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Latest News in Israel – 28th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Syria says Israeli jets carry out airstrike near Allepo

Syrian air defense batteries opened fire on “hostile Israel missiles” near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Wednesday night, the official news agency SANA reported. The site has been targeted before and is believed to be an Iranian base.

SANA said the airstrike targeted several bases near an industrial zone by the airport and that air defenses had managed to intercept several incoming missiles.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Israeli bombardment hit “ammunition stores belonging to Iranian forces and allied groups, and caused huge explosions.”

A number of residents of Aleppo city told AFP that the attack led to a power cut in the whole city.

Israeli officials made no statement on the reports, but seldom comment on alleged strikes.

The night strikes come at a time of heightened tension between Israel and Syria, following Monday’s decision by the US administration to recognize Israel’s control over the Golan Heights it captured from Syria in 1967. The decision sparked condemnation and protests in Syria.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has twice before been accused of targeting the  Al-Nayrab airbase, adjacent to Aleppo’s international airport in an airstrike last year. Al-Nayrab has in the past been linked with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps militia.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.  (the Times of Israel) Staff and Agencies

Syria says Israeli jets carry out airstrike near Allepo

Israel announced on Wednesday that in the year since the Hamas terror group launched its “March of Return” riots along the Israeli border, more than 2,000 violent incidents have emanated from the Gaza Strip

An Israeli statistical review published Wednesday found that Palestinians launched 1,233 rockets from Gaza, hurled 94 explosive devices and 600 Molotov cocktails across the security fence and committed 152 acts of arson against Israelis.

Rocket fire killed one Israeli and injured 126. Palestinian attacks on the security fence killed one Israeli soldier and wounded 16.

Palestinians have used incendiary kites to torch thousands of acres of Israeli farmland, inflicting over $9.5 million in damage.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ supreme leader made his first public appearance since terrorists in the Strip initiated a new round of cross-border violence with Israel this week.

Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday visited the rubble of his Gaza City office, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.

Haniyeh had been in hiding during the two-day flare-up of violence, which ended with an unofficial Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

The fighting broke out after Palestinians launched a number of rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilians, one of which struck a home in central Israel and wounded seven people. Israel responded with dozens of airstrikes in Gaza, while Palestinian terrorists fired dozens more rockets into Israel.

Undeterred, Haniyeh urged Gazans to participate in mass violent riots along the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday marking the first anniversary of the beginning of the disturbances, during which Hamas has used human shields, including woman and children, to launch attacks on Israel.    (United with Israel) Staff

Poll: Majority of Israelis say Israeli response to Hamas not tough enough

A poll by Kan, Israel’s public broadcasting authority, and published Wednesday shows that most Israelis do not think Israel’s response to the most recent barrage of Hamas rockets has been harsh enough.

Of 545 people polled, 53 percent said that the IDF’s counterattacks were too weak following Monday’s rocket launch from Gaza that destroyed a home deep in Israel’s central region and injured seven. Only 29 percent said the response was proportional, while a mere 3 percent considered it too harsh.

In addition, only 24 percent of the respondents gave Netanyahu’s job performance over the last several days a “good” grade. And equal numbers gave him a “poor” or “so-so” rating – 33 percent each.

The IDF has hit dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip since Monday, retaliating both for the hit on the Wolf home in Moshav Mishmeret and for the dozens of rockets Hamas has launched at the south since then.  Several have been intercepted by the Iron Dome system, though one hit a house in Sderot. Fortunately, it failed to explode.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has described the Israel Air Force’s actions as delivering a “very, very powerful” blow against the terrorist organization. This included hitting high-value targets such as the home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, a weapons manufacturing site and a Hamas military compound.

The citizens, especially in the south, however, disagree with the prime minister’s assessment.

Itai Fechter of Kibbutz Kfar Aza harshly condemned Netanyahu. “He’s abandoned us, betrayed us, lies and tricks us,” he charged. “He doesn’t count us, doesn’t recognize us. This was proven yesterday and in general over the last year.”

“I expected yesterday that first of all, deterrence would be re-established,” he continued. “He’s the Defense Minister and he must decide. He’s humiliating himself. It’s a scandal. If schools are already evacuated, classes are closed, army divisions are brought south and an entire country is put under pressure, at least hit Hamas, knock down buildings until they beg for quiet.”

Although people are angry with Netanyahu, the poll did have some good news for the prime minister. Asked who their preferred candidate is for prime minister, Netanyahu nevertheless, despite the criticism, enjoyed a sizeable lead over Blue and White party head Benny Gantz (45%-to-34%).

The poll’s margin of error was 4.4 percent.   (WIN) Staff

Israeli elections begin Wednesday — everywhere but Israel

The vast majority of Israel’s 6.3 million eligible voters will have to wait until April 9 before they can cast their ballot, but for some 5,000 Israeli diplomats stationed in 96 embassies and consulates around the globe, elections start late Wednesday, Israeli time, and will continue till Friday morning.

From Amman to El Salvador to Ghana, a total of 5,137 Israelis will be able to vote in 77 countries. Each polling station is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time.

Israeli representatives at the consulate in Wellington, New Zealand, will be the first to vote, with ambassador Itzhak Gerberg expected to cast the first ballot. On the other side of the international dateline, the Israeli mission in San Francisco will be the last to close voting, some 36 hours later.

While the average number of ballots from an embassy or a consulate is about 40, the number of eligible voters actually varies wildly based on the size of the mission in each country. The consulate in New York, for example, the largest, has a record 750 eligible voters this year.

According to Israeli law, private citizens living abroad cannot vote unless they come to Israel. But the exception made for diplomats also applies to emissaries sent abroad by the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization. In addition, their spouses and children (aged 18-20) can also cast a ballot abroad.

“We are talking about a very complicated process, but everything is done to ensure both an easy process for voters around the world and complete transparency,” said veteran Israeli ambassador Yizhak Bachman, who currently serves as chair of the Foreign Ministry’s election committee.

In Israel, the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, will oversee the process on Thursday from the “election situation room” in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

“The entire operation is done extremely carefully and to the exact letter of the law, all over the world,” Bachman said.

To manage the vote, every embassy has a mini-election committee of sorts, which usually consists of the consul and another high-ranking official, preferably not from the Foreign Ministry but rather a military or cultural attaché. Every voter enters the voting booth and places their ballot in a sealed envelope. They then exit the booth and the envelope is placed in a second envelope with the voter’s name and identity number on it.

At the end of the process, all envelopes are sent to Jerusalem, where they are guarded in a safe until Election Day. Members of the Knesset’s election committee will then look at the names on the envelopes and check back with the polling stations where the citizen is registered to ensure they haven’t voted twice.

The first sealed envelope containing the voting slip is then placed in a special ballot box, together with all the other envelopes from abroad. After the polls close in Israel and the counting starts, the diplomats’ box will be counted as well.

Final results in the national ballot are expect to trickle in overnight on April 9.   (the Times of Israel) Raoul Wootliff

Leifer: another psychiatrist testifies to her being unable to be extradited

The hearing to extradite accused child sexual abuser Malka Leifer has been told by yet another defence psychiatrist that the former Melbourne school principal is unfit to be extradited.

Leifer was principal pf the Addas Israel girl’s school in Melbourne and is facing 74 charges of sexual abuse.

The Jerusalem District Court heard evidence from psychiatrist Sam Tyano testifying to Leifer’s mental fitness to face extradition.

AAP reports “Dr Tyano stirred controversy in 2011 after claiming in a book on mental health that homosexuality is a symptom of an emotional disorder and psychotherapy is the cure.

In 2017, when father Nadav Sela killed his wife and two children in Israel, Dr Tyano testified Sela was instructed by God to murder them.”

Dr Tyano’s testimony to the court will help decide whether Leifer is fit to be extradited to Australia to face 74 charges of rape and child sex abuse.

Sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer have been at the forefront of the battle to see Leifer returned to Australia.

Dassi Erlich posted on Facebook: “Dr Tiano took the stand in a Jerusalem district court today. It was a closed court so we can not report on the proceedings.

Another hearing, another psychiatrist, 49 court dates! How many more questionable characters will take the stand in defence of Malka Leifer?

When will it be our turn to have our voice heard? Next psychiatrist for cross-examination on the 15th of April.”    (J wire) Newsdesk

Ancient Jewish Village from Temple Period Discovered in Eastern Jerusalem

An excavational dig taking place in the Sharafat neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, where an elementary school is to be built, has uncovered the remains of a Jewish village dating back some 2,000 years to the Hasmonean period, says the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The excavation is being carried out on behalf of the Jerusalem municipality, funded by the Moriah Jerusalem development corporation.

The IAA says that the finds have included the remains of a large wine press containing fragments of many storage jars, a large columbarium cave (rock-cut dovecote), an olive press, a large ritual bath, a water cistern, and rock quarries.

View of an ancient olive press in an archaeological digging site in the Sharafat neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“It seems that this burial estate served a wealthy or prominent family during the Hasmonean period. The estate was in use for a few generations as was common in that era,” according to Ya’akov Billig, who is directing the excavations for the IAA.

The most significant feature of the excavation is an extravagant burial estate, which included a corridor leading to a large courtyard chiseled into the bedrock, says the IAA.

“Such quality craftsmanship of architectural elements is very rare, found mostly in monumental buildings or burial estates in the Jerusalem area,” it added.

The entrance into the multi-chambered burial cave was through its facade, behind which oblong burial niches were carved into the stone walls.

The earth covering the courtyard of the burial estate contained some large building stones, some of which are elaborate architectural elements associated with the Second Temple period.

The current excavation is said to have exposed only a small part of a larger village that existed to its south. However, despite the limited exposure, the finds seem to indicate that the village was of an agricultural nature, and among other things produced wine and olive oil, as well as breeding doves. During the Temple eras, doves were needed for both a Temple offering and for food.  (United with Israel) Staff

An Israel boycott supporter railed about an Israeli wine being sold in Holland. Then it sold out.

As a supporter of boycotting Israel, Mieke Zagt had no intention of marketing Israeli wine when she posted on Twitter a picture of the wine on sale at the Hema Dutch supermarket chain.

But her tweet, meant to protest the sale, prompted Israel supporters here to mount a social media reaction so successful that the Israeli wines sold out at the Hema stores and the campaign became the No. 1 trending topic Tuesday on Dutch Twitter.

The opening shot for the #tipvanMieke campaign was a tweet that Zagt, a scholar and Electronic Intifada contributor with fewer than 1,300 followers on Twitter, posted Monday afternoon.

“Hey, Hema, you’re selling Efrat wine from Judean Hills [as] made in Israel. Is this possible? Efrat and Judean Hills are in occupied Palestinian land. Efrat is an illegal Israeli colony. Can you verify the origin? #hema #notAgainAye!??” Zagt wrote, attaching a picture of the bottles in question.

In reality, the Efrat Winery is one of Israel’s oldest and located in Tsora, a town that is located within Israel’s 1949 armistice line. Despite its name, the wine is not from disputed territory.

But Zagt’s tweet ended in more than a geography lesson.

Gideon van der Sluis, a Dutch-born Israeli business consultant, and several other pro-Israel advocates began engaging on Twitter with like-minded users about Zagt’s tweet, labeling it with a hashtag meaning “TipFromMieke.” Within 24 hours it became the top-trending item on Dutch Twitter, with people from around the country using it with pictures of freshly bought Efrat wine bottles.

Within hours, both the red and white Efrat wines were sold out from the online store of Hema — a huge chain with 525 stores in the Netherlands alone.

The social network campaign seems to have originated with the hard core of Israel’s supporters here — van der Sluis’ efforts to get it to take off were joined by those of Hidde J. van Koningsveld, who heads the CiJo pro-Israel group. But it seems to have reached far beyond the usual suspects from the Netherlands’ Jewish community of about 40,000 people.

Menno de Bruyne, a chief strategist for the Reformed Political Party, had a colleague post a picture of de Bruyne at the office with three Efrat Wine bottles.

Sjoukje Dijkstra, a journalist from Utrecht, wrote on Twitter: “Thanks for the tip! Straight to Hema!

Efrat wine bought in the Netherlands on March 26 following a call to boycott it.

Henk Bakboord, a dancer and activist for the Jimmy Nelson Foundation for documenting indigenous cultures, also sarcastically thanked Zagt, adding that the Hema store at Amsterdam’s Oostpoort neighborhood still has Efrat wines “but they are selling out fast.”

They began selling even faster after Christians for Israel, an international group whose headquarters is just outside Amsterdam, posted an article on its website and Facebook page encouraging its many thousands of readers and supporters to buy Efrat Wines.

(Christians for Israel, which brings in 120,000 bottles of Israeli wine each year through its own import agency, the Israel Products Center, didn’t forget to plug its own products in the article about Hema.)

Yanki Jacobs, a rabbi from Amsterdam who runs Chabad on Campus here, said he was “delighted” about how the campaign turned out.

“It’s a pleasure to see, just a few days after Purim, something bad turning into something good,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mieke Zagt, it would seem, had a different outlook on the whole extravaganza.

On Twitter, she seemed to suggest that the people mocking her were engaged in “intimidation and defamation.” Her hecklers, she added, “are showing their real Twitter nature,“ which she called “very disturbing.” Zagt did not reply to JTA’s request for comment on Twitter.

Hema has declined to say how many bottles were sold, citing its policy. But the chain acknowledged that many of its branches as well as its online store have run out of Efrat wine.

Esther Voet, the editor in chief of the NIW Dutch Jewish weekly, said she found the story amusing.

“It’s hilarious,” she told JTA. “Everybody started to buy Israeli wine.”   (JTA) Staff

What was this latest Gaza kerfuffle about, anyway?

Hamas risked outright war by firing on the Sharon region on Monday – and for what? To embarrass Netanyahu? To prepare for Saturday’s ‘million man march?’

by Avi Issacharoff                              The Times of Israel


It is hard to know who to believe. Do we believe the politicians who told us that “there was no cease-fire”; the army, which at that same moment lifted restrictions in the south, or perhaps the leader of Hamas, who said, summing up the flare-up, that “the resistance had its say and the occupation got the message?”

As of this writing, late Wednesday, the cease-fire is being kept, even if the Israeli prime minister will not acknowledge that there is one, due to his election campaign. Hamas succeeded in scuttling his plans time and again — first by keeping him from appearing on the stage he loves so much, the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, which he “abandoned” to Benny Gantz — and then by shattering his image as “Mr. Security” by showing what every child in Gaza knows: that the Israeli government wants Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Neither Netanyahu nor his ministers will admit it, but the alternative to Hamas’s regime in Gaza would be far more chaotic and dangerous, which is why the prime minister would rather reach an agreement with Hamas, of whatever kind, than start a war that will lead nowhere.

IDF tanks stationed near the Israeli Gaza border on March 27, 2019. (Dudi Modan/Flash90)

Yet even now it is not clear what Hamas was trying to accomplish in this week’s escalation — which began with a rocket attack that flattened a home and injured seven Israelis early Monday — other than keeping Gaza in the headlines.

It was willing to risk war, firing a rocket at the Sharon region while fully aware that no real change would happen on the ground from any fallout, at least until after the elections. Hamas’s leaders realize that a brief round of rocket strikes, such as the one we’ve just witnessed, proceeded according to the Arabic saying: “Titi titi, zay ma ruhti, zay ma jiti” — As I came in, so I went out.

The situation in Gaza remained unchanged, and Hamas continues to make a show of wanting escalation without actually doing anything that might precipitate a war. The best that might be said for this policy, from Hamas’s perspective, is that it proves Hamas has not become like the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with Israel.

The question now is how fragile the non-cease-fire will prove to be, after it was reached in the nick of time through the mediation of Egypt and of UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov. The latter two are growing used to serving as babysitters of sorts to quarreling children who keep calling on them to break up the latest fight.

With no comprehensive solution in sight for the Gaza Strip, the next fight is only a matter of time — very little time; it may come as soon as this Saturday. That’s the date, March 30, that Hamas has slated to mark the one-year anniversary of its “march of return” protests. The group continues to plan its “million man march” (which may actually reach as high as a few tens of thousands of participants) for that day, and will want to make the event particularly bloody.

And with images of dead and wounded boosting Hamas’s credibility, what will be the response from Palestinians and Israelis? Will the rocket fire at Israel resume? Will the Israeli election campaign turn to focus once more on Gaza? Or will it all pass quietly by, returning Israelis to more comfortable regular campaign chatter about hacked telephones, submarines and other ordinary things?

The IDF is no longer playing by Hamas’ rules

Israel is ditching its year-long policy of meeting quiet with quiet in Gaza, and the terror group that rules the Strip is beginning to realize that this time it has gone too far and will pay a heavy price

by Ron Ben-Yishai                   Ynet News


The events of Monday night revealed a significant shift in the pattern of the IDF’s response to rocket fire from Gaza. Despite Hamas’ claims of ceasefires, the army continued to hit targets inside the Strip, putting an end to the equation used since March of last year that “quiet will be met with quiet.”

This is no longer valid, for it appears that the IDF has a new strategy: Attrition will be met with attrition, escalation will be met with escalation.

Hamas decided in advance not to engage in heavy exchanges of fire with the IDF when it retaliated to the rocket attack on Moshav Mishmeret.

The terror group realized that an attack on seven people in the heart of Israel – even if no civilians were killed – was a bridge too far, and reined in its return fire.

The decision to stick to attacks on the Gaza border area shows that Hamas and Islamic Jihad came to the conclusion that Israel would respond very differently to a devastating attack on the central Dan region that it would to a similar attack on a Gaza border community.

Hamas misread the situation

Indeed, when the Israeli attacks began, short-range barrages of rockets – mostly Qassams – were fired at Sderot and other communities in the Gaza area, as well as at Netivot and Ofakim.

Hamas thought that by limiting its response, it would – as with previous rounds of fighting – be able to turn to Egypt for a ceasefire, and that Israel, even if it did not explicitly say so, would follow the “quiet will be met with quiet” formula. This did not happen.

The terror group on Monday night announced to the media and across the social networks that it had reached an agreement with the Egyptians for a ceasefire that would begin at 22:00, but it had again failed to read the situation correctly.

Israel for the first time in a year refused to play the game, and IDF aircraft – as well as tanks and naval ships – continued to hit targets within the Strip even after the Hamas-declared cease-fire went into effect.

Hamas then tried to again return to the formula of quiet for quiet and at 3am halted fire. BY that point it had only fired about 60 rockets at Israel, a relatively small number compared to previous rounds. And even though Hamas had stopped firing, the IDF attacked again three hours later.

Hamas could see that the IDF’s pattern had changed, and despite the 6am strikes, it has since refrained from launching any rockets at all.

A lesson for Hamas

As part of this new modus operandi, the IDF is in no hurry. It is attacking targets slowly and systematically in the Gaza Strip with two main goals in mind: hurting Hamas’ military capabilities and infrastructure, and striking into the group’s a consciousness that Israel will not hesitate to harm its regime and its political power bases.

The message is that if Hamas escalates the provocations against Israel, it will endanger the survival of its regime in the Gaza Strip – not only because of what the IDF will do to it with the assistance of the Shin Bet security service, but also because the population of the Gaza Strip will understand that Hamas is not achieving it.

The IDF bombing last night damaged military installations belonging to both Hamas intelligence and naval forces. This was followed by attacks on two dual-use buildings in Gaza City – both symbols of power used by Hamas’s internal security forces and intelligence services.

The strikes on these buildings, which every Gaza resident recognized as symbols of the Hamas government – first and foremost the office building where Ismail Haniyeh’s office was located – was a clear act of dominance. And that was not the end of the story.

It is not yet clear long Israel will persist with this new pattern of slow-burning attrition and readiness to launch a large-scale operation if Hamas escalates its rocket and mortar fire. That is up to the prime minister and his security advisors.

Nonetheless, the preparations made by the IDF in the past two days, in particular the decision to deploy the Golani Brigade and two tank divisions to the Gaza border, as well as the mobilization of reservists from air defense and intelligence units, indicate that the IDF is ready and prepared for a round of fighting that that will last several days, including the possible entrance of ground troops into Gaza.

The mere deployment of these forces and the mobilization of reservists – which comes with a steep bill – is another signal to Hamas and Islamic Jihad that the IDF is prepared to go far this time. But again it is up to the politicians to decide what happens next. In the meantime, there are certainly signals and messages coming from Hamas, and the mediators are busy trying to restore calm.

Hamas Military Can Sabotage Any Deal Its Political Leaders Make with Israel

The rockets fired against Israel on Monday, just days after rockets were fired on Tel Aviv, prove that Hamas’ claim of “a mistake” is false and that it indeed intended to launch the rockets.

by Shlomi Eldar                       Al-Monitor


Hamas claimed yet again that a missile that demolished a home in central Israel on March 25 was fired from Gaza by mistake, a “mishap” of the sort that occurred March 14 with the firing of two rockets at Tel Aviv. Israelis are no longer buying the explanation and are beginning to realize the attacks were deliberate.

Despite the assessment that Hamas was behind the attack two weeks ago, as I wrote here, Israel was quick to accept the absurd Hamas claim of a malfunction in order to avoid a war with Gaza prior to the April 9 elections. I also wrote that the missiles appeared to be an act of defiance by the military wing over what it views as the political leadership’s misguided policy, which supposedly ignores the Jihad against Israel and is selling out the “resistance” (Muqawama) in order to preserve its hold on power. Senior officials of the armed wing believe that any discussions with Israel are pointless as long as it maintains its siege of the Gaza Strip.

As aforementioned, Israel was taken by surprise once again on Monday when a heavy, long-range missile from Gaza struck a house in the community of Mishmeret northeast of Tel Aviv. Seven people, most members of one family, sustained light to moderate injuries.

But Israel was not the only one surprised by the early morning attack. The political leadership of Hamas, which is seeking to advance a long-term cease-fire deal with Israel, was also caught unaware — just as it was two weeks ago by the firing on Tel Aviv. At the time, an Egyptian delegation was meeting in Gaza with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar to discuss prospects of a deal with Israel following the elections. They were also talking about a temporary easing of Israel’s blockade to allow residents to let off steam in light of their growing anger over the economic crisis in the Strip, which erupted into violent protests against Hamas in recent days.

Israel is now convinced that Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, no longer accepts the authority of the political leadership. This is an important conclusion for anyone wanting to understand the complex situation within the Islamic movement, and it should serve as a warning flag for Israel’s defense and political authorities ahead of any future long-term deal. In other words: Israel will be able to strike a deal with the movement’s top leadership, such as Haniyeh, Sinwar and Moussa Abu-Marzouk, who serves as the de facto Hamas “foreign minister” in talks with Egypt. Nonetheless, head of al-Qassam Brigades Mohammed al-Deif and the other seniors of the armed wing are the ones calling the shots, and they could sabotage any arrangement with Israel. By their recent actions, they let Israelis know they can fire rockets to targets within a 30-kilometer (18-mile) range — farther than before.

What led to this week’s long-range missile launch? Although the sides continue to discuss a framework agreement and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman even met in Cairo on March 16 with the head of Egyptian intelligence Abbas Kamel to discuss solutions to the Gaza crisis, the various contacts have not yielded a clear outcome.

Israeli defense officials believe that both rocket attacks this month into central Israel are a result of the unrest that flared up in recent weeks among Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered the jamming of their cellphones in a bid to stop phone smuggling into the prisons. The Israel Prison Service and Israel’s security authorities did not object to what Erdan described as a “pilot program” but thought the timing was wrong and could result in an escalation given the tensions in Gaza and the West Bank.

In the evening hours of March 24, two Hamas inmates at the Ketziot Prison in southern Israel stabbed two guards with improvised spikes. Nine Hamas prisoners were injured in the ensuing riot. The missile toward Mishmeret was fired several hours later. The Hamas members jailed in Israel are an integral part of the movement’s military wing, “soldiers” who had sacrificed themselves for the cause. They were now signaling their distress to the leadership over the phone jamming, which for them was the final straw in an Israeli campaign to cut them off from their families.

In January 2018, Israel began reducing the number of permits for Palestinians to visit their relatives jailed in Israel. In October 2018, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted for a bill that would ban Red Cross and family visits to Hamas prisoners in light of the continued Hamas refusal to allow Red Cross visits to two Israeli civilians believed held in Gaza. The Knesset gave the bill preliminary approval. In the wake of these developments, Hamas regards the phone jamming as a deliberate attempt to sever contact with their families.

Erdan argues that the prisoners use phones to send instructions for terror attacks against Israelis — a somewhat misleading claim. The phones serve the prisoners mostly to keep in touch with their families and to convey messages — not necessarily terror-related — to Palestinian prisoners in other Israeli jails. Should Israel give in to Hamas inmates and keep ignoring the phone smuggling? Of course not. However, as security officials and prison authorities repeatedly argue, timing is the issue.

Israel is in a bind. The missiles fired from Gaza into the Israeli heartland as an act of provocation expose the helplessness of its military and political echelons. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his visit to Washington and insisted that his timetable would not prevent Israel from taking necessary action against Hamas, it is hard to believe Israel would let itself be drawn into an all-out assault on Gaza two weeks prior to the April 9 elections.

Israel’s 2014 war with Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, lasted 50 days. It cost the lives of 2,200 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis, and it badly undermined support for Israel around the world due to the thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces was thus careful not to hit Hamas leaders or activists in the bombing raids it conducted in retaliation for the rocket on Mishmeret. The “target bank” it chose — mostly installations, buildings and warehouses — conveyed to Hamas’ leadership that the current round of violence could be stopped before it deteriorates into war. Indeed, several hours later Hams announced that a cease-fire was reached with Egyptian mediation. However, it turned out once again that the military wing was refusing to accept the political leadership’s authority, firing some 30 rockets into Gaza border communities.

Another war with Gaza — the fourth since the group took control of the Strip in 2007 — has been averted for now. But Israel realizes more than ever that Hamas is under the control of its military arm, leaving the political leadership helpless with the attendant implications for any future arrangement or agreement with Israel.

Netanyahu at AIPAC: The Jewish People Stand Up to Hatred, Fight, and Win (Prime Minister’s Office)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington on Tuesday by video link.

Those who seek to undermine American support for Israel must be confronted. Despite what they claim, they do not merely criticize the policies of Israel’s government. They spew venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people.

Again, the Jews are cast as a force for evil. Again, the Jews are charged with disloyalty. Again, the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money.

What is the best way to respond to this kind of hatred? We read it just a few days ago in the Book of Esther when Mordechai confronted Haman of Persia. The best way to respond to those who hate the Jews is not to bow down to them. It’s to stand up to them. The Jewish people do not bow down. We stand up. We fight. And we win.

I am proud of Israel’s vibrant democracy, where no one is a second-class citizen. All of Israel’s citizens are first-class citizens. All of Israel’s citizens, whether Jew or Arab, Muslim, Christian, or Druze, have exactly the same individual rights. We vote in the same elections. We’re subject to the same laws. We study in the same universities. And we are also treated in the same hospitals.

Contrary to the false attacks and allegations, the Nation State bill did not denigrate any individual rights, which remain sacred and equal for all our citizens.

  • Israel is also the one and only country on earth in which the Jewish people exercise our collective right of self-determination.