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Latest News in Israel – 5th June

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Nechama Rivlin, scientist, art lover, wife of President, passes away

Nechama Rivlin, the wife of Israel’s tenth president Reuven Rivlin, has died at the age of 73. She passed away on Tuesday, June 4 at Beilinson Hospital, where she was recuperating from a lung transplant.

She had been hospitalized for almost four months after waiting for a suitable donor.

She had suffered for several years from pulmonary fibrosis, a condition in which scar tissue accumulates in the lungs and impedes normal breathing. Rivlin was seldom seen without her portable oxygen tank. Yet despite her illness, she accompanied her husband on most of his state visits abroad including to India and Spain.

Her physicians had warned that without a transplant, her life was in danger.

Nechama Rivlin, scientist, art lover, wife of president, passes away

A lung became available when 19-year-old Yair Yehezkel Halabi, from Ramat Gan, drowned while diving in Eilat.

When made aware of the recipient of his lung, members of his family said that they would like to meet Nechama Rivlin after she recovers.

Unfortunately, that never happened.

The complex transplant procedure which took several hours and was performed by Prof. Dan Aravot, Director of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Beilinson, assisted by Nechama’s personal physician, Prof. Mordechai Kramer, Director of the Institute of Pulmonary Medicine at the hospital.

President Rivlin and members of his family frequently expressed their profound appreciation to members of the hospital staff for the devoted care that they gave to Nechama Rivlin; at every event at the President’s Residence, speakers on behalf of various organizations and institutions wished that Nechama would be quickly restored to health. This included the delegations representing political parties with whom Rivlin consulted in the immediate aftermath of the recent Knesset elections. Every meeting began with expressions of goodwill towards his wife.

Though in touch with Nechama on a daily basis and a frequent visitor to the hospital, Rivlin kept up with all his ceremonial duties, sometimes working at a feverish pace, almost as if to find a reason to put his concerns for his wife on the back burner, however temporarily.

In voicing thanks to Beilinson for the care that Nechama received, the Rivlin family did not forget to thank the Halabi family for making what everyone had hoped would have been a gift of life.

The family has asked that the public refrain for the moment from messages of condolence so that Nechama’s nearest and dearest can absorb their personal tragedy and mourn together.

Nechama Rivlin, was born in 1945 on Moshav Herut in the Sharon to Drora (Kayle) and Mendy Shulman who had migrated to the Land of Israel from Ukraine and were among the pioneers of the moshav.

Due to a back injury, Nechama was exempted from military service.

In 1964, she began her studies in natural sciences and biology at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany and Zoology.

In 1967, she became a zoological researcher at the university and later switched to the genetics division in the Department of Ecology.

Deeply interested in art, she also studied art history – from the ancient classics to modern art.

She married Reuven Rivlin in 1971 and together they had three children – Rivka, Anat and Ran. The president also has a son from a previous marriage.

Nechama Rivlin was also a devoted grandmother to Matan, Ziv, Shai, Karni, Maya, Daniella and Yahav. She is also survived by her sister Vered.

Following her retirement from the university in 2007, Nechama was diagnosed with the illness that threatened her life, and which forced her to take a mobile oxygen tank with her wherever she went.

Notwithstanding her illness, she was an avid film buff and theater goer, loved to read and meet with writers, was interested in gardening and the quality of the environment, maintained her love of art, and was particularly keen to help children with special needs.

She often told them that everyone has a disability and a special need of some kind. It’s more obvious in some people, and less obvious in others – but no one is immune, she said.

She loved to visit cultural institutions, and posted many messages on social media about writers, actors, film makers and singers whom she respected and admired.

After moving with her husband to the President’s Residence, she changed the collection of art work on the walls to include a lot of contemporary art, and she also encouraged children to come and plant their own corners in the gardens of the presidential complex, so that they would develop a love and respect for nature.

Because some of the larger events at the President’s Residence cause certain discomfort to the neighbors, Nechama and Reuven Rivlin occasionally invited groups of neighbors to come and be their guests.

Although there is no official First Lady in Israel, Reuven Rivlin bestowed the title on his wife, and occasionally declared that he was married to the wife of the President of Israel. (Jerusalem Post)

Alleged Israeli strike took out advanced portable weapons system

An alleged Israeli airstrike on Syria’s T4 airbase on Sunday night likely took out an advanced weapons system which had been transported from Iran a day earlier, an assessment by ImageSat International (ISI) found on Tuesday.

According to the assessment by ISI, the strike on June 2 destroyed “an element or a few” elements, and not an infrastructure, near an aircraft apron which had earlier hosted an Iranian aircraft.

“Since the attack targeted specific components, reasonably portable, it is assessed that they were of high importance,” ISI said, adding that it could have been “an advanced weapon system element, probably related to UAVs and possibly including a transportable ground control structure.”

Iran has been moving its assets from areas repeatedly struck by Israel to locations closer to the border with Iraq, specifically the T4 Airbase strategically located between Homs and Palmyra and a day before the strike a Qeshm Fars Air jumbo jet returned to Iran from a possible arms delivery flight at T4.

With a large presence of Iranian-backed troops in the area,both civilian and cargo airlines are used by the IRGC as a front for military transport flights bringing in soldiers and weaponry to bolster Iran’s military presence in Syria.

Last year an armed Iranian drone infiltrated into northern Israel in which the IDF claims was part of a sabotage attack mission against the Jewish State. Two months later, a strike on the T4 airbase in Homs province – blamed on Israel – killed seven IRGC soldiers, including Col. Mehdi Dehghan who led the drone unit operating out of the base.

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, five Syrian soldiers were killed in the alleged Israeli strike on Sunday night against an IRGC warehouse at the base in the eastern Homs province on Sunday night, though Syria’s SANA state news agency said only one soldier was killed.

An unnamed military source was quoted by SANA as saying that regime air defenses “responded to an Israeli aggression on the T4 airport in Homs eastern countryside, destroying two of the missiles that targeted the airport,” adding that the other Israeli rockets caused the death of one soldier and injured two others.

An ammunition depot was destroyed in the strike and there was material damage to other buildings and equipment, SANA said.

The strike came just hours after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would not tolerate missile attacks on its territory and would “respond forcefully to any aggression against it.”

“Yesterday, two missiles were fired toward Israel from Syrian territory,” Netanyahu said. “One struck inside Syria and the other hit our territory on the Golan Heights. I held security consultations following the attack, and I ordered the IDF to take strong action, which it did, striking several targets.”  (Jerusalem Post) Greer Fay Cashman

New mosque built on Temple Mount despite Netanyahu’s order to close it

Although Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he had instructed the authorities to prevent the opening of a new mosque at the Temple Mount’s Mercy Gate, the Moslem Religious Trust (Wakf) has continued construction work at a feverish pace, causing irreparable damage to the ancient structure.

“Israel has not given its consent to opening the mosque on the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu said at the end of February.

A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time declared that Netanyahu had given instructions “to enforce the court order without compromise and to ensure that the site remains closed,” but in practice it appears that the work that is turning the site into a mosque has passed the point of no return.

Regavim, an Israeli NGO which deals with illegal Arab building and land issues, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice this week on the eve of Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the 1967 re-unification of Jerusalem, renewing an earlier call to prevent the opening of the mosque.

The group submitted an urgent request to the High Court of Justice for a temporary injunction that would close the structure at the Temple Mount’s Mercy Gate, in an attempt to restore the status quo at the site.

The petition, based on documentation of the Wakf’s recent activities at the site, proved that the Wakf has taken steps to permanently turn a historic structure at the Temple Mount’s Mercy Gate into a mosque, carrying out construction work that has irreparably damaged the ancient building, in flagrant violation of Netanyahu’s instructions to enforce the closure of the building.

Regavim submitted its first petition in March, but Justice Meni Mazuz allowed the government and the Wakf 90 days to respond – a period of time that gave the Wakf “all the time it needed to complete its plan and transform the site into a Muslim-only compound,” Regavim says.

When the defense establishment identified radical Islamist activity at the site, orchestrated by Hamas operatives, the government requested a court order to shut down the site, which was issued by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. The Wakf ignored the court order and continued its construction project – “in broad daylight, and in flagrant disregard for the law,” Regavim says.

In light of the continued construction work and the government’s failure to enforce the closure order that was issued at its own request, Regavim petitioned the High Court of Justice to shorten the 90-day period granted to the State and the Wakf to respond to the earlier petition.

In its response to this petition, the government argued that the relevant authorities “are taking steps to regulate an overall approach for dealing with the Mercy Gate compound; there is, therefore, no need for a temporary injunction to be issued at this stage.”

Despite the government’s claim that it was tending to the matter, the Wakf continued to carry out illegal construction work on the Mercy Gate structure, installing ceiling fans, lighting, furniture, and room dividers – permanent changes that have harmed the ancient structure, all without any oversight of the Israel Antiquities Authority, as required by law, Regavim says.

“It’s the most ancient structure on the Temple Mount, 1,400 years old,” Naomi Kahn told World Israel News. “In 1967, when Israel recaptured the Temple Mount, there was only one mosque – al-Aqsa. Now, there’s five.”

“Every single Israeli authority, the police, the courts, the government, have shirked their responsibility. It’s illegal to carry out work at ancient sites without proper oversight. In those 90 days that Justice Mazuz gave the Waqf, the Muslims did everything and Israel did nothing,” she said.

Yakhin Zik, director of operations at Regavim, said, “It is impossible to overstate the massive damage that has been done to the rule of law in this case: Lawbreakers do whatever they please at a holy site that is of indescribable religious and archaeological significance, in violation of a court order.”

”Without a temporary injunction, the illegal seizure of the compound and the illegal construction work will continue. The bottom line is that on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s watch, Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is being trampled,” Zik said.  (WIN) Staff

Hamas Has 10,000 Rockets

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian terrorist groups that control the Gaza Strip, have restocked their rocket arsenals to what it was before the 2014 Gaza war, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

According to the report whose sources come from unnamed IDF officers, the two organizations combined have around ten thousand rockets of which hundreds are believed to be long ranged. Their rocket arsenal has been replenished by local production and through smuggling them into Gaza. The majority of their rockets are believed to be short and medium ranged.

In response to the report, US Special Envoy to Israel Jason Greenblatt said, ”Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to cause misery and suffering to the Palestinians in Gaza”.

Negotiations to reach a long term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, are still being conducted by Egyptian General Ahmed Abdel Khalek. Hamas’s negotiator is being led by terrorist leader Yahya Sinwar, and the Israeli negotiator is being led by the head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabat.

According to reports Israeli Channel 12 news, Israel is demanding for Hamas to maintain peace along the border fence, a cessation of all hostile fire against Israel, such as; the use of terror balloons and kites, bombs, rockets, and for illegal flotillas to stop trying to break through the maritime border between Israel and Gaza.

In exchange, Israel will provide humanitarian and civilian aid, reopen Gaza’s fishing zone, and work on a longtime solution to address the lack of electricity and health services in the Gaza Strip.

If the cease-fire is not broken by Hamas, then Israel will consider exchanges with the terror organization for the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin and the release of two Israeli civilians that wandered into Gaza and were captured. (Jerusalem Online) Staff

EU, UK say Israel building ‘settlement housing’ in Jerusalem

Construction in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev take the world “further away from a negotiated peace agreement” in the Middle East, Britain’s new Middle East Minister Andrew Murrison said in a statement on Tuesday.

Murrison, who visited Jerusalem last week for his first official visit since being appointed to his new position some three weeks earlier, issued a statement condemning tenders issued by the Israel Land Authority last week to build hundreds of housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line.

According to Peace Now, the Housing Ministry on Thursday published tenders for the construction of 460 housing units in Pisgat Ze’ev and 345 in Ramot. Among the tenders issued was one for 250 units in an assisted-living facility for the elderly.

Even the anti-settlement Peace Now acknowledged that the plans “are intended to add housing units to the existing neighborhoods in a way that increases the density of the built-up area and does not actually expand the area on which the neighborhoods are spread.”

In the various rounds of discussions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the last number of years, the idea that Israel would cede Ramot or Pisgat Ze’ev was never seriously entertained. Both neighborhoods – built on land beyond the Green Line – are an intricate part of Jerusalem’s urban fabric.

Yet the UK government, said Murrison in a statement, “is gravely concerned by plans announced on 30 May to advance tenders for hundreds of settlement housing units in occupied east Jerusalem.”

“We are clear,” the statement continued, “that settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory are contrary to international law and an obstacle to a two-state solution. Regrettably, this takes us further away from a negotiated peace agreement.”

He said that when he visited Jerusalem, he reiterated his country’s support for a two-state solution, “with Jerusalem as a shared capital for both states.”

The UK statement was followed three days later by a similar statement issued from the EU.

“The policy of settlement construction and expansion in east Jerusalem continues to undermine the possibility of a viable two state solution with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, which is the only realistic way to achieve a just and lasting peace,” that statement read.

The Foreign Ministry, used to the almost reflexive reaction from the EU and some individual European states after the announcement of any building anywhere beyond the Green Line, had no response to the statements. (Jerusalem Post)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Slams Accusations that Trump Peace Plan Favors Israel

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back on Monday in response to criticism over his remarks last week in a private meeting with Jewish leaders, audio of which was leaked to and reported by The Washington Post on Monday, that the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan may not “gain traction” and is currently “unexecutable.”

In Switzerland, where he is holding talks with European leaders, Pompeo told Sinclair TV that he was only “articulating” context in a closed-door meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and that the notion the administration’s highly anticipated peace proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be one-sided in favor of Israel is “inaccurate” and “fundamentally untrue.”

“We have a deep, long relationship with Israel—an important relationship with Israel—and the president has made very clear that that’s important to this administration to have that important political, economic and security relationship with Israel,” he said. “And we’ve struggled more with respect to the Palestinians. … So I can see how someone might be concerned that a plan that this administration put forward might, without knowing the true facts of what is contained in the plan, they might perceive that it was going to be fundamentally one-sided. And I was articulating that there because it’s just simply not true.”

Pompeo added that he has not yet spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump about the leaked footage.

“[The peace plan] may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original; it doesn’t particularly work for me.’ That is, ‘It’s got two good things and nine bad things; I’m out,’” said Pompeo in the audio recording.

“The big question is can we get enough space that we can have a real conversation about how to build this out,” he said. “This has taken us longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might—to put it lightly.”

In response to the sentiment that the peace deal will favor Israel more than the Palestinians, Pompeo said, “I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love. I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.”

Even Trump echoed Pompeo’s sentiment on Sunday.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters before leaving for an official visit to the United Kingdom. “We’re doing our best to help the Middle East.”

“If we can get a Mideast peace plan that would be good,” he added. “And when Mike says that, I understand when he says that, because most people think it can’t be done. I think it probably can. But as I say often, we’ll see what happens.”

When the peace plan will be released is yet to be determined, a Trump administration official told JNS on Thursday.

“The Bahrain workshop will go on as scheduled, June 25-26,” said the official in an email. “As far as the rest of the plan/roll-out, we’ve long said that we will release the plan when the timing is right.”

Kushner said in April that the so-called “deal of the century” would be released after Ramadan, which concludes on June 4.

The Bahrain workshop is the first part of the peace proposal roll-out and is expected to deal with revitalizing the Palestinian economy.

The second part is expected to deal with the political issues surrounding the conflict, including geographic boundaries. (Jerusalem Post) Herb Keinon

Tel Aviv Uni unveils new method for detecting, delaying Parkinson’s Disease

New research by a team of scientists at Tel Aviv University could significantly delay the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Specifically, the researchers unveiled a novel method for detecting the aggregation of the protein alpha-synuclein, a hallmark of the neurodegenerative disorder that causes a debilitating decrease in a patient’s motor and non-motor functions. While therapies exist to alleviate some symptoms of the disease, there is no cure.

There are close to one million Americans and 10 million people around the world affected by the disease. People die with Parkinson’s, not from; as symptoms worsen, they can cause incidents that result in death.

Parkinson’s affects predominantly dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years. As such, according to TAU, by the time a patient is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, 50% to 80% of these cells in that part of the brain are already dead, possibly due to development of toxicity as result of alpha-synuclein aggregation.

The researchers have developed a new method for tracking early stages of aggregation of alpha-synuclein using super-resolution microscopy and advanced analysis, explained Prof. Uri Ashery, co-author of the study and head of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.

“Together with our collaborators at Cambridge University, who developed a special mouse model for Parkinson’s disease, we were able to detect different stages of the aggregation of this protein,” he said in a release. “We correlated the aggregation with the deteriorating loss of neuronal activity and deficits in the behavior of the mice.”

The co-author of the study, Dr. Dana Bar-On of the Sagol School of Neuroscience, said that by being able to detect early stages of alpha-synuclein aggregation, doctors will be able to monitor the effects of drugs on this aggregation.

Working with the Max Planck Institute in Gottingen and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, the researchers were already able to demonstrate the effect of the drug, anle138b, on this protein aggregation. They, likewise, correlated those results with the normalization of the Parkinson’s phenotype in the mice.

The research was published June 5 in the Acta Neuropathologica medical journal.

“This is a significant step forward in the world of Parkinson’s research,” Ashery said, adding that “by detecting aggregates using minimally invasive methods in relatives of Parkinson’s disease patients, we can provide early detection and intervention and the opportunity to track and treat the disease before symptoms are even detected.”

What’s next? Bar-On said that the team is currently working to implement the methods in a minimally invasive manner with Parkinson’s patients. (Jerusalem Post) Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman

Plans for Jerusalem Cable Car Approved by National Infrastructure Committee

Israel’s National Infrastructure Committee approved on Monday the controversial plans to build a $55 million cable car system to transport visitors in and out of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Advanced by the Tourism Ministry and Jerusalem Development Authority, the 1.5 km long cable car route will help relieve traffic congestion and increase accessibility to the area of the Holy Basin, which includes Jerusalem’s Old City. The route would stretch from Jerusalem’s First Station complex to Mount Zion, and then down to the Old City’s Dung Gate, near the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza and Ir David archaeological park.

If approved, the cable car will be able to carry 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction, utilizing 73 carriages.

Some opponents have said that the modern structure would harm the ancient feel of the city, and Palestinian groups have objected to the plan, saying that carriages would be moving over Palestinian areas.  (JNS) Staff

The “War of Many Rounds” in Gaza: Hamas and Islamic Jihad vs. Israel

– Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser and Eitan Fischberger (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Since the end of the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza have launched rockets against Israeli civilian targets and provoked Israeli air strikes in retaliation in eight rounds of escalation that are part of one long war. Both sides realize that this kind of war cannot lead to a significant change in the reality concerning Gaza.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad believe that the rounds of escalation serve their interests and are important in their own merit as they help demonstrate their commitment to the struggle against Israel. The escalations enable them to boast of their military capabilities, mobilize the population to the cause of fighting Zionism, distract the Gaza population from their daily miseries, and gain economic assistance from Qatar, while blaming Mahmoud Abbas for the difficulties in Gaza and pressuring the PA, Egypt, Qatar and Israel to improve living conditions in Gaza.

Israel remains committed to a policy of trying to maintain a balance in which Hamas serves as the Gaza entity strong enough to maintain a monopoly over the use of force from the territory it governs, and at the same time remains weak and deterred enough to be restrained from firing on Israel.

The continuing rounds of conflict raise doubts regarding the ability of Hamas to fulfill this role. It appears that PIJ and militant elements within Hamas are emboldened enough to challenge the Hamas leadership from time to time. Yet Hamas is always able to restore discipline and restraint, which means that the Israeli policy has not lost its relevance. The alternative to this policy is regarded as very costly both in the short and long term, and this is why Israel prefers to stick to its current path.

In the latest round, Israel raised the price for the Palestinians, while also showing greater readiness to improve their living conditions. If this strategy convinces the Palestinians in Gaza to reach an agreement that will guarantee an extended period of calm, then the policy will have been successful. But if it fails and there is another round of the war, and if the harassment of the Israeli population along the Gaza border continues, Israel may be forced to consider other options.

The fundamental problem is that the population of Gaza is comprised primarily of descendants of Palestinian refugees who have been indoctrinated by their leadership to believe that they are duty-bound to fight against Zionism until they can return to their ancestral homes in Israel. This narrative perpetuates the conflict and makes a political solution nearly impossible.

This means that the slogans that call for Israel to reach a political solution to the conflict are, unfortunately, detached from reality. Palestinians in Gaza truly desire and deserve to live better lives. Regrettably, they and their leadership do not see this goal as more vital than the struggle against the State of Israel.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center, where Eitan Fischberger, a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), is a research intern.