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Latest News in Israel – 20th November

Hidden gems of Jerusalem

By Noam Chen            The Times of Israel

We all know that each city we visit has its “must-see” sites and attractions. First-time visitors to Jerusalem usually go to the Western Wall, the Old City market and the Tower of David, to name a few of the city’s most famous landmarks.

But a city that dates back thousands of years, with rich history unlike any other on earth, has much more than meets the eye. So much so that even its own residents are sometimes not aware of what lies nearby, above their heads or beneath their feet.

I have spent many years photographing Jerusalem, and I have seen its many sides. Almost every time I went back to the city, there was something new I hadn’t seen before.

I recently teamed up with local tour guide Jacob Bildner, an expert in tours of the city, and together we set out on a special mission to uncover the hidden world of Jerusalem. Jacob was instrumental in helping me discover some of the city’s most fascinating secrets, from sites that are not accessible to the public to places that are literally hidden from sight. The rapport he has built with the communities connected to each site was invaluable in securing private access to many of those that we visited.

Exploring these sites was a mind-blowing and unforgettable trip to the past, unveiling even more layers of the holy city.

I have gathered eight of these hidden gems to show you a side of Jerusalem that you might not have seen:

Click on the URL:


Two Israelis hurt in Gush Etzion ramming attack

Two Israelis were injured Friday, one of them seriously, when a Palestinian terrorist rammed a truck into them in the Gush Etzion area in central Judea and Samaria.

The terrorist then tried to stab soldiers and was shot, the Israeli military said.

The vehicle attack occurred at two separate junctions, with the terrorist hitting one victim at one location and then hitting the other further down the road.

The two victims and the terrorist were evacuated to hospitals in Jerusalem for treatment.

The victim who sustained light injuries, David Ramati, said he had seen the terrorist charge toward him at the Efrat junction, smiling broadly.

“I was on my way to work and I couldn’t find a ride,” he said.

“I saw an Arab in a truck on the right side of the road make a turn and come back around toward me. I saw his face, with a big smile on it. I went for my gun but realized that I didn’t have time. He came at me with great speed.

“He sent me flying 10 or 11 meters [30 or 40 feet] in the air.”

The terrorist rammed the second victim, then left the vehicle and tried to stab an army officer at the site.

The second victim was described as being in serious condition.

The 17-year-old terrorist was shot by Israeli security forces and was reportedly in critical condition.

A wave of Palestinian street attacks began in October 2015 but has since slowed. Israel blames the violence on incitement by the Palestinian leadership. (Israel Hayom)

Palestinians say they won’t be blackmailed by US move to close Washington office

Palestinian officials expressed surprise on Saturday at a US decision to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington unless the group enters peace negotiations with Israel, and said they would not surrender to blackmail.

A US State Department official said that under legislation passed by Congress, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not renew a certification that expired this month for the PLO office, “given certain statements made by the Palestinian leaders about the International Criminal Court.”

The law says the PLO, the main Palestinian umbrella political body, cannot operate a Washington office if it urges the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian Authority called on the ICC “to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

The State Department official added that restrictions on the PLO in the United States, including the operation of its Washington office, could be waived after 90 days if US President Donald Trump “determines the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

“We are hopeful that this closure will be short-lived,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Palestinian presidency expressed surprise at the US move, which was first reported by the Associated Press.

WAFA quoted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki as saying that Palestinian leaders would not give in to blackmail or pressure regarding the operation of the PLO office or negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The agency quoted a spokesman for Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdainah, expressing surprise, given that meetings between Abbas and Trump had been “characterized by full understanding of the steps needed to create a climate for resumption of the peace process.”

A Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters the State Department had informed the Palestinians of the decision on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear what effect the State Department’s move might have on the Trump administration’s efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which are led by Jared Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Abbas’ spokesman called the US move an unprecedented step in US-Palestinian relations that would have serious consequences for the peace process and US-Arab relations, according to WAFA.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Saturday: “This is a matter of US law. We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the US to advance peace and security in the region.”

The State Department official said the US move did not amount to cutting off relations with the PLO or signal an intention to stop working with the Palestinian Authority.

“We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties,” the official said.  (Jerusalem Post)

IDF tank fires warning shot near Syrian army outpost

An IDF tank fired a warning shell near Syrian forces on Saturday after identifying a Syrian army-built outpost in the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel, contrary to ceasefire agreements.

According to the IDF, the outpost was located close to the Druse village of Hader on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights.

Earlier this month, following intense fighting in the village, the IDF said it was willing to provide assistance and prevent the capture of the Druse village by anti-regime forces.

“The IDF is ready and prepared to assist the residents of the village, and will prevent the harming or conquering of the village of Hader because of our deep commitment to the Druse population,” said IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Northern Command commander Maj.- Gen. Yoel Strick and Commander of the Bashan Division Brig.-Gen. Yaniv Ashur were said to be assessing the situation on Israel’s northern border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a statement on his Facebook page reading: “We guard our borders in the North and the South and maintain our support for our Druse brethren.”

Following the deadly attacks, hundreds of Druse residents of Israel gathered at the border to support their relatives on the Syrian side.

A group of Druse men briefly pushed through the security fence, breaching the border, and crossed into Syrian territory before being pursued and corralled back. The situation was then under control.

Last week, an Israel Air Force Patriot missile intercepted an unmanned aerial vehicle that approached the Golan Heights border.

The remains of the UAV, which is believed to have been gathering intelligence for the Syrian regime, fell over the demilitarized zone on the northern Golan Heights.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Israel views any violation of its sovereignty with “great severity,” and reiterated that it would respond to any provocation with force. (Jerusalem Post)

Rivlin rejects pardon request from Hebron shooter

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday rejected an appeal for pardon from a former IDF soldier who was jailed for manslaughter after he shot dead an injured and supine Palestinian attacker following a stabbing in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Rivlin’s decision came despite a request from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that the president pardon Elor Azaria, who is serving 14 months in prison for his crime.

“The President has given his opinion regarding the offenses committed by you and their circumstances, the content of your written application, and all the material and opinions brought before him, and has decided to reject the application,” the Legal Adviser to the President’s Office wrote to Azaria.

“As such, the President concluded that taking all considerations into account … an additional lightening of your sentence would harm the resilience of the Israel Defense Forces and the State of Israel,” the letter said, noting that “the values of the Israel Defense Forces, and among them the Purity of Arms, are the core foundation of the strength of the Israel Defense Forces, and have always stood strong for us in the just struggle for our right to a safe, national home, and in the building a robust society.”

The letter said that the military court had already taken Azaria’s extenuating circumstances into account in the sentencing and IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot had already shortened his sentence..

“In his decision, the President took into account the fact that you are expected to face a committee in approximately three months, to consider your release,” the adviser informed Azaria.

Azaria, at the time of the shooting an enlisted serviceman in the IDF, was convicted of manslaughter for killing Palestinian stabber Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who had been shot and disarmed some 11 minutes earlier after he attacked soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron in March 2016.

Throughout his trial Azaria said that he shot and killed Sharif because he feared the attacker was fitted with a bomb. A military court, however, dismissed the testimony, citing the soldier’s nonchalance in the moments before he opened fire and killed Sharif, and his statements to fellow soldiers that the assailant deserved to die for attacking his comrades. He was sentenced in February 2017 to an 18-month prison term that was later commuted to 14 months by Eisenkot. Azaria had completed his army service by the time of his sentencing but is serving his time in a military prison.

Liberman responded to the decision by saying in a statement that while he “appreciates” the president, he wished to “express sorrow” over the rejection.

Rivlin, he continued, “had an opportunity to put an end to this episode, which roiled Israeli society.”

“Beyond the personal price the soldier and his family paid, I thought, and I still think, that in this special case it was appropriate to consider also public interest, the need to repair the splits in society, and the influence of the incident and the trial on IDF soldiers and the youth facing induction.”

He concluded by noting that Azaria was “an outstanding soldier” who killed “a terrorist.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who opposed Azaria’s imprisonment, criticized Rivlin for not taking the opportunity to set Azaria free.

“The president had an opportunity to realize the proper purpose of the pardoning institute. It is very regrettable that President Rivlin gave in to unacceptable pressures and chose also he to abandon Elor,” Regev said in a statement. “The institute of pardon is intended for exactly cases like this — to complete the gap between the official judgment and the sense of justice and feeling of the broader public. It is a great shame that the president didn’t end this saga today.”

In a letter to Rivlin earlier this month, Liberman said pardoning Azaria would be in the “public interest” and would not undermine the values of the Israel Defense Forces.

Azaria’s months-long trial and conviction revealed deep rifts in Israeli society, with some hailing him as a hero for killing an attacker and others deploring his actions.

Currently, Azaria is scheduled to be released in October 2018. However, he may get out of prison before then, as, under military law, a prisoner is eligible for parole after half the sentence has been served.  (the Times of Israel)

Aussie rocker Nick Cave says he’s in Israel because of BDS

Australian rocker Nick Cave spoke about his love for Israel and his decision to stand up against BDS at a press conference ahead of his Sunday and Monday night sold-out performances in Tel Aviv.

Cave said his connection to Israel began years ago during an initial visit.

“People speak about loving a nation, but I felt a kind of connection that I couldn’t really describe,” he said.

Cave recalled that his 1997 album “The Boatman’s Call” didn’t do well in Israel and he didn’t include Israel in that tour — both because it was thought his music wasn’t popular here, and due to the logistical complications of bringing a tour to Israel.

“And if you do come here,” he added, “you have to go through public humiliation from Roger Waters and his partners and no one wants to embarrass themselves publicly,” he said.

The Australian rocker took heat from Israel boycott activists for this week’s concerts, with Artists for Palestine UK asking the Bad Seeds lead singer to cancel the shows in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.

“For 20 years, I said, ‘let’s give it up,” Cave said of plans to come to Israel. “A few years ago, Brian Eno sent me a letter and asked me to sign it to shut out Israel, and I sent a letter back that said I wouldn’t sign. I understood that I wouldn’t sign but I also wouldn’t perform in Israel — and that seemed like I was acting scared. So I called my people and asked that we perform in Israel.”

Said Cave: “It suddenly became very important to make a stand, to me, against those people who are trying to shut down musicians, to bully musicians, to censor musicians and to silence musicians.”

Cave elaborated that he was in Israel for two reasons: “I love Israel and I love Israeli people,” he said, and he wanted to take “a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”

Cave also spoke about the family trauma his family experienced in the last year, when his 15-year-old son fell from a cliff and died while under the influence of LSD.

Cave’s son had never taken LSD before, and didn’t know anything about it, said Cave.

“He was just a curious kid, and went out and had an accident and died, but it was an accident,” said Cave. “I don’t have a traditional stand against the use of drugs. Maybe I should. My wife and I are very involved parents, who love our kids very much.”

When his son died, said Cave, he felt a tremendous need to get everything out of his system and perform before as many people as possible, “to have something good come out of all this.”  (the Times of Israel)

Israel’s alliances are of utmost importance

By Lior Akerman                 The Jerusalem Post


Recent developments in the Middle East are once again leading us to reexamine the ostensible alliances the State of Israel has made with moderate Sunni Arab states in the region in an effort to advance common interests and to strengthen its military might in the face of threats posed by radical Islamist entities.

What are the main obstacles that must be overcome in order for Israel to achieve an alliance, and how stable can such a pact actually be? Many critics claim that it’s not actually possible to establish an alliance with Muslim countries for the purpose of fighting against other Muslim countries.

The first modern expression of the extreme hatred between the Shi’ite and Sunni communities in the Middle East was the Iran- Iraq war of the 1980s. This centuries- old hatred reared its ugly head again in recent years with the rise of ISIS and its conquest of large sections of Iraq and Syria.

A number of wars over territory have erupted over the years as a result of this conflict. Iraq, which is mainly made up of Shi’ite Muslims, has made numerous attempts to wrest control of Sunni Persian Gulf states. And Iran, which is also mainly Shi’ite, has also made efforts to expand into Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria.

Another ongoing regional power conflict is between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Turkey, in which both nations are vying for control over leadership of the Muslim world in the Middle East and the ultimate desire to create a Muslim caliphate there.

Over the years, many unexpected political, military and economic connections have been formed between the various countries.

For example, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt and then subsequently with Jordan.

Israel has also formed extensive unofficial commercial ties with a number of Sunni Gulf states, which are still in effect today.

All of this is apparently leading Saudi Arabia to change its political positions, recognize Israel, and push other countries to settle regional conflicts and recognize the Jewish state.

Recent events have only served to exacerbate the rifts forming among the various Muslim factions.

Sunni ISIS conquered huge areas of land with the support of Turkey in its early years. Shi’ite Iran and its Lebanon proxy Hezbollah are fighting against ISIS and supporting Sunni Syria. Iran also operates Shi’ite militias in Yemen, which prompted Saudi Arabia to bolster Sunni militias in its southern neighbor.

Moderate Sunni countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, are leading boycotts of Iran and Qatar, which supports radical Islamist terrorism. Within this whirlwind of conflict sits Israel, without a doubt a key player in the region.

Although Israel has the strongest military in the region, it is still an outsider in the Muslim Middle East as the Jewish state. On the one hand, Israel has common interests with many of the moderate Sunni countries in the region, such as a desire to eradicate radical Islamist terrorism, to advance the region’s economy, to improve the welfare of residents, and to prevent the outbreak of war, which would have a deleterious effect on all of the aforementioned goals.

As a result, Israel has begun forging interesting ties with some of these countries based on common economic interests, which could lead to a political calming and growth of these Arab countries’ economies.

Hence, the importance of Israel’s reconciliation with Turkey, despite the extremist proclamations that continue to spew forth from its leader’s mouth. There have also been secret ties with the Saudi royal family, and the strong relationship with the Egyptian government has been a significant factor in mediating between Israel and both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for years.

The excellent relationship Israel has had with Jordan regarding security issues has also been a very important factor leading to regional stability.

Israel has not yet exploited all the potential opportunities for creating alliances that have come its way. A pact could have led to a critical blow for Hamas in the Gaza Strip and to its disappearance from the political arena, or to political agreements, but nothing has happened so far.

Moreover, an alliance could have had considerable positive ramifications for Israel’s economy. Such an alliance, however, also has drawbacks, mainly because most Middle Eastern countries lack governmental stability. Heads of state are constantly being ousted, sometimes even by non-government bodies.

Ruling leaders often change their positions according to the political climate of the moment and their current military needs. For example, the Egyptian-Saudi alliance fell apart following the outbreak of fighting in Syria. The Jordanians have refrained from taking sides for fear of suffering harm from a neighboring country.

None of the governments in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq or Yemen is capable of making any decisions at the current time. As a result, pacts that were forged in the past are no longer valid today.

Moreover, any alliances that included Israel are even shakier.

Today’s ally could turn into an enemy tomorrow and vice versa.

In the recent past, the US has exercised great influence in the region, but since the Obama administration came to power, Russia’s influence has been growing. Sunni Arab countries are now looking toward the Kremlin with high hopes.

The obvious conclusion is that Israel must continue to initiate contact, engage in alliances, and pioneer new economic and military agreements with moderate Sunni countries throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Any country that is willing to interact with Israel based on shared interests should be engaged.

Let us not forget, however, that when the radical Sunni Islamists have finished gobbling up all the Arab countries in the region, they will then realize that there is still a little Jewish country stuck right in the middle whose fate it will have to decide. Would it be better to swallow it up or vomit it out to sea? Only a fool would venture to offer a prophecy.

The writer is a former deputy head of the Israel Security Agency.

Israeli Scientists Have Helped Develop Life-Saving Cancer Drugs

By Benjamin Brafman                 JTA

Why you should support cancer research in Israel

As a busy criminal defense attorney with a roster of high-profile clients, I am not known to shy away from a fight. It doesn’t hurt that I grew up in Brooklyn, the scrappy son of immigrants and Holocaust survivors.

But nothing could have prepared me for the fight of my life, when my wife, Lynda, was diagnosed with breast cancer early on in our marriage. We had two young kids at home, and Lynda had to undergo a radical mastectomy and a year of chemotherapy before she was declared cancer-free and cleared for reconstructive surgery.

I credit her oncologist, Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, with saving Lynda’s life.

What I did not realize at the time was that Lynda’s lifesaving treatment was made possible by the yeoman’s work of scientists working long hours in unglamorous labs trying to understand the biological forces that drive cancer – and how to stop them.

So when God blessed me with professional success, I resolved to join the fight against this scurrilous disease. I turned to Dr. Hirshaut for advice on where to direct my support. His answer surprised me: Israel.

Though a tiny state with a population of just over 8 million, Israel has made disproportionately large contributions to the fight against cancer. A breakthrough in the 1980s by an Israeli scientist, Eli Canaani, was critical to the development of Gleevec, a drug that has saved the lives of millions diagnosed with leukemia. Velcade, a drug used to treat bone marrow cancer, was based on the research of two Israeli professors, Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, and their collaborator Irwin Rose, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2004.

Israeli scientists discovered the role that mutations in the p53 gene play in causing cancerous tumors, and how a minor mutation in the RAD51 gene increases the risk of breast cancer in women with the BRCA2 gene mutation. It was ICRF-supported scientists at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center who contributed to the platform science that resulted in the development of Doxil, the first drug encapsulated in a microscopic fat bubble for direct delivery to a tumor site.

In case after case, significant advances in the science of cancer began in Israel. And then there is this important fact: Because of a lower salary structure and overhead costs, research dollars go much further in Israel than in almost any other developed nation.

So if you want your support to have maximal impact, Dr. Hirshaut told me, invest in Israel.

This, too, animates my support of Israeli science. Despite a spirit-rending campaign in some quarters to isolate the Israeli academic and research community, Israelis continue to make remarkable advancements in technology, medicine, and science – advancements that accrue to the benefit of all humankind.

Want to know what goes on at Israeli institutions of higher education? Learning. Insight. Imagination. Discovery. Healing. The best way to improve Israel’s image around the globe? Support its life-saving science.

For me, the question wasn’t whether to invest in Israel, but where? So many Israeli institutions are doing promising cancer research. How could I choose? Put me in a courtroom and I know my way around. A research lab, not so much.

Dr. Hirshaut introduced me to the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), which raises funds to support the most promising scientific and medical research at institutions across Israel.

The idea for the fund came in 1975 from a group of American and Canadian researchers, oncologists and supporters looking for ways to bolster the fight against cancer while combating the problem of “brain drain” from Israeli research institutions. In the four decades since its establishment, ICRF has distributed more than $60 million through 2,300 research grants to scientists at 24 Israeli institutions — from post-doctoral fellows to Nobel Prize-winners.

To identify the most deserving recipients, several dozen esteemed scientists and doctors from throughout North America meet annually in New York for a rigorous two-day proposal review. The decision-making can be wrenching because life and death hangs in the balance. That’s because every year, dozens of promising proposals go unfunded for one simple reason: We don’t have enough money.

Who knows whether one of those deserving, unfunded requests could have yielded clues to overcoming the early-detection problem of lung or ovarian cancer, or the stubborn lethality of pancreatic cancer?

The simple fact is this: Israel’s government alone cannot meet the needs of scientific research in Israel. Without extra support from Diaspora Jews, Israel risks losing these scientists and humanity risks losing critical, life-saving advancements in the fight against cancer.

At times of crisis, Israel is often among the first countries to step up, from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to the recent earthquakes in Mexico. Israel even extends a helping hand to Syrians, whose country is hostile to the Jewish state. We need to step up for Israel. There’s no better cause, and no better place to invest in the fight against cancer.

I rest my case.