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Latest News in Israel – 9th February

Jewish boy, 11, stabbed and wounded in Ramle

An 11-year-old Jewish boy was stabbed and wounded Monday in an attack in the central Israeli town of Ramle.

The attacker fled the scene, apparently toward the Jawaresh neighborhood of the city.

The boy was hospitalized with moderate injuries, the Magen David Adom emergency service said. The child said that the assailant was an Arab. A 17-year-old Arab youth was arrested a short time later on suspicion of carrying out the attack.

The victim said he was walking down the street when an Arab teen asked him for a lighter, and stabbed him when he answered he did not have one.

Police had set up roadblocks in and around Ramle and deployed a helicopter in an effort to find the attacker.

Police said the incident was being investigated, and it was not initially clear if the attack had a nationalistic or criminal motive.

According to police, the boy ran home after being stabbed with scissors, and his mother called for help.

Earlier this week, a guard at the bus station in the working class city was lightly injured when he was stabbed by two 13-year-old girls in a nationalistic attack. One of the girls’ mothers subsequently apologized for her daughter’s action.

Later Monday afternoon, Jerusalem police guarding the Damascus Gate area near the Old City arrested an Arab woman carrying a large knife.

The woman, around 42 years of age, aroused their suspicions and they asked to search her, uncovering the blade, police said.

Last week, border policewoman Hadar Cohen was killed and another policewoman injured when three Palestinian men carried out a shooting and stabbing attack in the same area.     (The Times of Israel)

Hamas calls for suicide bombings in Israeli buses

The Palestinian terror group Hamas called Sunday on activists to carry out suicide bombing attacks against Israelis, specifically on buses, in a manner reminiscent of the devastating attacks of the 2000-2005 Second Intifada.

In a music video posted online, Hamas, the de-facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, praised terrorists who target civilians in front of a burning green-and-white Egged bus, Israel’s main public transportation provider.

“To die as a martyr for Al-Aqsa [Mosque] gives the explosive device more and more force,” the song posted by the official Hamas channel Al-Aqsa TV said.

“The intifada is not an intifada if the bus roof doesn’t fly off.”

The song praised terrorists who perpetrate attacks, claiming they served to “humble” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The six-minute clip also follows a Hamas activist preparing for a suicide attack inside Israel. The terrorist boards a bus along with several other civilians, including two men (poorly) dressed up as Orthodox Jews.

In recent months, Hamas officials have openly called for a resurgence of suicide bombings against Israelis.

In December, Israel uncovered a Hamas cell operating in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis, which had been planning to carry out suicide attacks. The Shin Bet security service said the cell was controlled by the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Later that month — in a joint operation with the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police — the Shin Bet arrested over two dozen Hamas operatives, the majority of them students from al-Quds University in Abu Dis, whom they suspect were preparing to attack Israeli targets, the service said at the time.

Palestinian attacks have killed some 30 people since October 2015. In the same period, some 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, most while carrying out attacks but others during clashes and demonstrations.

Suicide bombings killed hundreds of Israelis in the mid-1990s and during the Second Intifada at the start of the millennium, and led to a massive Israeli military operation in the West Bank.                  (The Times of Israel)

Netanyahu: Arab MKs who visited terrorists’ families are building ‘walls of hate’

The three Arab MKs who met with the families of terrorists are “building walls of hate” while the government is investing significant resources in trying to integrate Israeli Arabs into Israeli society, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

Netanyahu, speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, said he could only imagine what the response would be if members of the US Congress or British Parliament stood in a moment of silence for murderers who murdered their nationals.

“I think there would justifiably have been a great outcry,” he said, adding that he spoke to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to examine what legal actions could be taken against the MKs, and what changes can be made in existing laws to ensure that those who act this way in the future will not serve in the Knesset.

“This is important because it says something about the type of society we want,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu also touched on the arson at the synagogue in Givat Sorek in Gush Etzion dedicated to the three kidnapped and murdered youths in Gush Etzion in 2014, saying he expected that all those who rightfully condemned the vandalism or burning of mosques in the past, do the same now.

“We are in a difficult struggle between those – like us – who want coexistence and peace, and those who want war and blood,” he said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told reporters on his way into the cabinet meeting that Israel had no intention of releasing the bodies of terrorists for burial until their families obligate themselves to bury them in the middle of the night with only a small number of participants.

The three Balad Mks — Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi, and Basel Ghattas — visited the families of 10 terrorists whose bodies have not been released for burial.

“The bodies will remain in the hands of the police until we can ensure that the funerals will be quiet, and not demonstrations of support for terrorists,” he said.

Regarding the visits of the three MKs, Erdan said that if the visit was to discuss the conditions for the funerals, that was one thing. But if during the visit they – as has been reported – showed signs of support for the terrorists, then that would be a violation of the law, the MKs immunity should be lifted, and they should be tried.

According to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, the three MKs stood in a moment of silence for the terrorists during the visit.                (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: ‘Incessant Palestinian incitement’ to blame for West Bank synagogue arson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night responded to a synagogue arson in the Givat Sorek outpost in the West Bank, saying the incident resulted from “incessant Palestinian incitement.”

The premier vowed that Israel would prosecute the perpetrators of the crime in the structure in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc.

“A synagogue in Givat Sorek, in Gush Etzion, was set on fire by Palestinians on Saturday night,”  Netanyahu said in Facebook statement, “I expect the international community to condemn the desecration of a synagogue, an act that is the result of incessant Palestinian incitement.”

According to police, vandals attempted to torch the synagogue – dedicated to Eyal Ifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel – the three Israeli youth whose kidnapping and murder in June 2014 led in part to the IDF’s operation against Hamas that summer.

Nearby locals were able to control the flames that engulfed a pile of Torah scrolls from the house of worship.

Hebron District Police opened an investigation into the fire.

President Reuven Rivlin also condemned the incident and said he was confident security forces would apprehend the “terrorists.”

“This strike on our sanctity is even more harmful as it was perpetrated at a place that was dedicated to the memory of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali, who were murdered brutally,” said Rivlin.                      (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian poll: Sharp drop in support for intifada

Less than half of the Palestinians support a third intifada, a recent poll has shown, compared to 63 percent who supported the violence at the beginning of the current escalation.

According to the survey, conducted last week in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, only 42 percent of Palestinians support a third intifada, a sharp drop from the 63 percent who supported it in November.

However, the question that was posed to respondents focused on an intifada that has not yet erupted. Perhaps the intention is for an armed intifada similar to the second intifada.

The survey was conducted by Awrad, a Palestinian research institute that is considered reliable and prestigious, and whose publications are taken seriously.

Despite frequent threats by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and other officials in the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and return control over the territory to Israel, the survey found that only 14 percent support such a move, while 79 percent are against it.

The survey also examined the politicial views of the Palestinians, finding that if elections were held today in the West Bank and Gaza, Fatah would win over Hamas. In the presidential elections, Abbas would win 36 percent of the vote compared to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who would only get 22 percent. But none of them should rest on their laurels, because 41 percent of the Palestinians said that they have yet to decide for whom to vote or whether to vote at all.

Even in the parliamentary elections, if they were held today, Fatah would defeat Hamas. According to the survey, 39 percent would vote for Fatah compared with only 17 percent for Hamas. Here also, a number of undecided voters who are did not decide or those who said they would not vote is high, at 34 percent.

This statistic that should worry Hamas in Gaza is that 92 percent of Gazans support holding elections, suggesting dissatisfaction on their part. Another factor that strengthens this belief that 56 percent of Gazans agree with Abbas’s claim that Hamas is not interested in establishing a national unity government and holding elections.

The survey further found that 58 percent of Palestinians are unconcerned about a scenario in which Abbas resigns. Two-thirds of them believe that if they do so, the preferred option is to conduct elections in order to find a replacement. A solid majority also believes that there is a need to resume the post of vice president, which is not currently manned. According to the Palestinian constitution, the vice president replaces the president if he resigns, dies, or is unable to fulfill his duties.

In general, most respondents believe that Palestinian society is not going in the correct direction. Two-thirds of West Bank residents indicated that they feel that the security situation has deteriorated in their area of residence.

This survey is likely to be met with relief at the Muqata in Ramallah, after a poll conducted by another surveyor, Khalil Shikaki, published in December raised the alarming claim that two-thirds of Palestinians support armed struggle against Israel and showing a steep drop in support for Abbas.

Shikaki’s survey shocked Ramallah and led Abbas to make series of statements signaling hope and appealing to the younger generation. It contrasted with the despair expressed in his speech in the UN General Assembly that according to some estimates was one of the catalysts that led to the outbreak of escalation.                       (Ynet News)

Israeli envoy Danon: Palestinians citing UN Secretary General to excuse terror

Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon demanded a retraction on Monday from UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon of his recent statements in which he said the terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israelis are a reaction of human nature to occupation.

Danon explained in a letter sent to the Secretary-General that a spokesperson for Fatah excused last week’s terror attack at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City in which 19-year-old Border Police officer Hadar Cohen was killed by saying that the attack was spurred by “the violation of occupation,” against the Palestinian people and was “a natural response.”

In a speech at the monthly Security Council debate on the Middle East earlier this month, Secretary- General Ban Ki- Moon, addressing the issue of Palestinian terror, said that “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

Ban made his remarks on the same day that terrorist victim Shlomit Krigman, 23, was buried in Jerusalem. The young woman was fatally stabbed on Monday evening by two Palestinian terrorists.

“Palestinian terrorism is using your words to excuse its actions,” Danon wrote in response to the statements made by the Fatah spokesperson.

“Your words have created two categories of terrorism: Terror against Israel, and then the rest of the world,” Danon explained.

Danon explained to the Secretary General that an additional terrorist attack had been executed in Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem since his statements, and that only the bravery of Hadar Cohen, a 19 year old police officer, prevented a large scale attack by paying the price of her life.

“Since when is it the job of the UN to find justifications for terror?,” asked Danon. “Since when does the UN create two categories for terrorism and its victims?”

In closing, Danon wrote, “I urge you to retract your statements and to make it clear that there is no justification for the bloodshed of Israeli victims.”              (Jerusalem Post)

Poll: Most Israelis want Balad MKs expelled from Knesset

Most of the Israeli public supports taking action against Balad MKs Hanin Zoabi, Basel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka over their meeting last week with the families of Palestinian terrorists, an Israel Hayom survey conducted Sunday by the New Wave Research Institute has found.

Asked “What course of action do you think should be taken in the case of the three Arab MKs who met with Palestinian terrorists’ families?” 57% of respondents said they should be expelled from the Knesset and 35% said they should be prosecuted for incitement. Only 8% said they believed the MKs had not exceeded their authority and no action should be taken against them.

The poll comprised a random pool of 500 Jewish, Hebrew-speaking Israelis over the age of 18 and had a margin of error of 4.4%.

Scathing criticism from across the political spectrum was leveled at the Balad MKs over the meeting, held last Tuesday in east Jerusalem. Balad is one of the factions that comprise the Joint Arab List, alongside Ra’am-Ta’al and Hadash.

Army Radio reported Monday that since news of the meeting broke Friday, over 450 public complaints have been filed against Zoabi, Ghattas and Zahalka with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.

Dozens of MKs, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said they plan to file Ethics Committee complaints against the three.

This will be the first time Netanyahu files a grievance with the Ethics Committee against any lawmaker.

Netanyahu has asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to review what legal action can be taken against Zoabi, Ghattas and Zahalka. Mendelblit has ordered a police review of the matter, which will be used to determine whether the meeting constituted a criminal offense.

The prime minister is also promoting a bill to allow the suspension of MKs for conduct unbecoming.

The bill would enable a special majority vote of 90 MKs, similar to the majority necessary to suspend the president or the Knesset speaker, to suspend lawmakers found culpable of unbecoming conduct.

The bill would allow the Knesset to suspend such MKs for either short periods or for the duration of the Knesset’s term.

It also calls for suspension without pay or any of the other benefits of incumbent lawmakers, and seeks to strip suspended MKs of their parliamentary immunity.

A suspended MK would be replaced by the next person on that party’s Knesset list. Once the suspension term elapses, the MK will be able to resume office, and his replacement will step down.

The prime minister is seeking to pass the bill through a rapid legislative process, and has tasked Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin with overseeing the issue.

Elkin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) have agreed to debate the bill by Wednesday. They also agreed that it will be presented to the Knesset as a committee legislative proposal, eliminating the need for a preliminary reading, as required with private bills. Under Israeli law, committee and government legislative proposals undergo only three readings, while private bills require four.

If the Constitution Committee agrees on the bill’s draft on Wednesday, the proposal will be presented for its first reading in one week.

As the bill constitutes an amendment to Basic Law: The Government, it will require a majority of 61 MKs to pass. If it passes its first reading, it will be presented for its second and third readings the following week.

Given the wall-to-wall condemnation of the Balad MKs’ move, several opposition parties, such as Yisrael Beytenu, are expected to support the bill. This could see the bill enacted as law within the next two weeks.

Kulanu MK Eli Cohen is also expected to present the Knesset with a private bill that would allow the Knesset to strip lawmakers of their immunity and impeach them with a special majority vote of 80 MKs. The bill states the Supreme Court would have to approve such impeachments.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu noted that the government is “sparing no effort to integrate Arab citizens in Israeli society, and they [Balad MKs] are doing the exact opposite — they are building walls of hatred.”

Elkin said the MKs’ “latest act has crossed every possible red line. No parliament in the Western world would agree to its members supporting terrorists.”

The Joint Arab List denounced the bill as “incitement.”

“The prime minister continues with his methods of deceit and incitement,” Joint Arab List leader Ayman Odeh said Sunday. “We are adamantly opposed to the Israeli government’s trade in remains. Netanyahu and his ministers know very well what the meeting, held in east Jerusalem, was about.

“This is a basic humane issue. A person who died, no matter how horrible his crime, should be buried. This does not contradict our moral principle — we denounce any harm brought to innocent people.”

Speaking with the Walla news website Monday, Odeh commented on the future legislation, saying, “In a fascist atmosphere like we are seeing, I’m afraid Balad could, potentially, be expelled from the Knesset. If that happens we’ll file a High Court of Justice petition. I don’t know what the court will decide, but if it [the impeachment] stands, it will be a serious blow to democracy and the Arab population.”

Meanwhile, Israel announced Monday that it will return the bodies of the 10 terrorists whose families met with the Arab MKs. The return was delayed over Israel’s demand that the families refrain from holding mass funerals that would become public spectacles of incitement. The return of the bodies was approved after the families agreed to hold small, night-time funerals.                     (Israel Hayom)

Aussie Lone paratrooper’s parents surprise son at Western Wall ceremony

Parents of Paratroopers Brigade Pvt. Ari Toch travel all the way from Sydney to see him graduate from the unit’s arduous training course, pledge allegiance to the State of Israel and the IDF • “I want to serve, to keep the country safe,” Toch declares.

Ari Toch[1]

Ari Toch and his parents at the Western Wall

Paratroopers Brigade Pvt. Ari Toch was one of dozens of new recruits to pledge their allegiance to the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces at the Western Wall Thursday, a culmination of months of grueling training.

Toch, 23, was also one of a handful of lone soldiers to graduate the prestigious unit’s training course, and the end of the journey spelled more than just an emotional ceremony, as it had a special surprised in store for the Australian-born soldier: His parents, whom he had not seen in over six months, made the journey from Sydney to Jerusalem just to see him take his oath.

“I haven’t seen my parents and my younger brother and sister for seven months, since I came to Israel,” he said. “I was very excited when I found out my parents decided to come all the way from Australia to Israel just to be by my side at the ceremony. This is very emotional for all of us.”

Toch told Israel Hayom he had been familiar with Israel, Judaism and Zionism since childhood. A trip to the Nazi death camps in Poland when he was 16, he said, “Made me realize I have to contribute to my country’s security, to make it strong, so the Jews will never experience another holocaust again.”

At 18, he came to Israel to study, and lived on Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv, in the country’s north. It was there, he said that he “realized it wasn’t right that while I was having fun, IDF soldiers were keeping me safe. I knew I wanted to serve, to keep the country safe.”

Toch returned to Australia, where he earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Sydney. Shortly afterward, he decided to move to Israel and enlist in the IDF.

“I’m 23. My peers — even my commanders — are younger than me. But I don’t mind. I respect their experience and I learn from them,” he said. “I enjoy every minute and my parents are very proud of me.”                (Israel Hayom)

Israeli firm’s new unmanned sea vehicle hits submarines with torpedoes

Seagull[1]

The Seagull USV.

Elbit Systems unveiled on Monday a new, autonomous unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that can wage anti-submarine warfare missions by firing small torpedoes, and detect and blow up underwater mines by sending robots and interceptors deep underwater.

The Seagull autonomous multi-mission USV is a two-vessel system that has been developed over the the past three years, Elbit officials said at Haifa port, where the platform carried out some maneuvers on the water.

Ofer Ben David, Vice President of Naval Systems Business Line – UAS at the ISTAR Division, described the platform as a “revolution,” adding that no platform like it exists today.

“We are witnessing the proliferation of submarines, both conventional and nuclear, and sea mines. The cost and risk of dealing with these threats is high,” he said.

“We consider the Israel Navy and Defense Ministry to be an advanced potential milestone clients,” he said. Other potential clients are in touch with Elbit as well.

“We would not have entered into this if we did not have a business plan, and if this did not cause much interest, and amazement,” Ben David added.

A submarine’s advantage lies in its covert presence, and radars are ineffective in discovering it, he said. Costly task forces, made up of sonar planes and helicopters, or frigates that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate, have traditionally been used to detect and neutralize such threats.

Seagull, which costs tens of million dollars (for two vessels, an array of payloads, and a ground control station) “changes the balance of power between defender and submarine. The submarine is always used offensively, either to gather intelligence or to attack,” he added.

When it comes to mine detection, “We take the sailors out of the mine field,” Ben David said.

One vessel carries two sonar sensors located in the bow and stern, and if suspected mines are detected, a second vessel lowers a robot into the water, which investigates further.

“This is a robotic boat that sends other robots into the water,” Ben David added. Once a threat is confirmed, the USV will launch a minature torpedo-like weapon, which is “like a small Iron Dome,” he said. The torpedo is wire-guided, meaning a wire attaching it to the USV is used to transmit sonar guidance data. When near the target, it switches on a camera for the approach, and detonates itself close to the mine.

The two-vessel format allows Seagull can be fitted with payloads for anti-submarine warfare, counter-mining (including floating mines, which can be shot and blown up) , sea and port security missions, or electronic warfare missions.

The USV is equipped with two main engines and two thrusters, allowing it to achieve speeds of up to 32 knots, and to turn on the spot.

Elbit officials said it is highly autonomous, and can circumvent obstacles while adhering to international sea passage rules, even if the command link is cut.

A satellite link can keep controllers in touch with the USVs beyond line of sight communications, and they can operate continuously for up to 96 hours (four days). A remote controlled 12.7 mm machine gun is attached to the bow.

“In recent years, we have identified a growing trend towards sea-based activities,” said Elad Aharonson, Executive Vice President and General Manager at Elbit’s ISTAR Division.

In Israel’s case, he added, the ability by the defense establishment to secure the country’s air and sea spaces against enemy threats mean that hostile entities could seek the underwater arena as the next place to try and launch attacks.

Terror organizations and enemy states could try to mine ports or carry out submarine attacks, Aharonson said.

Seagull “becomes an asymmetrical advantage for those who use it” against submarines and sea mines, he said. The system is fully operational.

Both vessels can be controlled from manned ships or from the shore.                (Jerusalem Post)

A trip along the Gaza border, where Hamas is rebuilding its tunnels

Tunnel entrances dozens of meters from the fence, fortified Hamas military positions and a cement factory – all is out in the open, right across the Gaza border;

MK Yellin: ‘We’re in a race with Hamas, and we must not lose.’

by Matan Tzuri                Ynet   News

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4762403,00.html

There is complete silence on the Gaza border these days, but it’s mostly because both sides are focused on their work. On the one side of the border, Israel is drilling into the ground in an effort to locate tunnels that cross into Israeli territory, and on the other side Hamas is clearing out areas to dig tunnels.

“We’re in a race with Hamas on who will get there first: Israel with a technological development to locate tunnels, or Hamas succeeding in crossing the border and opening an entrance into Israel for the terrorists. That is the big question, and in this race we must not lose,” said MK Haim Yellin.

In the wake of the collapse of two tunnels near the border area over the past week, and Hamas’ admittance that the tunnel “enterprise” was working at full speed ahead, we left in an armored vehicle for a drive along the Gaza border. MK Haim Yellin (Yesh Atid), a resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz and the former head of the Eshkol Regional Council, joined us on this trip, taken from north to south.

About a year and a half after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas is once again back on its feet, and then some. The line of Hamas military posts is only dozens of meters from the border fence, about 500 meters from one another. These posts are fortified with concrete and sandbags. Opposite the Hamas posts is an IDF pillbox, currently manned by fighters from the Golani Brigade. One facing the other, at loggerheads.

These Hamas posts serve several functions: Primarily, they are there to observe the area. Somewhere around these posts there’s a tunnel opening, that God only knows where it ends. Across the border in the central Gaza Strip, we could see a cement factory, near the fence. Right next to it is a levee between two Hamas posts.

There are mounds, at the center of which there is a pit that used to be an entrance to a tunnel which was blown up by the IDF. Hamas is digging again, rebuilding, and preparing for the next round for fighting.

Opposite that, the IDF is operating drills to locate tunnels and conducting tests.

Hamas, it would seem, is showing no signs of fear. Its line of military positions along the border is part of its psychological warfare, and a way to send out a message that the organization’s fighters are present on the ground.

Hamas fighters are speeding between the posts on motorcycles, patrolling, and providing equipment to the guards at the posts. They’re doing all of this in order to get the IDF’s attention, in the hopes the IDF lookouts fail to identify their main mission – the digging of tunnels.

On the eve of the end of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF declared that if Hamas resumes digging, it would serve as justification for ground operations.

“We’ve lost the deterrence sooner than expected,” Yellin said. “There’s a policy for the rocket fire – an IAF strike for every rocket fired. But what about the tunnels? There’s no response and no policy. Nor is there a policy for the rest of the threats – like the military posts. They built their positions based on our model, the same size. We can see mounds of dirt, and a factory to manufacture basic materials for iron and concrete. This is what they’re using to build the tunnels. This is a completely absurd reality. They can do whatever they want, it’s an absurd situation. It’s all out in the open, and all of this has been developing over the past six months.”

And there is one threat that is already dozens of meters away from the fence in the central Gaza Strip: The Islamic State group. Opposite one of the Israeli communities on the Gaza border, a fortified post was erected with a black flag, alongside the Palestinian flag.

Yes, Many Journalists Choose Sides in a Conflict—and Often for the Worst Reasons

by Zenobia Ravji               Tower Magazine

http://www.thetower.org/article/yes-journalists-choose-sides-in-a-conflict-and-often-for-the-worst-reasons/

It’s important to remember that journalists are human beings, too—and just like everyone else at work, they can often be overwhelmed, underprepared, bought with kindness, and subject to unconscious bias.

People always ask me if I’m pro-Israel. No one has ever asked me if I am pro-America or pro-Canada or pro-Kenya, where I was born. What does it mean to be pro-Israel? The question even seems vaguely offensive, as if it questions the legitimacy of Israel itself.

I am sure that the concept of a Jewish state has always made sense to me. Perhaps because I myself come from an ancient ethnic and religious minority, the Zoroastrians, who continue to live in a diaspora outside of what was once our homeland, Iran.

So I came to Israel with a predisposed understanding of the need for a state, a safe haven for a people that has been a global minority for millennia and continuously persecuted. But as for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I had no clue what was going on, who was right and who was wrong.

What I came to realize was that you simply cannot understand this highly complex, multidimensional situation unless you come see it for yourself and experience it for yourself, without preconceived notions. This is hard to do. So whom do we rely on to do it? For most people, it’s the Western media, and we presume they know what they’re doing. For the most part, they don’t.

I first came to Israel in January 2014 for a short trip. This two-week holiday turned into two years. At the time, I was a graduate student in journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While traveling, I stumbled on a really eye-opening story—“everyday life” in the West Bank. In the U.S., I was exposed to images of violence and chaos any time the West Bank was mentioned in the news. So when I accidentally ventured into the West Bank during my travels, I had no idea I was even there. I was surrounded by tranquil scenes, modern infrastructure, and economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. I guess this was too boring to make any headlines.

I thought it would be interesting to show people the uneventful side of the story. This wasn’t to negate any social and political injustices of the situation. I just thought people should see the entire truth—not just soldiers, bombs, and riots, but also what’s happening when none of the drama is taking place.

And it wasn’t just the normalcy of life in the West Bank that went unreported. Many of the human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority were never mentioned, such as the lack of freedom of speech and the press, and a complete neglect of the Palestinian people by their own politicians, who continue to exploit the peace process while pocketing European and American funding for a “free Palestine.” My work, however, didn’t consist of criticizing the PA. I thought I should leave that to the “real” journalists. It was their job, after all, to report such things.

I decided to stay in Israel to complete my last semester of journalism school, which consisted of one last major project. Mine was a feature story on economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. It was a documentary that takes place on Sdeh Bar farm in the Israeli settlement of Nokdim. It followed the lives of an Israeli farmer and a Palestinian man who works with him. The two have a unique working relationship, which is more of a friendship. The story also touched on the deep-rooted mistrust both communities have for each other—one that is compartmentalized when cooperating in social and economic settings, while always keeping a suspicious eye open.

In my reports, I tried to learn about the region by just observing and interacting with local people. I immersed myself in the culture. I started to develop friendships with Israelis, Palestinians, and Israeli-Arabs. The more I spoke with people, the more I understood where they were coming from. The more information I received on the historical context of the whole situation (which was different depending on who I was speaking to) the more confused I became. And it didn’t take very long for me to realize that the situation was not black and white.

During my time in Israel, I landed an internship with an Israeli non-profit that provided support services for foreign reporters based in Israel. For the most part, my job was to accompany members of the press on field tours, getting perspectives on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. I found to my surprise that much of the foreign press was ignorant and quite lazy in their reporting. They often had a less than limited understanding of the region, its history, and its politics. They tended to write stories that fit the preconceptions of their editors and producers. For the most part, this narrative consisted of the idea that Israelis are bad and Palestinians are good.

On several occasions journalists asked me the most basic questions about the region, such as “What is the difference between a Palestinian and an Israeli-Arab?” Once, a reporter asked me “where is the West Bank?” even though we had been on a tour of the West Bank for the past two hours. I was shocked. I had learned in journalism school that foreign correspondents were meant to be talented professionals. How did these well-educated, ostensibly top-notch journalists be so ignorant, even after spending months and sometimes years in the region?

After working closely with the foreign press, I realized that you can tell a lot about a journalist’s abilities when they are under stress. I would say some of the most memorable performances I witnessed took place during the 2014 Gaza war. One Brazilian journalist comes to mind. He had been flown into Tel Aviv on a day’s notice. He knew nothing about the region. He didn’t even want to be there. When he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, he had no idea where he was. In fact, his colleague had to show him where Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank were on a map. The only reason he was even sent to cover the war was because his colleague was Jewish. His paper didn’t want a Jewish name attached to any articles, lest readers think his reports were biased.

In other words, a major international newspaper sent a journalist who didn’t even know where Israel was to cover a war born out of one of the most complicated international situations in modern history. It was incomprehensible to me.

During the war, the Western media often accused the IDF of war crimes. But only a few talked about Hamas’ human rights violations, like the use of children as human shields. Israelis were criticized for having bomb shelters and the Iron Dome system to prevent casualties, but the media never mentioned that Hamas also had bomb shelters, as well as an entire underground city connected through a series of tunnels. Both could easily have been used to protect civilian lives. Indeed, members of Hamas were protected by these shelters and tunnels. But their people were forced to fend for themselves in order to serve Hamas’ victim doctrine, the terrorist group’s tactic of engineering massive civilian casualties in order to win the media war against Israel. Nor was there much attention paid to the Hamas charter and its call to destroy Israel and ethnically cleanse the Jewish people.

The Western media also flooded its coverage of the war with personal stories of Palestinians. There were significantly fewer personal stories on the Israeli side. There was a Pavlovian reaction to focus one’s reporting on the supposed “underdog,” which left Israelis voiceless. I wanted to know what Israelis were thinking. How did they feel about the war? The Western media refused to tell us.

So after the war, I took it upon myself to get the detailed stories of Israelis and their experiences during the war. I started collecting stories with the goal of compiling them into a book. I covered the entire mosaic of Israeli society: Bedouins, Israeli-Arabs, Druze, IDF soldiers, politicians, activists, and more. I wanted to know how they felt and what they went through. I found anger and resentment toward their own government and deep sadness for the suffering of innocent Palestinians and their children. It was a very different picture than what the Western media painted. Perhaps they had not bothered to dig deep enough into the story. Perhaps they didn’t want to.

So, why does the Western media get away with such unprofessional and sometimes outright biased conduct? There are two main reasons: First, Israel is a democracy. Second, Israel fails to stand up for itself.

The best part of being a journalist in Israel is freedom of speech. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that respects freedom of the press. And as with all democracies around the world, it is a privilege for journalists, civilians, foreigners, and the like to criticize it. Members of the foreign press are free to say whatever they want about Israel, without fear of censorship or retaliation.

This is not the case on the other side of the conflict. In fact, during the 2014 Gaza war, there were several incidents in which Hamas deleted photos and video footage from journalists’ memory cards before they crossed back into Israel. These journalists did not report the entire story for a simple reason: Hamas wouldn’t let them.

On the other hand, Israel has terrible PR. The Israeli government does not defend itself very well against media bias in times of war or when facing criticism. The spokespeople for this or that politician are not the friendliest. Almost every member of the Israeli bureaucracy is more or less rude to journalists. Let’s also not forget the treatment of journalists and diplomats at Ben-Gurion Airport. Jewish or non-Jewish, if you don’t hold an Israeli passport, you may be treated like a potential threat to the state. One shouldn’t underestimate the effect this has on how journalists see Israel.

I once had lunch in Jerusalem with an accomplished member of the foreign press. I asked her about her personal experiences as a journalist. She had been in the region for about a year. She told me that when she arrived, Israelis were not very friendly to her, but Palestinians were. This was a strong factor in her tendency to write articles that were anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. In fact, during that conversation she spoke at length about Palestinian hospitality and how it was a major factor in her impression of the conflict. Arabs have a well-earned reputation for amazing hospitality.

On the other hand, how can you trust a journalist’s stories when the basis for them is pure emotion and personal sensitivity? Should a journalist treated with classic Arab hospitality write against Israel for that reason? Should they manipulate each story, no matter what the truth is, in such a way that Israel will forever be portrayed in a negative light?

Obviously not, but journalists are human beings after all. If you offend them, you should be ready to face the consequences. The Israeli government is shortsighted on this issue. It’s as if it doesn’t believe that making a concerted effort to defend and thoroughly explain its actions will have any effect. Israel should remember that the reason the PA and Hamas are able to portray their agenda as legitimate in the eyes of the Western media, despite their terrorism and serious human rights violations, is because they have effective PR.

Over time, I came to realize that to be considered a successful journalist by the Western media, a journalist must stick to an acceptable script. In the Middle East, this means portraying Israel and the Jews as the bad guys, and the Palestinians and the PA as the good guys. If you don’t do this, you are professionally ostracized.

I know that journalism has changed with the advent of the internet and the power of social media. But the reality is that foreign correspondents have also changed their ways. I saw journalists depict the easiest stories to tell without digging any deeper into the facts behind the conflict. There were various reasons for this—lack of time, money, and resources; ignorance and pressure from editors. These editors sometimes act as experts on the region from their comfortable offices in New York.

Beyond this, however, I found that some stories carried with them an inherent dislike for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. I’m not speaking about most of the Western media. But a few conversations with journalists do come to mind in which it was obvious that the motivation for their stories was anti-Semitism. What’s scary is that these stories inevitably play a major role in shaping foreign policy toward Israel.

Of course, every news outlet, newspaper, or magazine has an agenda. There is no such thing as an unbiased journalist. We bring our experiences, interactions with people, and our emotions to bear on every story and situation. This is inevitable. Biases will always exist. But we still have a responsibility to uncover and portray the truth to the best of our ability. Admitting to our biases does not mean we should submit to them.

I admit that, at times, I questioned my perception of the situation in Israel. Was I missing something? I felt like I must be doing something wrong, because my views didn’t fit into the framework presented by the Western media. And sometimes I was afraid to voice my own opinions, post them on social media, or write articles about what I saw. I was afraid I would be labeled a right-wing lunatic or an Israeli propagandist. How would I explain myself to people who knew of my progressive work? Only Republicans side with Israel, right? But ultimately I reminded myself of my efforts as a social activist—work that started with questioning the status quo. And the Western media’s view of Israel is a status quo that needs to be questioned.

There is another reason why Western journalists must begin to question their biases and their conduct toward Israel: Their failure do so is pushing peace further away. For example, the Western media feeds the corruption of the Palestinian Authority. If journalists really want to help change things for the better, they should have the courage to criticize the Palestinians and their government. They should report on human rights violations committed by the PA (and Hamas). They should tell the world about incitement again Jews and Israelis in PA-controlled media, as well as mosques and schools. They should report on the television shows that teach Palestinian children to hate Jews. They should share the stories of Palestinians who want to speak out against their leaders, but are afraid to do so for fear of imprisonment or death. Give Palestinians a real voice. Putting all the blame on Israel will never change the fate of the Palestinian people.

In fact, just like the PA, the Western media exploits the Palestinians. They use them in order to get the award-winning story their editors want. What the Palestinians do not realize is that these journalists don’t care about the Palestinians. They interview a few people in Ramallah about their struggles, take some emotional photos, and then head back to the comfort of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. As a result, decades of pro-Palestinian bias has changed nothing.

Perhaps I am not like my fellow journalists, but when it comes to Israel, I am not ashamed of that. Do I always agree with Israeli policy? No. Are there some serious, deep-rooted racial issues in Israel? Yes. Is the Israeli government sometimes plagued by corruption and the abuse of powers by government officials for private gain? Yes. But I can’t think of a democracy that doesn’t have these issues in one form or another. And the beauty of a democracy is having the privilege to criticize the government, the ability to address those issues and bring about change. Because of this, progress is possible in democratic societies. And progress is definitely possible in Israel.

But the way the Western media treats Israel does not make progress possible. As a journalist myself, it pains me to see how bias, unprofessionalism, laziness, ego, and sometimes outright racism influences coverage of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. These failures are not only a violation of journalistic ethics, they make peace less likely and embolden Israel’s enemies, and the enemies of democracy around the world.

People ask me a lot if I am pro-Israel. Am I pro-Israel? If supporting democracy and the search for truth it permits means that I am pro-Israel, then, yes, I am.

What is the diplomatic goal of the current Palestinian terror wave?

The simple political explanation is that Eisenkot understands that focusing on the wave of terror is diverting attention and resources from the main threat emanating from the North.

By Udi Segal               The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Analysis-What-is-the-diplomatic-goal-of-the-current-Palestinian-terror-wave-444052

The urgent meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in Ramallah two weeks ago left me with just one troubling memory. Not the trip in the dirty streets of Ramallah; Not the meal in the fancy restaurant, which portrayed business as usual; Not the conversation that gave the impression that Abbas is truly trying; Not the feeling of a quiet town, completely different than the idea that Israelis have of it. The moment that stuck in my head happened just before we reentered Israel.

After a drive through the frontier neighborhoods – Arab neighborhoods beyond the security fence that are supposedly under Israeli control – and after observing the abandoned houses that sit awaiting the Palestinian real estate revolution, we arrived at a checkpoint. On the way to be checked, our vehicle was accompanied by three approximately 10-year-old children. Ohad Hemo, our excellent correspondent in the territories and Ra’ad Ibrahim, Channel 2’s great producer, spoke with them. They tried to sell us junk and we pulled out 10 shekel coins for them.

It was 10:30 p.m. and they were in the street, in between the cars, collecting change. One of them told us that he was from Hebron and said with a smile: “My grandfather was a beggar, my father was a beggar and now me.”

He was not complaining, but rather explaining the situation naturally. His attitude was one of quiet acceptance. There was no hint of despair, anger or rage. Maybe it will still come. Maybe not. We drove on and he stayed behind. On the other side of the fence.

The wind is blowing. A bad, unstable, hot and toxic wind. A blinding sand storm that darkens the horizon. It is a Middle Eastern wind that erupts in gusts. It is not a typhoon or a hurricane. It does not knock down mountains, destroy houses or flood roads, but it is disturbing and does not cease. The worst part is that we have gotten used to it. It is part of the weather.

The Palestinian wind of terror that is blowing on us does not have a clear diplomatic goal. It does not have a well-formed thought or ideology behind it. It does not carry the message, “It is good to die for our land,” but rather, “It is good to die, and not to live here.”

Like forecasters we try to understand the direction of the wind and how it will develop. The most troubling diagnosis is that it is the result of deep despair. The Palestinians have no hope. The left-wing believes that the responsibility for bringing back their hope lies with Israel, at least partially. On the Right, the belief is that this is the sole responsibility of the Palestinians themselves. But the despair is not becoming more comfortable. It is penetrating deeper.

Wednesday’s terror attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem set off a number of warning lights. I am not sure that it marks the transition from the lone wolf terror wave to an organized terror wave, but this group of young men came from the town of Kabatiya, planned for a month, and armed themselves with firearms and explosives. This attack was different and disturbing. Again, it turned out that the writing was on the wall. On the Facebook wall. Once again we saw that the sea of digital information surrounding us is a difficult challenge for Israeli intel and for those hunting potential terrorists.

The evil wind is blinding the Palestinians from the fact that it is leading them to a dead end, and blinding the Israelis from seeing that the solution is not only the military and use of force. We are on the defensive, entrenching ourselves in our opinion that their is no partner for an agreement, that any process is pointless, and that any compromise or risk that we take will come back to haunt us.

We are waiting for them to stop. The Palestinians, on the other hand, feel like suckers. Years of security quiet led to an impasse and to the continuation of Israeli control of Palestinian territories. In their eyes, we don’t see them when they are quiet – and they are not wrong. They are making a commotion in order to drag Israel, or the world, or the Arabs into action. It is an understandable idea, but a hopeless one.

A deep change is needed. An initiative from both sides is required. The despair is a recipe for a storm. The idea that managing the conflict is better than solving it is rocking in this wind, but I’m not sure that it has crashed to the ground. That depends on the climate conditions in the region.

Israeli is fighting additional winds: Boycotts and European pressure, the sourness and frustration of the US administration, and the great wind of world appeasement blowing toward Iran, that sees it as a legitimate actor in the Middle East following the nuclear agreement. This wind stirs up a dangerous line of thought, in strategic and military terms as well.

There are some military strategy experts who were concerned to hear IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkott say that the army’s main enemy at this time is Hezbollah. If this is so, what is Iran’s role. Is Hezbollah not a forward division of Iran, and is the IDF making a mistake by not directing its strategic plan of action toward exacting a heavy price from Tehran in the event of a conflict, in order to deter it from activating the Shi’ite terror organization?

Eisenkot and the IDF may feel a sense of relief – they will likely not be required to attack Iran in an attempt to damage its nuclear program. It could be that this sense of relief is causing them to hope for an even bigger relief – that we will be freed from the threat of the big and frightening shadow, Iran, and we will be able to deal with the lesser shadow, Hezbollah.

Some senior officials warned that Eisenkot’s possibly erroneous thinking – seeing Hezbollah as the main enemy rather than Iran, and believing that the organization is deterred, and not being prevented from acting against Israel by Iran – is of great importance. It could be that this line of thought is informing the army’s list of priorities and this will have operational consequences.

The fear is that the army sees Hezbollah as an independent body, acting under its own power, whereas Iran, whose nuclear program has been stopped, will for the next five years serve merely as a theoretical enemy that is not relevant for direct military action. A senior IDF official said that it is only a matter of semantics and not conception. “Iran is Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is Iran,” he said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on emphasizing this point as well.

The explanation for the chief of staff’s comments is a focus on the intermediate stage. That is, adjusting to the new strategic reality. A stage at which the volatile northern border could drag Israel and Hezbollah into an unplanned conflict that neither side wants. This wind necessitates a reevaluation.

The simple political explanation is that Eisenkot understands that focusing on the wave of terror, on Hamas and on daily challenges, is diverting attention and resources from the main threat that is building in the North. However, the fear is that focusing on Hezbollah will prevent Israel from passing the message to Iran that it will pay a heavy political, personal and strategic price for a conflict on the northern border. If this message is properly delivered, it will preserve, and even strengthen, Israel’s deterrence.

Yet still, we must not wait until the day of the test to study the question of whether Hezbollah is independent enough “to disobey orders” from the big boss in Tehran. Israel must enlist the US and other world powers to help in this effort, in order to convince them that a small conflict in the North is liable to spark a messy regional storm.