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Latest News in Israel – 6th May

Siren brings Israel to a halt as country marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

Israel commemorated the six million Jews who were murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust on Thursday with a two minute siren that brought the country to a halt at 10 a.m.

Events marking Holocaust Remembrance Day began on Wednesday evening at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

At that ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against the resurfacing of anti-Semitic lies in Europe, which he said are reminiscent of the propaganda which “greased the wheels of the Nazi murder machine.”

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.

Speaking at the same ceremony, President Reuven Rivlin expressed criticism of the state for failing to care for the needs of Holocaust survivors.

The issue requires “soul-searching” by the country, and Holocaust survivors have not received the respect they deserve, the president said.

“Even to the present day, the State of Israel does not take every measure it can in order to take care of the Holocaust survivors,” said Rivlin.

“My brothers and sisters, survivors, the heroes of Israel’s revival, I came here today on my own behalf, and on behalf of the people of Israel, on behalf of the State of Israel, and I ask each one of you, before it is too late, for forgiveness.

We did not understand, we did not want to understand, and we have not done enough.”

Approximately 189,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel, of whom 45,000 live under the poverty line, according to data released by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors.

Rivlin said the Holocaust demonstrated the need for the Jewish people to be in charge of its own fate, and that it should never outsource its security, although adding that the State of Israel “is not, under any circumstances, compensation for the Holocaust.”            (Jerusalem Post)

Cross-border exchange of fire after IDF uncovers Hamas terror tunnel

At least three mortar shells were launched at IDF positions near the Gaza border Thursday, according to a statement released by the military. No injuries or damage were reported in the incident.

The IDF reported that soldiers stationed in the area came under mortar fire and returned fire on a Palestinian position shortly thereafter.

Arab media claimed that the Palestinian mortar attacks were fired near a terror tunnel that was discovered earlier Thursday.

The incidents marked the third straight day in which Palestinians in Gaza fired at IDF soldiers on the border.

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 air strikes on Hamas targets.

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

On Tuesday, Hamas directed cross-border gun fire at an IDF engineering vehicle near southern Gaza.

There were no injuries in this week’s incidents                       (Jerusalem Post)

Veteran Hamas terrorist captured, reveals terror tunnel network

It has been cleared for publication that a veteran Hamas terrorist who was involved in the terror group’s tunnel-building efforts has been captured by Israel.

Under interrogation the terrorist has revealed a wealth of information about Hamas’s network of attack tunnels into Israel, as well as its massive network of tunnels inside Gaza, in preparation for any future war with Israel.

The news comes on the same day as IDF forces announced yet another breakthrough in the battle against Hamas’s terror tunnels, unearthing the second attack tunnel into Israel in a matter of weeks.

Mahmoud Atouna, 29, hails from Jabaliyah in Gaza, and is a 10-year veteran of the Islamist terror group.

He was arrested at the beginning of April, after breaching the Gaza-Israel border armed with two knives, and admitted to security forces that he had planned to kill any Israeli soldiers or civilians he encountered.

Atouna was a member of Hamas’s “military wing”, the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and was extensively involved in the group’s terrorist activity, including the planting of explosives targeting IDF forces near Gaza.

Over the past several years, however, most of Atouna’s work had been focused on Hamas’s terror tunnel network.

He revealed to interrogators a boon of detailed information on the tunnel network within and from northern Gaza, including Hamas’s tunnel-building techniques, their locations – including within private civilian homes and public institutions – their uses, and more. He even provided a detailed account of the materials Hamas uses to construct the vast, expensive and in some cases highly-sophisticated tunnels.

He traced the routes and excavation sites of the tunnel network, well as the hidden attack shafts from where Hamas’s elite fighters would emerge to stage attacks against IDF forces in the case of any future war with Israel.

Far from the rudimentary, the tunnel networks – meant to shuttle weapons, equipment and fighters throughout Gaza during wartime – even included recreation rooms, bathrooms with showers, and canteens.

Atouna also handed over a long list of names of Hamas operatives who worked together with him in Hamas’s northeastern battalion, and pinpointed the locations of multiple weapons storage facilities and other key strategic Hamas sites.

Atouna is one of a number of Gazan Hamas terrorists currently in the custody of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, whose interrogations form an important part of Israel’s extensive efforts to locate Hamas infiltration tunnels into Israeli territory.

He was recently indicted on multiple terrorism charges at Beersheva District Court.          (Arutz Sheva)

IDF Deputy Chief of Staff backtracks: ‘Not my intent to liken Israel with Nazi Germany’

Facing a backlash from right-wing politicians and social media users for comments made during ceremonies marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, the army’s deputy chief of staff sought to clarify on Thursday that he had no intention of comparing Israel or the IDF with Nazi Germany.

The brouhaha was ignited on Wednesday evening by Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, who said during a speech at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak that he had noticed “horrific trends” in present-day Israel that were reminiscent of what took place in the period just before the ascent of the Third Reich.

“I had no intention of comparing the IDF and the State of Israel with things that went on during the Nazi period,” the officer is quoted as saying by Army Radio. “The comparison is absurd and lacks any foundation, and there was no intent to draw such a parallel or to criticize the civilian leadership.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett late Wednesday called on the deputy chief of staff to “correct” his statements.

In a brief comment which was posted on his Twitter account, Bennett wrote: “Just before Holocaust denies take these errant words [spoken by Golan] and make them part of their banners; Just before our soldiers are compared to Nazis, God forbid, with legitimacy [from the deputy chief of staff]; the deputy chief of staff erred. He should immediately correct [his remarks].”

Bennett’s colleague, Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, took to Twitter and denounced Golan.

“What frightens me are distorted, baseless comparisons that injure the memory of the Holocaust, particularly when they are made by important people like the deputy chief of staff,” Smotrich tweeted.

Golan found a sympathetic ear on the center-left, with Zionist Union head and opposition chief Isaac Herzog praising him for his comments.

On his Twitter account, Herzog wrote: “The deputy chief of staff is a courageous commander. The disturbed people who will now begin to scream against him need to know: This is how morality and responsibility sound. We will not be frightened by screams and epithets, and we will continue to back the IDF and its commanders.”             (Jerusalem Post)

Return of terrorist’s body to family for burial reveals government divisions

The quick transfer to the Palestinians of the body of the terrorist who rammed into three soldiers near Dolev on Tuesday sparked yet more coalition tension, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) calling the move a mistake on Wednesday.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) has also come out against the move.

“This is a grave error that encourages the next attack,” Bennett said, before the weekly cabinet meeting, which was moved to Wednesday because Mimouna fell on Sunday. The body was returned some four hours after Tuesday’s attack which left one soldier in serious condition.

“We need to prevent the worship of the graves of terrorists, and there is no reason to give a present to the families of murderers,” Bennett said, adding that this has consistently been his position on the matter, and that he will continue to fight for it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position, however, has changed. The return of the corpse on Tuesday contradicted a policy Netanyahu instituted in late March, when he directed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to stop returning the bodies of terrorists after attacks.

Although in the past the funerals of terrorists have led to mass rallies, Ya’alon’s position was that withholding the bodies only exacerbated the situation, leading to more violence.

Netanyahu issued a statement at 11:30 Tuesday night – after the corpse was returned – explaining that three days earlier he had given authority on what to do with the bodies of terrorists to Ya’alon, who has jurisdiction in the West Bank, and Erdan, who has authority on such matters inside the Green Line and in east Jerusalem.

Policy differences on this issue between Ya’alon and Erdan have led to a situation in the past where the bodies of terrorists from inside the Green Line and east Jerusalem have not been handed over to their families until they guarantee that the burial ceremony will take place late at night, and with only a limited number of participants, while the bodies of terrorists from the West Bank have been returned.

Erdan acknowledged before the cabinet meeting that there were differences on the matter between him and the Defense Ministry, and between the police and the IDF.

Earlier this week, Erdan explained that the policy is one meant to prevent incitement, saying that every mass funeral for a terrorist “creates someone else who wants to be a shahid [martyr in Arabic].”

“To this day, we are holding 13 bodies until the families committed to having a funeral with few people in the middle of the night so there’s no incitement, and they have to pay a deposit to make sure they do it,” he said in an interview on Monday. “It’s unfortunate that the bodies are still with us.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman called on Netanyahu to resign, following the release of the terrorist’s body.

“While an IDF soldier is fighting for his life in the hospital after the ramming attack yesterday in Dolev, the body of the terrorist responsible for the attack has already been returned to his family and was received by hundreds of Kalandiya residents with cries of encouragement and happiness about the attack,” Liberman said.

According to the opposition MK, “Netanyahu’s actions not only shame the public but severely weaken our deterrence toward potential terrorists and encourage attacks. He must resign immediately.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: We’ll keep trying to expand the coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to negotiating to expand the coalition Wednesday, though he implied it would not be possible in the short term.

Asked at a meeting of Likud ministers about reports of coalition talks, Netanyahu confirmed that such negotiations took place in recent weeks.

As for other parties joining the 1-seat majority, 61-Knesset member coalition, Netanyahu said: “There’s one who does not want it and one who can’t. We will continue trying in the coming weeks.”

The “one who does not want it” is a reference to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, while the “one who can’t” is Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog, who faces strong opposition within his faction.

MK Eitan Cabel, a close Herzog ally, denied that there were any negotiations.

“So Netanyahu said it. He says a lot of things,” Cabel told Army Radio. “He has his interests, and he’ll say what he feels like.”

Still, Cabel expressed confidence that if Herzog wanted to bring the party into the coalition, he could.

However, in recent days Herzog’s rivals for Labor’s leadership, in a primary with a still-unannounced date, MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit, publicly voiced strong opposition to joining the coalition.

MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) suggested that the party should be negotiating with other potential partners.

“If all the energy invested in spin and negotiations to form a fake unity government was invested in forming a large democratic bloc, we wouldn’t have who to join. Netanyahu would be replaced,” Hasson wrote on Twitter.

The Likud’s coalition partners had mixed feelings about the talks.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said that “if Netanyahu creates a left-wing government it will be a betrayal of the public’s trust and will require us to create a right-wing alternative to the leadership.”

This week, sources close to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said that the party would not stay in the coalition if it has to give up the Justice Ministry.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of the Kulanu party, however, has said that he would very much like to expand the coalition, and his deputy minister, Yitzhak Cohen of Shas, also spoke enthusiastically about the possibility on Tuesday.

In the same meeting with Likud ministers, Netanyahu also expressed hope that the ongoing criminal investigation into Interior Minister (and Shas chairman) Arye Deri and the financing of his family’s vacation home in the Galilee will come to an end soon, and then he (the prime minister) will begin a cabinet shuffle for Likud MKs.

Netanyahu currently holds the Foreign, Communications and Economy portfolios, and is expected to appoint another minister to the latter.

Coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi is thought to be the likely candidate to be promoted to the cabinet, though not necessarily to the Economy Ministry, which may be given to a minister who has a less-prestigious position, such as Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.     (Jerusalem Post)

Israel’s Palestinian Dilemmas

by Efraim Inbar                  BESA (   Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)   Center Perspectives/Middle East Forum


Israelis have gradually come to accept that the Palestinians are neither interested in real peace nor capable of establishing a viable state.

Ever since the Palestinian terrorist wave began in September 2000, the Israeli body politic increasingly has resigned itself to the probability that there is no partner on the Palestinian side with which to reach a historic compromise with the Jewish national (Zionist) movement. The hopes for peace that were generated by the Oslo process in 1993 have been replaced by the stark realization that violent conflict will not end soon.

Moreover, the hostile messages about Israel purveyed in the Palestinian Authority (PA) educational system and official media leave little doubt about the rabid anti-Semitism prevalent in Palestinian society, which ensures that conflict with the Jews will continue. And thus, the central premise of the Oslo process seems exceedingly improbable. The premise was that partition of the Land of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian political entity (what is known as the two-state paradigm) would bring peace and stability. Alas, this paradigm has been deeply discredited.

Palestinian demands for control of the Temple Mount and the ‘right of return’ are insurmountable obstacles.

Aside from and beyond the assessment that the PA has no intention of accepting a Jewish state in any borders, the fact remains that the two sides remain far apart on most of the concrete issues to be resolved. Palestinian demands for control of the Temple Mount and the so-called “right of return,” for example, are insurmountable obstacles. Any pragmatic impulse that might otherwise have emerged in Palestinian politics is consistently countered by Hamas, whose growing influence reflects the Islamist tide that is surging across the wider region.

To make matters worse, the assumption that the Palestinians are capable of establishing a state within the parameters of a two-state paradigm has not been validated. The PA was unable to get rid of multiple militias and lost Gaza to Hamas, mirroring the inability of other Arab societies in the region to sustain statist structures.

Protracted ethno-religious conflicts end only when at least one of the sides becomes war-weary.

Finally, protracted ethno-religious conflicts end only when at least one of the sides becomes war-weary, and runs out of energy for sustaining the conflict. That is not true of either Israeli or Palestinian society.

As a result of these trends, Israel essentially, if not formally, has given up on conflict resolution in the short run, and instead effectively has adopted a strategy of patient conflict management. But such a strategy brings policy dilemmas of its own.

The first dilemma is whether or not to admit that Israel no longer believes that negotiations can lead to a durable agreement in the near term.

Truth has its virtues, but much of the world does not want to hear this particular truth and is still committed to an unworkable formula. There is, in any case, something to be said for acceding to the wishes of the international community by continuing to participate in negotiations. Doing so signals that Israel is ready to make concessions, which maintains the domestic social cohesion necessary for protracted conflict (management) while projecting a positive image abroad.

Participating in fruitless talks affirms Israel’s readiness to compromise and maintains domestic cohesion, but discourages fresh thinking.

On the other hand, negotiations toward the doubtful “two-state solution” keep a fictitious formula alive and prevent fresh thinking about alternative solutions from emerging. Moreover, the “peace process” requires moderation, which entails swallowing Palestinian provocations and restraining punitive action.

A second dilemma is related to the “carrot and stick” approach toward the Palestinians. In the absence of meaningful negotiations, Israel, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has advocated the promotion of “economic peace” as a part of conflict management, on the assumption that Israel has nothing to gain from hungry neighbors. This is why Israel does not oppose international financial support for the PA, despite the corruption and inefficiency of the latter. Jerusalem also provides water and electricity to the PA, and to Hamas-ruled Gaza, so that Israel’s Palestinian neighbors do not dive into total desperation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long argued that only “rapid economic growth” can provide “a stake for peace for the ordinary Palestinians.”

But the carrot mitigates the impact of the stick. The Palestinians, it must be recalled, wage war on Israel. Exacting pain from opposing societies is what war is all about, and pain can have a moderating effect on collective behavior. Egypt, for example, decided to change course with regard to Israel because it grew reluctant to pay the costs of maintaining the conflict.

Since the Palestinians have chosen to pursue their goals by causing Israel continued pain – rather than by accepting generous peace deals offered by Ehud Barak (2000) and Ehud Olmert (2007) – Israel has every right to punish them, in the hope that a bit of pain might influence their future choices in a productive direction. But by adopting an “economic peace” approach, Israel creates disincentives to Palestinian moderation, and signals its desperation at the prospect of changing Palestinian behavior.

The Palestinian Authority survives largely because of Israel’s security measures and economic backing.

A third dilemma implicit in the conflict management approach is what to do about the hostile PA, which survives largely because of Israel’s security measures and economic backing. The collapse of the PA is one possible outcome of a succession struggle after Mahmoud Abbas leaves the political arena.

Whether or not the collapse of the PA is desirable is debatable. On the one hand, the PA propagates vicious hatred toward Israel in its educational system, conducts an ongoing campaign of international delegitimization against Israel, and denies Jewish links to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem in particular. It glorifies terrorists and allows them to be role models in its schools. It deliberately reinforces the hostility that fuels the conflict, preventing the emergence of a more pragmatic Palestinian leadership.

On the other hand, the PA conveniently relieves Israel of the burden of responsibility for more than one million Palestinians living in the West Bank. PA security forces help combat Hamas influence in the West Bank (although far less than the PA is given credit for). The functioning of the PA, however imperfect, also keeps the Palestinian issue off the top of the international agenda – something that is very much in Israel’s interests. A descent into chaos resulting from the total collapse of the PA would invite international intervention.

An additional question for Israel to consider relates to the appropriate level of diplomatic activism on the Palestinian issue. Many advocate Israeli diplomatic initiatives in order to prevent unfavorable plans from being placed on the agenda by global actors. The nature of such initiatives is usually unclear, but activism is part of the Israeli Zionist ethos and “taking initiative” appeals to the impatient Israeli temperament.

Israel’s leaders are correct in opting for a conflict management approach to relations with the Palestinians.

On the other hand, a patient wait-and-see approach allows others to make mistakes and gives Israel the latitude to wait on a more favorable environment. In fact, this was the approach favored by David Ben-Gurion. He believed in buying time to build a stronger state and in hanging on until opponents yield their radical goals.

Each of these dilemmas leads to a policy gamble. The short-term existential security imperatives of a small state further complicate Israel’s choices. Even if Israel’s leaders are correct in opting for a conflict management approach for the moment, they are in an unenviable position.

Efraim Inbar, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, is the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Hamas under pressure as Israel makes progress on tunnels

By Yaacov Lappin    The Jerusalem Post


For the first time since the August 2014 cease-fire came into effect ending Operation Protective Edge, Hamas launched cross-border mortar attacks throughout Wednesday.

Hamas is targeting IDF units engaged in hi-tech tunnel detection work on the border between Israel and northern Gaza. It is escalating the situation due its fear that it is about to lose its trump card.

Hamas has invested much treasure and blood in its cross-border tunnel network, and its military wing is alarmed by what it perceives as one Israeli breakthrough after another in tunnel detection.

Although Hamas is keen on honing its rocket, drone and sea-based attack capabilities, its tunnel construction program remain its crown jewel.

During the two-month conflict in 2014, those tunnels terrorized civilians in southern Israel.

Hamas fighters popped up from seemingly nowhere to attack and kidnap soldiers.

The IDF responded to Wednesday’s stream of mortar shells with pinpoint tank fire at Hamas positions. Yet the cease-fire is now facing its first real challenge, and an escalation could easily occur in the near future. This is also a test of previous claims by defense officials of a zero-tolerance policy to Hamas breaches of the truce.

As noted in previous coverage last month, the discovery in April of a tunnel going from southern Gaza into Israel, and subsequent progress in detection in other areas, means Israel has obtained what it hasn’t had before: a precise ability to know where Hamas’s tunnels snake their way underground.

Hamas knows its rockets have launched their punch due to the ever-growing effectiveness of the Iron Dome air defense batteries, which have grown in both number and ability since 2014.

Since the end of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has invested more than NIS 600 million in tunnel detection technology, and those hi-tech efforts are now bearing fruit.

The defense establishment is not about to stop its work for fear of an escalation. The tunnels violate Israel’s sovereignty, and Hamas stands far more to lose from an escalation than Israel.

The tunnels are supposed to enable Hamas to insert its highly trained and heavily armed Nuhba Force members into Israel in a future war. These terrorist units would then act as death squads, murdering and maiming Israelis, or kidnapping them.

The fact that Gaza’s economy is, once again, on the brink of imploding – due to Hamas’s insistence of using its enclave as a bastion of jihad against Israel, rather than investing in its people’s welfare – is another factor that could hasten another war.

The erosion of Holocaust memory

The extent to which Holocaust commemoration is maintained by future Jewish generations will largely be determined by the educational approach and curriculum provided in the Israeli school system.

By Isi Leibler                                 The Jerusalem Post


My grandparents and many members of my family were exterminated by the Nazis. I would probably also have perished had my parents not had the foresight to leave Antwerp when I was an infant on what was probably the last boat to sail for Australia before the outbreak of war.

Like survivors, those of us whose families were murdered by the Nazis retain the memory of the Holocaust as part of our DNA. Indeed, in most cases this also applies to our children, who share the sensitivities of their parents. But today, 70 years later, for our grandchildren, most of whom were deprived of the opportunity of hearing their families agonize over memories, the relevance of the Holocaust will fade unless there is a conscious effort to convey it within the framework of their history.

The extent to which Holocaust commemoration is maintained by future Jewish generations will largely be determined by the educational approach and curriculum provided in the Israeli school system.

We should be under no illusions. The so-called Holocaust commemoration in Europe and other Western countries is a sham. In most cases it trivializes the Holocaust by linking it to other mass murders. In fact, commemoration has become so broad and universal that the words “Jew” and “anti-Semitism” are not even mentioned in the European Union’s lengthy call to its constituents to engage in Holocaust remembrance.

If Holocaust awareness truly existed, it would have been inconceivable for the current anti-Semitic tsunami to have swept through the continent of Europe, which was soaked with the blood of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

In fact, a survey of adults in 101 countries reveals that only 54 percent have ever heard of the Holocaust, and a large proportion of these consider it a myth. With the actual number of survivors dramatically diminishing, Holocaust deniers have proliferated and indeed today there is a growing campaign, spearheaded by Islamic anti-Semites, promoting Holocaust denial.

As Jews, I believe that it is our obligation to ensure that this dark chapter of our history is commemorated and studied by future Jewish generations. This is not merely to honor our martyrs but to appreciate the contrast between the Jewish people today, which, with the revival of nationhood, can defend itself, and the powerlessness of those dark years when the world stood by as we were being murdered. If we follow the double standards and bias currently leveled against us, particularly at the United Nations, often with the support or indifference of the Europeans, we must appreciate how fortunate we are today that we are able to rely on our own defenses.

There are some, including far-left Israelis, who seek to scale down or even cancel Holocaust commemoration within Israel on the spurious grounds that it is exploited to create an environment of Jewish victimhood and as a means of extorting money and political favors from European countries.

This would be disastrous because it is imperative that future generations understand what happened to their European ancestors and realize that the state in which they live cannot be taken for granted.

As we commemorate our Exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom, so we are obliged to remind ourselves how, after 2,000 years of exile and immediately in the wake of the most barbaric genocide, we revived Jewish nationhood in the State of Israel.

My grandson returned a few weeks ago from his school’s journey to the Polish death camps.

Even though his family was already sensitive to the Holocaust, the visit had a profound impact on him.

I was therefore deeply saddened to read that the principal of Tel Aviv’s prestigious elite secular Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, Dr. Ze’ev Dagani, proposes canceling annual trips to the Nazi death camps. He claims that “there are many youth who are not emotionally built to grasp the reality of the horror. It is too much for them and I think it is too early to send 16- and 17-year-olds to trips to Poland. It is a trip which requires emotional and intellectual maturity.”

The reality is that if adequate education is provided and the tours are led by well-informed guides, the results have proven to be extraordinary and have major beneficial impact on the participants, not only in terms of comprehending the Holocaust, but equally so in relation to their understanding and appreciation of the Jewish state.

There is a valid complaint that the escalating costs prevent some students from participating.

This is something the government should be reviewing with the aim of providing subsidies to enable all students who wish to participate. It would prove to be a worthwhile long-term educational investment.

Of course, it is sickening to hear of occasional groups visiting a death camp and engaging in drinking parties in the evening or interspersing their visit with a shopping day in Warsaw. Under such circumstances, it would undoubtedly be preferable to cancel such trips.

But most trips are well-planned and have immense educational impact, highlighting the emergence of a Jewish state like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust – something that no classroom study course can replicate.

I listened in awe as my grandson described how his group visited Rachel’s Tomb before the flight, and on their return, assembled for a moving ceremony at the Western Wall. He described how some of the most moving moments for him were not merely the camps, the museums or even the crematoria and gas chambers. What touched him most profoundly was standing on the soil where hundreds of thousands of Jews had been brutally murdered and where their bodies had been buried in mass graves.

The immensity of what transpired during that terrible period was further realized when he and his companions related to numbers comprising their own home communities and appreciated that more than the equivalent of an entire community were murdered in a single day.

The trip also highlighted the extraordinary thriving religious, cultural and social life of the great Jewish communities in Poland – snuffed out overnight by the Nazis.

Unless we continue to educate the younger generations so they appreciate the lessons of the Holocaust and its relationship to our status today as an independent Jewish state able to defend itself as well as providing a haven for Jews in distress, we will have betrayed our solemn commitment to remember. And this terrible episode will simply become a footnote of history.

Holocaust Remembrance Day at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp – Dore Gold (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Israel Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold spoke at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on May 4 in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Seventy years ago, Bergen-Belsen emerged as one of the key concentration camps established by the Nazi regime for the purpose of exterminating the Jews of Europe. Thousands died in Bergen-Belsen from disease, starvation, exposure, and sheer exhaustion, especially after the death marches in the winter of 1944-45 from the evacuated camps in the East as the Germans transferred their surviving Jewish prisoners to camps within the borders of the German state.

Jews from all over the Nazi Empire were forced into Bergen-Belsen – from Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, France, as well as North African states, like Libya and Tunisia. The commandant of Bergen-Belsen at the end of 1944, Josef Kramer, previously had been in charge of the main killing center at Auschwitz.

My own mother-in-law, Dina Sherman, was also relocated from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen along with her sister, Esther, who died in her arms in this place.

Five days after the British army liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, a BBC reporter, Richard Dimbleby, entered the camp and made a tape recording of the former Jewish prisoners rising up with their frail bodies, and breaking into a Hebrew song, “Hatikvah,” which means “the Hope.” It was to become Israel’s national anthem.

The Jews at Bergen-Belsen were reminding the world of the 2,000-year-old hope that dated back to when the Jews lived as a free people in their own land. They were also saying that it was time to go back home.

Chaim Herzog, who became Israel’s sixth president, served as an officer in the British forces that entered Bergen-Belsen in 1945. In 1987 he came back and declared that the Jewish people would never again be helpless. We will never allow anyone to do this to us again.