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Latest News in Israel – 25th October

Israeli and Saudi officials met, broke the ice, analysts say

Despite strong denial by the Saudi government, many analysts in Israel and the Middle East believe that a meeting did take place between Israel and Saudi Arabia, indicating the two countries are inching closer to a diplomatic relationship.          (World Israel News)


Security barrier breach shows vulnerability to attacks’ security officials say

The breach in the West Bank security barrier shows that the southern area of the country is still vulnerable to terrorist attacks, Yesha Council security head Shlomo Vaknin said on Monday.

He spoke two days after 67 Palestinian thieves from the Hebron area managed to illegally enter Israel through a water pipe, situated under a concrete stretch of the barrier that separates the Negev from the South Hebron Hills.

According to Israel Police the thieves then entered Moshav Shekef and were able to pick 30 tons of grapes and tomatoes before they were detected.

“The problem isn’t the tomatoes,” said Vaknin. “The problem is what would have happened if the terrorists had come in.”

“Next time there could be a murder,” said MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi).

The infiltration occurred along a 42-kilometer stretch of the barrier that has been rebuilt in the last year. The Defense Ministry replaced a wire fence with concrete slabs but left areas underneath for water to flow through in large concrete pipes during the rainy season.

The pipes are not the only opening in the barrier, which has not yet been built in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank.

Yogev has called for an emergency meeting of Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subgroup on Judea and Samaria to discuss the security failures that occurred during that breach.

“This was an intelligence failure,” said Col. (res.) Danny Tirza, who was the original architect of the barrier.

On its own the barrier is just a concrete wall, he said, adding that it works only in conjunction with IDF and Border Police patrols, intelligence work and electronic systems.

In this instances, he said, there were no alerts that went off to indicate a breach. He added that the “army and the Border Police did not work together.”

As of this summer, only some 470 kilometers of the barrier’s 790 kilometer route had been completed. Among the unbuilt stretches are the routes in the areas of Ariel in Samaria, Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and the section from the Dead Sea to Yatir.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel thwarts smuggling attempt at Gaza border crossing

Israeli authorities have foiled an attempt to smuggle thousands of military gloves destined for Hamas hidden in a shipment of clothing products, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced Monday.

Officials from the Crossing Authority of the Ministry of Defense along with representatives from the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) and the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) discovered the gloves at the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza on Sunday.

According to the Defense Ministry, the gloves were allegedly intended for use by the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip. The truck and all of its contents was confiscated and transferred to a special joint team of COGAT, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, Israel Police, Customs and the Ministry of Defense’s Crossing Authority, which combats smuggling.

Director of the Kerem Shalom crossing, Ami Shaked, praised the activity of the inspection team, saying that constant attempts to smuggle military equipment into the Strip are part of a “daily war” that is fought by the best people in the country and mostly hidden from the public eye.

“We will continue to fight smuggling at all times,” he said, adding that “only merchandise that has been coordinated and approved in advance and that does not assist terror elements will enter.”

According to Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) Commander, Col. Fares Atilla, Hamas “has repeatedly tried to exploit Israel’s policy towards the civilian residents of the Gaza Strip for terror purposes. We will continue to thwart and prevent the exploitation of civilian policies for terror purposes and for the terror organization Hamas.”

Israeli authorities intercept illicit goods heading for Hamas on a regular basis at crossings from Israel into the Strip.  Last January, COGAT said that it had foiled, 226 smuggling attempts in 2016 through the Kerem Shalom crossing, an increase of 165% from the previous year.

In early October, authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle thousands of military-grade shoes labeled as slippers destined for Hamas’s military wing in Gaza. The boots were discovered after authorities at the Kerem Shalom Crossing stopped an Israeli truck carrying a large shipment of “slippers” after it aroused suspicion.  According to the defense ministry, when security officials examined the innocent-looking slippers, which had emojis on them, they found professional-grade Magnum military boots in a variety of colors.   (Jerusalem Post)

Opening Knesset, Rivlin warns of government ‘coup’ against democracy

Speaking at the opening of the Knesset winter session on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin launched a passionate defense of the judicial system and the media, saying government attempts to undermine them amount to a “coup” against the pillars of Israeli democracy.

“The Knesset is the representative of the sovereign, the people of Israel, the entire people of Israel. In this house we must remember that it is the people we must live up to. This wonderful people who we have been privileged to serve and represent,” Rivlin told Knesset members and guests at the ceremony.

Rivlin accused political leaders of weakening state institutions by politicizing them for narrow short-term gain. “From the ‘political’ professional bureaucracy to the ‘political’ state comptroller, the ‘political’ Supreme Court ‘politicians,’ the ‘political’ security forces, and even the IDF, our Israel Defense Forces are ‘political;’ the whole country and its institutions – politics,” he said.

Slamming legislative efforts to “weaken the Supreme Court” and “silence the free media,” Rivlin likened attempts to the “judicial revolution” of former Supreme Court chief justice Aharon Barak in 1996, which sought to give the court widened powers to overturn Knesset laws.

“About a decade ago I stood before one of the giants of Israeli law, Aharon Barak, and warned that the announcement of the constitutional revolution was actually a declaration of a coup. I said to him then, and I quote: ‘Any definition that changes the balance (of power), any act that expresses or even symbolizes stepping into the territory of another branch creates a reality of ‘chaotic democracy,’ of systemic and dangerous chaos,” Rivlin said.

“Today, some three decades after the announcement of that ‘constitutional revolution,’ I would like to point out what I believe to be the counter-movement of the historical pendulum, in what seems to be a decision of the top echelons to tip the balance,” he added.

Rivlin, a former Likud lawmaker, was criticized by party members for his comments.

“He hasn’t been on our side for a while,” MK David Bitan told reporters in the halls of the Knesset.

Sport and Culture Minister Miri Regev also slammed Rivlin. “A president that belittles politicians, belittles the will of the people and hurts the heart of democracy,” she said.

Ahead of the winter sitting, several coalition lawmakers have vowed to advance a constitutional Basic Law to rein in the Supreme Court, accusing the justices of overstepping their mandate in rejecting Knesset legislation in a series of recent rulings.

Speaking at the weekly faction meeting of his Jewish Home party, flanked by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Bennett accused the Supreme Court, which doubles as the constitutional High Court of Justice, of “forgetting” its role and placing the judiciary above the legislative branch.

“There are judges in Jerusalem who have forgotten that there is also a government in Jerusalem,” said Bennett, as the Knesset reconvened after a three-month break. “In recent years, the High Court has placed itself above the legislature instead of alongside it.”

The minister, whose Jewish Home party is a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, said a proposed Basic Law to delineate the boundaries of the judiciary and legislative branches would be his “central goal” over the next few months.

Rivlin said that the efforts would only served to “intimidate the court, to weaken it as an institution and to invite the public to challenge his authority and decisions.”

“The same applies to the media,” Rivlin said, referring to months of criticism leveled against Israel’s media outlets by Netanyahu and his Likud allies over coverage of two criminal investigations into the premier’s alleged corruption.

Earlier this month, it was reported that police were deepening their investigations into Netanyahu’s actions and that he will be summoned soon for questioning in the two investigations against him, cases 1000 and 2000.

Case 1000 relates to allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Investigators are also expected to set a date for Netanyahu to provide testimony as a witness in Case 3000, which involves suspected corruption by several associates of the prime minister in the sale of German submarines to Israel, the report said. Netanyahu is not a suspect in the submarines case.

At solidarity rallies organized on his behalf, Netanyahu has castigated the “left and the media” — asserting that the two are “the same thing.”

“The Israeli media is not free from criticism,” Rivlin said. “It sometimes sins. However, it is one thing to work on repairing the media, and to require it to be more diverse, professional and more practical — and another to seek to control it.”

Rivlin concluded by calling on lawmakers to end “what appears to be an ongoing attempt to weaken the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy.”  (the Times of Israel)

Liberman says rockets from Syria were deliberate and calls on President Rivlin to pardon jailed Hebron shooter immediately

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman agreed with news reports on Monday that the rockets that exploded in the Golan Heights on Saturday were not a spillover from the civil war in Syria.

“Regarding the shooting in the north, this is not a spillover,” Liberman said at a Yisrael Beyteinu faction meeting. “This is deliberate firing carried out by a squad operated by Hezbollah, which did so independently of the Assad regime.”

Liberman added that “Nasrallah’s instruction was that Assad appear unconnected to the shooting, and therefore I call on the Assad regime, which we consider responsible for everything that happens on Syrian soil, and also on the Russian forces to restrain Hezbollah.”

The Yisrael Beyteinu Chairman explained that “this is another example of why they (Iran, ed.) should be expelled from Syria as soon as possible. Hezbollah is trying to drag us into fighting in Syria.”

Defense Minister Liberman stated that Elor Azariya should be released from prison. “I want to remind you that in the end, this is a case of an outstanding soldier and a terrorist who tried to kill IDF soldiers. Everyone is aware that both Azariya and his family paid a heavy price.

“The affair also affects the IDF. We should leave behind us it as soon as possible. We have to release him immediately.” (Arutz Sheva)

Israel said to carry out airstrike on IS-linked group in Syria

At least 10 members of a small jihadist faction linked to the Islamic State terror group were killed Monday in air strikes in southern Syria, a monitor said, blaming Israel but offering no evidence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit the town of Sahm al-Jolan in the west of Daraa province.

The monitor said 10 fighters from the Jaish Khaled Bin Walid group were killed, along with two women believed to be the wives of fighters from the faction.

The strike hit a base belonging to the group, which has pledged allegiance to IS but was never formally incorporated into it.

The Observatory offered no evidence that Israel carried out the strike. It relies on a network of sources inside Syria, and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had no comment on the report.

Israel has acknowledged several strikes in Syria, almost always at shipments of arms, or on facilities producing weapons for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

In other cases it has retaliated for rockets and shells fired into Israel.

Five rockets were fired at the Golan Heights in Israel over the weekend. Defense Minister Avidor Liberman blamed Hezbollah, but the IDF said it was still not clear who had fired the rockets. Israel fired back into Syria, hitting three rocket launchers, in response to the rocket fire, and warned that further fire would prompt a more intensive response.

The Observatory said Monday’s strike came several months after 16 fighters from the group were killed in suspected Israeli air strikes in the same area.

Jaish Khaled Bin Walid was formed in May 2016, and is an alliance of several jihadist groups, the largest of them the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, which was listed by Washington as a terrorist group.

In November 2016, Israel’s army said it had targeted members of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade after they fired at an Israeli soldier in the Golan Heights.

The Observatory said Jaish Khaled Bin Walid is estimated to have some 1,200 fighters, and controls territory in western Daraa province, along the border with the Golan Heights.

Israel captured 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

The two countries are still technically at war.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.   (the Times of Israel)

70th Independence Day festivities to highlight Israeli innovation

Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018 are expected to highlight Israel’s heritage and innovation. Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis will host an event honoring Israel’s Nobel Prize laureates as part of the Independence Day festivities this coming spring, to be attended by representatives from the 160 countries with which Israel maintains diplomatic relations.

Akunis told Israel Hayom that he decided to make the flagship Independence Day event an international conference of science and technology. The event will be held in May in Jerusalem,while Israel will celebrate Independence Day on April 19.

In addition to the conference, guests will spend three days touring heritage sites in Jerusalem and around the country, exemplifying the Jewish people’s deep ties to the Land of Israel.

Akunis noted that Israel has science and technology agreements in place with 35 countries. Two of these agreements were signed during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent trip to Latin America.

Akunis said he expects dozens of ministers from around the world to accept the invitation to meet Nobel Prize laureates and tour the country.

“Many [of them] want to understand this miracle of Israel as a science powerhouse,” he said.

In recent years, six Israelis have won the Nobel Prize for chemistry: Arieh Warshel, Michael Levitt, Dan Shechtman, Ada Yonath, Robert Aumann, Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko. Two have won the Nobel Prize in economics: Robert Aumann and Daniel Kahneman.

In January, the government decided to establish designated headquarters to oversee the upcoming Independence Day festivities, and also decided that the official events marking Israel’s 70th Independence Day should express the spirit, vision and achievements of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state throughout its existence.

Similar initiatives were proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon. Netanyahu’s initiative would see 160 international representatives arrive in Israel for Israel’s 70th Independence Day, while Danon proposed inviting 160 representatives from the different countries to an event at the original U.N. headquarters in New York where in 1947 the world body adopted the plan for the partition of Mandatory Palestine. (Israel Hayom)

In Israel, descendants of Aboriginal ANZAC soldiers retrace forgotten stories

On trip marking 100 years since one of the last great cavalry battles in history, descendants of WWI Commonwealth soldiers seek to shed light on army’s discrimination at home

By Melanie Lidman                The Times of Israel


Members of a 10-horse cavalry procession that took place as part of the October 23, 2017 ceremony commemorating the battle for the Tzemach train station in northern Israel.

One hundred years ago, the sound of hoofbeats and war cries rolled across northern Israel, as soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, mounted on horseback, fought against German soldiers at one of history’s last great cavalry battles.

Descendants of the Australian soldiers who fought in Palestine during WWI returned to the site on Monday as part of the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, where hoofbeats again rang out on stone pathways during a somber procession.

The Battle of Tzemach is a largely overlooked yet significant battle that came in the last weeks of World War I. It is considered one of the last cavalry battles in history, as few cavalry units were still in use by the time World War II broke out. Tzemach is much less well known than the other large ANZAC battle in Beersheba. Beersheba was much more documented in war diaries and was the subject of a 1941 movie called 40,000 Horsemen.

The Jewish National Fund/Keren Keyemet L’Yisrael and JNF Australia are leading 100 people, including descendants, researchers, and politicians, through 10 days of commemoration of the ANZAC campaigns in Israel. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Armed Corps, which supported the British during their battles against the Ottoman Empire and German forces during WWI.

Twelve of the participants on the trip are part of the Rona Tranby Trust, an oral history organization in Australia. They are dedicated to preserving stories of the Aboriginal ANZAC soldiers, many of whom did not receive the same rights and recognition as European Australians.

Doris Paton, from Queensland, recalled her family’s stories about her great-grandfather’s escapades during four years in Palestine from 1915 to 1919. “As an Aboriginal man, he was very good with horses,” she said of her great grandfather David Mullet, who was with the 1st Redmont Unit. “He came because he thought, like other Australian men, he thought he would be given land when he came back. That didn’t happen.” Paton said her great-grandfather’s family was forced to live on a “mission station,” similar to Indian reservations in the United States.

Descendants of ANZAC soldiers embrace after planting a tree in memory of their ancestors next to the Tzemach train station in northern Israel on October 23, 2017.

“They were not allowed to leave the missions, so he decided that one way to get off the mission and do something exciting, and also to get away from oppression they lived under was to enlist,” said Paton. “When they were overseas, they were treated the same and were equals [as European-Australians]. But when they came back they were not allowed the same entitlements as the other Australian men that came to war.”

Paton, who is writing a book about her great-grandfather, said she wanted to come to Israel to research and raise awareness of the sacrifice of Aboriginal soldiers, including the discrimination they continued to face upon their return.

“This story of the contribution of Aboriginal soldiers in the first world war isn’t as well known, so it’s opportunity to share this story with Australia,” she said.

Peta Flynn has a great uncle who fought in the Battle of Beersheba. She noted that Australia has typically focused on larger battles in the Ottoman Empire during memorials, such as Galicia or Gallipolli. “But with the hundred year anniversary, a lot more knowledge is coming out on other battles that happened,” she said.

With that is a greater appreciation for Aboriginal, or indigenous soldiers.

“A lot of indigenous soldiers said they were European so they could enlist, so it’s lost to history how many indigenous soldiers were over here,” said Flynn, whose great uncle Charles Fitzroy Stanford was part of the Australian Light Horse 12th Regiment.

Historians estimate that as many as 1,000 of the approximately 4,500 Australian soldiers who fought in Palestine in WWI were Aboriginal, though it’s difficult to track. In the beginning of the war, Aboriginals were barred from enlisting, so many lied about their origins. The cavalry units were especially popular for Aboriginal soldiers since many had experience handling horses at home.

Other events commemorating the 100th Anniversary include a 100-km “Ride Like an ANZAC” bike ride.  The fundraising ride will trace the route ANZAC soldiers took to conquer the city of Beersheba from the Ottoman Empire, and open the road to Jerusalem for General Allenby’s British Army brigades.

The main reenactment will take place on October 31 in Beersheba with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnball. The former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English, was also slated to attend before Jacinda Arden became the new Prime Minister on Friday.

The re-enactment at Tzemach commemorated a decisive, though less well-known battle.

Many Aboriginal soldiers joined the ANZAC cavalry units, commemorated here during an October 23, 2017 ceremony at the old Tzemach train station, though they were forced to lie about their origins since the army did not allow Aboriginals to enlist.

The Tzemach train station was originally built in 1905 as part of the Mediterranean branch of the Hejaz railway from Damascus to Mecca, and was meant to bring Palestinian pilgrims to Mecca. It was also the strongest building around, and a natural choice for the German and Ottoman soldiers to occupy.

In the early dawn of September 25, 1918, members of the 4th Light Horse Brigade’s 11th Regiment charged the train station from two directions: the east and the west. They galloped towards the German’s machine guns with their swords drawn, dodging hand grenades and artillery to engage in fierce hand-to-hand combat.

Australian war historian H.S. Gullett wrote of the Tzemach battle:

”The garrison, outnumbering the Australians by two to one, and made up largely of Germans, had, in addition to their extraordinary position and their machine guns, an ample store of hand grenades. They fought with exceptional boldness and stubbornness, their courage stimulated by an abundance of rum. But the Australians would not be denied.”

Fourteen of the Australian soldiers and 98 Germans died during the battle. About a quarter of the nearly 700 soldiers engaged in the battle were injured.

Fierce fighting during the 1948 War of Independence gutted the building, and the Tzemach train station was abandoned for decades before opening as an archive and study center for Kinneret College in 2012.

JNF/KKL maintains an “ANZAC Trail” which marks important battles during WWI. The delegation will follow the trail over the next 10 days, culminating in the reenactment of the Battle of Beersheba on October 31.