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Latest News in Israel – 5th May

PM at Holocaust Remembrance ceremony: ‘Incitement preceded annihilation’

For the first time in years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at Yad Vashem to start Holocaust Remembrance Day did not focus on Iran and its nuclear program.  Rather, the core message of his speech Wednesday evening was the danger of the spread of anti-Semitic lies that is making  odd bedfellows of the radical Left and Muslim extremists.

While in the last couple of years the theme of the premier’s annual address has been either the need to keep Iran from getting nuclear arms or the necessity of speaking out against that possibility, this time the thrust was warning about the spread of anti-Semitic lies.

“What paved the way for the Holocaust, what greased the wheels of the Nazi murder machine?” he asked.  “The answer is the lie. Nazi propaganda described the Jews as the source of all evil in the world: the poisoners of wells, parasites, enemies of humanity.  Incitement preceded annihilation.”

Netanyahu did mention Iran in his address, but only briefly, and only toward the end.

“There are those who want to ignore the intentions of Iran that are inscribed on its missiles with the words ‘Destroy Israel,’ and  which holds a cartoon Holocaust denial contest.,” he said. “We don’t ignore it.”

And he added that while some may we willing to come to terms with nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran, Israel will never do so. “All those conspiring to destroy us should know one thing,” he said. “Israel has great strength — offensive strength, defensive strength, deterrent strength.”

The vilification of the Jewish state has taken the place of vilification of the Jew, Netanyahu said, adding that anti-Semitism did not die with Hitler in his Berlin bunker.

“Today millions of people in the Muslim world read and hear horrible falsehoods about the Jewish people. They tell them that the Jews are the descendants of monkeys and pigs,. They say that Jews drink the blood of their enemies in goblets,” he said, adding that this  hatred is spread on social media in a manner which Hitler and his propaganda chief Goebbels could never have imagined.

While the source of this incitement is radical Islam in the Arab world, of late it has been joined by no less pernicious incitement from the west, Netanyahu charged.

“British Mps, senior officials in Sweden, public opinion makers in France; I must say that anti-Semitism in our days is creating odd combinations — the elites who allegedly represent human progress joining up with the worst barbarians  on earth, those who chop off heads, persecute, women, oppress Gays, destroy cultural treasures,” Netanyahu said.

Lies about Israel, he said, have no boundaries, and he mentioned the UNESCO resolution last month that expunged any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount as an example.

“Pay attention to what is going on here,” he said. “An international organization charged with preserving history rewrites one of the basic facts of human history. This is willful ignorance. Worse than that, is the addiction to lies and its dissemination to the world until it is accepted as fact.”

Netanyahu said that the hatred of the Jews will not easily be eradicated from the world, and three things must be done: fight the lies, fortify Israel’s strength, and build the country.

“We must mobilize to spread the truth with the same passion our enemies are mobilizing to spread lies,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said that even if Jew hatred cannot be uprooted, Israel can push back against its enemies. “For generations we were like a driven leaf in the wind, without strength, without defense,” he said.  “But no more.”    (Jerusalem Post)

Tanks, IAF return fire following Hamas shelling of IDF units on border detecting tunnels

Hamas military wing threatens to strike new targets ‘in Zionist enemy’ if tunnel detection units are not withdrawn

Hamas launched a series of cross-border mortar attacks targeting IDF units on the border with northern and southern Gaza on Wednesday, prompting the IDF to return fire with tanks, and later five IAF air strikes on Hamas targets in southern Gaza.

The escalation – the most significant since the August 2014 ceasefire that ended a two-month conflict – came as Hamas sought to disrupt IDF work to detect its attack tunnels.

Two mortars exploded near IDF units opposite southern Gaza, and three near northern Gaza. On Tuesday, small arms fire targeted an IDF engineering vehicle, and a blast was later heard by security forces.

There were no injuries in Wednesday’s incidents.

The IDF Spokesman Unit said in a statement, “The IAF struck 5 Hamas targets in southern Gaza in response to two days of cross-border fire on IDF units carrying out operational work near the border. The IDF views underground terrorism and overground terrorism activities as a breach of the State of Israel’s sovereignty, and views the Hamas terror organization as being solely responsible,” the military said in a statement.

It vowed to continue to act “with determination, and as much as is needed, to destroy all of the underground tunnels,” adding, “A quiet and ordinary routine is of mutual interest, and we will seek to safeguard them.”

Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin Al-Kassam Brigades, released its own statement, saying, “We will not allow a continuation of Zionist aggression against the Gaza Strip. The enemy must not use any excuse, and it must leave the Gaza Strip immediately and deal with its fear and the fears of its residents outside of the buffer zone. The Zionist intrusions, since yesterday evening, constitute a clear breach of the 2014 agreement to reach a calm, and a new aggression against the Strip.”

Hamas added that IDF engineering units “intruded through various roads since Tuesday morning, going 150 to 200 meters east of Rafah into the buffer zone, heading west, south, and north. The second route – east of Gaza – [saw an intrusion of] 200 meters into the buffer zone, heading west, and 300 meters heading north and south, causing damage to the property of residents. This is continuing.”

The first Hamas attack occurred on Wednesday morning, when a mortar shell exploded near an IDF unit carrying out operational work on the Gaza border fence near Nahal Oz, prompting tanks in the area to fire on a Hamas position.

Hours later, a second explosion occurred on the northern border of Gaza in the afternoon. Subsequent attacks occurred from southern and northern Gaza.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Gaza border with defense chiefs, saying that the past two years since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge have been the most quiet since Hamas took over the coastal enclave in 2007.

Netanyahu, who went to the site of a large terrorist tunnel from Gaza into Israel that was discovered last month, was accompanied by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir and other top IDF officials. He received a briefing there on the security situation in the area.

Speaking to Golani soldiers in a grove of Eucalyptus trees, Netanyahu compared the situation today where IDF soldiers are defending the country to the situation 70 years ago during the Holocaust when “we were like a leaf driven in the wind, with no defense force, helpless. They massacred us, slaughtered us.”

Today, he said, “we have a country, an army, the ability to defend ourselves in this sector, in all sectors – near and far – and what motivates me is to secure the future of Israel in its land.”

The Jewish people, he said, has no future without its country.

Netanyahu praised the soldiers for their “spirit,” saying this is what makes the army what it is.   (Jerusalem Post)

Israel-US deal mired with disagreements

As the two nations are negotiaing the largest arms deal in its history, Washington wants all money to be spent inside the US, while Jerusalem wants a 400% increase in anti-missile defense funding.

Negotiations meant to enshrine US defense aid for Israel over the next decade have snagged on disputes about the size, scope and fine print of a new multibillion-dollar package, officials say.

Five months into the talks, several US and Israeli officials disclosed details about the disputes to Reuters on condition of anonymity. The US and Israeli governments said negotiations were continuing, declining to elaborate.

Israel is seeking up to $10 billion more than the current 10-year package and billions more than the US administration is offering, partly by asking for guaranteed funding for missile defence projects hitherto funded on an ad hoc basis by the US Congress, the officials said.

US President Barack Obama wants to ensure the funds, thus far spent partly on Israeli arms, are eventually spent entirely on US-made weapons.

The differences partly reflect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vocal opposition to the international nuclear deal with Iran championed by President Obama. The two sides are also at loggerheads over the Palestinians.

Israel has long been a major recipient of US aid, most in the form of military assistance against a backdrop of an ebbing and flowing conflict with the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors, as well as threats from Iran. Obama has pushed hard for a resolution to the conflict, but has made little headway.

In seeking a sharp increase in military funding, Israel argues it needs to offset military purchases by Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe, after it secured sanctions relief in the accord limiting its nuclear program.

Obama’s administration, which has fraught relations with Netanyahu, is offering what it says is a record sum to Israel to assuage fears expressed both there and among his Republican rivals at home that the deal with Iran will endanger Israel.

But the officials say it is less money than Israel has sought overall and Obama also wants changes to allow US defense firms to reap greater benefits from a new deal.

If unresolved before Obama leaves office in January, the impasse could deny him a chance to burnish his legacy with the aid package to Washington’s closest Middle East ally. That would also leave Netanyahu to await the next US president in hopes of securing a better deal.

The current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed in 2007 and due to expire in 2018, gave Israel a total of about $30 billion, or an average of $3 billion annually, in so-called “Foreign Military Financing.”

Israel, whose annual defense budget is $15 billion, want at least $3.7 billion annually under the same rubric in the new MOU, officials say.

Israel also wants guaranteed missile defense aid built into the MOU for the first time, which could mean hundreds of millions of dollars more per year, bringing the full package to more than $40 billion over the next decade.

US negotiators have proposed a total of between $3.5 billion and $3.7 billion in annual aid to Israel, but it was not clear if this included any money for missile defense.

Obama administration has balked at Israel’s request to stipulate a separate funding track in the MOU for missile defense projects, one official said. It was not known how much Israel had proposed under the missile defense clause.

Israel wants the missile defense component to be “viewed as the ‘floor’ amount, as Congress can be asked for more on an ad hoc basis if circumstances require,” said one official.

US lawmakers have in recent years given Israel up to $600 million in annual discretionary funds for missile defense, well beyond the $150 million requested by the Obama administration.

More than four-fifths of the US Senate signed a letter last week urging Obama to conclude an increased 10-year aid package.

“These discussions are continuing and we remain hopeful we can reach agreement on a new MOU that will build on the United States’ historic and enduring commitment to Israel’s security,” a White House official said in response to a Reuters request for confirmation of the latest negotiating terms.

The official declined to comment directly on the terms.

The current MOU allows Israel to spend 26.3 percent of the US funds on its own defense industries. The United States wants to phase this provision out gradually so that all of the money is spent on American military products, the sources said.

Israel wants to keep the provision in place, or only partly reduced, they said. It fears a devastating blow to Israeli arms firms that glean some $800 million a year from the current MOU.

In another move to shore up its own defense industries, the United States wants to end a provision allowing Israel to spend around $400 million in annual MOU funds on military fuels.

One official paraphrased Washington’s message to Israel as: “We want (you) to be spending this money on actual security, on weapons systems, ways to make you safer.”(Ynet News)

In upgrade to ties, NATO accepts Israel’s official representative

In a significant upgrading of ties, NATO will recognize an official Israeli representative and the intergovernmental military alliance will grant Israel a permanent office at its headquarters in Brussels, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

“NATO informed Israel this evening that Israel will be able to open an office at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels and complete the process of accepting the credentials of its representative to NATO,” a Tuesday night statement read.

“The announcement comes after lengthy Israeli diplomatic efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the National Security Agency. Israel wishes to thank its allies in the organization for their support and efforts on the issue,” the Foreign Ministry added.

Israel is not a member of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known by its acronym NATO, but has enjoyed military cooperation with the body in a number of fields and is currently a partner of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program with seven friendly nations bordering on the waterway.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s foreign minister, welcomed the announcement and said it helped quash ongoing criticism of Israel’s weak relations on the international stage.

“This is an important step that helps Israel’s security. It is further proof to the status of Israel and the willingness of many organizations to cooperate with us in the field of security,” he said.

Israel’s Ambassador to the European Union David Walzer also serves as representative to NATO, but up until now the Israeli mission has not been officially recognized by the organization.

Some NATO governments have opposed past attempts to forge closer cooperation with Israel, arguing that they could hurt the alliance’s relations with Muslim states, including Afghanistan, which remains one of NATO’s top operational priorities.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry was not immediately available to comment on whether Jerusalem is currently taking any concrete steps to apply for full NATO membership.

In his former position as deputy foreign minister, current Tourism Minister Ze’ev Elkin made improving ties with NATO a priority, stating publicly during a meeting with the organization’s Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow that Israel sought to have a permanent representative.

“In contrast to a decline in relations in recent years there has been a significant improvement in the last year,” Elkin said in January 2014. “We are interested in getting the situation back to the way it was and to even broaden the range of matters that NATO and Israel join forces on, including having an Israeli representative at NATO.”

Vershbow was visiting Israel at the time to discuss cooperation between NATO and Israel.

NATO currently has about 40 partner nations, including Australia, India, Japan, Pakistan and Russia. Its partnerships include ones with European non-NATO countries, the Mediterranean basin and Persian Gulf states.

NATO’s treaty requires the alliance to militarily defend members nations, of which there are 28, but not partner ones. Still, partner states regularly contribute to NATO operations such as those in Afghanistan and naval missions off Somalia and in the Mediterranean Sea.

The last expansion of the organization took place in December 2015 when NATO member states formally invited the tiny Adriatic nation of Montenegro to join the alliance in the face of Russian opposition.

The invitation set in motion the process to accept the first new member state since fellow Balkan countries Albania and Croatia were admitted in 2009.                 (The Times of Israel)

Ringleader of group which killed Palestinian teen gets life in prison

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday sentenced Yosef Haim Ben David to life in prison plus 20 years for being the ringleader in the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir on July 2, 2014.

Despite admitting regret, saying, “I apologize and ask forgiveness,” the court threw the book at Ben David almost immediately after sentencing arguments concluded. The quick decision was unusual with courts usually taking days or even weeks to decide sentencing after hearing arguments from the sides.

A lawyer for the Abu Khdeir family said he had filed a request with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to demolish the Ben David family house.

Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Arab from Shuafat in east Jerusalem was abducted, burned and brutally murdered on July 2, 2014 after being kidnapped by Ben David and two others.

News coverage of the slaying led to Arab riots throughout east Jerusalem and the rest of the country.

The court also ordered Ben David to pay NIS 150,000 to Abu Khdeir’s family and NIS 20,000 to the family of a Palestinian minor that he tried unsuccessfully to kidnap before murdering Abu Khdeir.

On April 19, despite an eleventh hour insanity plea in December, the Jerusalem District Court convicted Ben David of the murder.

Rejecting the insanity plea, the court wrote that, “at the time of the perpetrating of the crime, the accused was not psychotic, understood his actions well, was culpable for his actions, in control of them, had no disturbance in judging reality and had the ability to prevent commission of the crimes.”

Ben David’s lawyer, Asher Ohayon, attempted the same argument on Tuesday to try to convince the court to give Ben David a lenient sentence, claiming that he was psychotic, taking pills and not in control of his faculties when he committed the murder.

The court again rejected the arguments.

In February, the court sentenced two minors who had already been convicted of assisting Ben David with the murder – one to life in prison and one to 21 years in prison.

State prosecutor Uri Korb responded to the sentencing decision on Tuesday declaring that Ben David was, “the primary initiator, the defiler and the perpetrator of the murder… this was an incident which horrified the public across the country.” He added that any murderers for ideology of any religion should know that the long arm of the law will bring them to justice.

Responding to the conviction in April, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said the court “had reached the correct decision.” But at the same time, he attacked the absence of a process to demolish the house of Ben David at a press conference immediately after the verdict.

The Jerusalem Post asked Tibi if a formal request for a demolition had been filed as state prosecution officials said would need to be done.

He responded, “Has any lawyer in the past proposed to destroy a Palestinian house. It was an initiative from the prime minister, by the internal security minister and by the authorities, I think that they know this option.”

Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein, responded to the April conviction stating, “We knew from the start he was not crazy, he lied to the court and to us, he planned…

he tried to kidnap another Palestinian…

he was intelligent, we knew he was not crazy.”

In explaining its finding that Ben David was sane, the court in April rejected the opinion of Dr.

Jonathan Sirkin, who had said that Ben David was psychotic.

Ben David had been in therapy for an extended period prior to the murder and had been diagnosed as obsessive, but never psychotic.

Sirkin opined that Ben David’s therapist had misdiagnosed him.

The court said that both minor defendants testified that Ben David had been very logical and in control while orchestrating the murder and that Ben David had been very detailed when reconstructing the murder with law enforcement.

It added that examinations both before and after the murder by several professionals found him to be sane with no complaints of hearing voices or hallucinations, and at most fears of being caught and of the punishment he would face for the murder.

Following the indictment of the three, the Defense Ministry recognized Abu Khdeir as a victim of hostile action, granting his family identical compensation rights as the victims of Arab terrorism, such as victims of suicide bombings – assuming its decision is also adopted by the National Insurance Institute.

Throughout a year-long trial, Ben David claimed insanity, but never filed a psychiatric report, which could give his plea a chance.

Coming into a December date for hearing the verdict, there was little doubt that Ben David would be convicted by the three-judge panel of Jacob Zavan, Rivkah Friedman-Feldman and Rafi Carmel with the insanity plea having nothing legal to stand on.

The indictment included charges against Ben David and one of the minors for attempting to kidnap seven-and-a-half yearold Musa Zalum of Beit Hanina and striking him and his mother, with whom he was walking – while she was pushing another one of her children in a stroller.

Ben-David drove the car, while the minor got out to attack the seven-and-a-half-year-old. They wore non-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) clothes to try to mask their identities during their attempts to kidnap Arabs.

There were separate charges for multiple attempts by the same two to burn Arab cars in Sur Bahir.

In the case of Abu Khdeir, the indictment alleged that Ben-David drove the car, while both minors attacked and threw the victim into the car.

Abu Khdeir tried to call his uncle, attempted to escape and even kicked one of the defendants in the face before they overpowered him.

The defendants partially-strangled and struck Abu Khdeir on the head multiple times, as Ben David called out the names of murdered Jews, such as Shalhevet Pass, the Fogel family, Gil- Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.

Ben David told the minors to burn his body to erase evidence, and that they doused him with gasoline and started to burn him while he was still alive.   (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli-Druze released from Syrian prison

Majdel Shams resident, who was imprisoned in Syria on charges of spying for Israel, freed after 12 years; Israeli officials are working on bringing him back home.

Barjes Awidat, 47, an Israeli-Druze from Majdal Shams, was released on Monday from Syrian prison after serving 12 years on charges of spying for Israel.

Awidat was released to the Druze city of Suweida in southern Syria, and is currently awaiting his transfer back to Israel, with MK Ayoob Kara working to bring him home.

Awidat travelled to Syria to study dentistry. At one point during his studies, all communications between him and his family in Israel ceased. It was only five years later that his family discovered that he was arrested by the Assad regime on charges of espionage.

Hail a-Safadi, Awidat’s relative, said that “Barjes was living in student dorms in Damascus when he was arrested by the secret police’s Palestine Division. He still doesn’t understand why they arrested him and on what grounds, although the Syrian regime accused him of spying. After his arrest, all contact with him was lost until a high ranking Israeli government official intervened.”

A-Safadi continued, “the Israeli official dealt with this issue for years, and even managed to send Barjas’s mother to Syria twice. She wasn’t able to find out what happened to him or why he was arrested the first time she visited, but the second time she went, she was able to visit him in prison – something that almost never happens.”

According to a-Safadi, the civil war in Syria, the situation in Syrian prisons, and the pressure the family and Israeli officials put on the Syrian government, all helped to secue Awidat’s release. The Syrian government also hopes that Awidat’s release would ease the pressure being put on it by the Syrian Druze community.

Awidat’s mother and sister rejoiced at the news of his release. “I just want to see my son in my arms again,” his mother said. “I miss him so much. I haven’t hugged him in years. I won’t be able to relax as long as he’s so far away from me.”                (Ynet News)

House walls in Poland found to be made of Jewish headstones

During a tour carried out last week, members of the volunteer organization Mi’ma’amakim, which aims to commemorate the Holocaust, were horrified to find that many houses in Poland were built using Jewish headstones. The finding was documented by soccer coach and Mi’ma’amakim President Avram Grant.

According to the organization’s Chairman Johnny Daniels, the headstones were discovered in the town of Pełczyce. “Before the war, there were 1,300 Jewish cemeteries in Poland, while today only 40 remain. This means that over 1,000 cemeteries have simply been destroyed, with Poles taking the headstones and using them for anything imaginable, including houses and bathrooms.” While this isn’t new, Daniels nevertheless described the site of the repurposed headstones as “unusually painful.”

For Daniels, the case emphasizes the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust. “Everything we think about in relation to the (European) generation of the Holocaust as well as previous generations is still alive. This isn’t just a place to visit and see the extermination camps, there are still things that need to be done. We are the last generation that will be in contact with Holocaust survivors. Our children won’t have that, so we need to pass on this message.”

Daniels feels that highlighting the use of Jewish headstones as building materials allows Mi’ma’amakim to start a broader dialogue on the subject. “Everything we can think of has been made from headstones, and by raising this issue we are able to shed light on even more substantial elements that make up the memory of the Holocaust.”

Daniels added that his organization has received help and cooperation from several Polish institutes regarding the headstones, and that some even approach them in order to return them to their former resting places.     (Ynet News)

Polish house

Polish house[1]

House walls in Poland built from Jewish tombstones

Living with the past, making a future in Israel

by      Lidar Grave-Lazi                                      The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Living-with-the-past-making-a-future-in-Israel-453033

At the age of 88, Joseph Levkovich, a Holocaust survivor who resides in Montreal, decided to uproot his life and make aliya with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Leaving behind his three children, grandchildren and his comfortable life in Canada, Levkovich decided to make the move in the midst of the 2014 conflict Operation Protective Edge. He wanted to be reunited with his grandson who had already made aliya and enlisted in the IDF

“When people asked me if I was afraid to come in the middle of the war, I answer them in Yiddish,” he said. “Whatever will happen to all of Israel, will happen to me, so I am not afraid and I believe.”

“They brought my grandson out from Gaza in the middle of the war – we reunited here both of us, both single ones,” he said.

The decision to make aliya had been one that Levkovich wanted to take for many years, but having built a life for himself in Canada, he always put it off, he explained.

“When my wife passed away I was a little hesitant because in Canada I am established. But I said if I don’t go now at the age of 88, I never will.”

As such, despite all the difficulties and fears, Levkovich boarded a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight and made his way to Israel to start a new chapter in his life.

“We have a history of being spread among the nations of the world, sometimes it was a good thing because when Jews were persecuted in one place, they were safe in another,” he said. “But since we have a state, in my lifetime there was no state, only after the Holocaust because the survivors didn’t have anywhere to go, the place is Israel – a Jewish place – in order to remain Jewish.”

“The eternity of Israel will not be forgotten – emunah (belief) also helped me survive the Holocaust,” he said.

Levkovich was only 13 years old, living in Poland, when World War II broke out. At the outbreak of the war he was separated from his family, never to see them again, and throughout the years was transferred from concentration camp to concentration camp including Auschwitz.

“Every day was long like a year, and every day was trouble – torture, no food, no clothes, no hygiene, hard work from dark to dark. When we left it was dark and when we came back it was dark,” he recalled.

“In the summer time we had to stay and work in the open air. Often it was hot without a drink of water and we were dressed in those striped clothes. In the winter there were blizzards, ice, and we had a cap on our heads, wooden shoes, and we worked hard and were beaten by the SS who transferred us from place to place – railroads, quarries, salt mines…,” he said. “Life was very hard and people were falling and couldn’t get up any more.”

Still, Levkovich admits it is very difficult for him to speak about that time in his life.

“The peril of the concentration camps and the loss of my whole family – I tried not to think about it,” he said. “For many years I couldn’t even speak about it.”

He added that “Now, I think, if I don’t tell my whole story nobody will be able to tell it.”

Levkovich has lived an incredible life. Before settling in Argentina and becoming a leader in its vibrant Jewish community, he helped hunt down Nazis who evaded justice and aided orphans who moved to Israel following the war.

Today, however, at the ripe age of 90 he said he is more interested in the future, and remains optimistic.

“Losing my youth, my education, my parents, losing everything – we live with the past and I am trying to live for the future, for my children, for my family, for generations to come,” he said.

Living in Jerusalem, he describes life as “beautiful.”

Since making aliya he has even spent a year studying in ulpan.

“Whatever I learn, doesn’t stay in my head though,” he joked. “The youth do not easily forget what they are taught, but in the old age it doesn’t stay.”

Still his Hebrew is quite remarkable.

“When I try to speak Hebrew, people answer me in English – I don’t have the opportunity to speak in Hebrew, but slowly, slowly and little by little I am trying to,” he said in perfect Hebrew.

When asked how his children reacted to the news that he was making aliya, he replied: “They knew I was convinced and they accepted the idea and they were happy about it and they come to visit very often. All my children were here a few times already.”

“All my grandchildren were brought up with a Zionist spirit.

They are observant Jews, keeping Shabbat, marrying Jewish [spouses] and having Israel in their hearts,” he added.

Today, he said, looking back, making aliya was the right decision.

“I am 90 and I am here for two years and am so happy that I made the decision. And even being alone I found so many friends and so many good neighbors,” he said.

Despite his enthusiasm, Levkovich added that he is not oblivious to the hardships involved in making aliya and living in Israel.

“You need to have a lot of courage to come here,” he said. “Nefesh B’Nefesh is a wonderful organization that really tries to help you and guide you in aliya. They help in every sense, and give you a lot of guidance – a lot of advice.”

“It is not easy, I have to admit, it takes a lot of courage and some people are very courageous,” he said.

Marc Rosenberg, director of pre-aliya at Nefesh B’Nefesh told The Jerusalem Post that in the past seven years there have been around 52 Holocaust survivors, like Levkovich, who have decided to make aliya from North America.

“We work with individuals to make sure they have an acclimation plan and are ready for life in Israel.

Special attention and care is given to survivors of the Holocaust to make them aware of their rights and benefits, and putting in place a support system for them to fulfill their dream of living in Israel,” he said.

Palestinians: Preparing Their People for Statehood?

by Khaled Abu Toameh            The Gatestone Institute

http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/7960/palestinians-preparing-statehood

The internecine strife in Fatah no longer appears restricted to the loyalists of Dahlan and Abbas. It is threatening to erupt into an all-out war between contesting camps. Some Palestinians see the internal strife as the most serious challenge to Abbas’s rule over Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, especially in wake of growing criticism among Palestinians against Abbas’s policies and autocratic regime.

The criticism has escalated following last week’s humiliating defeat of Fatah to Hamas at the student council election of Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

Hamas is thriving on the mayhem among the top brass of Fatah and disgust with Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Rather than striving to improve the lives of Palestinians, Fatah leaders spend their time playing at being gangsters, settling scores. Meanwhile Abbas continues his charade of lies with the international community that he and his Fatah faction are ready for a sovereign state.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction is supposed to be preparing its people for statehood. But it seems to be busy with other business.

According to sources in the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces recently uncovered a scheme to assassinate a number of senior Fatah officials living there.

The sources claimed that ousted Fatah operative Mohamed Dahlan, who has been living in the United Arab Emirates for the past five years, was the mastermind of the alleged scheme. Dahlan’s men in the Gaza Strip were planning to assassinate Fatah officials closely associated with his rival, Abbas, the sources revealed.

Dahlan’s hit list included Ahmed Abu Nasr, Jamal Kayed, Emad al-Agha and Mamoun Sweidan.

After the alleged plot was uncovered, Hamas summoned a number of top Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip and asked them to take precautionary measures to ensure their safety.

Abbas and Dahlan have, for the past five years, been at each other’s throats. The two were once close allies and had worked together to undermine the former Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat.

But the honeymoon between Abbas and Dahlan, a former security commander in the Gaza Strip and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), ended several years ago.

Abbas woke up one morning and discovered that his erstwhile ally and friend, Dahlan, was an in fact a bitter enemy. On instructions from Abbas, Palestinian security officers raided Dahlan’s residence in Ramallah and confiscated documents and personal belongings. Dahlan fled the West Bank and has not set foot since in Ramallah or any other Palestinian city.

Next, Abbas had Dahlan dismissed from Fatah on charges of murder and financial corruption. Since then, Dahlan, who has become an “advisor” to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates, has been waging a fierce smear campaign against Abbas and his Fatah loyalists.

Now, the sources in the Gaza Strip are claiming that Dahlan was behind a plot to eliminate those loyalists.

The claim came after clashes erupted between Dahlan and Abbas supporters in parts of the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.

Last week, the Fatah leadership expelled from its ranks nine Dahlan supporters. They were accused of attacking the home of Abdullah Abu Samhadanah, a senior Fatah official and Abbas loyalist.

Earlier, loyalists to Abbas and Dahlan were busy hurling chairs and stones at each other. The incident took place at a rally to commemorate slain PLO leader Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), assassinated by Israeli commandos in Tunisia in 1988. On May 1, another scuffle broke out between the two sides, this time in the Gaza Strip’s Jebalya refugee camp. That incident occurred during a rally held on the occasion of International Workers’ Day.

This internecine Fatah strife no longer appears restricted to the loyalists of Dahlan and Abbas. It is threatening to erupt into an all-out war between contesting camps. Some Palestinians see the internal strife as the most serious challenge to Abbas’s rule over Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, especially in wake of growing criticism among Palestinians against Abbas’s policies and autocratic regime.

The criticism has escalated following last week’s humiliating defeat of Fatah to Hamas at the student council election of Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah. Many in Fatah hold Abbas and his veteran old guard leaders personally responsible for the defeat.

In a move that shows that the plot inside Fatah is thickening, sources close to Hamas claimed this week that another senior Fatah official in the West Bank was behind a plan to liquidate top members of the faction in the Gaza Strip.

According to reports published on a number of Hamas-affiliated websites, the former head of the General Intelligence Force in the West Bank, Tawfik Tirawi, was the mastermind behind the alleged scheme. The reports claimed that Hamas summoned Ahmed Nasr, a top Fatah official, and informed him of Tirawi’s purported plan to kill other Fatah leaders as well as Nasr himself. Nasr has confirmed that he was asked by Hamas to take precautionary measures to avoid any attempt on his life.

Hamas claims that Tirawi’s alleged plot was uncovered during the interrogation of Marwa al-Masri, a senior Fatah member. Hamas security forces arrested her as she was about to leave the Gaza Strip for Ramallah.

Dahlan and Tirawi, who were once viewed by many Palestinians as potential successors to Abbas and promising new leaders representing the “young guard,” apparently had different motives behind their alleged schemes.

While Dahlan may have sought revenge against Abbas and his loyalists, Tirawi apparently wanted to create instability in the Gaza Strip by blaming Hamas for the assassination of top Fatah officials.

Dahlan sought revenge against Abbas for expelling him from Fatah and making him into a “refugee” in the United Arab Emirates. Tirawi, for his part, wished to undermine Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip by killing some of his own colleagues in Fatah.

Tirawi and al-Masri, who has since been released from dentition by Hamas, have vehemently denied that they were plotting to eliminate senior Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip.

Whether true or not, Fatah’s credibility is crumbling, not only among the Palestinian public, but also among its own supporters. Hamas is thriving on the mayhem among the top brass of Fatah and disgust with Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Rather than striving to improve the lives of Palestinians, Fatah leaders spend their time playing at being gangsters, settling scores. Meanwhile, Abbas continues his charade of lies with the international community that he and his Fatah faction are ready for a sovereign state.

Settlements aren’t the key to Middle East peace

by Shmuel Ben Shmuel             The Sydney Morning Herald

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/settlements-arent-the-key-to-middle-east-peace-20160503-gog6dm.html

In 2014, Israeli-owned company SodaStream announced it was closing its West Bank factory after pressure from those boycotting Israeli settlements. While supporters claimed a victory, nearly 500 Palestinians who had worked in harmony alongside Israeli Jews and enjoyed wages four or five times higher than the average in the West Bank were left jobless. Simply because the factory was located in an Israeli settlement. There is no question that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are one of the key unresolved issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Jewish settlement in the territory of ancient Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is often presented as a recent phenomenon but Jewish presence has existed there for thousands of years. Many settlements are located where previous Jewish communities were forcibly ousted by Arab armies or militia, or slaughtered, like the Jewish community of Hebron in 1929.

The Mandate for Palestine, a historical document of international law adopted by the League of Nations in 1922, laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine. The West Bank is an unallocated part of the British Mandate, so its terms still apply and settlement can continue until a new state is created or annexation takes place.

Israel is often said to be breaching the fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of segments of the population of a state to the territory of another state which it has occupied. First, at no point in history were Jerusalem and the West Bank subject to Palestinian Arab sovereignty thus it cannot be “occupied territory”. Second, the settlements have been built up voluntarily, often by citizens looking to return to their previous homes, or to the land once inhabited by their ancestors.

In short: the fourth Geneva Convention article does not apply to voluntary Jewish settlement in the West Bank. This is legitimately acquired land that has never belonged to a previous lawful sovereign and was designated as part of a Jewish state under the League of Nations Mandate.

Some consider Israeli settlements as the key to Middle East peace, but the facts say otherwise.

The Arabs and Palestinians refused to make peace before there was a single settlement. The Palestinians have been offered a homeland on four separate occasions – in 1937, 1947, 2000-2001 and 2008. The two most recent offers included unprecedented terms like the returning of refugees, generous land swaps and, significantly, an end to settlements. Each offer was rejected and instead met with increased terrorism from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with the support of the Palestinian Authority through paying wages to the terrorists and their families, glorifying terrorists and continued incitement.

Israel’s repeated offers of relinquishing control over most of the territories, swapping land within Israel’s pre-1967 territory for any part of the West Bank it retains and disbanding settlements in the remaining part of the West Bank, would have resulted in the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is the two-state solution that Israel – and the US, the European Union, Britain and both Australia’s main political parties – all support.

The continual rejection by the Palestinians of comprehensive peace offers is not because of the presence of Israeli settlements in a tiny portion of the West Bank. No matter what offer Israel makes, no matter how far-reaching the concessions may be, it is Israel’s very existence which is the sticking point. There can be no dispute that continual Palestinian rejection of the two-state solution lies at the heart of the conflict. Peace requires, first and foremost, Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s right to existence in peace and security.

The settlement fixation is a convenient distraction from other more difficult to remedy obstacles: reconciling feuding Palestinian political factions; guaranteeing that security can be maintained in the West Bank without an IDF presence; relentless and state-sanctioned Palestinian incitement and terrorism; human rights abuses; and rampant corruption and oppression that has seen no Palestinian elections since 2006.

Arabs themselves have confirmed the Israel-Palestine conflict is the least of their regional concerns. A recent survey of Arab youth run by Penn SchoenBerland in 16 countries found that for the second year in a row Arab youth view the rise of Islamic State as the biggest threat facing the region. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict only came seventh.

Israel remains committed to peace negotiations without preconditions. It will continue to ask the Palestinian side to reciprocate.

We hope such negotiations will produce a peaceful agreement allowing Jews to live alongside Palestinians in their ancient homeland.

Shmuel Ben Shmuel is Israel’s ambassador to Australia.