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Latest News in Israel – 19th December

US vetoes UN call for withdrawal of Trump Jerusalem decision

The United States was further isolated on Monday over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital when it blocked a United Nations Security Council call for the declaration to be withdrawn.

The remaining 14 council members voted in favor of the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which did not specifically mention the United States or Trump but which expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.”

The draft also affirmed “that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

Trump abruptly reversed decades of US policy this month when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world and concern among Washington’s western allies.

Trump also plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“In the wake of the decision of the United States … the situation has become more tense with an increase in incidents, notably rockets fired from Gaza and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces,” UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council ahead of the vote.

He was briefing the council on the implementation of a resolution adopted in December 2016 that demanded an end to Israeli settlement building. Mladenov said that “no such steps” had been taken by Israel.

That resolution was approved with 14 votes in favor and an abstention by former US President Barack Obama’s administration, which defied pressure from Israel and Trump, who was then president-elect, for Washington to wield its veto.

“We call on all sides to come and negotiate … Not to come to the Security Council or to the General Assembly, it’s a waste of time. The only way to move forward is by direct negotiations,” Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters before the vote on Monday.

The draft resolution had also called upon all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

“It is in line with previous Security Council resolutions,” British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said of the text voted upon on Monday.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council before the vote: “The United States has an undiminished commitment to helping bring about final status negotiations that will lead to lasting peace. Our hand remains extended to both parties.”  (Jerusalem Post)

IDF confirms rockets fired at Israel land in Gaza

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed Red Alert sirens heard in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council were caused by rockets shot from the Gaza Strip toward Israel that did not reach Israeli territory.

Earlier this evening, rockets fired from the Gaza Strip damaged a home in the area, as two rockets landed in Israeli territory.

Head of the Sdot Negev Regional Council Tamir Idan said in response to the earlier incidents that, “We expect and demand that the security forces will respond strongly and make it clear to the terrorist that the state of Israel is determined not to allow such firing [of rockets] to continue.”

“We are not prepared that an emergency situation will become our daily routine,” he said.

Over a dozen rockets have been fired toward Israeli territory over the past weeks and the IDF has generally retaliated against Hamas targets in the Strip with airstrikes and artillery fire in response, though there have been no such reports with these rockets.

As policy commands and “in response to the rocket fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel earlier today, the IAF targeted a Hamas military compound in the southern Gaza Strip,” read a statement released by IDF Spokesperson Unit after an IAF strike last Wednesday night.

Militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas, have called for a new Palestinian uprising — or intifada — over Trump’s statement.

Tensions along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip have been high as of late, after US President Donald Trump announced that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His declaration set off riots across the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

Militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas, have called for a new Palestinian uprising — or intifada — over Trump’s statement. (Jerusalem Post)

Kuwaiti newspaper: Israel attacked Iranian military factories in Syria

Over the past several months, Israel struck Iranian military factories in Syria, including factories located within civilian industrial areas, according to a report published Saturday by Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.

The newspaper cited intelligence sources and military experts to shed light on attacks attributed to the Israeli Air Force in Syria in recent months. Syria and other involved parties have declined to detail the nature of targeted sites.

According to the report, the majority of sites allegedly targeted — including in Hisya, near Homs, Jamariya, west of Damascus, the Damascus neighborhood of Al-Kiswah and Masyaf —  have one common feature.

They’re all seemingly civilian industrial sites but, in reality, are Iranian military factories built since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

The report referred to the Jamariya site that included a scientific center, destroyed at the start of the Syrian crisis by Israel, and nearby security and intelligence centers that were transformed into military bases in Mount Qasioun, overlooking Damascus, that have been attacked multiple times.

The site and its surroundings also included radar bases which Israel believes are used to disrupt fighter jet abilities, in addition to factories producing surface-to-air missiles developed by Iran under the supervision of Hezbollah.

According to Al-Jarida sources, Israel has taken action across Syria in order to “blind Syrian defensive capabilities” ahead of a major Israeli military operation in cooperation with the US, resulting from Israel’s perception of an Iranian military presence in Syria, in addition to Lebanon, as a tangible threat.

The Al-Kiswah base contained Iranian facilities and Hezbollah bases in addition to weaponry depots and a factory for the construction of advanced missiles. According to the report, Tehran has been building weaponry depots and factories in different areas of Syria and has transferred missile parts to the site, where they are constructed according to needs on the ground.

In other words, Iran has not been constructing its missiles in a single location due to its fear of the site being attacked.

New information relating to Hisya, near Homs, was also published. According to foreign reports, Israel attacked the site in November 2017.

The base, located 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Homs, was used for the production of Iranian precision missiles. The missiles were produced in a factory owned by a Lebanese businessman linked to Hezbollah, Abd Al Nur Shalan, who was blacklisted by the US Treasury Department in 2015 due to his connections with the military activity of Hezbollah.

According to the information, Shalan is acting under the alias Yasser Muhmad. Another Lebanese businessman, Abd Al-Kareem Ali, was also mentioned in the report due to his connections to Iranian military industry and cooperation with Hezbollah on Syrian soil.

Unlike other bases allegedly struck by Israel, the Hisya facility is located within a civilian industrial area.

Military experts told the Kuwaiti newspaper the facility proves that Tehran has started to hide its military activity in Syria, as it does in Iran itself, and is developing Syrian weaponry in civilian facilities, such as centers for agricultural and technological research, as it did in Lebanon. There, Iran set up factories and bases for Hezbollah in industrial areas located between Lebanese cities and towns. (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian Terrorist Carrying Two Bombs Arrested Outside Samaria Courthouse

A Palestinian terrorist carrying two pipe bombs was arrested at the entrance to the Samaria Military Court on Sunday after he attempted to pass through a metal detector.

Following the incident, the terrorist was interrogated and the entrance to the courthouse was closed, while bomb squad technicians moved to neutralize the explosives in a secure location. The terrorist is believed to be a member of a pipe-bomb production ring in Jenin.

In October, a Palestinian terrorist arrived at the entrance to the same Samaria courthouse with a pipe bomb strapped to his body.

Sunday’s incident came after an Israeli Border Police officer was moderately wounded last Friday after being stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist who was wearing a suicide vest amid “day of rage” clashes in Ramallah.

Since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6, Palestinian leaders, including from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, have incited violence on social media.

“I am coming towards you, my enemy, from every home, neighborhood, and street #Jerusalem_is_our_capital,” a post on the official Fatah Facebook page stated on Dec. 11, according to Palestinian Media Watch.

“The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades at the Al-Fawwar refugee camp south of Hebron: ‘It is necessary to continue the intifada and escalate it, and to see days of popular rage in the coming days,’” said a Facebook post by Fatah’s Bethlehem Branch on Dec. 8.  (JNS/the Algemeiner)

Israel’s first Arab Rhodes scholar loves her country and is trying to change it

Lian Najami, Israel’s first Arab Rhodes scholar, is the kind of person who can be optimistic about just about anything — including having a needle stuck in her spine.

As she waited in a Haifa hospital Wednesday morning for a lumbar puncture, Najami expressed hope that the procedure would finally put a name to her degenerative neurological disorder. After that, she said, anything was possible.

“Once we know what it is, we should be able to treat the symptoms better, and maybe one day we will find a cure,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m really excited to see where the world is going to take me next.

“As an Israeli, I guess I have that chutzpah,” she added. “I always have in mind: What can I do from here?”

When Najami, 23, won the prestigious Rhodes scholarship last month, it was the latest of many affirmations of her relentlessly forward-looking worldview. The honor, which provides a free education at Oxford University, was also an opportunity to advance her advocacy work to make Israel a more inclusive place for people like her: a disabled Arab Muslim woman.


Haifa resident Lian Najami poses for a picture in her city

Najami has become a sought-after public speaker on behalf of her country. In recent years, the Haifa native was a featured speaker on leading US campuses like Harvard and Brown, at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit EMEA in Israel, and at events in Germany organized by the Israeli Embassy.

Her message: Arab Israelis, who make up some 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, can succeed in the Jewish state. She has held herself up as living proof.

“I was able to get a great education in Israel, and my social worker really gave me a lot of help and confidence in dealing with my disability, or what I like to call my different ability,” she said.

In addition to her public speaking career, which has been facilitated by her fluency in five languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English, German and Spanish), Najami graduated from the University of Haifa in 2016, where she studied political science and international affairs.

This year, she interned in Washington for US Sen. Brian Schatz, a Jewish Democrat from Hawaii, analyzing counter-terrorism strategies, making policy recommendations, and drafting bills and resolutions. She also helped draft the senator’s speech decrying President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries in which he invoked his own Jewish immigrant ancestors.

However, none of Najami’s previous accomplishments made joining the exclusive ranks of Rhodes scholars  — they were extended last year to include Israelis for the first time — any less exciting. She said she “could not stop crying” after getting the news, and her father is still bragging to friends and acquaintances.

“My family is very happy for me to be the first Arab Israeli to break that barrier and send a message to the Arab society within Israel that there is nothing to stop them,” she said. “I keep getting phone calls from my dad saying, ‘OK, I’m with this person,’ and then he hands over the phone for me to explain the whole thing again.”

Fortunately, Najami is a polished speaker. When it comes to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, for example, she has made the case that it hurts all Israelis — including some of the Arabs it is supposed to help.

“As an Arab Israeli, I would like to tell them, ‘No thank you,’” she said. “Academic boycotts especially prevent us from exchanging and challenging ideas, and that is something we want here.”

Her Israel advocacy has helped make her something of a hero to many Jews.

“Lian is a prime example of why the allegations that Israel oppresses its minorities are false,” said Karen Berman, the CEO of the American Society of the University of Haifa. “To see someone like her receive the Rhodes Scholarship is truly a testament that this is a true meritocracy.

“And on a personal level,” Berman added, “she’s just so lovely and inspiring.”

On the other hand, some Arabs have criticized Najami for allegedly choosing Jewish nationalism over the Palestinian cause — and whitewashing Israel’s oppression of Arab Israelis and Palestinians.

“They don’t understand why I need to speak out for Israel,” she said. “I tell them I’m coming from an agenda of really wanting to let the Arab-Israeli voice be heard and to make sure the Arabs in Israel are treated equally to Jews.”

Like most Arab Israelis, Najami said she is a proud citizen of her country but would not call herself a Zionist. However, she does not identify as Palestinian, she said, explaining that she has not endured the same hardships as her family members living in the West Bank.

She is adamant that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens, and is critical of ways she sees it failing to live up to this ideal. As an example, she said Israel fails to invest sufficiently in Arab communities and denies Arabs equal access to land.

To Najami, Israel is at its best in her hometown of Haifa, where Jews and Arabs live together. She said growing up there, in a highly integrated neighborhood, gave her an early understanding that coexistence is possible. Her first friend was a Jewish girl.

“When I got older and people would come and say, ‘Oh, Jews are like this or Arabs are like this,’ and stuff like that, I would be like, ‘Wait a second, Rita is Jewish but she’s nothing like what you’re saying, so maybe you shouldn’t be generalizing people and stereotyping,’” Najami said.

Najami and her fiance, Joe Ryan-Hume — a Scottish man with a doctorate in American political history whom she met while interning in Congress — are making plans to move to England this summer. In the fall, Najami will start a master’s degree at Oxford, where she will study comparative politics with a focus on inclusion policy. She said she hopes to bring some of the lessons she learns back to Israel.

Najami’s seemingly relentless positivity applies to everything, from her approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict to her personal life. Dealing with a neurological disorder from a young age, she said, has taught her to focus less on grievance and fear and more on solutions.

“I got this chronic illness at the age of 12 when I was dancing, and running and playing football, and suddenly I couldn’t,” she said. “I could have easily played the victim, but I decided to just not focus anymore on who I was, and start focusing on what’s ahead of me and who I can be.

“That also how I look at Israel today. What we should be looking at is, how do we advance from here? How do we incorporate all the people who live in this country and find a way to live together?” (the Times of Israel)

Is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict the “Middle East Conflict”?

By Prof. Hillel Frisch       BESA Center    (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Is the Israel-Palestinian conflict equivalent to “the Middle East conflict,” as UN and EU officials and agencies and major media outlets characterize it? Of course not. The conflict is not nearly as lethal as many others and long ago became parochial compared to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

“Can Trump Solve the Middle East Conflict?” ran the headlines in al-Jazeera in July 2017. A year earlier, The New York Times ran an article on students and the Middle East conflict that referred exclusively to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The media are hardly alone in conflating the Israeli-Palestinian standoff with the Middle East conflict. They take their cue from UN officials and institutions and other international bodies. In a statement similar to those of many of his predecessors, in August 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres “reiterated his call for a political solution to the Middle East conflict.” The UN’s official news site on the Middle East deals exclusively with news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Quartet, the political forum comprised of the US, Russia, the EU, and the UN, which came into existence in 2002 in Madrid to bring peace to the area, is officially known as the Middle East Quartet.

Does the conflation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Middle East conflict reflect reality? Not at all. Not only is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of many conflicts in the Middle East (true even when it was a conflict principally between Israel and Arab states), but it is not nearly one of the deadliest or most explosive. In fact, relatively speaking, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not very violent, which may be one of the reasons it has persisted so long.

A cursory comparison with contemporary conflicts in the Middle East brings this point home. During the first intifada, the second intifada, the three rounds of violence between Hamas and Israel in the past decade, and the intermittent waves of low intensity violence, 2,000 Israeli civilians and security personnel and 11,000 Palestinians have been killed (the majority in the second intifada). To this one might add about fifty foreigners killed in acts of terrorism against Israelis. All told, the total casualty figures, including both sides, do not exceed 14,000 over the past twenty years, or 700 annually.

Compare this with the 200,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war, a conflict that is only six years old. True, the Syrian population is more than double that of the combined Israeli and Palestinian populations in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, the death rate proportionately has been fifteen times higher. Despite the Syrian government’s success against the rebels (achieved with considerable help from Iran, Hezbollah, Iraqi and Afghani Shiite fighters, and Russian airpower), the end of the civil war is nowhere in sight. Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really the Middle East conflict?

Why isn’t the internecine Iraqi conflict the Middle East conflict? According to Iraq Watch, over 100,000 Iraqis were killed during the eight years of massive US military presence in the country. To those one might add the 4,000 US troops and civilians who met their death there. On a proportionate basis, the Iraqi conflict is (and persists in being) at least five times more lethal than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And again, despite the gains made by the Iraqi Federal Army and the Iranian-controlled Shiite militias in the war against ISIS, an end to the internecine war between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is nowhere in sight. The brutality of the Shiite militias in the “occupied” Sunni areas of Iraq increases the likelihood that variations on ISIS will rise once again.

The same is probably true of the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, where few bother to churn the terrible numbers. In these arenas, too, the end of violence is nowhere in sight. This is not to mention the “persistent, enduring and explosive” (all adjectives used to conflate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Middle East) wars of Sudan, the duration of which is almost as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But perhaps body count is not the only metric to be used when judging the centrality of a conflict. Perhaps foreign involvement ought to be considered.

It’s certainly true that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict commands foreign attention, but it does not command foreign involvement. Whereas the conflict between Israel and the Arab states during the superpower rivalry ran the risk of igniting World War III, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long ago became parochial. The last time any Arab state or foreign organization became involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was 35 years ago, when the Syrian army tried to stop the Israeli advance into Lebanon in 1982. In 2006, Hezbollah conducted the longest military campaign to have been conducted against Israel since Israel’s War of Independence – and the Palestinians stood on the sidelines. Hezbollah returned the favor during the rounds of clashes between Israel and Hamas in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Its soldiers remained in the barracks.

As the Israeli-Palestinian trajectory has become increasingly parochial, the trajectories of the other regional conflicts have gone in the opposite direction: They began as local civil wars but evolved into regional and international conflagrations. The Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni conflicts have become three-tiered conflicts – civil or sectarian wars at their base, proxy wars between regional rivals (Iran, Saudi Arabia, and, to a lesser extent, Turkey), and arenas of international contest among world powers. The same Hezbollah that stayed home during the high points of violence between Israel and the Palestinians took to the battlefields of Syria on Iran’s behalf to prop up the Assad regime.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Middle East conflict? Give me a break!

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a welcome, symbolic move

by Colin Rubenstein       The Sydney Morning Herald


Imagine if no other country was prepared to accept that Canberra is our capital, to keep happy a neighbour with more international support, and a habit of issuing violent threats. Instead, they all site their embassies in Melbourne, and maintain that is the capital.

That, in a nutshell, was Israel’s situation, until Donald Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital, and directed the State Department to begin preparing the lengthy process of moving the US embassy there.

Of course, as with everything involving Israel, it’s a bit more complicated, with parts of Jerusalem disputed. However, there is a basic principle of non-discrimination here. As Trump said, in a notably measured and careful speech: “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital.”

In reality, it’s not as complicated as those who disagree with Trump’s decision make out. As he said, the announcement does not affect final status issues, such as the ultimate boundaries of Jerusalem. It is in fact tantamount to acknowledging west Jerusalem only as Israel’s capital and certainly does not preclude the possibility that the Palestinians will have their own capital in the east of the city. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it will not affect the status of any of the holy sites, including those under Muslim control such as the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa compound.

It just acknowledges the facts. Israel does have its capital in west Jerusalem. This has been part of Israel since its inception in 1948, and no one who accepts Israel’s right to exist argues that it won’t remain Israel’s capital in any future peace deal. Furthermore, in Jerusalem’s more than 3000-year history, it has been the spiritual centre of the Jewish world, and has always had a substantial Jewish population, with a Jewish majority since the mid-1800s. Apart from a Crusader kingdom, the only times it has ever been a capital have been when it has been ruled by Jews.

There has also been a bizarre campaign to erase any Jewish connection to the holy city. Bill Clinton once remarked that the only new idea Yasser Arafat brought to the Camp David negotiations in 2000 was that there had never been a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This exercise in rewriting history has in recent years been aided by UNESCO and even the UN, passing resolutions that refer to holy sites in Jerusalem only by their Arab names, thus whitewashing the Jewish ties to the city.

The argument against Trump’s move appears to be that it will make peace harder to achieve. Some Palestinians are certainly declaring this to be the end of negotiations, yet the reality is that in recent years the Palestinian leadership has attempted to achieve their state primarily through an international strategy, which does not rely on negotiations.

In fact, it is strongly arguable that Trump’s recognition is a positive move for peace hopes, especially recalling Israel’s repeated offers, most recently in 2008, of a Palestinian state that included land the equivalent of the entire West Bank and Gaza, not to mention a capital in east Jerusalem.Trump’s announcement may therefore encourage the parties, especially with the prospect of the US launching a new initiative in the not too distant future, to actually return to substantive negotiations.

Ironically, some of those protesting the Trump announcement the loudest are in favour of pre-empting the end game by recognising Palestine as a state. This is rank hypocrisy.

Russia and Vanuatu already recognise west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and hours after the Trump announcement, the Czech Republic made a similar declaration.

It is about time the rest of the international community joined them in acknowledging the obvious. Israel doesn’t deserve different treatment to every other country.

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a welcome, symbolic move to undo a historic injustice that hopefully will also eventually promote a renewed two-state peace process.

Dr Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Previously, he taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.

Abbas errs by snubbing Pence

Editorial from the Australian


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas deserves no credit for his ill-judged refusal to meet Mike Pence during the US Vice-President’s visit to the Middle East this week. The trip was intended to draw attention to the desperate plight of persecuted Christian communities targeted by religious violence across the region. It took on greater significance after Donald Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

Amid the uproar that followed, Mr Pence’s already scheduled visit was seen as an ideal opportunity to explain the US President’s thinking to Palestinian leaders and re-establish links aimed at getting peace talks restarted. Instead, Mr Abbas, through his top aide Majdi al-Khadli, has ruled out any meeting between the Palestinian leader and Mr Pence. The US, Mr Khadli said, “has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision” and there will be no further contact between the Palestinians and Washington.

It would be hard to conceive of a more futile gesture by Mr Abbas as the principal Palestinian interlocutor in peace talks. Mr Trump’s Jerusalem announcement has provoked neither the mass display of Palestinian anger nor the hostility of Arab states that was widely forecast. No less than Turkey’s firebrand President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decried the relatively subdued response to the Jerusalem announcement as “feeble” when he presided over an emergency meeting of the 57 members of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation called to co-ordinate what was supposed to be a concerted reaction. So unenthusiastic or unconcerned were some states, including Saudi Arabia, they sent no more than low-level representatives.

As the White House says, Mr Abbas “is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region”. Indeed, he should learn from the remarkably muted responses of Arab nations. Instead of snubbing Mr Pence, he should seize every opportunity for talks. Arguing that the US has no role to play in the Middle East peace process is delusional.

IDF soldiers sing Channukah songs

IDF soldiers singing Hanukkah

WATCH: IDF soldiers singing Hanukkah songs together.On Hanukkah we celebrate the victorious Jewish revolt, the liberation of Jerusalem, and the rededication of Temple 2,181 years ago.Via Israel Defense Forces

Posted by Love IDF on Sunday, 17 December 2017