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Latest News in Israel – 8th September

Dust, rubble stand between rescue work and missing

Despite the lack of signs of life and rising death toll, rescue workers continued digging frantically on Tuesday evening as their search for survivors of the Tel Aviv parking garage collapse surpassed 30 hours.

Five rescue workers solemnly carried out a third body, encased in a white body bag, while some 200 rescue workers looked on mostly in silence.

To enter the site of Monday’s collapse, journalists and rescue workers must traverse three flights on a rickety and dust-covered staircase, supported by wooden beams.

At ground zero, hundreds of rescue workers sifted through the rubble in hopes of finding some sign of life.

One worker sat in the dirt trying to excavate a twisted rebar while her partner hacked away with a pickax.

“Come over here and help me,” she told him, sounding exasperated and a bit tired.

As in most such rescue operations, workers face the challenge of trying to dig as quickly as possible without harming any victims who remain trapped below.

According to Home Front Command the general area in which the missing persons are located has been identified but rescuers are not in contact with them.

HFC representatives urge optimism, stressing that people have been found after multiple days in similar situations.

“You should never lose hope. Even after 10 days. We are working on the assumption that the people are alive,” Col. Ariel Blitz said on Tuesday.

And so, a sense of seriousness and urgency was prevalent as rescue workers raced against the clock to find the final three missing persons.  (Jerusalem Post)

IDF uses new technology to locate victims at Tel Aviv collapse site

Hundreds of IDF Homefront Command soldiers were deployed Monday at the site of the collapsed parking facility in northern Tel Aviv to assist in search and rescue efforts. GOC Homefront Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick arrived at the scene to personally supervise the mission. The Homefront Command’s Search and Rescue Unit was assisted by the military’s Oketz canine unit, as well as by large police and emergency services personnel.

Rescuers used every measure at their disposal; and the usual heavy and light machinery alongside simple excavation tools, was joined by a new, innovative search and rescue technology that is able to detect faint cellphone signals underground to locate people trapped under the rubble.

The radar-based Aluma (“ray”) System was developed by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of the Israel Aerospace Industries. As many of the system’s capabilities are still under development, Monday’s disaster was the first time Aluma was made operational.

According to Homefront Command Col. Itzik Guy, the system “also allows rescue teams to cross-reference the location of a trapped victim using the dimensions of depth, height and distance from the [rescue] teams.”

The system was successful in locating one of the victims of Monday’s incident, he said.

The IAI said Aluma is meant to assist rescue teams dealing with mass casualty disasters, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters and fires.

“The scene is very complex because four floors collapsed one on top of another. It’s a difficult and challenging mix. The idea here is to do a lot of digging, in the hopes that there are pockets of air where the missing are located. The mission is to dig against time, and to reach them as quickly as possible,” National Rescue Unit Deputy Commander Maj. Ariel Lubiner said, commenting on the efforts by the Homefront Command.

Search and Rescue Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Yair Pinto said that he and 30 members of his team were called to the site from operations in Judea and Samaria.

“When we arrived, we saw a large crater. The structure had collapsed. … We tried to understand the number of people affected — what happened, who got out, who was rescued. We focused on the area and mapped it out, and we started digging with our excavating tools, and [using] tools that can identify someone alive,” he said.

A large number of female fighters were among the Homefront Command forces on the scene. “We sent a female fighter into places that only she could have reached, because she was small enough to reach spots that no one else would have been able to. She got to the lowest [level] possible, to [level] minus-4.” Pinto said. “Our female fighters are strong, sometimes stronger than the boys. They are physically strong and mentally strong. They’re the best.”

Pinto said many hours of work lie ahead for the unit.

“We will work into the night, for as long as it takes, until we rescue all the people trapped [in the wreckage]. We’ve set up lighting. … We are working in shifts. We will not leave until we get everyone out,” he said.              (Israel Hayom)

Netanyahu vows to give EU ‘new understanding’ of Israel’s role in war on terror

Israel is slowly trying to convince Europe that the Jewish state is a key player in efforts to stem a rising tide of Islamic terrorism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday morning as he made his way to the Continent for a two-day visit.

“Europe as a whole is undergoing changes. It faces very great challenges over the spread of radical Islamic terrorism,” he said as he boarded his plane to the Netherlands.

Netanyahu plans to discuss with his interlocutors Israel’s “central role” as the “most stable and most stabilizing element in the Middle East,” one that contributes greatly to preventing the spread of terrorism, he added.

“This is a new understanding; it is important, of course, for Israel and the states of the region but it is also very important for Europe,” he said. “It is this understanding that we are working to instill gradually in all European countries.”

In The Hague, the prime minister will meet his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, to discuss bilateral issues and regional developments. Netanyahu is also slated to meet King Willem-Alexander at the Noordeinde Palace. It will be Netanyahu’s first meeting with the monarch since he succeeded to the throne in April 2013.

Netanyahu will visit the Dutch parliament and conduct meetings with Senate President Ankie Broekers-Knol and House of Representatives Speaker Khadija Arib. In a planned meeting with members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, he is set to “present Israel’s policy in the regional context and vis-à-vis Europe,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Despite occasional disagreements, mainly about the settlements, the Netherlands is considered to be among Israel’s closest allies in Europe. Netanyahu sees Rutte as a personal friend. However, one of Rutte’s predecessors, Dries van Agt, this week called Netanyahu a war criminal who should be prosecuted.

“There’s a war criminal coming to this country,” said Van Agt, 85, who served as Dutch prime minister for five years until 1982, citing “occupation” and settlement expansions. “So why should we receive someone who continues with such things, we could have sent him right away to the International Criminal Court, that would have been better,” he said of Netanyahu.

Before taking off for The Hague, Netanyahu said he continues to monitor the rescue efforts currently taking place at the site of a collapsed parking garage in Tel Aviv, which he visited Monday night. He said he was “deeply impressed” by the work of the various rescue units scrambling to save lives.

“The people are doing exceptional work on the highest professional level to be found anywhere in the world. There are still people trapped; we are making every effort and are not giving up on anyone. We will reach them all,” he vowed.                         (the Times of Israel)

Poll: Lapid would win elections today

Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid would emerge with the highest number of mandates if elections were to be held today, according to a poll published Tuesday evening by Channel 2 News.

According to the survey, Lapid would take 24 mandates (during the last election he received just 11) while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would trail with just 22 mandates. During the last election, Likud received 30 mandates.

This is the first time that Lapid appears to have overtaken Netanyahu in the polls.

The survey also reveals that the Bayit Yehudi party, led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, would strengthen its grip in the government with an estimated 14 mandates as opposed to the 8 it currently holds.

The poll indicates that support for the Zionist Union seems to have dropped significantly from the 24 mandates its received during the last elections to just 13.

The Joint List remains the same, according to the poll, clinching 13 mandates while Yisrael Beytenu, led by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, would increase its mandate from its current 6 to 10.

By contrast, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party appears to have declined in popularity from 10 mandates to 6, the poll indicates.                           (Ynet News)

IDF to Deploy Unmanned Ground Vehicles on Gaza Border

IDF to Deploy Unmanned Ground Vehicles on Gaza Border The UGVs would reportedly become operational next year. They would first be deployed on the Gaza border and eventually on Israel’s other borders with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon

According to a report on bgr.com, Israel is planning to bolster its high-tech arsenal by deploying fully autonomous military vehicles along the country’s dangerous border with Gaza.

Working with the Israeli defense company Elbit Systems, IDF has equipped Ford F-350 pickup trucks with specialized remote driving technology. The trucks, dubbed Border Protector Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), are also fitted with four driving cameras and a 360-degree observation camera to help operators identify threats. At the moment, the vehicles are unarmed.

Plans are also in place to add a weapon to the vehicle. “We think at the beginning of next year, we will get a machine gun on the vehicle that will be operated from a control room – the machine gun will not be autonomous,” said an IDF official.

The UGV replaces the semi-autonomous Guardium vehicle that was deployed by Israeli forces in 2009. “The Guardium was unable to navigate obstacles by itself, but the UGV will be able to,” explained the official.

The Israeli Army wants to eventually deploy the UGVs on Israel’s other borders with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. UGV testing began in July 2015, and the trucks became operational in February                (Israel Defense)

Julie Bishop visits Australian-funded tech start-up warehouse in Tel Aviv

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has visited an Australian Government-funded ‘innovation landing pad’ in Tel Aviv, designed to help Australian entrepreneurs get a leg up into the thriving Israeli start-up industry.

She was led through a converted warehouse in a trendy Tel Aviv suburb where young hipsters sat in each corner, absorbed in their laptops and working away on their latest start-up venture.

On a practical level, the ‘innovation landing pad’ means the Australian Government is now funding a small office space in one of the most in-demand shared workplaces in the city.

Tel Aviv is ranked as the world’s number two tech hub behind San Francisco’s famous Silicon Valley.

Julie Bishop MP visits Tel Aviv tech ABC Online

Through a scholarship-type program, Australian entrepreneurs can apply to spend time at the landing pad space, where they will be given help connecting with some of the most successful start-up brains in the world.

Australian-Israeli venture capitalist Dan Krasnostein is on the Landing Pad advisory board.

“We can show up here and be a meaningful player pretty quickly and we can see in the next 18 months to two years we are probably ahead of where we thought we would be,” he said.

“Israel is world-renowned for tech innovation, the quality of entrepreneurs and the quality of the businesses they are starting — so in terms of Aussies committing to learn from anywhere in the world, this would be one of the best places.”                      (ABC News)

Japan, Israel upgrade relations as Arab oil influence wanes

Japanese executives say they are increasingly drawn to investments in Israel as the price of oil falls and, with it, the influence Arab oil suppliers have on Japan’s decision-making.

Over the past two years, Japan and Israel have strengthened business ties, signing a series of economic agreements on the back of a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Israel in 2015 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Tokyo in 2014.

“Abe had a good impression; he liked Netanyahu’s mentality,” Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, told Reuters when he led a delegation from Keizai Doyukai, the Japanese business lobby, to Israel in May.

For years, trade between the two was minimal – Japan was reluctant to upset its oil suppliers, many of whom belong to the Arab League, which has long backed a boycott of Israel.

“Geopolitics is changing in the Middle East and as oil prices come down, strategically it’s not as important,” said Kobayashi. “Japan is changing its mind.”

Israel’s prowess in Internet, biotech, and automotive technologies is particularly attractive, Kobayashi said.

This is not to say Japan has given up on the Arab world.

Isamu Nakashima, chief researcher at the Middle East Institute of Japan, said Japan’s need for oil will always trump its need for anything Israel can offer, though past worries that trade with Israel could annoy Arab nations have mostly faded.

“But for things to really improve a lot, there needs to be a peace settlement (between Israel and the Palestinians),” Nakashima said.

Bilateral trade in goods in the first seven months of 2016 rose to $1.4 billion from $1.1 billion, making Japan Israel’s fourth-largest market in Asia. It is part of a growing shift in focus as Asia overtakes the United States to become Israel’s largest trading partner after Europe.                    (Reuters)

Netanyahu: Shabbat train crisis is over

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the crisis regarding work by Israel Railways on Shabbat to be over, after the High Court of Justice issued an interim order permitting the work to continue, and stating that any order to the contrary is invalid.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at The Hague, Netanyahu said that he respects the decision of the Court, and that he was glad the issue was resolved.

Netanyahu added that he would abide with the court’s request that in the future, Minister of Welfare and Social Services Haim Katz (Likud) would determine what work could be done on Shabbat, and the rest of the work would be done during the week.

“The court decision is correct, and it puts an end to this episode,” Netanyahu said. “All Israeli citizens – secular and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) included – must act according to this decision.” Katz and the Orthodox director-general of his ministry, Eliezer Yablon, have begun meeting with all the figures involved in the dispute to ensure that enough compromises are reached in order to prevent conflict for the third week in a row.

In theory, the court decision could prevent a repeat of last weekend, where repairs had to be performed on Friday and Saturday night, causing havoc for thousands of commuters as delays ran well into Sunday. In its ruling, the High Court said it was technically just confirming the state’s position filed earlier in a written reply to the issue.

The state’s written submission was a response to a petition filed by Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On, challenging the government on the constitutionality of rescinding Israel Railways’ permission to perform work and repairs this past weekend, which led to the saga.

The High Court had denied an emergency freeze of state policy at an unusual hearing on Saturday, and asked the state to explain its position in writing.

Much of the country, especially public offices, cannot make employees work on Shabbat, but Israel Railways had a special waiver on the issue until now.

According to the state, Israel Railways never lost the authority to have its workers perform repairs on Shabbat, a special authority delegated to it by the government.

Rather, a unique and temporary situation arose this past weekend, but not one which in any way removed Israel Railways’ special permission on the issue.

The state argued that the entire petition refers to the situation as it was last weekend, and that this situation has changed and is no longer relevant, making the petition itself no longer relevant.

Furthermore, the state contended that if the authority to have employees working on Shabbat is removed, it will be removed legally by the social welfare minister or someone he has delegated his authority to, and only after weighing other relevant public administrative law concerns.

Finally, the state noted that Israel Railways will be attending a meeting with all relevant government authorities in the near future to formulate a policy going forward, implying that it would be premature for the High Court to jump into the issue before they make a decision.

“This was a tremendous victory,” said Gal- On. “I am glad the court did not accept the chutzpadik view of the state’s attorney that the dispute is a theoretical matter.”

Gal-On expressed her frustration that the state did not answer the primary question of whether Netanyahu was authorized to cancel railway work on Shabbat.

“The public deserves an explanation from the State Attorney’s Office and the court regarding whether the prime minister violated the law, and what steps need to be taken to prevent such a violation from occurring in the future…. (However) I appreciate that the court will reconvene to deal with the behavior of the prime minister.” (Jerusalem Post)

Transportation minister: Fast Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail link due in 2018

A new half-hour train link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will open in 2018, changing the lives of thousands of Israelis, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) said on Tuesday.

The two cities, which account for the majority of the country’s economic activity, are nearly 70 kilometers (44 miles) apart but are currently served only by a 90-minute winding railway line on a route designed during the British mandate.

Road traffic can be badly congested at peak times, with the journey taking up to two hours.

The much-delayed new train service will shuttle passengers at up to 160 kilometers per hour from early 2018, Katz told journalists during a tour of an underground tunnel.

Built under Israeli control in conjunction with Chinese, Italian and Russian companies, the new line is an important part of the “public transport revolution” under way in Israel, Katz said.

The service will also stop at Ben Gurion International Airport, 10 kilometers east of Tel Aviv.

At peak times, there will be four trains an hour in both directions.

Israel Railways director Boaz Tzafrir said they expected 4,000 passengers during rush hour, 50,000 per day and more than 10 million a year on the new service.

Public transport in Israel is based mainly on buses, with no metro systems.

Its railway infrastructure is underdeveloped in relation to high population density, leading to significant congestion, a January report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the country’s economy concluded.

Trains comprise just 6 percent of public transport, compared to 30 to 60 percent in many other OECD countries, the report said.

The fast line project was launched in 2004 by former premier Ariel Sharon, who died in 2014.

But work began only in 2010 because of pressure from environmental protection associations.

Project director Dror Sofero called the new line an engineering feat, with its 40 kilometers of tunnels and eight bridges.

Katz has been embroiled in recent weeks in a political tussle with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who heads the Likud party, over work on the train line over the Shabbat.

Netanyahu has been under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners to ban work scheduled to take place over the weekend, after they threatened to topple his coalition if work continued on Shabbat.

As with much other public transportation in the country, trains do not run from Friday afternoon to Saturday night, but repair work considered vital has generally been allowed with the government’s approval.

On Tuesday, The High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction permitting Israel Railways to continue work on Shabbat, nullifying Netanyahu’s controversial order to halt the work.         (the Times of Israel)

Archaeologists restore ancient tiles from Second Temple in Jerusalem

For the first time since its destruction at the hands of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, several floor tiles from Jerusalem’s Second Temple’s courtyard have been reconstructed, archeologists announced on Tuesday.

According to Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira, co-founders and co-directors of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, the reconstruction is unprecedented.

“This represents the first time that archeologists have been able to successfully restore an element from the Herodian Second Temple complex,” said Dvira at an unveiling of the tiles at the project’s headquarters in Emek Tzurim National Park, located on the western slopes of Mount Scopus.

The regally designed ancient tiles likely featured prominently in the courtyards of the holy Temple during King Herod’s reign between 37 to 4 BCE, added Barkay.

“It enables us to get an idea of the Temple’s incredible splendor,” he said.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project, supported by the City of David Foundation and the Israel Archeology Foundation, was established in response to the illegal removal of tons of antiquities-rich earth from the Temple Mount by the Islamic Waqf in 1999.

It is run under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Frankie Snyder, a member of the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s team of researchers and an expert in the study of ancient Herodian-style flooring, said they succeeded in restoring the ornate tile patterns using geometric principles, and through similarities found in tile design used by Herod at other sites.

“This type of flooring, called opus sectile [Latin for “cut work”] is very expensive, and was considered to be far more prestigious than mosaic tiled floors,” said Snyder, who has an academic background in mathematics and Judaic Studies.

“So far, we have succeeded in restoring seven potential designs of the majestic flooring that decorated the buildings of the Temple Mount,” Snyder added, noting that there were no opus sectile floors in Israel prior to the time of King Herod.

“The tile segments were perfectly inlaid, such that one could not even insert a sharpblade between them,” she explained.

To date, approximately 600 colored stone floor tile segments have been uncovered, with more than 100 of them definitively dated to the Herodian Second Temple Period.

“This style of flooring is consistent with those found in Herod’s palaces at Masada, Herodian, and Jericho, among others, as well as in majestic palaces and villas in Italy, also attributed to the time of Herod,” said Snyder.

The tile segments – mostly imported from Rome, Asia Minor, Tunisia, and Egypt – were created from polished multicolored stones, cut in a variety of geometric shapes.

“A key characteristic of the Herodian tiles is their size, which corresponds to the Roman foot, approximately 29.6cm.,” said Snyder.

The possibility that large expanses of the Temple Mount during the Second Temple Period were covered with opus sectile flooring was first raised in 2007 by archeologist Assaf Avraham, director of the Jerusalem Walls National Park.

Avraham’s theory was based on a description given by the first-century Romano- Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote in The Jewish War, “…the uncovered [Temple Mount courtyard] was completely paved with stones of various types and colors…”

Moreover, Talmudic literature records the meticulously planned construction of the Temple Mount, describing rows of marble in different colors, including green, blue and white.

“Now, as a result of Frankie Snyder’s mathematical skills, we have succeeded in recreating the actual tile patterns,” said Barkay.

“Referring to the Temple that Herod built, the Talmud says that, ‘Whoever has not seen Herod’s building, has not seen a beautiful building in his life,’” he continued.

“Though we have not merited seeing the Temple in its glory, with the discovery and restoration of these unique floor tiles, we are now able to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Second Temple, even through this one distinctive characteristic.”

Since the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s inception in 2004, more than 200,000 volunteers from around the world have taken part in the sifting, representing an unprecedented phenomenon in the realm of archeological research.

Tiles Israel

A reconstructed tile from the Second Temple.

The restored tiles will be presented to the general public on Thursday at the 17th Annual City of David Archaeological Conference.     (Jerusalem Post)

Visit Australia

Jerusalem Post Editorial


The same day President Reuven Rivlin apologized profusely to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for canceling a planned trip to Canberra earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received an invitation to visit by Bishop, who had made a twoday visit to Israel. If he follows through, he will become the first serving prime minister to make an official visit Down Under.

Considering the special and very close relations that exist between Canberra and Jerusalem, it is about time an Israeli prime minister make the trip to Australia to show Israel’s appreciation for Australian support, which should not be taken for granted. An official visit by a serving Israeli prime minister would send that message.

Australian involvement in the creation of Israel goes back a century. Rivlin noted during his public apology to Bishop that the 1917 Battle of Beersheba, fought by the Australian Light Horse Regiment together with the British Army against the Ottoman Empire, helped pave the way for the Balfour Declaration and, eventually, the creation of the Jewish state.

In the early 1940s, a group of Australian Jewish businessmen lobbied Australia’s then-foreign minister Doc Evatt to support the creation of a Jewish state. Evatt was won over and as a leading figure in the United Nations, he actively pursued the creation of the State of Israel.

After the Second World War, Australia accepted a large number of European Jews who survived the Holocaust.

But relations have not always been smooth. Under the leadership of Gough Whitlam, Australia distanced itself from Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

In 1997 during the opening of the Maccabi Games, negligence resulted in the collapse of a footbridge that led to the deaths of four Australian athletes and the injury of dozens more. The games organizers and the State of Israel were slow to accept blame and provide compensation, which hurt relations with the Australian Jewish community and with the Australian government.

A low point in relations was the fallout from the 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Fraudulently obtained Australian passports were used by the Mossad agents who reportedly carried out the assassination.

Then-foreign minister Stephan Smith expelled an Israeli diplomat from Australia and publicly declared “these are not the actions of a friend.”

The same year, Ben Zygier, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen and Mossad agent died under mysterious circumstances in Israeli custody. He had been held in a special wing of an Israeli prisoner reserved for those awaiting trial for the most serious espionage charges. His death sparked debate in Australia over Israel’s treatment of an Australian national.

In recent years though, diplomatic ties between Australia and Israel have flourished. In 2014, for example, Australia joined the United States as the only other country on the United Nations Security Council to vote against a Palestinian bid for statehood. Large numbers of Israeli emigres have relocated in Australia. Economic and technological cooperation between the two countries is robust.

Nevertheless, consecutive public opinion polls have shown that Australians are divided over their support for Israel. A Roy Morgan Research poll from November 2011 found that Australians were just as sympathetic with Israelis as they were with Palestinians. And in 2014, a BBC World Service opinion poll found that 67% of Australians had a negative view of Israel’s influence and just 24% had a positive view.

Israel’s leaders have an obligation to nurture ties with Australia and there is much common ground to build on. The two countries are robust democracies that cherish freedom. As political scientist Daniel Elazar pointed out, unlike most nations that grew out of indigenous populations, countries like the US, Australia and Israel were established by bearers of a covenantal tradition.

Those who settled these countries had in mind and in writing a model society which they proceeded to create in accordance with the ideals they held dear. This partly explains the affinity Australians and Israelis feel for one another.

It is nothing short of astounding that an Israeli prime minister has never once paid an official visit to Australia.

Netanyahu should change that embarrassing record by taking up Foreign Minister Bishop on her offer.

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