police.

The alert was issued in the municipality of Sderot and its surrounding areas.

Border Police officers reinforced border crossings in the region as part of the security effort.

Police gave no further details of the warning by mid morning, but called on the public to exercise caution and to report suspicious persons to police.

A suspect was later located by authorities and taken in for investigation. Initial findings determined that the terrorist suspected of having intentions to carry out an attack did not make her way into Israel.

The alert was removed and forces returned to normal operations.                    (Jerusalem Post)

Shin Bet: We have been forced to release arch terrorists back to Gaza

A representative of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday that it has had to release many arch terrorists and will continue to have to do so without a major change to the laws of evidence in terror cases.

The representative said, “In many cases we collected testimony from Palestinians, or infiltrators, about terrorists who were not yet arrested. With these testimonies we collected large amounts of information about terror activity in Gaza.”

“After time passed and the terror suspect was arrested, sometimes with arch terrorists, we could not bring the witness to testify in court because he had been released, which forced us to release to Gaza arch terrorists,” the agent continued.

Further, the agent noted, “We don’t know when this testimony will be relevant. Persons arrested during Operation Brothers Keeper [2012] testified about activities during Operation Protective Edge [2014].”

The change in the law sought by the Shin Bet and the state prosecution is to allow court’s to accept as valid evidence incriminating statements made on a battlefield or otherwise outside of court and before a specific defendant may even be under investigation.

The committee’s own legal advisers oppose the change as dangerously overturning a basic principle of criminal law requiring testimony to be given in court, which allows a defendant to cross-examine his accuser.

Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri stated, “Most of the law’s provisions do not depart from the criminal law. This is the uniqueness of terror.”

Nizri rejected a suggestion to allow pre-indictment testimony for the captured witnesses in place of the more fundamental new rule change, saying he thought defendants’ rights could be protected by directing court’s to reduce the weight they gave to these unusual statements in deciding whether to convict.

Most of the committee appeared to support the change, though MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) appeared to oppose both it and the alternate solution suggested of pre-indictment testimony.         (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian attempts stabbing of soldier near Jenin, shot by forces

A Palestinian assailant tried to stab an IDF soldier while undergoing a security check at a roadblock near Jenin. He was shot and injured by another soldier on the scene.

The Samaria Regional Council sent the media photographs of the wounded Palestinian lying on the road next to a concrete boulder, while an IDF soldier gave him emergency medical treatment. A separate photo showed the knife on the ground.

No soldiers were wounded in the incident. The Palestinian assailant was transferred to the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan called on the government to take harsher measures against Palestinians.

If an attack happens on a road, that road should then be closed to Palestinians, Dagan said.

“Unfortunately the state of Israel is simply reacting to terrorists instead of rooting them out,” he said.

With each attack there should be a clear and harsh response, he said.

Meanwhile, IDF units and the Civil Administration personnel mapped out the home of terrorist Ali Muhammad in Jdida, south of Jenin overnight between Sunday and Monday, ahead of its demolition, the army said.

Ali and a second attacker attempted to carry out a stabbing attack against soldiers at Bkaot Junction on Saturday; both were shot dead by soldiers defending themselves against the attack, the IDF said.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, IDF units raided offices owned by Hamas’s Kutla organization, which is banned by Israeli law. The raid occurred north of Ramallah, and soldiers reported capturing inflammatory material designed to incite disturbances.

Meanwhile, the IDF’s Menashe brigade carried out an arms raid in the village of Itrah, south of Tulkarem, seizing an M-16, a handgun, and a large quantity of ammunition.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Israel needs to close gap between Arabs and Jews with law enforcement, resources

There are huge gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens, and the government is determined to narrow them by both allocating more resources to the Arab sector and enforcing the laws there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

His comments came in the wake of the government’s approval two weeks ago of a NIS 15 billion multi-year plan for development of Arab towns and cities, alongside his recent calls to confiscate illegal weapons in these communities.

The cabinet on Sunday approved a NIS 2b. development plan for the Druse and Circassian population, with Netanyahu saying it aims to narrow gaps and spur development of those communities that “serve in the army and see themselves as part of the State of Israel.”

Addressing the Arab population, Netanyahu said that “everyone with eyes in his head can see that there are big gaps between the Arab sectors and the Jewish population: gaps in resources, gaps in enforcing the law, gaps in rights and gaps in obligations.”

These gaps, he said, have been festering for generations, “and the time has come to make a big national effort to narrow them.” He said that over the last number of years, governments he has led have invested much in the Arab sector, including passing the recent multi-billion shekel development plan.

In parallel, Netanyahu said, there needs to be a plan to enforce the law, adding that nothing that the state is doing, in terms of education, infrastructure or economic development, can move forward “if we do not deal with the question of enforcing the laws of Israel in the Arab sector.”

“These two projects [development and law enforcement] are interwoven, and they will help all the citizens of Israel, first and foremost the Arab residents,” the prime minister said.

“Everyone who wants the true integration of all Israeli citizens into Israeli society will be part of this national effort that the government will lead in the coming years.”

Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, an NGO dedicated to improving coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens, told The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu has demonstrated over the past 10 days that “he has no political will to implement the economic development program for the Arab sector.

“It is sad to see Netanyahu use the program as leverage in order to institutionalize the differences between the various sectors of Israeli society,” he said.

The prime minister is basically saying that there are sectors with different rights, said Beeri-Sulitzeanu, adding that he is using the state to differentiate between sectors of society such as Christian, Muslim, Druse and Beduin.

Netanyahu is conditioning the development plan on law enforcement, but “the Israeli government never offered adequate law enforcement services,” he maintained.

“Arabs pay taxes and are fulfilling their obligations as citizens, and if someone does not follow the law then there are existing tools to deal with them.”

The terrorist attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on January 1 “gave Netanyahu the perfect excuse to do a U-turn and link the plan with a variety of conditions,” the Abraham Fund director asserted.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh lashed out at Netanyahu saying, “the prime minister continues to incite and use empty slogans to distract the public from discussing his failure to lead the country.

“The prime minister speaks of widespread construction as if there is meaning to this concept when talking about communities where the infrastructure is already collapsing,” Odeh said.

“We will be happy and encourage the construction of new neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure, an education system, and commerce.

“Netanyahu talks about illegal construction when he knows very well that the state prevented any possibility of development and construction in Arab villages, and left no way to build in a legally approved manner.”

Odeh added that the Arab community has been struggling for years to get weapons off the streets, and demands security.

During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also took formal leave of outgoing Mossad director Tamir Pardo, and welcomed the new chief, Yossi Cohen.

The Mossad is an integral part of Israel’s security, and it’s becoming “more and more important in the world in which we live, with the rise of Islamic extremism and the terrorism it spreads,” the prime minister said.

In addition, he said, the Mossad has a role that is becoming increasingly important in “building ties with many countries, more than I can present here, including in the Arab world.”                  (Jerusalem Post)

Knesset set to approve Deri’s appointment as interior minister

Shas leader Arye Deri will return Monday to the Interior Ministry, 23 years after he was forced to quit due to criminal charges that led to jail time, pending the approval of the Knesset and the High Court of Justice.

The cabinet unanimously approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Deri. The Knesset is expected to split along coalition and opposition lines, though Yisrael Beytenu could surprise by supporting the appointment of Deri, who is friends with party chairman Avigdor Liberman.

Netanyahu congratulated Deri and said he had two main challenges in the job: preventing migrants from entering the country illegally and deporting those already here, and altering municipal boundaries to allow for a more equitable tax distribution.

But the Movement for Quality Government immediately petitioned the High Court seeking to cancel the appointment on grounds that he never expressed regret for the corruption that forced him to leave the ministry.

Deri was forced to resign in 1993 during an investigation, after five years as interior minister. In 2000, he was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and sentenced to three years in prison, and released after 22 months.

“Arye Deri proved throughout his career that he is a corrupt man and there is no reason to allow him to return to such a position of influence,” said Boaz Arad, of the anti-corruption watchdog, Ometz. “On principle, he is unfit for any ministry, but returning to the same ministry is especially spitting at the public.”

The case is not expected to succeed because Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein has ruled that although the appointment could harm the public’s faith in its government and sends a “problematic message,” there is no legal reason to block Deri from receiving the post. Once the appointment is approved, Netanyahu, who now holds the post, will be left with four portfolios: Foreign Affairs, Economy, Communication and Regional Cooperation.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett told Netanyahu Sunday that their factions would oppose him appointing more than one Likud minister to fill the vacancies, because they will insist the ratio of ministers for each party is maintained.

Netanyahu had hoped to appoint two ministers to replace departed former interior minister Silvan Shalom and former science and technology minister Danny Danon. But Kahlon said the Likud had received an extra portfolio at the expense of United Torah Judaism before the High Court ruled that UTJ head Ya’acov Litzman could not control the Health Ministry as a deputy minister.

The prime minister would like to appoint both coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and MK Bennie Begin as ministers (both men are members of the Likud). He will then appoint replacements for Hanegbi as Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman and chairman of the coalition.

Deri was economy minister but left the post because he did not want to advance a controversial gas deal. Shalom left the Interior Ministry last month after sexual misconduct allegations.

“This is just another act in Netanyahu’s circus, in which the ministers themselves don’t even remember where they work when they wake up in the morning and the public realizes the bad joke is on them,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog said.

Yesh Atid said it opposed permitting anyone who has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude to serve in the cabinet or the Knesset.

“When citizens think that the system is crooked, it is hard to persuade them why they have to remain honest,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said.                  (Jerusalem Post)

End to separate burial for fallen soldiers whose Jewishness is in doubt

Soldiers whose Jewishness is in question will no longer be buried in a separate section of the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently signed off on an amendment to the procedure governing military burials.

The issue came under the spotlight nearly years ago, when in April 2013 then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz conducted a traditional Memorial Day ceremony at the military cemetery.

As per tradition, Gantz had intended to lower the Israeli flag over the grave of most recent IDF casualty, and did so at the burial place of Lt.-Col. (res.) Shlomo Nitzani, who had died six months previously.

However, the actual most recent IDF casualty was Pte. Yevgeny Tolochko, who was buried in a separate section of the cemetery reserved for soldiers whose Jewishness is in doubt.

Immediately after the story about Tolochko’s being ignored came to light, Gantz expressed his regret and the procedure was changed. The amendment, however, was far from sufficient.

It allowed for the IDF chief of staff to in future lower a flag over the grave of the most recent fallen soldier, even if they were not halachically Jewish, but a parallel ceremony would still take place to lower a flag of the most recent fallen soldier whose Jewishness was not in doubt.

In response to the ongoing affair, MK Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid submitted a private bill that sought to remedy the situation and lead to a shared cemetery. Stern claimed that the state of affairs was a blow to national unity.

The matter was finally brought to a close with Ya’alon’s amendment of the procedure.

Bedouin and Christian soldiers will continue to be buried separately, at cemeteries for their respective communities.

According to the new procedures, Jewish and non-halachically Jewish soldiers will now be buried in the same section of the cemetery by the relevant authorities, although not next to one another.

Fallen soldiers whose Jewishness is under question will be buried “four cubits” – or two meters – away from where halachically Jewish soldiers are interred. It is the hope of the IDF and security establishment that the new rules will bring an end to discrimination and to the upset suffered by the families who feel humiliated by having their relatives buried in a separate section of the Mount Herzl cemetery.

“To my great joy, an amendment was signed which stipulates that a non-Jewish soldier buried in the military ceremony will be buried in the same order as all soldiers, which is according to when they fell,” Stern said on Wednesday.

“This change demonstrates the complexity of Israeli society, and the separation burials were a statement saying that they are ‘other,’ ‘different from us,’ and it’s important to send a message of cohesion and brotherhood,” Stern added                  (Ynet News)

Police arrest far-left activist at airport as he tries to flee country

Far-left activist Ezra Nawi was arrested by police at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday as he was attempting to leave the country, just days after he was featured in an investigative TV show boasting on a hidden camera about how he helps Palestinian security forces find Palestinians who sell land to Jews.

Nawi will be investigated by the special investigative unit of the Judea and Samaria police on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a crime.

In the segment on Channel 2’s “Uvda” program on Thursday night, Nawi is shown bragging about how the land owners are taken into custody by the Palestinian Authority’s Preventative Security Service and then tortured and later killed.

“Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi is heard saying in reference to the Palestinian Authority’s counterintelligence arm. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”

The footage was obtained by the Ad Kan organization, which employed a group of Israelis who posed as far-left activists in order to infiltrate Israeli human rights NGOs working in the West Bank.               (Jerusalem Post)

EU-linked group gives B’Tselem 30,000 euros to fight ‘NGO transparency’ bill

The European Endowment for Democracy provided the B’Tselem organization a €30,000 grant last month to fight proposed legislation to require NGOs that receive half of their funds from foreign governments to detail that information and wear special identifying tags in the Knesset.

According to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, the seven-month grant was given on December 15, the day after the Im Tirtzu organization released a video calling the heads of four left-wing human rights NGO’s – including B’Tselem – foreign agents.

“The funding was allocated amid a heated internal Israeli debate over the role that foreign government- funded NGOs play in Israeli democracy,” said NGO Monitor spokesman Aaron Kalman. “The nature of the grant, openly aiming at influencing Israeli legislation, again highlights the infringement on sovereignty and the manipulative intent of European government funding in the context of Israeli democracy.”

But B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said, “I fail to see the problem with a grant that we are clearly proud of.”

Michaeli said that B’Tselem reports every donation to the NGO registrar and annually puts its financial reports online. While the EED did not disclose the amount of the grant on its website, Michaeli readily provided that information and said that it has been reported to the NGO registrar.

Last month, the ministerial committee on legislation approved the so-called “NGO transparency bill,” championed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, which is now winding its way through the Knesset.

The bill has been criticized by both EU and US government officials, as well as human rights groups in Israel, as a piece of legislation meant to stymie dissent and something that poses a threat to democracy.

Supporters of the bill say it is merely an attempt to curb and make transparent foreign intervention in Israeli domestic affairs.

The EED, set up in October 2012, is fashioned after the US Endowment for Democracy and is designed to foster democracy in the EU’s neighborhood. It reportedly has a budget of about €8 million a year.

The organization’s grant to B’Tselem appears on its website under the heading, “Combating anti-democratic laws aiming to silence opposition.”

“B’Tselem is working with a coalition of organizations to counter legislative attempts to restrict the work of NGOs that defend human rights and expose Israeli government policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the website reads. “The human rights organization itself is a leading voice in denouncing human rights violations in the OPT.”

The organization describes its mission on its website as a “grant-giving organization that supports local actors of democratic change in the European neighborhood and beyond.”

The EED said it was created to “promote the European values of freedom and democracy.” The organization said it is a joint effort of the EU member states and EU institutions, but is an “independent private law foundation with its seat in Brussels.”

In a related development, Im Tirzu wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Sunday asking him to demand that B’Tselem reveal the name of a Palestinian- funded lobbyist working on its behalf in the Knesset, and which bills and motions he influenced.

Im Tirzu cited the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, a Palestinian organization based in Ramallah, which said in its 2014 annual report that it employed a lobbyist via B’Tselem who was involved in issues like “the expulsion of communities from the Jordan Valley, the water crisis in the West Bank, settler violence and east Jerusalem checkpoints.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel to present new sniper bullet

Israel Military Industries (IMI) is to launch a new type of sniper bullet next week at the Shot Show gun trade show in Las Vegas. The Razor Core 338 bullet is supposed to have improved stability from the moment of firing until it hits its target.

IMI sources say recent tests showed the bullet has high accuracy at distances of up to 1,200 meters. The bullet tip combines elements of standard calibers like the .30-06 Springfield and the .50 Action Express. The bullet’s weight, 45 grams, is closer to the Springfield, while its longer rage is more similar to the 0.5.

The new ammunition was developed over a year and underwent a series of live tests. It has already been sold to militaries abroad.

In addition to the new bullet tip, special gunpowder was also specially developed to help balance the speed of the tip with pressure in the chamber, as well as a tougher casing to keep it from tearing.

Over 1,000 weapons and ammunition manufacturers are set to participate in the convention.              (Ynet News)

This Truck-Sized Flying Machine Can Go Where Helicopters Can’t

Israel’s Urban Aeronautics has been working on a concept for a truck-sized flying machine that can go places where even helicopters can’t for over decade. It has always seemed like an intriguing and promising idea, but now, after years of development, it is becoming a reality. Just days ago the futuristic machine, dubbed the AirMule, made its first untethered flight.

The concept that led to AirMule was originally called the X-HAWK LE, but the idea really gained steam after lessons learned during the 2006 Lebanon War. That made apparent the need for a craft that could extract wounded soldiers in enemy territory, but didn’t need a clear and open landing zone like a helicopter. Since then the concept has been tested successfully in various subs-cale forms, and now in a full-scale one.

The AirMule is a pure vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) design, and uses ducted fan-like lift rotors tied to a central turbine powerplant for propulsion. Right now that powerplant is a 730 horsepower Turbomecca Arriel 1D1 turbine, but the production aircraft is envisioned to feature a 985 HP engine.

Flying Truck

The aircraft weighs close around 1,700 pounds empty and has a max gross weight of 3,100 pounds, giving it a respectable payload. It is designed to fly at 100 knots and up to 18,000 feet, so it is not just a clumsy VTOL novelty machine. The production version will supposedly be able to carry nearly 1,000 pounds over 185 miles.                (Foxtrot Alpha)

After Tel Aviv shooter killed, difficult questions for police and Israeli Arabs

Although Nashat Milhem was eventually ferreted out, his case highlights failures of law enforcement and political discourse

by Avi Issacharoff                 The Times of israel


The killing of Nashat Milhem Friday, a week after he shot dead three people in Tel Aviv, won’t be remembered as much of a success for the security establishment.

On the tactical level, more than a few problems came to light concerning the attack. The first has to do with intelligence. While it’s certainly possible that the killer acted alone, using a submachine gun he stole from his father, it’s hard to comprehend why the father would keep such a weapon in the house even after his son served a five-year sentence for trying to snatch a rifle from a soldier.

Furthermore, despite the fact that security forces knew that Milhem was in the area of his hometown of Arara – there were clear indications that he was there hours after the shooting – it took a long time to get to him. The fact that he was hiding out in a more-or-less obvious place – an unoccupied house belonging to a family member – compounds the sense of failure.

The episode is reminiscent of the 2014 abduction-killing of three Israeli teens. In that case, the victims were buried in a plot belonging to the family of one of the terrorists, who hid in a building belonging to an extended family member. The takeaway – that fugitives often seek shelter in places that they know well – makes the fact it took eight days to get to Milhem even puzzling.

Still, on a more strategic level, it is important to note that even if Milhem’s shooting spree really was a “lone wolf” attack (at this point, it is not at all clear that that was the case), the excellent intelligence deployment of the Shin Bet security services in the Palestinian territories and among Israeli Arabs doesn’t make it easy to deal with the problem.

There is a genuine difficulty among the intelligence community in countering the impossible challenge of “lone wolves” with access to weapons, who set out one fine day, without any prior warning, to carry out an attack.

The Shin Bet has had multiple successes in recent weeks thwarting organized terror cells sporting multiple members. The problem is that these days, there is an ever-growing mass of incidents – especially in the West Bank, where they are a daily occurrence – involving attackers who don’t rely on what the security establishment terms “terror infrastructure.”

And then there’s the attitude of the Israel Police, which last week gave many citizens the sense that it was downplaying their genuine fears amid ongoing uncertainty and reports that Milhem could strike again.

But perhaps even more troubling than the security establishment’s dubious ability to cope with the situation was support for the attack among Israel’s Arab population. True, there were many condemnations, even among Milhem’s own neighbors. And yet it is becoming increasingly clear that the killer may have received help not only from his own family, but also from other friends and acquaintances. For one thing, we still don’t know who helped him get to Arara from Tel Aviv after carrying out the attack.

And of course, after he was killed by security forces, there was that – albeit small – demonstration during which young Arabs chanted, “With blood, with fire, we’ll avenge the martyr.” Milhem, we must recall, had murdered not only two Jews, Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi, but also an Arab resident of Lod, Ayman Shaaban.

Hamas, as expected, jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the murderer as a role model, while the Palestinian Authority equivocated, calling him a “martyr” but refusing to award him the status that would entitle his family to financial aid. Meanwhile, the ultra-radical Islamic State group appeared to scramble to declare that Milhem was one of its own, crowning Milhem an IS martyr for Palestine in a statement whose authenticity has yet to be established.

Finally, the big question that everyone here – Jews and Arabs alike – should be losing sleep over is whether Milhem’s action will sweep up and inspire others, sparking a trend among young Israeli Arabs. If, heaven forbid, a similar incident were to occur again, the already delicate relations between Jews and Arabs could sustain a heavy blow, and everyone will pay a price.

Almost as expected in times like these, the voice of the Israeli Arab leadership is not being heard very loudly. Members of Knesset known for their vehement condemnations when Palestinians are accidentally killed by IDF soldiers, go silent when an Arab is murdered by another Arab.

True, some of them condemned the Tel Aviv attacks. But since the slaying of Milhem, not one of them has stood in front of the cameras and called on his or her supporters to denounce the likes of Milhem. For them, to condemn the death of an Arab at the hands of another Arab would simply be bad politics.

Does the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Still Matter?

by Gary C. Gambill             The National Post/Middle East Forum


A friend of mine recently lamented that the Western media was downplaying the brutal string of Palestinian stabbings that has claimed 25 Israeli lives since September.

I nodded in assent, but couldn’t help recalling the closing scene of the film Casablanca. With religious and ethno-sectarian violence rampant in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and across the Arab world claiming several tens of thousands of lives every year, fuelling an unprecedented wave of global Sunni Islamist terror, Israeli-Palestinian troubles “just don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

It wasn’t so very long ago that the vast majority of Western pundits thought otherwise. Since Israel stood alone as the most vilified antagonist in Arab public life for over six decades, outside observers assumed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be a singular affront to Arabs everywhere, a cause of their collective political dysfunction, and therefore a leading source of the Middle East’s problems. Arab anger toward Israel “weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes,” explained U.S. CENTCOM commander David H. Petraeus in 2010.

If the “Arab Spring” has taught us anything, it is that Israel isn’t central to the region’s problems.

Take away the source of this anger, the reasoning went, and problems such as poverty, Islamism, and the like would be easier to solve. Israelis and Palestinians both played into the belief that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would allow for a “new” Middle East (foreign aid supplicants rarely lead with, “Not that this matters much …”). A half-century of American diplomacy was built on this premise.

If the so-called “Arab Spring” has taught us anything, however, it is that Israel isn’t central to the region’s problems, and isn’t even perceived as such by most non-Palestinian Arabs. Since anti-Zionism was typically the only anti-establishment political cause that tyrants routinely allowed their citizens to openly embrace, many did so with gusto, if only to vicariously express their rejection of the status quo. But the weakening and collapse of authoritarian regimes since 2011 has revealed that ordinary citizens care about a great many things more than “justice” for the Palestinians.

Anti-Israeli slogans were relatively few and far between in revolts that brought down governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, while insurgents in Syria and Yemen have virtually ignored the Jewish state. Absent a carefully-controlled political environment in which ethno-sectarian grievances are heavily suppressed by the state, radical Islamists outside of the Palestinian territories are more interested in fighting the “far enemy” in the West and subduing “infidel” adversaries closer to home (Shi’a, Yezidis, Christians, etc.) than in fighting Israel.

While the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement is as determined as ever to kill Israelis, the scale of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent years barely registers as an armed conflict by today’s regional standards. Even the July-August 2014 Gaza war — the big exception to this period of relative calm — was far outpaced by bloodletting in Syria and Iraq that summer.

Israelis and Palestinians must get used to a brave new world in which the particulars of their fight don’t matter that much to the rest of us.

Moreover, unlike these other regional bloodbaths, this old-school slugfest between Israelis and Palestinians is not threatening to overturn the status quo. Every few years, Israel smashes Hamas’ military infrastructure sufficiently to ensure a few more years of relative quiet (“mowing the lawn,” as they say), which Hamas provokes in order to burnish its stature as a resistance movement, raise loads of money from the Arab world, and rationalize its heavy-handed rule in Gaza. In between, both sides find ingenious ways to harm the other without violating the truce. The Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement used to play the same game with the Israelis until it got sucked into the Syrian meat grinder.

This cycle of episodic violence is tragic, but it’s a fairly stable equilibrium so long as all stakeholders consider it minimally preferable to an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. It’s an issue of concern that ranks well behind the surrounding Arab Levant’s self-immolation, Iran perched on the precipice of producing nuclear weapons, Russia intervening in the region with reckless abandon, Turkey’s bid to unite Sunni Arabs under its wing, and myriad other dangers.

Of course, we should do what we can to help Israeli-Palestinian peace, condemn egregious acts of violence, and blunt misguided European and Arab diplomatic initiatives likely to make things worse. But Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to get used to a brave new world in which the particulars of their fight don’t matter that much to the rest of us.

They should take it as a compliment.

‘Israel is not isolated — it is highly sought after’

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely knows that Israel’s standing in the international arena is very good: We are strong, independent and an island of stability; we just don’t know how to appreciate it “Israel is in an age of prosperity,” she says.

by Shlomo Cesana            Israel Hayom


On the face of things, Israel’s standing in the international arena has never been worse. The media and other outlets, mainly from the left side of the political spectrum, are telling us that the world actively wants us to settle the conflict with the Palestinians and that the international arena is getting behind the Palestinian demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders. They constantly remind us that there are no international embassies in Israel’s capital — Jerusalem. They note that the U.S. and the EU consistently condemn Israeli construction and sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Certain organizations talk about imposing sanctions on Israel and blast our policies as a matter of routine.

But does all this truly reflect Israel’s standing in the world? Is Israel really as isolated, rejected and unwanted as they say, because of its current policies toward the Palestinians? Well, we asked Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely these questions, who didn’t seem the least bit perturbed.

“Israel is not isolated or rejected,” she says, speaking to Israel Hayom at her office in Jerusalem. “Quite the opposite, actually. The media has a focus problem — they always focus on the problems and the familiar rather than highlighting positive achievements. If you ask the average Israeli about our relations with the world, they will recite the very narrow view of the ties with Europe — a very vocal relationship primarily because of the EU’s tendency to condemn the building of every home beyond the Green Line. The average Israeli is also aware of the Israeli-American relationship over the last year, which revolved around the deep conflict surrounding the Iranian issue. But that is a mistake.”

With the help of a few charts, Hotovely presents a very different picture — of flourishing commerce and active diplomatic relations with 80% of the world’s nations, all suggesting that Israel is not at all isolated, neither diplomatically nor economically. “Today, Israel is holding the U.S.’s hand on one side — a very strong ally — and on the other side the hands of India, China and Japan,” she says, underscoring Israel’s international dealings.

“In my capacity as deputy foreign minister I have traveled to Japan and to Vietnam, and I discovered a very different discourse there than the one in Europe,” she goes on to say. “In the East, the discourse is about what Israel contributes to the world, and not about what Israel does wrong. Israel can indeed contribute greatly: It can provide solutions to enormous problems in the fields of air pollution, farming, water management and medicine, to name a few.

“Our experience suggests that Israel is not a leper; it is highly sought after. There is a lot of warmth coming in Israel’s direction from countries that, for years, were aligned with the Arab world. These countries have become fans of Israel, and, as I said, seek our friendship. In the Far East Israel is seen as a superpower. A country unparalleled in its work ethic. They want to learn from Israel about entrepreneurship.”

Q: So the problems are mainly in Europe?

“In Europe there has also been a shift. The French know that global terrorism tops their agenda right now. Suddenly the Palestinian issue has become negligent, though they will never stop obsessing about it. These days, when you meet the prime minister at the climate change summit in Europe, the main topic of conversation is how to fight terrorism and how to use Israel’s cyber know-how to fight radical Islamism.

“So with all due respect, the notion of what the world is concerned with, and what is at the center of the world’s focus, is anachronistic. It is the old way. We have now entered a new era in international discourse. It is all about global solutions in medicine, agriculture, cyber warfare and technological innovation.”

Q: So you’re saying that we have no problems. We are a “light unto the nations.”

“I’m not ashamed to use that phrase. We have moved past the founding stage, when we enjoyed the world’s sympathy because of the Holocaust and because we were a people that rose out of the ashes and established a state. We are not in that place anymore; we are no longer a nation of victims. We have to change the way we think both in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the context of the threat posed by the Arab world and Iran. We are not the victim. We are an independent, strong, democratic country with a powerful military. We are a state that produces Nobel Prize winners and that has struck economic stability. We just don’t know how to appreciate that.”

Q: But still, Israel is under continuous assault from the representatives of almost all the nations at the U.N.

“The U.N. has the Security Council, and there, when we try to shoot down harsh resolutions like the attempt to expose Israel’s nuclear policy or the attempt to recognize a Palestinian state, we have a degree of success. We are able to stop these moves.

“On the other hand, there are the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and UNESCO, where decisions are 100% political. There, the automatic Arab League majority works against Israel. For example, the Human Rights Council has members like Syria and Iran that preach to Israel. We present injustices there, but there is a Palestinian push to turn these bodies into propaganda tools in a fierce battle over the historical narrative.”

“The settlement enterprise is not a stain”

In the absence of a foreign minister (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retains the foreign portfolio), Hotovely is the senior-most official in the Foreign Ministry. Netanyahu also appointed his close confidant, Dore Gold, to serve as director general of the ministry. Together the three of them, Hotovely, Gold and Netanyahu, work as one — a refreshing change from the conflict-ridden history of the ministry.

Hotovely describes the support that she enjoys from the prime minister and lists the three main changes she has incorporated at the ministry since assuming the deputy minister role. First she decided to play up Jerusalem to VIPs who visit Israel. Second she decided to highlight Israeli topics in the course that trains future diplomats. Third, she distributed a document, formulated after consultations with well-known legal experts, that states that Israel is not an occupier in Judea and Samaria.

“Since the 1990s, the Foreign Ministry has been operating under the precept that Israel is engaged in a peace process and that at the end of the negotiations we would arrive at an agreement,” Hotovely explains. “The Israeli motto was ‘our hand is extended in peace,’ but while we were relaying positive messages, the other side was busy engaging in anti-Israel propaganda.

“In order to counter that, we have to present our side in this land. The settlement enterprise is not a stain. It is something to be proud of. Israel has been building beyond the Green Line all these years under government-propelled initiatives. Construction is carried out only on land confirmed as not being privately owned. There is a Supreme Court overseeing things, so it is all in accordance with the law.”

Hotovely admits that “they didn’t love talking about the legality of the settlement enterprise in the Foreign Ministry,” but the document that she formulated and that has been distributed to all Israeli diplomats around the world contains Israel’s current official stance: There is no occupation.

“Under international law, the territories were not occupied. When Jordan seized these territories, they did it in violation of international law, with the express intent of attacking and destroying us. In contrast, we just restored our control over these areas, so no one can claim that we seized them from a foreign entity. Jordan was a not a sovereign entity, and if anyone was an occupier it was the Jordanians.”

Hotovely plans to continue pushing the Foreign Ministry’s new, clear message. She notes that the Palestinians’ true wish is to see Israel gone. “According to them, and all the historians agree,” she says, “the occupation is over all of the State of Israel. It is the occupation of 1948. Three [Israeli] prime ministers offered to retreat to the 1967 borders, but were rejected.

“Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in her book that [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas explained to her that he rejected these offers because ‘what will I tell 4 million refugees?’ So obviously the struggle is not over borders, but over the very existence of the State of Israel.

“The Palestinians are perpetuating the refugee problem. There is a U.N. body that handles the plight of all the refugees around the world. These refugees cannot inherit refugee status [from their parents]. Only the Palestinians have a special U.N. institution that handles the refugees’ legacy — UNRWA — which grants refugee status six generations into the future. Therefore, it is rather clear why there is no peace agreement. Today, if you ask any Israeli why there is no peace agreement, they will tell you it is because we didn’t make enough concessions.”

Hotovely knows that most people aren’t very well versed in the legal aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “People absorbed the political discourse over the years, but they were never aware of the legal discourse,” she explains. “When you confront them with the facts, that Israel did not occupy, that there never was a Palestinian state, their responses boil down to, ‘So what is the solution for the Palestinians?'”

Q: So what is the solution? The world looks at us and sees us controlling another people.

“The Europeans come here, and the only thing they care about is the blockade on Gaza. I remind them that in 2005 we withdrew [from Gaza] in a painful uprooting and retreated to the international border. They reply: ‘But you maintain military control, maritime control, you control Gaza.’ My answer is that the blockade is in place for reasons of self-defense, because if they had maritime access, everything that gets sent in from Iran would explode in Sderot.

“You have to understand, as long as Hamas controls Gaza and maintains contact with Iran, which is doing everything in its power to destroy us, the situation in Gaza will remain as it is. When I meet with visitors from Europe and elsewhere in the world I ask them: ‘Can you promise us that what happened in Gaza won’t recur in Judea and Samaria [if Israel withdraws]?’ They sit there, embarrassed, and say no.”

Indeed, Judea and Samaria is an entirely different story than Gaza. “They have autonomy,” the deputy minister notes. “The State of Israel does not interfere in what happens there in the towns. They complain that their homes get raided at night and that there are checkpoints? Stop the terrorism then. When there is a threat, Israel defends itself without territorial limitations.”

Q: How are you trying to change the discourse in the world?

“I tell them that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have a right to independence, that it enjoys the support of the world and that the Palestinians receive more foreign aid than any other entity in the world. The Foreign Ministry researched it. They received more money than was given out under the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II and much more money than the world is currently investing in helping the refugees from Syria.

“I ask them: ‘What have the Palestinians done with all the money? Where is the money?’ Well, the answer is that the money went into funding terrorism or funneled into private corruption. I have taken it upon myself to stress this issue to visitors. The objective is to open the eyes of the decision makers in Europe: If you care about money, follow the money.

“Not only have you created an industry around peace, you have created a failing society devoid of any positive vision. The only thing motivating the Palestinians is incitement against Israel. That is why I tell our diplomats that we need to take the incitement issue and turn it into a tool of stopping the funding.”

Q: How would you answer the question, “What is diplomacy?”

“Diplomacy is not surrender. It is a place where you maintain your principles and strike alliances according to your interests. This job, deputy foreign minister, gives me the opportunity to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu doing it the right way in meetings with senior statesmen.

“You should see him. He gets the message about Israel across with admirable conviction. He maintains his nationalist camp’s principles in a courageous manner. He confronts people with the facts, and they sit across from him, embarrassed. They don’t have answers to his challenging questions.”

Q: In conclusion, is Israel doing well today?

“We are in an age of prosperity. It is important to look at Israel from wider angles, not just as a country that is constantly at war. These days it is the West, the free world, that is constantly at war. They have been on the defensive for a long time, ever since radical Islam declared war [on the West].”