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Latest News in Israel – 17th June

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Witnesses describe ‘miracle’ as Gaza missile barely misses Sderot students

Most students had already left for the weekend, but several people at a religious school in Sderot had stuck around Thursday night. Three of them were just sitting down to study Biblical psalms when a rocket alarm rang out just before 9 p.m.

Seconds later, a missile slammed into a wall just steps away, sending concrete and glass flying but leaving them unharmed.

Eyewitnesses said that had the rocket hit a few minutes earlier, when the main study hall was filled with students, or a few meters from where it did, it could have been a very different story.

“It happened two-three meters from me,” said Shalom Kahlon, a former student who was in the study hall at the time of the explosion, speaking to the Ynet news website.

Damage to a Jewish religious school is seen in Sderot, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip

“It hit the wall, three meters from there, that’s where I was sitting. If the rocket had been half a meter to the side I don’t know if I would be speaking now,” he added.

Kahlon and others described hearing a massive boom as the rocket hit the multi-story building housing the school Thursday evening, though there was no explosion from a warhead, which could have caused much greater devastation.

The strike still managed to break several tempered windows and leave a large hole in an outside wall where it made a direct impact, with concrete rubble strewn across a sidewalk below. Nonetheless, authorities said there were no injuries.

“It was a miracle,” the head rabbi of the yeshiva, Shlomo Binyamin, told Channel 12 news. “Just 10 minutes earlier there had been 15 students saying evening prayers in the room.

Some 150 students attend the Lev Ladaat hesder yeshiva, according to its website. Had the rocket struck on another day of the week, more students could have been present — but many of them had seemingly already left for the weekend.

A Chabad Lubavitch synagogue adjacent to the school was also occupied by several people, according to Rabbi Moshe Zeev Pizem, who was leading a weekly Bible study session at the time.

“We were busy with a Torah class and in the middle of the lecture there was a siren, and seconds later a huge strong blast, which made everyone jump,” he told Channel 13 news. “A moment later we all realized we were alive.”

Due to its proximity to Gaza, Sderot residents have just 15 seconds or less to seek shelter when a rocket alarm sounds. Many newer buildings in the city, which has been pummeled by thousands of rockets since the early 2000s, are constructed of reinforced concrete. The yeshiva building was constructed in 2012.

The rocket was the second to be shot from Gaza Thursday, but unlike the first, was not intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, for reasons that were not immediately clear early Friday.

Politicians and others called for a major military operation on Thursday night, including assassinating leaders of Hamas, to stem the rising violence.

“The situation as it is cannot continue,” Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi said. “As I said in the past, only a military operation will bring peace to our region.”

Palestinians reported air strikes near Gaza City early Friday in apparent response to the rocket strike.

Tensions with Gaza have been steadily rising in recent days, with Israel blocking Gazan fishermen from access to the sea Wednesday in response to incendiary balloons being launched over the border.

The tensions have threatened to undo an unofficial ceasefire brokered after a major flare-up in early May in which the sides exchanged the most intense fire in years, leading to the deaths of four Israelis and 29 Palestinians. Gazans say Israel has been slow in implementing parts of the deal. (the Times of Israel) Staff

Israeli planes hit several Gaza sites after Sderot rocket attack

Israel planes carried out multiple airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early Friday, hours after a rocket hit a religious school in southern Israel.

The Israeli military said in a statement that fighter jets and other aircraft attacked “several terror targets, including terror infrastructure in military compounds.”

The Israel Defense Forces said it also hit a base belonging to the Hamas terror group’s naval commando unit.

“The attack was carried out in response to the rocket that was shot from the Gaza Strip earlier this evening,” the army said.

A video released by the military showed a number of strikes on unspecified targets.

The Hamas-linked Shehab news agency said there were three strikes on a naval facility near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, causing damage.

It said sites east of Gaza City were also attacked.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Gaza-based news outlets published photographs of the strikes on the naval facility.

The strikes came hours after a rocket launched from Gaza slammed into a building housing a religious school, causing damage but no injuries. The rocket, which did not explode, struck the outer face of the yeshiva, sending debris onto the sidewalk. A number of tempered-glass windows were also broken.

Most students had gone home for the weekend, but several people were still inside the school at the time.

On early Thursday morning, a rocket launched from Gaza at the southern community of Nirim was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Politicians and others called for a major military operation after the attack, including assassinating leaders of Hamas.

No Palestinian group has taken responsibility for the attacks, but the military generally holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the enclave.

After the first rocket attack, Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas underground facility in the southern Gaza Strip.

Tensions with Gaza have been steadily rising in recent days, with Israel blocking Gazan fishermen from access to the sea in response to incendiary balloons being launched over the border on Wednesday.

The tensions have threatened to undo an unofficial ceasefire brokered after a major flare-up in early May in which the sides exchanged the most intense fire in years, leading to the deaths of four Israelis and 29 Gazans. Gazans say Israel has been slow in implementing parts of the deal.  (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross and Staff

Gazans Buy ‘Dual Use’ Terror Materials from Amazon, Ali Express

On Wednesday, the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, along with Erez crossing officers, the Crossings Authority at the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Post prevented hundreds of potentially dangerous packages from entering the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of packages from online mail-order sites, such as “AliExpress” and “Amazon,” filled 220 mail bags. Following inspection, Israeli security forces stopped 167 parcels from entering Gaza due to suspicions that the orders contained materials that could be used for terror attacks.

The “dual-use” items, having both civilian use and terror attack potential, included drones and spare parts, cameras, weapons equipment, military face masks, lasers, airbag mechanisms, communication equipment, electronic components, radio wave disruptors and weapons scopes.

Following the seizure, Colonial Iyad Sarhan, head of the Coordination and Liaison Administration in Gaza, said, “We view this very seriously and we will continue to do everything possible to prevent their intention to harm the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.”

This is not the first time that packages earmarked for the Gaza Strip have been stopped by Israel’s combined security forces. TPS reports that since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, there have been thousands of attempts to smuggle potentially detrimental materials into the area for Hamas rocket production and military build-up.

Just this morning, the Israeli Air-force (IAF) struck a Hamas compound in Gaza following their launching of a rocket, that was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome.

The rocket was launched after Israel closed the Gaza fishing zone following a barrage of terrorist incendiary balloons that caused six fires and severe agricultural damage in Israel.

“The cynical attempts of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to exploit the civilian policy that the State of Israel employs for terrorist purposes are doomed to fail,” declared Sarhan. (United with Israel) Staff

Court convicts Sara Netanyahu of corruption in plea deal

Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, was convicted of corruption in the “Prepared Food Affair” as part of a plea bargain on Sunday, which ended a four-year legal battle.

A deal was pressed heavily by Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court president Avital Chen, who approved the deal, making the conviction final and giving Sara Netanyahu a criminal record, although the charges were reduced as part of the agreement.

Netanyahu was sentenced to pay NIS 55,000, divided into 11 payments of NIS 5,000 each. The total was reduced from the original charge of NIS 359,000.

Under the deal, the prime minister’s wife confessed to a reduced charge of intentionally exploiting another person’s error in the misuse of state funds, in lieu of the original more serious charge of fraud.

The state has also reserved the right to sue Netanyahu in civil court for an additional NIS 175,000.

The last point of allowing the state to sue her in civil court may have been what caused contradictory indications last week about whether her plea bargain was in doubt.

Despite concerns that Sara might walk away from the deal at the last second as had happened for over a year of negotiations, the prime minister’s wife stuck to the deal on Sunday, confessing briefly and quietly, though publicly.

Yet, even in the courtroom, there was jousting between the sides over the significance of the plea deal and conviction.

State prosecutor Erez Padan told Judge Chen that it was not easy for the state to compromise on a reduced charge, but kept the focus on getting the prime minister’s wife to confess to a crime and pay a substantial fine.

Netanyahu lawyer, Yossi Cohen, attacked the state, the police and the media for “hunting” and “crusading” after Sara merely because she was married to the prime minister.

The accusations continued later in the day when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a long statement on Facebook lashing out at law enforcement and acting as if Sara had not confessed to a crime.

“Today an ongoing and disgraceful four-year-long hunt relating to tiny packaged meals came to an end. This hunt cost millions in taxpayer funds,” said the prime minister.

“The judge said that ‘Sara is a stranger to the criminal world’ and determined that she did not commit fraud,” the prime minister continued. “The judge said that everything needed to be viewed proportionately… he confirmed in his conclusion that there was no doubt that the events [where Sara had caused prepared food to be illegally ordered] were state events,” with foreign dignitaries and not just for her personal benefit.

“Sara endured four years of hell about accusations of which nothing remains… if she was not my wife, there would not have even been a criminal probe,” he concluded.

In fact, when Sara was in court on Sunday, one of the few statements she made was saying she understood what she was admitting to in the criminal indictment when asked by the judge.

In a rare event, a top legal official counterattacked the prime minister within hours of his Facebook post and highlighted her confession.

The official said that, “despite the fact that Mrs. Netanyahu appeared in court today and confessed to committing a crime during which she received NIS 175,000 of state funds through her exploitive actions – and was formally convicted of this – immediately afterward, the prime minister denied these facts and acted as if she was being hunted.”

The official continued, saying that the prime minister referred to “tiny packaged meals” even though Sara had admitted that she had ordered expensive takeout food totaling NIS 175,000.

Furthermore, the official said that the prime minister’s “appreciation” of the court was tongue in cheek, as he had “completely ignored the conviction verdict of the court.”

Such a message from the prime minister was “improper to send to the public and showed a contempt for the court” – and was unexpected after Netanyahu only days ago said he would always respect the rulings of the courts.

The official concluded that “Sara Netanyahu was no Dreyfus” and knew very well that her actions were criminal.

Meanwhile on Sunday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition to veto the plea deal as too lenient.

The petition had called the plea bargain caving into political pressure and treating Netanyahu far too leniently, which would lead to a loss of public faith in the legal system and the rule of law.

The state convinced the High Court that the deal was within its discretion and that the rule of law was being validated, since it had compelled Netanyahu to confess to a crime after years in which she adamantly refused to admit any wrongdoing.

Last June, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment against the prime minister’s wife for fraud with aggravated circumstances and breach of public trust.

The attorney-general alleged that from September 2010 until March 2013, Netanyahu acted in coordination with the other defendant in the case, former Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general Ezra Seidoff, to falsely misrepresent that the Prime Minister’s Residence did not employ a chef.

According to the allegations, Netanyahu and Seidoff made misrepresentations to circumvent and exploit regulations that stated: “In a case where a cook is not employed in the [prime minister’s] official residence, it is permitted to order prepared food as needed.”

The two hoped to obtain state funding both for the chef at the residence and for prepared food orders. In this way, the two allegedly obtained from the state NIS 359,000 for hundreds of prepared food orders.

However, Netanyahu’s lawyers appear to have reduced the NIS 359,000 sum to NIS 175,000, using various defenses.

In addition, the revised indictment made it sound like Netanyahu did not actively act falsely, but merely passively did not tell some of the office staff that there was a cook and that having a cook meant she needed to limit prepared food orders.

Furthermore, in 15 instances, invoices to chefs who were brought in from outside were falsified in order to circumvent limits on how much could be paid toward outside chefs. Seidoff directed the chefs, the house managers and Netanyahu’s secretaries to falsify the invoices in these instances.

Charges against Netanyahu for these 15 instances were previously closed by Mandelblit, as there was insufficient evidence to prove that she knew about the actions of Seidoff and the others.

Seidoff’s plea deal includes admitting to the same crime as Sara Netanyahu, with a fine of NIS 10,000 as well as community service hours, which will be set by the court.

Originally there were six other probes of Mrs. Netanyahu, but Mandelblit closed the other cases without an indictment.  (Jerusalem Post) Yonah Jeremy Bob

Gaza balloon terrorism continues despite ceasefire efforts

The incendiary balloon terrorism from the Gaza Strip shows no signs of slowing down despite the Qatari aid being transferred to the enclave, with dozens of fires being started in the nearby Israeli communities over the weekend.

Qatari envoy to Gaza Muhammad al-Emadi was to enter the Hamas-controlled enclave sometime on Sunday to deliver $25 million in aid to the officials in the Strip, said Palestinian sources. The transfer of the funds is apparently one of the key demands put forward by the terror group in order for the quiet along the border to be maintained.

Fire in a wheat field started by incendiary balloons

At least three fires were started on Sunday in the Eshkol and Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Councils. All the fires had been extinguished and no injuries were reported. The same two communities were subjected to incendiary balloons attacks on Friday as well with at least seven fires breaking out there.

In addition, on Thursday an explosive device attached to a balloon was found in Kibbutz Ruhama near the southern city of Sderot and a fire broke out in Simhoni Forest near Kfar Aza.

Over the course of Wednesday and Tuesday more than a dozen blazes broke out in the communities bordering Gaza as a result of incendiaries being launched into Israel by Palestinian factions in the Strip.

Last week it was reported terror groups in Gaza appear to have found a new method of launching incendiary balloons in order to ignite as many fires as possible on Israeli territory, thereby maximizing the damage.

The latest upgrade in what has become an entire arsenal of terror tools for the Palestinian factions in Gaza is to soak a slow-burning fuse in explosive liquids and attach it to an incendiary balloon. The balloon drips fireballs as it flies, creating several ignition points from just one device. (Ynet News) Matan Tzuri

Israeli cabinet names Golan’s newest town ‘Trump Heights’

The Israeli cabinet was holding its weekly meeting Sunday on the Golan Heights, instead of Jerusalem, and voting on a resolution to “initiate establishment of a new residential community on the Golan Heights to be named for U.S President Donald Trump,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The name of the new Golan locality will be Ramat Trump – Trump Heights, it said.

The PMO said that the move was being taken in recognition of the president’s efforts “on behalf of the State of Israel in a wide range of areas,” including “American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman would be attending the cabinet meeting, said the PMO.

In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided his cabinet details of the community to be named for the U.S. president.

It followed the ceremony at the White House in March, attended by the Israeli prime minister, in which Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War after the Syrians had amassed troops on the former border.

During the 19 years after the State of Israel was established, Syrian snipers and artillery used the Heights to fire at Israeli civilians below.

In 1981, the Israeli parliament passed legislation extending Israeli law to the Golan. (WIN)

With glitz and glamor, Tel Aviv celebrates Mideast’s largest Pride parade

Tens of thousands of people were celebrating in Tel Aviv’s streets Friday as the famously gay-friendly city put on one of the world’s larger Pride parades.

Rainbow flags flooded the streets, and organizers said some 250,000 people were expected to take part in the annual event.

The parade and accompanying festivities kicked off at 10 a.m. and were to continue until 7:30 p.m., with many streets in the city center closed for the duration.

Men and women in colorful costumes, including some dressed as samba dancers, paraded through the streets on motorized floats or sashayed alongside.

People take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv

One float depicted a gym, with musclebound young men in shorts, and another held drummers and dancers.

Loudspeakers blasted dance tunes and favorites from last month’s Eurovision song contest, which was held in Tel Aviv.

With the temperature Friday at a balmy 28 degrees Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) clothing was for the most part minimal.

The march this year is being held under the slogan “The Fight for Equality,” with activists decrying continuing discrimination by the state.

Ohad Hizki, director of The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, said marchers hope “to bring about change in Israeli society and send a message that we need to end discrimination against the gay community and create an equal and tolerant society.

“The march itself is happy…but that is the essence of this fight…we won’t let anyone put the community in the closet.”

Hizki said that this year “over 40 parades and other events are taking place, an unprecedented number. The gay community is an inseparable part of Israeli society and we won’t let it be ignored.”

Gay couples cannot get married in Israel, though the government recognizes unions performed elsewhere. They also do not have the same rights to surrogacy as straight couples. And transgender people continue to report discrimination and have often suffered abuse in public.

Politicians in attendance included Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich, Stav Shaffir and Amir Peretz, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg and Blue and White’s Miki Haimovich, Idan Roll and Eitan Ginzburg.

New Justice Minister Amir Ohana, the country’s first openly gay minister, also took part, and President Reuven Rivlin sent a message of support.

For the first time, Friday’s parade began from Ben Zion Boulevard, not Gan Meir, home to the city’s LGBTQ community center, due to the large number of expected participants.

The parade route went down Ben Zion Boulevard to Bograshov Street before hitting the seaside promenade. More than a dozen sponsored floats were set to meander down the promenade, boasting DJs, elaborate costumes, and plenty of alcohol, to the final party at Charles Clore Park near the beach.

Tel Aviv’s parade is the largest in the Middle East and one of the 10 largest Pride parades in the world.

The annual Pride parade is the boisterous end to more than 45 Pride-related events across Tel Aviv, including the first National Conference on LGBTQ issues as well as art exhibitions, lectures, and plenty of parties at nightclubs and bars.

Several hundred police and volunteers will be on hand, a fraction of the massive police force called in to protect Jerusalem’s more tense annual parade last week.

The Tourism Ministry estimates that 25,000 to 30,000 people come from abroad to participate in Israel’s Pride events, injecting some NIS 162 million ($45 million) into the local economy. The ministry spends NIS 320 million ($89 million) on advertising Israeli tourism to gay audiences, including for Pride Week.

In the past, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community activists have been critical of the large budget for tourism marketing compared to the paltry budget for community activities.

Among the throngs celebrating in Tel Aviv will be American actor Neil Patrick Harris, who is this year’s International Pride Ambassador.

“I agreed to be International Ambassador on the condition that my children would start calling me that as well, but it hasn’t caught on,” Harris said at a press conference ahead of the parade.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” said Harris, known for his roles on TV’s “How I met your Mother” and “Doogie Howser M.D.”

“I’ll be the guy dancing with his shirt off on one of those floats,” he joked.    (the Times of Israel) Staff and agencies

The Palestinians are choosing to fall behind

The Palestinians, true to tradition, are choosing the path of rejection, but this time they are alone. They could lose more than their power to veto normalization of Israeli-Arab ties. At stake now is their ability to decide their own fate.

by  Prof. Eyal Zisser                      Israel Hayom

https://www.israelhayom.com/opinions/the-palestinians-are-choosing-to-fall-behind/

As they step even closer to the abyss, the Palestinians are trying to drag the entire Arab world down with them. They expect and are essentially demanding for Arab states to turn their backs on their ally, the United States, and join the Palestinian Authority in its quarrel with Washington, sever all contact with the Trump administration, and help the Palestinians torpedo efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In the past, the Palestinians simply had to nod in a certain direction for the Arab world to heed their desires and whims and dutifully follow the dictates of the PLO and its leaders. The glory days of Palestinian nationalism, however, are gone. Arab countries no longer fear saying no to the Palestinians. They also don’t want to abandon their own interests anymore on the Palestinians’ behalf; or more to the point, on behalf of their contrariety, caprice, and inability to make the courageous and often painful but necessary compromises for the sake of their own future.

The Arab world, by and large, no longer views Israel as the enemy – rather as a strategic ally in the fight against the extremism and terror espoused by Iran and its proxies. For many Arab countries – which can no longer neglect or jeopardize their futures in service of the Palestinian cause – this fight is imperative.

The decision by Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Gulf States to attend the US-led economic summit in Bahrain, therefore, is a resounding slap in the face of the Palestinian Authority and expresses an utter lack of faith in its path and leadership. Consequently, Palestinian Authority leaders now find themselves without troops and without support. The Palestinian public is fed up with the PA and doesn’t trust it anymore. Arab countries are following suit.

The Palestinians, true to their tradition, are choosing the path of rejection while dodging the tough decisions, but this time they are alone and lagging behind the pack. If they aren’t careful they could lose more than their power to veto normalization of Israeli-Arab ties, which they essentially squandered a long time ago. What’s really at stake now is their ability to decide their own fate.

The United States and Israel have already made it clear they will not wait for the Palestinians, and Arab states are now signaling they won’t let the Palestinians obstruct the Americans’ effort to introduce a regional, and even an Israeli-Palestinian accord.

To Be Jewish Is to Know Adversity – and to Thrive in Spite of It – Ronald S. Lauder (Jerusalem Post)

We were brought to the brink of extinction by the Nazis, but even the greatest evil was not enough to stop us, and out of the ashes rose a new state for our people, Israel. Through innovation and moxie, multiple generations of Israelis have changed the world.

Even as Jews have thrived around the globe since the end of the Holocaust, an ominous undercurrent of anti-Semitism has remained. Now that current is a rising tide, one that threatens to plunge us back into the darkness.

Once again, Jews are being persecuted for the simple reason that they are Jews. In the U.S., nearly 60% of religion-based hate crimes committed in 2018 were against Jews, who make up 2% of the population.

Given our understanding of how hatred toward Jews can quickly escalate to concerted violence, one might think the reaction to this threat would be swift and decisive. But governments around the world have been slow to grasp the threat, and even slower to respond and counter it.

We must ask more of the world. Today, I am calling on all heads of state, on all business leaders, on the people who run media and social media companies, on ambassadors and artists and those who shape opinion around the world, to reject anti-Semitism and to work to prevent crimes of hatred against Jews and all people.

We Jews have always stood tall, even when we’ve been forced to stand alone. But today we must not stand alone. Now, let people of good conscience around the world join us.

The writer is President of the World Jewish Congress.