+61 3 9272 5644

Latest News in Israel – 3rd June

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Two hurt, one seriously, in stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City

At least two people were injured, one of them seriously, in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday morning, officials said.

“Around 6:20 a.m., the assailant entered through the Damascus Gate. He stabbed a man inside and began running from the scene. Along the way, he saw [a 16-year-old boy] and stabbed him as well,” police said.

The suspected terrorist, a 19-year-old Palestinian man from the West Bank, was shot dead by police officers at the scene, a police spokesperson said.

The terror attack occurred on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a period of heightened tensions.

Following the attack, police said they deployed additional troops around the Old City.

The man injured near the Damascus Gate sustained stab wounds to the neck and head, putting him in near-critical condition, medics said.

“I saw a man in his 40s lying on the stairs near the Damascus Gate barely conscious and with stab wounds to the upper body. I gave him first aid — stopping the bleeding — and he was quickly put into a Magen David Adom intensive care ambulance,” one of the medics said.

He was taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center for treatment. The hospital said he was unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator.

The second victim, 16-year-old Yisrael Meir Nachumberg, was stabbed in his back inside the walls of the Old City. He ran from the scene toward the Old City’s Hurva Synagogue, where he received assistance.

He sustained light-to-moderate wounds and was taken to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, medics said.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Nachumberg told reporters he was riding his bike through the Old City and stopped to examine the wheel when the terrorist lunged at him from behind.

“I thought he punched me,” he said.” And suddenly I saw a long knife full of blood.”

Jerusalem’s Old City has seen a number of stabbing attacks in recent years, but has been relatively calm in the past six months.

On December 13, two Border Police officers were stabbed and lightly wounded in a terror attack in the Old City, before shooting dead their assailant, police and medics said. A male officer was stabbed in the face, near his eye. A female border guard was stabbed in the leg. The attacker, a 26-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank, was shot dead by the officers.

The most recent terror attack in Jerusalem occurred on February 7, in which a Palestinian man, Arafat Irfaiya, raped and murdered 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher. In March, Irfaiya was charged with committing the crimes in the context of a terrorist act.  (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross

Tens of thousands join Flag March to mark unification of Jerusalem

Tens of thousands of flag-waving Israelis marched through Jerusalem on Sunday to mark the unification of the city’s eastern and western sectors in the 1967 Six Day War, with tensions heightened due to the holiday coinciding with the final days of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The so-called Flag March, with a large contingent of Jewish religious nationalists, included passing under heavy security through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City in what Palestinian see as a provocation.

Some 3,000 police were deployed, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

“We came to celebrate the day,” said Rina Ben Shimol, who came with her husband and their three young children from their home in Kfar Tavor in northern Israel.

“It is Zionism and it’s to strengthen the link with our origins and with the country,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Palestinian worshipers clashed with Israeli police at the Temple Mount, also located in the Old City in East Jerusalem.

Muslim worshipers in the compound were angered over Jewish visits to the site, which is holy to both religions, in the final days of Ramadan.

According to police, protesters barricaded themselves in the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the site, from where they threw chairs and stones at forces that mobilized to dispersed them.

The Muslim Waqf trust, which oversees the site, said police used rubber bullets and pepper spray, adding that seven people were arrested and 45 were wounded. Hebrew media said there were no reports of injuries in the clashes.

The Waqf said police shut the mosque’s doors and chained them.

After the clashes, police spokesman Rosenfeld said calm had returned and visits continued.

Al-Aqsa Mosque Director Omar al-Kiswani accused Israel of violating an agreement not to allow such visits during the last days of the Muslim holiday.

He said around 1,200 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Sunday, a number corroborated by a Jewish organization that arranges visits to the site.

The status of the Temple Mount is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sunday’s visit was the first time since Tuesday that Jews were allowed into the holy site, according to activists.

Jews are allowed to visit the site during set hours but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions. Jewish visits to the site, particularly by religious nationalists, usually increase for Jerusalem Day.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said his policy was to do everything possible to keep the site open to visits, especially for Jerusalem Day.

He said preparations to avoid serious unrest included arrests ahead of Sunday based on intelligence in addition to those in connection with the clashes.

Jordan, the custodian of the holy site and one of only two Arab countries with a peace treaty with Israel, condemned what it said was Israel’s “flagrant violations” there, calling the visits “provocative intrusions by extremists.”

Such actions risked setting off violence in the region, according to a statement from Jordan’s foreign ministry.

Sunday’s Jerusalem Day march culminates in celebrations at the Western Wall, which abuts the Temple Mount compound.

The wall is the holiest site where Jews can legally pray.

Following its capture from Jordan in 1967, East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in a move never recognized by the international community.

Israel proclaims the entire city its united capital, while the Palestinians see its eastern sector as the capital of their future state.  (the Times of Israel) Staff

Hundreds of Palestinians riot as Jews allowed on Temple Mount for Jerusalem Day

Clashes erupted between Palestinian rioters and police on Sunday morning at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, as hundreds of Jews were allowed into the holy site to celebrate Jerusalem Day — the 52nd anniversary of the unification of the capital in the Six Day War.

Later in the morning, hundreds of Palestinians rioters threw rocks and chairs at Israeli security personnel. There were no immediate reports of injuries. By mid-afternoon, police reported that the situation was again calm.

It was the first time in three decades that non-Muslims were let into the site during the final days of the month of Ramadan, which coincided this year with Jerusalem Day. Police had earlier announced the contested compound would be closed to Jews and tourists, with the High Court of Justice rejecting a petition against the closure and leaving the final decision up to police.

Police said in a statement that “a riot began that included the hurling of stones, chairs and various objects.”

“Subsequently, Jerusalem District Commander Maj. Gen. Doron Yadid ordered police forces to enter the Temple Mount and deal with the rioters,” it added.

Palestinian reports said at least one person was detained and removed from the site.

Police said later in the morning that clashes were renewed, with hundreds of Palestinian rioters throwing rocks and chairs at Israeli security personnel.

Left-wing NGO Ir Amin said the violence was renewed after police closed the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, and worshipers attempted to gain entry.

Hundreds of Jewish activists showed up early Sunday morning at the Temple Mount entrance, demanding access to the site — the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary. Following a security assessment, police decided to let them in after suppressing the initial Muslim demonstration.

The flashpoint site is always closed to non-Muslims on the last ten days of Ramadan, when large numbers of worshipers are at the site. The last time the Temple Mount was closed to Jews on Jerusalem Day was in 1988, when it also coincided with the end of Ramadan.

Under an arrangement in place since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there. Jews are allowed to enter in small groups during limited hours, but are taken through a predetermined route, are closely watched and are prohibited from praying or displaying any religious or national symbols.

Last year, more than 2,000 Jews visited the site on Jerusalem Day, under close police supervision.

Meanwhile, thousands of Jews flocked Sunday to the nearby Western Wall — the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray — to mark the occasion.

Police were deployed in force and on heightened alert in Jerusalem Sunday, with tighter security inspections performed at checkpoints connecting the city to the West Bank in light of Friday morning’s stabbing terror attack in the capital’s Old City, in which two Israeli civilians were injured — one of them seriously.

A Palestinian teenager had stabbed two Israelis inside the Old City before being shot dead by Israeli police.

The most sensitive event is expected to be a parade that will go through the streets of the Old City in the afternoon and is frequently marked by tension with local Palestinians.

Many streets in the city center will be closed off between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. to accommodate the parade and other festivities.

The so-called Flag March, in which primarily religious teenagers march through the Old City decked in white and blue, has raised tensions over its route through the Muslim Quarter.

Palestinian shopkeepers with stores along the route are forced to shutter their businesses during the parade, and residents of the Muslim Quarter are advised to stay indoors.

In previous years, the march has sparked sporadic incidents of violence between Palestinians and Israeli revelers.

The High Court of Justice last month threw out a petition by a left-wing group that sought to change the route of the nationalist march.

Later in the day, the Jerusalem Day state ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. at Ammunition Hill, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.

Many celebrations and events will be held around the city in the evening and into the night, including a “White Night” concert at Sacher Park expected to be attended by thousands of students. (the Times of Israel) Staff

PM: Israel will forever stay in areas liberated during 6 Day War

Israel liberated Jerusalem, Hebron, Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights 52 years ago and will stay there forever, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday night at the traditional Jerusalem Day Celebration at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in the capital.

Netanyahu, who began his speech to the cheering students at the yeshiva by saying he felt among “family,” said that politics and life demands compromises, but that “there are times when it is forbidden to compromise, not to bow our head. “

Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump twice during his 10 minute speech, once for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy there – a move he likened to the decree of Cyrus the Great who allowed the exiles to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple – and a second time for Trump’s’ recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The Golan sovereignty declaration, he said, was a “good and important start.” There has been some speculation that the Golan sovereignty recognition may be a precursor to eventual US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the settlement blocs in the West Bank.  (Jerusalem Post) Herb Keinon

IDF using new intelligence system to decrease surprise attacks on troops

The IDF has begun to use a new system to alert troops to suspicious movements by Palestinians in the West Bank, in an attempt to decrease the chance of troops being caught by surprise.

The system includes analytics and visual intelligence, which are all connected to one main system in an operations room. It was established as part of the project the military hopes will assist in foiling attacks in real time, and prevent manhunts of terrorists who get away following an attack.

The military has understood that many soldiers are slow to respond to surprise attacks, and that troops must decrease the time it takes them to act. Therefore in the coming months troops stationed in the West Bank will receive smartwatches that will alert them to approaching threats in an attempt to decrease surprise attacks.

The Judea and Samaria division of the IDF has also formulated a new operational concept to define the range of operational actions and norms aimed at increasing its ability to deal with attacks.

The concept, which relates to all stages of troop training, aims to ensure that every combat soldier is able to make correct decisions under pressure and in a short period of time, such as overpowering an attacker at a maximum speed.

The IDF has also begun a new combat training program at the Lachish Training Center that includes programs that are in accordance with the sector and operational missions, as well as familiarity with the regional history and the operational challenges.

The military has also improved training infrastructure for troops, adding in programs based on virtual reality that allows soldiers to experience real-world incidents including stabbing and shooting attacks, as well as Krav Maga and shooting courses.

With terrorist attacks continuing in the West Bank, the IDF arrested more than a thousand Palestinians this year, and confiscated 270 illegal weapons.

Security forces, including the IDF, police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), carry out near-nightly raids in the West Bank to arrest Palestinians suspected of violence against Israelis.

The numbers released by the military, while slightly lower than the previous year of 3,000 arrests, is significantly lower than numbers released in December by the Palestine Prisoners Center, which said that 5,700 Palestinians were arrested by troops in 2018, including 980 children.

An April report by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy stated that 1,600 Palestinians, including 230 children and 40 women, had been arrested since the start of 2019.

Troops also confiscated NIS 500,000 in terrorist funds since the beginning of the year, compared with the NIS 2 million seized in 2018.

Security forces have also increased their efforts to shut down underground weapons workshops and confiscate arms, greatly reducing the number of illegal explosive devices and other weapons that could end up in the hands of potential attackers.

According to figures released by the military, the weapons seized by the IDF is an increase from the 400 weapons taken by troops in 2018. In the two previous years, 445 illegal weapons were seized, a significant increase from the 170 illegal weapons confiscated in 2015.

Security forces believe that most of the shooting attacks that have occurred in the West Bank and inside Israel were carried out with weapons manufactured in the West Bank, most commonly the Karl Gustav recoilless rifle.

The crackdown on illegal weapons in the West Bank has led to an increase of prices of the arms, with an M-16 costing NIS 60,000 and a Karl Gustav costing between NIS 3,000 and NIS 4,000.

While there were several deadly shooting attacks over the past year that claimed the lives of 16 Israeli civilians and soldiers, the IDF was able to thwart other deadly attacks, some of which could have dragged Israel into a large-scale military operation.

Thousands of other small-scale attacks were also thwarted by troops due to intelligence gathering, including an increased monitoring of social media activity, and arresting individuals who express a desire to set out on attacks, or attempt to inspire others to do so on social networks like Facebook.

Since October 2015, Palestinian youth have stabbed, run over and shot IDF soldiers and civilians, including some tourists, in a wave of violence in the West Bank and Israel. The violence has since decreased since its peak in the winter of 2016, when there were almost daily attacks. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim

Netanyahu fires Bennett, Shaked, rejects her from Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fulfilled a long-standing dream on Sunday when he fired his political nemeses, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Bennett and Shaked ran in the April 9 election with the New Right Party, which did not cross the electoral threshold. Sources close to Netanyahu said Bennett and Shaked could not continue in their sensitive roles and in the security cabinet for another six months after they were rejected by the public.

Netanyahu has not yet decided on their replacements. A shake-up of Likud ministers is expected on Monday night or Tuesday, only after Monday’s vote for the state comptroller. Not appointing ministers yet allowed Netanyahu to keep his faction in line ahead of the vote in the Knesset between Likud candidate Matanyahu Englman and Blue and White candidate Giora Rom

Bennett and Shaked released a joint statement saying they “thank the people of Israel from the bottom of our hearts for the right to serve them as ministers.” They promised to transfer their ministries to their successors in an organized manner for the public good.

Bennett said the New Right will run in the September 17 election, but Shaked’s future remains unclear.

“It’s not good that Israel has repeat elections but it’s an opportunity to come back smarter, more serious and more modest,” Bennett said. “That goes for me, too. The New Right will be a unifying party.”

Channel 13 reported on Sunday that Sara Netanyahu vetoed Shaked running with Likud.

Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, the Melbourne Chabad rabbi and diamond miner whose “Netanyahu is good for the Jews” campaign helped crown him as prime minister in 1996, said Netanyahu was making a grave mistake by ruling out Shaked.

“It was very childish and unprofessional to sack her and Bennett and embarrass them, and he will lose a lot of respect for doing such an irrational act,” Gutnick said. “I fail to understand not enlisting Ayelet in Likud, as she could bring to Likud the extra seats needed to form a right-wing government. It’s not too late for Bibi to change his mind. He is shooting himself in the foot. I am extremely disappointed in how he is treating her.”

Union of Right-Wing Parties leaders Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich have demanded the vacant portfolios. Sources close to Netanyahu said the firing of Shaked and Bennett was not at the request of Smotrich and Peretz.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit ruled that it is legal for MKs who are not ministers to be added to the cabinet without the approval of the Knesset.

Smotrich said on Army Radio on Sunday that Shaked would not be given the top slot on any joint list.

“You left, you destroyed, you failed, and now because of your mistake, the country is going through dizziness because of you,” Smotrich said. “You can join us but there is no reason in the world for you to be No. 1.”

After a meeting of its four leaders tonight, Blue and White announced that the party will be running in the same format on September 17 as it did in April, led by Benny Gantz as a candidate for prime minister in a rotation with Yair Lapid. There were those in Blue and White who wanted to give up the rotation, because haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties have ruled out joining a coalition with Lapid. (Jerusalem Post) Gil Hoffman

Best of Both Worlds for Netanyahu?

by Seth Frantzman         The Jerusalem Post/Middle East Forum


In power for ten years, the Israeli prime minister appeared to stumble on Wednesday when he drove the Knesset to dissolve itself and call new elections. Ostensibly this was because Benjamin Netanyahu had failed to form a coalition government. But how could the master politician who has dominated Israeli politics for a decade and has thirty years of experience in the Knesset’s coalition politics end up in a situation like this? What if it is actually the best of both worlds for him? He continues on as prime minister with polls showing that he will likely do well in September, and his rivals have to fight over the scraps.

Netanyahu secured 74 votes to dissolve the Knesset. He got more support for new elections than he got for his coalition. If the smaller parties had been smarter, they might have refused to disperse the Knesset and forced the mandate back to President Reuven Rivlin. However, Netanyahu outplayed them, as he has outplayed rivals in the past. He got Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon to join Likud just before the last-minute Knesset discussion, ensuring that Kahlon couldn’t oppose new elections. This may have been cynical, but it worked.

Netanyahu has successfully pushed a narrative since calling elections in late December 2018. Let’s recall that defense minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned in November over the Gaza crisis. At the time, Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked also appeared likely to resign and trigger elections. But no. Netanyahu convinced them of the importance of staying on. In early December, Israel announced Operation Northern Shield. Netanyahu could say that he had postponed any major operation in Gaza because of the threats in the North. Shaked and Bennett looked responsible for not bolting. Lieberman looked doomed.

But things changed in the first months of 2019. Lieberman’s hopes rose and Bennett and Shaked fumbled the campaign for their new party, the New Right. They fell short of the threshold. Netanyahu, as usual, needed those right-wing votes that might have bled over to the New Right, and he gobbled up enough of them on election night to keep Bennett and Shaked out of the Knesset. But Lieberman made it in with five seats and 4% of the vote.

Math seemed to favor Netanyahu. So did Israel’s voters, who have become more right-wing and religious over the years. Several parties openly ran under various banners of being either the “new Right” or the real and authentic Right. Arye Deri’s Shas campaigned under the idea that Netanyahu needs a “strong Arye.” Indeed, he got 6% of the vote and eight seats.

In the end the math wasn’t quite there for Netanyahu to form the right-wing government he championed. Instead, those he pilloried as “Left,” the Blue and White party of several former chiefs of staff and Yair Lapid received the same 35 seats that Likud got. But Blue and White leader Benny Gantz had no path to the prime minister’s office. He didn’t appear to try very hard either in the month and a half after the April elections. He let Netanyahu take the discussions down to the wire. When 100,000 did gather in Tel Aviv to protest on May 25, they were looking the wrong way. They were protesting Netanyahu’s drive for an immunity law, a “defense shield for democracy.” What they got was more democracy in the form of more elections.

There is some irony to Gantz saying that night that Netanyahu was turning Israel into “one-man rule” and Lapid claiming that “we’re not your subjects.” Dispersing the Knesset on May 29 enables Netanyahu to continue to rule. He continues to hold on to numerous ministries and concentrate power. While it’s true there will be more elections, it’s unclear if the electorate won’t simply slip into apathy.

Netanyahu was off to a quick start to grab the narrative on May 29. He argued that the people had chosen him to lead and form a government, and Lieberman had prevented it. Now, Netanyahu may have the best of both worlds ahead of him. If he can keep the narrative going, blaming Lieberman and demanding a strong mandate in the next elections, he might find the coalition math in his favor and he will have two months to govern as he wants. This comes at an important time for Israel. The US wants to roll out a peace plan, and the new elections could postpone that. Netanyahu can also try to continue to seek a way out of a pre-indictment hearing on corruption charges. It was already postponed until October.

Netanyahu is super-conservative when it comes to any major moves in politics or strategy. He doesn’t want a war in Gaza. He doesn’t want a real political crisis that could give an opportunity to opponents. He wants to manage each crisis in such a way that all the small parties need him more than he needs them. That means giving the haredim most of what they want in the draft discussions, it means not rocking the boat on the continuing discussions about the Western Wall, it means not removing small bedouin communities such as Khan al-Ahmar or Susiya that caused international opprobrium. It means not causing another crisis related to deporting African migrants.

All in good time. Let the small parties fight over these issues, let them all claim they are more right-wing than the next party, while Netanyahu waits for elections. He has shown in the past that he can do magical things just before elections, always behind in the polls, he comes out ahead or equal in the end. Even when he loses – as Likud did in 2009, coming in second – he finds a way to win.

He has successfully managed coalition crises before. He signed an agreement with Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz in May 2012, averting elections. Ehud Barak even broke up Labor in 2012 in a move that helped Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu briefly neutered Yisrael Beytenu when Lieberman ran with Likud in 2013. Yair Lapid was even co-opted into the coalition in 2013 as Finance Minister.

It’s almost like people forgot all this on May 29 as Israel headed to new elections. Netanyahu doesn’t leave things to chance. He is conservative and contemplative. He doesn’t allow risk and crises to dominate. He certainly did not want Lieberman in his coalition, forever being able to scupper it. And he evidently didn’t want other Center or Left parties in. He also didn’t want to give Gantz a chance. So he chose what might be a better path: New elections.

The New York Times and others have headlined this as a defeat for Netanyahu. But what has he lost so far? He may lose Lieberman, who he doesn’t mind being rid of. He has gained Kahlon. Depending on how things play out, he may also receive more palatable and malleable choices on the Right in the next government that he hopes to form. And he likely knows that the Lapid-Gantz coalition in Blue and White may not be a long marriage. And he knows that Avi Gabbay’s Labor has internal struggles, as do the Balad-Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al marriages.

Netanyahu came through the smoke and mirrors of the coalition discussions unable to form a government. But in calculating the other scenarios, it may be the best of both worlds for him. At least, in the short term. And Netanyahu prefers to govern for short-term gains, not long-term strategies that require too much risk.

Jerusalem: 52 years since liberation