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Julie Bishop visits Yad Vashem

Latest News in Israel – 6th September

Julie Bishop at Yad Vashem

Australian FM Julie Bishop at Yad Vashem

Australian FM Julie Bishop at Yad Vashem

Julie Bishop's Entry into the Yad Vashem Vistors' Book

Julie Bishop’s Entry into the Yad Vashem Vistors’ Book

Australian FM: Palestinians share blame for impasse

Unilateral actions toward statehood and violence by Palestinians – not only Israeli settlement construction – are hurdles to the peace process, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Sunday.

“We call for the peace negotiations to recommence, and likewise we publicly and privately say that any unilateral action that is seen as damaging or impeding the peace process should be called what it is,” Bishop said in an interview, shortly after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“And that includes the unilateral actions on the part of the Palestinians to achieve statehood,” she said. “It includes the violence and the attacks, and it also includes the settlements. So on both sides there are issues that are likely to be seen as hurdles to recommencing the peace process.”

While in recent days the US, EU, UN, Egypt and several European states have slammed Israel for announcing various settlement construction plans, Canberra has not added its voice to the chorus. When asked why, Bishop replied, “I am here and I can raise it directly,” adding that she had already done so.

Bishop began a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Sunday, after a 36-hour flight from Canberra. This is her first full working visit here as foreign minister, though she visited briefly in January 2014 to attend the funeral of Ariel Sharon.

Bishop refrained from calling Israeli settlements “illegal” during that visit – a position held by the European Union, the UN and the Arab world – saying that doing so would prejudice the outcome of negotiations.

“I have said publicly that the issue of settlements should be part of the final-status negotiations,” Bishop told the Post. “The point I’m making is that there are acts on both sides that are seen to be damaging or impeding the peace process.”

Under its current Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull, and his predecessor Tony Abbott, Australia has been widely considered one of Israel’s strongest and most reliable friends. The current government has a slim one-seat majority in Parliament. When asked if her government’s support of Israel has cost it politically back home, Bishop replied: Israel “is an issue that we believe in strongly.”

Declaring the Australian government a “firm and committed friend to Israel,” Bishop added, “We stand by our friends. We have an open and frank discussion on matters where we disagree, but we support the right of the State of Israel to exist, and work very closely with the people of Israel.”

In addition to meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, Bishop met with President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. At the same time she slammed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement in Australia.

“We see it as anti-Semitic, and we certainly condemn those who support it. We will always support a nation that believes in freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

Australia, she said, views Israel as “a beacon of democracy in a very troubled region of the world.”

Bishop told the Post that government funds for World Vision Evangelical programs in the Palestinian territories remain suspended. That suspension followed Israel’s arrest last month of Muhammad El Halabi, the group’s manager of operations in the Gaza Strip, for allegedly diverting millions of dollars a year to Hamas.

She said Canberra was also conducting its own investigation into the matter. Australia has provided the charity with A$5.7 million ($4.35m.) over the last three years for projects in the Palestinian territories.

“As soon as the allegations were made, we took them seriously, as we would with any allegations of this nature that might relate to the Australian aid budget,” she said. “We suspended funding and are carrying out our own investigation. Obviously there are legal processes under way in Israel – and we respect the Israeli legal system – but clearly we will want to get to the bottom of this situation.”

Regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, Bishop said Canberra was cautious, but supported it because the agreement “promised to change the Iranian trajectory” toward nuclear capability. “And I believe that is what it has done,” she said, adding that the final outcome “remains to be seen. That is why we have lifted some sanctions, but not others.”

As to whether she felt the deal has in any way moderated Iran’s behavior in the Middle East, she said the situation in the region was complex, dynamic and evolving.

“There are many moving parts, and many nations are taking part in activities that are new,” she said. “It has to be seen within that context. In Syria we now have the Russians taking an active role, so the role of Iran has changed as a result of the Russian intervention.”

She said while it is “difficult to say” the agreement has positively impacted Iranian actions in the region, “as long as the trajectory toward a nuclear Iran has been deflected, then that is a positive outcome.”

During her meeting with Netanyahu, Bishop extended an invitation to visit Australia, which he accepted. If he does make the trip, it will be the first by a sitting prime minister – and the first by any foreign minister since Yigal Allon’s visit in 1975.

Moshe Katsav visited the country when he was president in 2005, and current President Rivlin visited as Knesset speaker in 2011. Rivlin canceled a visit earlier this year, going instead to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but during his meeting with Bishop he expressed his desire to reschedule the trip in the near future.

Bishop suggested to Netanyahu that he should visit in the beginning of 2017, saying such a trip would be important “to underscore the strength of the bilateral relationship.” Israeli officials have noted that such a visit would show Australians that Israel does not take their friendship for granted.                 (Jerusalem Post)

2 dead, dozens injured as parking facility collapses in Tel Aviv

At least two people were killed and dozens of others were injured when an underground parking facility collapsed in the north Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Hahayal on Monday. The police have launched an investigation into the cause of the collapse, which is unknown at this time.

Large numbers of police and emergency services personnel scrambled to the area after receiving reports that the ceiling of a 4-story underground parking lot adjacent to a construction site had collapsed. They were joined by IDF Homefront Command rescue teams. A large plume of dust initially hampered medical and rescue crews at the scene.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said 22 people had been injured: Six people sustained moderate injuries, while the rest were lightly hurt. The wounded were rushed to the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and the Rabin Medical Center in Petach Tikva.

According to the Homefront Command, as of 1 p.m. (Israel time) four people were still missing underneath the rubble.

The deputy head of the Tel Aviv Fire Department told Channel 2 News that rescuers were concerned about dwindling oxygen supplies for those still trapped and feared causing a further collapse while digging.

“Several levels of the building collapsed. There’s still a danger of further collapse,” a spokesman for the Yarkon Subdistrict of the Tel Aviv Police told Channel 2 News. “I’m asking the public, the curious, to leave the place.”

He said there was still “danger that other parts of the structure will continue to collapse.”

“There are people buried under the dirt,” a National Fire and Rescue Authority spokesperson told reporters shortly after the collapse. “We have summoned every crew possible; more than 60 firefighters are at the scene.”

The Homefront Command’s Search and Rescue unit, which specializes in complex rescue operations and has operated in large disaster areas across the globe, was also ordered to the area.  (Israel Hayom)

Palestinian killed in apparent ramming attempt in East Jerusalem

A Palestinian assailant was killed in East Jerusalem Sunday night when he and a second man attempted to run over police and Border Police forces in East Jerusalem, security officials said.

According to authorities, troops were concluding an operation in the Shuafat refugee camp when the vehicle with the two Palestinians attempted to hit them.

Border Policemen fired at the vehicle, killing one attacker and moderately wounding another.

No Israeli troops were hurt in the incident.

On Friday a Border Police officer sustained minor leg injuries when he was hit by a car that failed to stop at a checkpoint in the East Jerusalem village of Issawiya. The driver fled the scene.

The past 10 days have seen several arrests of knife-bearing Palestinians in checkpoints in the Jerusalem area, who are thought to have planned attacks against Israelis.

A Palestinian man was shot dead by IDF troops on August 26 when he ran toward a guard post near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah. He was apparently unarmed, but did not heed the soldiers’ repeated orders to halt. A senior Palestinian official later said the man suffered from mental illness.

Since October, 35 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in a spate of car-ramming, stabbing, shooting, and bombing attacks. Some 215 Palestinians have also been killed, most of them while attempting attacks, according to Israel. Others were killed in clashes with security forces.                    (the Times of Israel)

IDF responds to mortar fire from Syria by striking artillery sites

The IDF on Sunday targeted artillery launchers in Syria in response to a earlier Syrian mortar fire.

The Syrian mortar shell a few hours earlier exploded near al-Foran in the central Golan Heights. No injuries or damage was reported in the incident.

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The IDF said in a statement that it held Syrian authorities responsible for all actions that take place within its borders, adding that the IDF “will not allow any attempt to affect Israel’s sovereignty or the safety of its people.”

A military source said that the fire was likely a spillover from the Syrian civil war.

Since the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011, mortar fire has sporadically landed on the Israeli side of the border.

Last month the Israeli Air Force attacked a Syrian missile launch site connected with the regime of President Bashar Assad after mortar fire landed on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights               (Jerusalem Post)

Keeping guns out of the hands of terrorist cells

Following a sharp drop in Palestinian terrorism and acts of violence across the West Bank, the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division has recently gained breathing space, enabling it to shift its focus to a new goal: keeping guns out of the hands of terrorist cells that have sporadically targeted Israelis over the past year with deadly gun attacks, on both sides of the Green Line.

This goal could be especially important now, ahead of the High Holy Days season, when terrorists might try to target Jewish festivities.

Many recently formed shooting cells have not been created by established terrorist organizations, but instead, crystallized when a few Palestinian men, under the influence of online or media outlet incitement, get together, buy locally produced machine guns, and set out on attacks. In other cases, Hamas in Gaza has attempted to remotely create terrorist cells in the West Bank, recruit members and sought to transfer them funds.

“We have begun dealing with firearms, uprooting the infrastructure that produces them,” a senior IDF source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “We do not wish to merely respond to incident, but rather, to prevent them through surgical steps,” the source said.

The source, who is familiar with the Binyamin Brigade’s activities in the central West Bank, said the army will take steps to ensure that the holiday period passes off quietly in September. “There is always the potential [for an increase in violence],” the source said.

According to IDF figures seen by The Jerusalem Post, between April and July, the number of Palestinian attacks – of all forms – from shootings, to bombings, to stabbings, to car ramming attacks – have all dropped and remained steadily low. In July, for example, there was a total of nine attacks, of which three were shootings, four were stabbings, and two were vehicle ramming incidents.

IDF troops raid a West Bank weapons workshop this week

IDF troops raid a West Bank weapons workshop this week

“We don’t know what will happen [during the holiday period],” the source said. “Terrorists could try to cause harm during an important period for us. We in the brigade are preparing for that. Our intention is to allow everyone – Palestinians and Jews – to live their lives regularly. We will place forces in areas that are prone to friction, and secure areas where visitors arrive during holiday, like [natural] springs. Last [Passover], we had double the number of visitors in Binyamin compared to the previous year.”

A central aspect of these efforts is the IDF’s war on illicit West Bank guns. In cases where a terrorist cell forms without the intervention of large organizations, this can be difficult for the Shin Bet intelligence agency to pick up ahead of time. One way of counter-acting the problem is to make is hard for such cells to arm themselves.

In the second half of August, the Judea and Samaria Division held its largest operation to date, targeting weapons manufacturers and gun traffickers in the West Bank. Units moved in to weapons workshops in Bethlehem and Hebron, shutting down gun-making centers that housed 22 machines that can be used to make firearms.

Dozens of firearms and ammunition clips were seized and two suspects were arrested.

Since the start of 2016, the IDF and Shin Bet have shut down some 30 gun-making workshops and seized over 300 firearms.

Some 140 Palestinian suspects have been taken into Israeli custody for manufacturing and dealing in firearms. This comes as more than 30 terrorist attacks using firearms took place this year.

“On the ground, we have seen a real decrease in lone attackers,” the military source stated. “The cells we see forming are under the influence of incitement by social and established media,” he said.

On the other hand, the source stressed, “the figures point to a decrease in all forms of terrorism in recent months. This enables us to focus on more in-depth work. Our approach is to target the basis of the gun distribution networks, to uproot it.”

“Knives are available to every person in every place. Firearms take time to obtain,” the source said. “Our goal is to make it harder for them.”

Weapons include a wide range of improvised firearms, machine guns dubbed Karl Gustavs, as well as 9 millimeter handguns and 6.55 millimeter rifles.

The gun workshops are disguised as businesses, the source said. “We look for markers that give away the presence of gun-making machines,” he added. “We are also targeting funds that reach gun manufactures, enabling them to buy materials.”

Alongside such efforts, the IDF has shut down four Palestinian radio stations in the West Bank, including one last week, seizing equipment and arresting staff accused of promoting incitement to murder.

The coming weeks will reveal whether such efforts have been sufficient in ensuring a calm October holiday period.   (Jerusalem Post)

Russian envoy to meet Netanyahu, discuss peace

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Envoy to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday, i24news reports.

The top issue on the agenda is a proposed meeting in Moscow between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The proposed meeting comes as Russia continues to expand its role in the Middle East, noted i24news. Bogdanov met Abbas in Amman, Jordan last August, where according to Palestinian sources he discussed the proposed meeting and that Abbas did not object to the idea.

Fatah Central Committee member Mohammad Al-Madani said, according to the report, “No official date for a meeting has been set”, adding, “President Putin is taking serious steps to close that gap between us and the Israelis.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently said Putin wanted to host an Israeli-Palestinian summit to revive peace talks that have been stalled since 2014.

Several days later, Netanyahu and Putin held a telephone conversation in which they discussed the peace process, among other things, though a Kremlin spokesman later clarified there was “nothing concrete” yet on a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu.

Madani said, according to i24news, the proposed meeting may take place at the end of September or mid-October. Madani also said Palestinian delegations involved in the preparation for this meeting “are working on ways to how this meeting can be successful.”

“If the meeting will be like previous ones which did not produce real results, then there is no need for it,” Madani he added.

Channel 10 News reported last week that Israel had actually agreed to a three-way peace summit with the United States and the PA, but the PA conditioned such a summit taking place on Israel ceasing construction in Judea and Samaria and releasing additional terrorist prisoners.

The PA chairman has also insisted that any reboot of peace talks with Israel should happen within a clear timeframe and under international supervision.

Madani, however, said the PA has no preconditions to attend a meeting hosted by Putin or any other direct meetings with the Israeli side.                                          (Arutz Sheva)

Netanyahu: Religious status quo will be maintained

Following two weeks of political threats and controversy relating to the coalition crisis, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke out at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, addressing the issue of infrastructure work carried out on Shabbat, and the government’s pledge to uphold the religious status quo.

The fracas which erupted in late August centered on work being carried out by the Transportation Ministry during Shabbat for public transportation networks, notably the Israel Railways system.

Religious MKs criticized the leniencies in permitting work on what is legally recognized as the Day of Rest in Israel, saying that only cases where a clear threat to life exists should exceptions be made on the restriction on Shabbat work by government agencies.

On Sunday Netanyahu, who has called for the creation of an oversight committee to ensure that public infrastructure projects are only carried out when absolutely necessary, reaffirmed his coalition’s commitment to maintaining the status quo on religion and state.

“This crisis is completely unnecessary. There was no need to reach this situation. There has been a status quo in the State of Israel for many years; we honor it. When work needs to be done on Shabbat – it is done, as it was last Shabbat on the Ayalon highway. When it does not need to be done on Shabbat – it is not done. This has been our guiding principle; this is the principle that will continue to guide us.”

“Over the past seven years the government has invested almost 30 billion shekels ($8 billion) in a massive expansion of highways, railways, and – of course – interchanges and tunnels. We succeeded in doing this without unnecessary crises. When nobody wants a crisis, it is possible to avoid it. On this matter I expect full cooperation by all ministers. Ministers are appointed in order to avoid crises and solve problems, not create them.”

The Prime Minister also paid tribute to Herzl Shaul, whose son Oron was killed by Hamas terrorists in 2014. Shaul, who struggled for years to win the release of his son’s body from the terror group, passed away on Friday after a battle with cancer.

“Today, the late Herzl Shaul, the father of IDF soldier the late Oron Shaul, will be laid to rest. Oron’s body, along with that of Hadar Goldin, is held by Hamas, a vicious terrorist organization that respects no humanitarian norm. Herzl Shaul was a brave man and until his last days he fought to return his son’s remains for a Jewish burial. At the same time, over the past year, he was compelled to fight the cancer with which he had been stricken. I saw him several times and on each occasion, from meeting to meeting, he appeared more gaunt, and heroically met the double tragedy that befell him and his family. On behalf of the Government and the people of Israel, I would like to send condolences to his dear wife Zehava and their sons Aviram and Ofek. We will continue to act in all fields to bring the late Hadar Goldin and the late Oron Shaul back for a Jewish burial.”               (Arutz Sheva)

Straight talk

Jerusalem Post Editorial


At the Swedish Zionist Federation’s annual rally in Stockholm last week, visiting Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid made undiplomatic history by accusing Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom of anti-Semitism.

While many members of the diplomatic community were no doubt shocked by Lapid’s remarks, they brought a refreshing moment of moral clarity.

For Lapid said what is too often let pass in a futile accommodation with hatred, the kind of enmity that spurred Wallstrom to demand an inquiry into Israel’s killing of terrorists while they were trying to murder Israelis.

“If the Swedish foreign minister is concerned about human rights in the Middle East, she needs to talk about the Palestinians’ use of children as terrorists and human shields,” he said. “She needs to talk about the discrimination against the gay community [by the Palestinians], about the Der Sturmer-like incitement spread by the Palestinian Authority, about the abuse of women in Gaza.”

Lapid categorized Wallstrom’s attacks as coming from a deeper source than the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians: “If your attack on Jews is detached from facts and based only on bias, there is a name for it: anti-Semitism.”

Lapid’s accusation was especially poignant at the rally in Raoul Wallenberg Square, named for the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, including his own father, the late justice minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. The heroic Wallenberg, whose execution by the Soviets following the war was recently revealed, is one shining example of Swedish moral courage during the war.

It stands in glaring contrast to Sweden’s declared “neutrality,” when it supplied Nazi Germany with the iron ore crucial to its war machine – which spearheaded the campaign of conquest that made the Holocaust possible.

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, wartime head of the German Navy, wrote in Mein Leben (“My Life”), that it would be “utterly impossible to make war should the navy not be able to secure the supplies of iron-ore from Sweden.”

Indeed, Sweden’s profitable relationship with Hitler’s Germany thrived upon existing anti-Semitism. Twenty- five Swedish Nazi groups have been founded since 1924 – of which five are still active. The largest is the national socialist Nordic Resistance Movement, considered the leader of the Swedish white power movement, with branches in Finland, Norway and Denmark.

The 2005 State Department Report on Global Anti-Semitism notes that Sweden has the third-highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe after Germany and Austria.

Charles Small, director of the Yale University Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism, stated that “Sweden is a microcosm of contemporary anti-Semitism. It’s a form of acquiescence to radical Islam, which is diametrically opposed to everything Sweden stands for,” The Forward reported.

Most consumers think Sweden stands for Volvo and IKEA, but in fact one of the most famous Swedish supporters of Nazism is the 90-year-old founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad. Historian Karl Alvar Nilsson wrote in 1998 that Kamprad joined the national socialist New Swedish Movement in 1942 and was actively involved in recruitment, sales of nationalist merchandise, and donations to the party. The NSR’s party organ, The Way Forward, described IKEA in 1991 as in line with national socialist ideology and praised Kamprad’s loyalty to the ideals of his youth.

Kamprad’s ideology finds a sympathetic home in government, according to the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism. It noted in 2012 that European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor condemned Sweden as “the only European country that is refusing to discuss the problem of anti-Semitism prevailing within its borders.”

As unlikely as it may seem, a campaign by a young Muslim of Iranian origin is dealing with the problem of Swedish anti-Semitism. Siavosh Derakhti, 25, lives in Malmö, notorious for anti-Semitic incidents. He openly fights anti-Semitism and recently visited Israel.

Derakhti told Yediot Aharonot that he founded Young People against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia because “it is absolutely terrible to be Jew today in Malmö.” He was recently named by Forbes magazine to its list of 30 influential leaders under the age of 30.

“Everybody hates Israel. I don’t accept this and do everything I can to build bridges between Jews and Muslims through education,” Derakhti stated. His efforts reveal the true spirit of Sweden – he is the proud winner of the prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Award, given for heroic actions that show how a single person can make a difference

Growth shows global confidence

by Yoram Ettinger   Israel Hayom


Chinese telecommunications conglomerate Xinwei recently announced it would be acquiring Israeli satellite operator SpaceCom for $285 million. In 2015, Chinese companies invested about $500 million in Israeli companies. Israel’s trade balance with China is $11 billion — 10% of Israel’s overall trade balance — double the trade balance in 2010, far from the $50 million in 1990.

Chinese companies are investing more in Israel than ever before, and Israeli companies and government officials are returning the embrace. China is increasingly investing private and government funds in Israeli high-tech, agro-tech, and irrigation companies. In 2015, China’s Bright Food bought control of Israel’s Tnuva for $2 billion, and in 2011 China’s National Chemical Corp. acquired Israel’s Adama, a pesticide and crop protection company, for $2.4 billion. Taiwan’s General Mobile Corporation acquired MassiveImpact, an Israeli advertising technology company, for tens of millions of dollars.

The Israeli high-tech industry is not the sole interest of foreign investors.

Automotive giant Ford, which is determined to develop a driverless car by 2021, recently made its first acquisition of an Israeli company, SAIPS, a computer vision and machine learning company, and Israel’s NLT was acquired by the San Diego-based SeaSpine for $54 million in milestone payments. The Minnesota and Ireland-based Medtronic, the world-largest standalone medical technology company, acquired an additional 3.4% of Israel’s Mazor Robotics for $20 million, expanding its ownership to 7.27% of Mazor. Israel’s Insightec concluded a joint venture agreement with Germany’s Siemens, following a similar agreement with GE.

The $3.3 billion raised by Israeli startups since January, 2016 may break the $4.4 billion annual record set during 2015. Intel invested in three Israeli startups, expanding its Israeli investment portfolio to 80 startups with $345 million invested since 1997.

In 2016, the three leading global credit rating companies reaffirmed their confidence in the long-term viability of Israel’s economy.

Standard & Poor sustained an A+ rating with stable outlook, Fitch upgraded Israel’s credit rating outlook to “positive,” while retaining its A rating, and Moody’s sustained an A1 rating with stable outlook.

Israel’s government debt-to-gross domestic product ratio, the Achilles’ heel of most countries, has been reduced from 100% in 2002 to 63.9% in 2016, compared with the euro bloc’s 90.7% and the OECD’s 94%. Israel’s unemployment rate has declined to 4.8%, compared to the OECD average of 6.3% and the euro bloc’s 10.1%.

Israel’s IDE is second on Fortune Magazine’s Change the World List of companies, which have had a positive social/business/innovation impact. IDE builds and operates major desalination plants in Israel and 40 additional countries, such as the U.S. China, Mexico, etc. In Carlsbad, Southern California, IDE operates the largest desalination plant ($1 billion) in the Western hemisphere, transforming seawater into potable water, providing 8% of San Diego county’s water, at a cost of less than 0.5 cents per gallon of drinking water, which amounts to an additional monthly cost of only $5 per homeowner.

According to the Huffington Post: “The emergence of Israel as a small, but significant, player on the world stage is one of the remarkable developments at the end of the post-Cold War era. … With a flourishing economy of $300 billion and nearly $40,000 GDP per capita … its military was rated by the Institute for the Study of War as pilot to pilot and airframe to airframe, the best air force in the world. … Israel’s extensive work on air defense with the U.S. makes it a serious military power. … Its intelligence capabilities are formidable.

“With over 250 foreign companies creating research facilities in Israel, its strong high-tech capability has been rated by the University of Lausanne as one of the top five world powers in this key area. … Apple has invested over a billion dollars in creating a hardware development center with 800 employees. … Three of the world’s most powerful countries have invited Israeli companies to work with them in high tech [the U.S. Russia and China]. Israel is also developing a strong relationship with India: $5 billion in trade, which could multiply to $15 billion if the two sides decide to create a free-trade zone. Israel is the second-largest exporter of arms to India, preceded only by Russia.”

Israel Seeking Police Recruits: Eager, and Arab

By   Diaa Hadid                The New York Times


The roll call was startling for a class preparing to take Israel’s police academy exam: Mohammad Hreib, Ghadeer Ghadeer, Munis Huwari and Arafat Hassanein, dressed like a hipster and named after the Palestinian leader, whom most Israeli Jews view as a terrorist.

“How did they even let you in?” an astonished colleague asked Mr. Hassanein, 20.

The unusual roster is the result of an Israeli push to recruit into its police force Arab Muslims, who are both vastly underrepresented in its ranks and vastly overrepresented among criminal suspects and victims.

Arab Muslims are currently 1.5 percent of the 30,000-member national police force, and the right-wing public security minister seeks to increase that number in three years by adding 1,350 new ones. Many would work in Arab cities and towns, where the ministry has promised to open 12 new police stations. (There are seven in such areas now, out of 70 across Israel.)

The deep-rooted tension between Israel’s police and its 1.7 million Arab citizens — about a fifth of the population — in some ways mirrors the flaring problems over race and policing in the United States. This spring and summer, the public security minister, Gilad Erdan, traveled to London and to New York — where Hispanics make up about 27 percent of the Police Department, African-Americans 15 percent and Asians nearly 7 percent — to study those cities’ experiences with diversifying and sensitizing their forces and with using body cameras to address complaints of police abuse.

“They are not going to disappear, and hopefully we are not, either,” Mr. Erdan said in an interview, referring to Arabs and Jews.

Alongside the recruitment drive, he promoted a rare long-serving Muslim officer to deputy commissioner, the second-highest rank on the force, holding him up as an example of how high an Arab could ascend in the force. The challenge, he acknowledged, is how to enlist this new population sensitively — to do it “for them and not against them.”

Many Palestinian citizens said they felt that Mr. Erdan was pressing forward with the recruitment of Arab officers because the violence that was wreaking havoc in their communities had begun to impact the wider Jewish society. They bitterly noted that Mr. Erdan’s plan was announced only after Nashat Melhem, an Arab-Israeli, opened fire on bar patrons in Tel Aviv on Jan. 1, ultimately killing three people. But Mr. Erdan denied that was the impetus for the plan, saying it had been in the works long before the attack.

Building trust is his challenge. Many Arab citizens identify primarily as Palestinian, not Israeli, and see the conservative government, especially its security forces, as hostile to their interests. They are suspicious of a broader government program to invest $3.8 billion in infrastructure, education, housing and other services in Arab communities — an effort to better integrate the residents, who suffer more poverty and unemployment, into society.

The police recruitment has unleashed a particular conundrum for an Arab population that has not quite recovered since officers fatally shot a dozen Palestinian citizens of Israel and one from Gaza during violent demonstrations at the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. The feeling on the street is that the disproportionate violence afflicting Arab communities is the result of deliberate police neglect.

“The police don’t care for the Arabs,” said Amneh Freij, whose son Suhaib, 24, a professional soccer player, was fatally shot in January last year in Kafr Qasim. Adding to their sense of powerlessness, Ms. Freij’s husband, Mohammed, is the deputy mayor of Kafr Qasim, an Arab town of 22,000 in Israel. His position made no difference, they said.

Mr. Freij’s killer has not been caught. Had the victim been Jewish, Ms. Freij said as she wept in a recent interview, the police would have worked harder to find a suspect. “You would pluck him from between the eyelashes of the townspeople,” she said.

Mr. Erdan acknowledged the Freij family’s grief, and said having more Arabs on the force would help solve such cases in the future because they could better understand local crime structures and gather intelligence and evidence.

There are plenty of cases to work on. Mr. Erdan said 60 percent of Israel’s murders occurred in Arab communities, triple the Arab proportion of the population, along with more than 40 percent of traffic accidents. The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a group that promotes the coexistence of Palestinian and Jewish citizens, said an examination of prosecutions last year showed that Arabs were charged in 58 percent of all arsons, 47 percent of robberies, 32 percent of burglaries and 27 percent of drug-trafficking cases.

While Arab leaders are concerned about crime in their communities, they also complain that police use excessive force. In 2014, Arabs staged a daylong strike to protest the fatal shooting by officers of a 22-year-old as he retreated from their vehicle after banging on its windows with what looked like a knife, and this January, a young man was shot dead and his father beaten during a drug arrest.

And so the sight of an Arab in an Israeli police uniform is, still, visual shorthand for a collaborator, and many argue that the police need reform, not recruits. A popular Arab-Israeli website refused to run the police force’s recruitment commercials.

“More police isn’t the solution. Changing the mentality of the police is,” said Ayman Odeh, who leads a bloc of Arab lawmakers in Israel’s Parliament.

Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, a co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which has led its own initiative to improve relations between Arabs and the police, said there was a contradiction in a government that had been vocally hostile to Arabs while presenting a large budget to improve their lot.

“It’s this conflicting trend — very positive on one hand, very destructive on the other,” he said. The government “is unhelpful — I’m trying to be gentle here — in its rhetoric and action when it comes to the place and collective rights of the Palestinian minority.”

Since the recruitment initiative was announced in April, about 700 Arabs have applied to the police force. Jamal Hakroush, 59, the newly promoted deputy commissioner, said about 200 were expected to make it.

The first hurdle is the entrance exam, which many Arabs have struggled with because of its emphasis on Israeli civics and Hebrew, topics that often get short shrift in Arab-Israeli public school curriculums. So the police created special prep courses for potential recruits, including intensive Hebrew lessons, like the one that Mr. Hreib, Mr. Ghadeer, Mr. Huwari, and Mr. Hassanein took this summer.

These recruits will be bused together to exams, on the theory that they will do better in groups. For their physical exams, they are instructed in Arabic, not Hebrew.

The applicants in class here at an abandoned police barracks in northern Israel have a mix of motivations.

Ahmad Sarhan, 22, said he was inspired by a relative on the force. “My cousin was a shepherd. Now look at him: He has a house,” Mr. Sarhan said. “He has a future.”

Thekra Darwish, 22, said working as a policewoman would help her fight for equality for Arabs. “If we had a Palestinian state, we would serve that one,” she said with a shrug. “But we are here.”

Aisha Dahleh, 26, a social worker, wants to help resolve crimes plaguing her town. If selected, according to Commissioner Harkoush, she would be the first ever Israeli police officer who wears a Muslim head scarf.

“There will be those who say, ‘She is a girl, she is religious, she is an Arab, she is a Muslim — and she works with the state,’” Ms. Dahleh said. “But I know my goals.”

Mr. Hakroush is simultaneously leading a charm offensive with Arab mayors to raise support for the recruitment drive. On a recent day in Taibeh, a town with a particularly violent reputation, he met the mayor, Shuaa Mansour, inside his bulletproof office.

Over coffee and pastries, Mr. Mansour said he would reluctantly support the plan. “Whoever has an alternative to the police — bring it,” Mr. Mansour said. “We have no alternative.”

Guy Ben-Porat, a professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev who has researched race and policing, said that for decades, the Israeli police and Palestinian citizens mostly sidestepped each other, with tribal elders reconciling conflicts among Arabs instead. As the influence of such elders eroded in modernizing communities, some, like Kafr Qasim, organized their own security patrols.

These volunteer patrols functioned like neighborhood watch groups, mostly cracking down on young men speeding, blasting music and harassing teenage girls. But they could not prevent the killing of Suhaib Freij, even though he was the son of Kafr Qasim’s deputy mayor.

Mr. Freij, sitting in a living room crammed with his son’s soccer medals, was dubious about the prospects for change, but still offered a small voice of support for the new police initiative because, as he put it, “you have to try and try.”

“There are police now,” he noted, referring to a newish police station in Kafr Qasim, “and the incidents happen and happen and happen.”

Australian FM Julie Bishop meets with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu