+61 3 9272 5644

Latest News in Israel – 21st December

Arab MK suspected of passing intel to Palestinian prisoner who murdered soldier

An Arab MK accused of passing telephones and SIM cards to a pair of Palestinian security prisoners is also suspected of handing “intelligence information” to one of the two, Channel 2 television reported Monday.

Channel 2 said that Walid Daka — who is serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 kidnap and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam — was searched after a visit by MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List following a tip-off to officials, and was found to have “significant” information hidden in his underwear.

Both Daka and the other inmate believed to have received items from Ghattas are members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has authorized police to question Ghattas under caution for alleged security breaches. The MK is suspected of smuggling cell phones to the prisoners at Ketziot prison, south of Beersheba in southern Israel. Police told Channel 2 that they believe Ghattas may have also, on at least one occasion, smuggled in SIM cards for the prisoners, hidden in a hollowed-out book.

“At least one of the occasions [he visited the prison], he held a book with the pages missing, instead there were SIM cards, cellphones and so on,” said a source in the police force, adding that he may have also smuggled in documents and that the evidence against Ghattas was substantial.

IDF soldier Moshe Tamam was abducted by a group of Arab Israelis as he got off a bus a few minutes from his home outside of Netanya in August 1984. His body was located four days later – he had been shot, and his face badly mutilated.

In the wake of the allegations against Ghattas, Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin on Monday started a petition among lawmakers to have the Joint List lawmaker expelled from the Knesset.

“Let us put an end to the abuse of parliamentary immunity in order to aid terror,” Elkin tweeted. “I ask MKs to join my initiative to expel MK Basel Ghattas under the impeachment law.”

“The facts are clear,” Elkin wrote in his petition, the Hebrew-language media reported. “But despite that, MK Basel Ghattas has not expressed any remorse. Considering that the criminal proceedings will take a long time, there is no reason in the world why he should continue to serve in the Knesset during this time, to receive a salary paid for by the public and to use his immunity and his position to support terror.”

The impeachment law was passed in June. It was initiated by Elkin at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Joint Arab List members Jamal Zahalka (L), Hanin Zoabi (R) and Basel Ghattas at the weekly Joint Arab list meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MKs Jamal Zahalka (L), Hanin Zoabi (R) and Basel Ghattas at the weekly Joint (Arab) list meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the final version of the bill, 70 Knesset members — 10 of whom must be from the opposition — are required to file a complaint with the Knesset speaker against any lawmaker who supports an armed struggle against Israel or incites to racial hatred, kicking off the impeachment process.

The Knesset House Committee would then debate the complaint before clearing it with a three-quarter majority in the committee. The motion to dismiss the lawmaker would then be sent to the plenum, where, if 90 of the 120 Knesset members vote in favor, the MK would be ousted. The deposed lawmaker could then appeal the decision with the Supreme Court.

The Balad Party is part of the Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List and has three of their 13 seats. At the time the impeachment bill was being discussed Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh threatened to quit the Knesset if the bill was signed into law.                            (the Times of Israel)

IDF tanks fire at Hamas targets in response to Gaza border shooting

Shots were fired at IDF troops stationed on the border near the southern Gaza Strip on Monday morning, the military said.

The soldiers were securing civilian engineering work near the border fence when they came under fire.There were no reports of injury or damage in the incident, but according to Channel 10 news, farmers in the area were advised by the army to stop working in the fields and to remain in their homes.

The IDF responded shortly afterward with tank fire targeting Gaza-based Hamas positions, which according to Palestinian media was located south of the Al Buraige refugee camp.

Earlier in December two Palestinian men were arrested after crossing into Israel from the Strip, one of whom had been armed with a knife and grenade. In November the IDF fired shots to disperse Palestinians trying to breach the border and in October four rockets emanating from the Gaza Strip hit Israel, leading the air force to strike Hamas targets.

Israel holds the militant group Hamas, which controls the Strip, responsible for any violence near the Gaza border.

The cross-border incident comes days after a Hamas militant was assassinated in Tunisia.

According to Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, Mohammed Zawari, who had been a member of the group for 10 years and supervising its drone program was gunned down in his car near his home close to the city of Sfax on Thursday.

Hamas has blamed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency for his assassination and has warned that “”The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zawari will not go in vain.”

There was no official indication, however, that the two events were related and Tunisian authorities have said that 8 Tunisian nationals have been arrested in relation to the killing.   (Jerusalem Post)

IDF to streamline conversion program to reduce dropout rate

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan is seeking to streamline the IDF’s Jewish conversion program, by reducing the waiting time between different stages of the process and shortening a preparatory course.

In the last five years, just under 800 Israeli citizens who were born in or whose families immigrated from the former Soviet Union have converted each year, comprising upwards of 15% of all converts.

However, the dropout rate from the IDF conversion program after the initial preparatory course, called Nativ, is as high as 50 to 60 percent, according to Ben Dahan.

The deputy minister says that various modifications to the course could significantly reduce the dropout rate.

The IDF’s conversion program is divided into three sections: Nativ, which is currently seven weeks long and deals with Jewish history and heritage, and two separate seminars, three to four weeks in length, that deal with religious observance.

All three components involve full-time participation and study six days a week, with the seminars on religious observance totaling approximately the 400 hours of study required in the civilian state conversion program, and in some cases slightly more.

Since Nativ does not involve religious study, its content is not provided by the IDF rabbinate and is not considered critical for the halachic process of conversion.

In addition, there can often be a wait of up to a month between Nativ and Seminar A, and then a again between Seminar A and Seminar B.

According to Ben-Dahan, between 40 and 50 percent of conversion candidates who complete Nativ do not continue on to the seminar programs, which he describes as a wasted opportunity by the state to help those who have already expressed interest in conversion complete the process.

Under the deputy minister’s proposal, Nativ itself will be reduced by two weeks and the extended waiting period between the different stages will be reduced to a maximum of one week.

In this way, soldiers who begin the conversion process and are anxious to get back to their original units and comrades will be able to complete their conversion without such undue delays.

This expedited program will be piloted in the next two intakes of the IDF conversion course, and the dropout rate will be examined to identify if the reduced waiting times lead to greater numbers of successful conversion candidates.

“We want to make an effort to reduce the dropout rate…

and we see this as incredibly important, since the IDF is the people’s army and part of its goal is to help young soldiers who are not Jewish according to Jewish law and want to convert complete the conversion process while they are in the army,” said Ben-Dahan.

“The best conditions to [go through] the conversion process are in the army, because of the support network there and because there are no other responsibilities or financial obligations on soldiers at this time,” he continued.

Like in the IDF, the dropout rate from the state’s civilian conversion program is also extremely high, with as many as 50% of all candidates who begin the course deciding to abandon it before converting.

Many of these candidates face obstacles such as long travel times to classes and a squeeze on their available time due to existing job and family commitments, as well as a lack of institutional support.

The deputy minister contends that in the absence of these problems in the army, the IDF’s conversion program has significant room to reduce its dropout rate, which he hopes the streamlining process will achieve.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli wounded in Berlin terror attack

An Israeli was seriously wounded in the truck terror attack in Berlin last night.

The Israeli Consul, Liora Givon, is expected to meet with him soon at the hospital in Berlin and ascertain his status.

In addition, according to the Chief Rabbi of Berlin, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, the wounded man’s wife is missing.

12 were killed in the attack and over 50 wounded.

The terrorist, apparently a 23-year-old immigrant who had come in recent months to Germany from Pakistan, was already known to authorities as having a criminal background.

Initial investigations showed that the terrorist took control of a truck by murdering the driver – then proceeded to speed into pedestrians at the crowded Berlin market.

Berlin police are calling the incident an act of terror and are trying to verify if the terrorist belonged to an organized group            (Arutz Sheva)

Women’s groups, MKs blast Katsav’s early release

Women’s groups and female lawmakers slammed the decision on Sunday by the Parole Board regarding the early release of former president Moshe Katsav, who has served five years out of a seven-year sentence for rape.

The Israel Women’s Network issued a statement, saying, “It is inconceivable that a man who hurt so many women over the years, while taking advantage of his position and authority and has never expressed any remorse for his actions, will receive a prize… in the form of early release.”

“The release of Katsav sends a hard message to victims of sexual offenses everywhere,” the statement read.

The network called on the prosecution to “stand by the victims” and immediately challenge the “scandalous” decision of the Parole Board.

Meretz MKs Zehava Gal- On, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg released a joint statement and said, “The Parole Board ignored the public interest and broadcast a dangerous message that you can harm women and get out of it at a low price, especially if you are connected.”

They said the Parole Board made a “cowardly and tainted” decision, “succumbing to the manipulations” in reducing the sentence.

“Katsav used his political power to rape and now he used that same political power to win his early release,” they said.

The MKs added that the former president’s statement of remorse was “weak and feeble.”

“Nothing will shorten the ‘punishment’ of these women… the committee will not have mercy on them, and they will not arrange a special rehabilitation program that is custom-made for them,” the MKs said.

MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said she hoped that President Reuven Rivlin would not accept the recommendation of the Parole Board and would deny the early release.

“It is inconceivable that a person who served in a most respected position in Israel and was supposed to be an example to all citizens will not finish his sentence for such serious offenses,” she said.

MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) also issued a statement and said, “Katsav must present words of remorse that he reputedly said to the committee to the women he raped and to the public.”

Orit Sulitzeanu, director of the Association for Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said the decision was “infuriating and outrageous” and a “slap in the face” to all the victims of sexual violence in the country.

She slammed the Parole Board for suddenly reversing its decision, when only a year ago it concluded that Katsav could not be rehabilitated, and building a custom-designed release program for the former president.

“A serial sex offender who has not fully faced what he did cannot get preferential treatment,” she said.

“We must remember that this is a nasty sex offender who forced himself on many women, and the committee’s decision to release him, following a number of small steps in the right direction – without participation in the main sex offenders rehabilitation program – is a moral stain,” she concluded.                      (Jerusalem Post)

Farmers from all over Israel converge on Jerusalem to protest

Thousands of farmers and young people are making their way to Jerusalem from all over the country in order to protest outside the Knesset against what they claim is the government killing of agriculture in Israel.

The farmers are protesting against what they refer to as unilateral government policy on agriculture. “It starts with opening the market to wild imports, high water prices for farmers, brokerage fees, costs of employing foreign workers and other things,” said protest organizers.

The Israel Farmers Association, which is leading the struggle, recruited the heads of regional councils and youth groups to accompany the protest convoy to Jerusalem. Farmers arrived in Jerusalem from the Galilee, valleys all over the country and the Arava in trucks and vans.

Police closed several streets in Jerusalem near the government complex in preparation for the demonstration.

Secretary General of the Moshav Movement and Director of the Israel Farmers Association, Meir Tzur, said that the State of Israel had to come to its senses and change its policy toward farmers and agriculture. “We are demanding clear policy in regards to agriculture, one that strengthens us from the understanding and need for Israeli agriculture and not Turkish or Spanish agriculture.”


Sign read: ‘Saving agriculture in Israel’

Tzur said Israeli farmers are demanding an immediate solution to high water prices, foreign workers, brokerage fees and a reform of agricultural export regulations. (Ynet News)

A new path to peace in the Middle East?

Training young Israeli and Arab leaders together shatters the Cold War mentality

By Charles C. Krulak     The Washington Times


As a young Marine captain commanding a rifle company in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to have Israel’s legendary Gen. Moshe Dayan join my unit for a week. At one point we were located 1,000 meters south of the Demilitarized Zone and he asked me why the Marine Corps was fighting in the mountains so far north. I answered him by saying, “This is where the enemy is.” To this day his answer is emblazoned in my mind and on my soul: “Yes, but the people are not here, and they are key to victory; without the support of the people, you are doomed to fail.”

Gen. Dayan’s insight rings as true today as it did then. Fortunately, it is not too late to employ his wisdom as we begin to rethink our approach to the Middle East under President-elect Donald Trump. In its attempt to divide Israel much as Germany once was, America’s antiquated policies have enshrined Cold War diplomacy in a region that copes with far more complex challenges. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated enthusiasm for the new administration and might well be receptive to different approaches.

Fortunately, there may be a viable path forward — one that captures Gen. Dayan’s vision of popular support by uniting people instead of dividing them. It is a path that can be found in the education of today’s youth and the development of opportunities for them to work interdependently. That path forward can be found working in the city of Ariel located in Samaria. Here we see a “new” model that has generated some very encouraging and unexpected outcomes: a city with a university, a medical complex, an industrial region where 3,000 Palestinians are employed, and the National Center for Leadership (NCL).

The NCL is a unique experimental learning environment attended by more than 43,000 Israeli and Arab young people during its first four years of operation. There, historically toxic relationships are changing, as long-held fears and suspicions between Arabs and Jews are being supplanted with shared goals and adventures. Trained facilitators set up challenging problems that invite participants to evaluate and develop their relational leadership skills.

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of education observed, “The National Leadership Center in Ariel is preparing a new generation of leaders, by providing a staging ground for personal growth and the uniting of relationships in an ever-changing and challenging environment.” This next generation of youth who are growing up to understand and appreciate differing cultures and religions are the very “people” that Gen. Dayan signaled were so important.

Additionally, in 2011, the U.S.-Israel Education Association, a small, special forces-sized nonprofit, shattered the glass ceiling on U.S.-Israel engagement by unabashedly exploring the communities of Judea-Samaria/West-Bank with members of Congress. This entire area is central to the issues involved in U.S. peace initiatives. These visits have provided and continue to provide our leaders with a firsthand opportunity to discover the effects of U.S. policy that often appear to the people as attempts to predetermine the outcome of would-be negotiations. As these members visit Ariel and see the remarkable changes that are taking place between Arabs and Israelis in that city, they come away with a vision of what can truly be achieved.

Forcing two peoples to adopt a paternalistic policy that has its origins in the Cold War has proven to be a nonstarter. What’s more, maintaining the status quo will very likely do little but incite fresh violence among deeply impressionable young people that will, in turn, produce an angry generation fueled by a culture of retribution.

There is a saying in the military that one cannot defeat an idea with bullets and bombs; one can only defeat an idea with a better idea. Perhaps that better idea is already being formulated in Ariel. I would hope that our new administration would take a fresh look at options other than the one that has been on the table for decades.

  • Charles C. Krulak, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Golan Heights: From Annexation to Recognition – Zvi Hauser (Ynet News)

Last Wednesday marked 35 years since the enactment of the Golan Heights Law, which essentially annexed the Golan to the State of Israel.

For the first time in nearly 50 years, an historic window of opportunity has been created to change the formula of the future arrangement in the Golan Heights from yesterday’s formula, which focused on an Israeli withdrawal in exchange for an agreement with Syria, to tomorrow’s formula, which should include an international agreement for long-lasting Israeli control of the Golan Heights as a core component of the region’s stabilization.

Syria, if it even continues to exist as one state, will never be the same. The anachronistic international convention that the border between Syria and Israel should be along the shores of the Sea of Galilee is groundless, as is proved on a daily basis in light of the incomprehensible bloodshed which has been taking place in Iraq and Syria, reaching the Golan Heights.

Neither the Islamic State nor the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda or an Iran-Hizbullah-Assad foothold in the Sea of Galilee will allow the stabilization and recovery of the region. There is no other horizon in the Middle East apart from the Israeli horizon.

The Golan Heights constitutes less than 1% of the territory of what used to be Syria.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford gave a written presidential commitment to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which included an American acknowledgement of the Israeli need to remain in the Golan Heights even at times of peace.

The writer is a former Israeli Cabinet secretary (2009-2013).