Jewish Current Events

News and current events affecting Jews in Israel and the Diaspora

12 impossible ideas that Israelis turned into reality

No mission is impossible for inventive Israelis who read ‘impossible’ as ‘I’m possible’ and don’t regard probable failure as a reason not to try.

By Abigail Klein Leichman JULY 27, 2015, 6:00 AM

Tell an Israeli his or her invention idea is preposterous, and you’ve just given that inventor a reason to see it through.

Whether it was planting crops in the desert or building a crowdsourced navigation app, most groundbreaking Israeli innovations were initially dismissed as impossible – until bold action turned them into reality.

“When you try to break new frontiers, sometimes what you do doesn’t seem to make sense,” says Avi Hasson, chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economy. “The issue is not about the idea but the action. You need to go out there and figure it out.”

Israelis love solving problems, Hasson tells ISRAEL21c.

An educational culture that encourages questioning and independent thinking, and innovating on the fly in the military, leads Israelis to read the word “impossible” as “I’m possible.”

“Commanders in the field are not supposed to rely on the generals to solve their problems; they’re expected to take responsibility to solve things by themselves, understanding that failure is an option,” Hasson explains. 

“And in the technological units, on a daily basis you’re expected to do the impossible with few resources in a short time,” adds the chief scientist, whose office supports and encourages industrial research and development while sharing the risk inherent in such projects.

“In our office, we see thousands of risky endeavors each year, scientifically or on the business side,” says Hasson. “We get excited about such projects because we want to be an active partner in helping people take technological, financial and business development risks.”

Ultimately, he adds, Israelis are brilliant at outside-the-box thinking “because we have no choice.

We’re a small country, far away from the market. We have to do things that are too tough and too scary for others.”

Here, ISRAEL21c takes a look at just a few of the amazing inventions once thought impossible.

Click HERE to read the full article.

Sweden to Recognize Palestinian State


by Steven Erllanger | Oct. 3, 2014 | 

Taken from The New York Times


LONDON — Sweden’s new center-left government has decided to recognize the state of Palestine, the new prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said during his inaugural address to Parliament on Friday.

Sweden will be the first major state of the European Union to recognize Palestine, although some East European countries did so during the Cold War, before they joined the union.

The Swedish announcement comes at a time of new tension between Israel and many European nations over the recent fighting in Gaza, the civilian casualties there and other issues. Efforts to promote boycotts of Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank have gained momentum, and the conflict in Gaza has prompted a spike in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic episodes in Europe.

Mr. Lofven leads a minority government made up of his Social Democrats and the Greens that is quite likely to be a weak government; it commands only 138 seats in Parliament — 37 short of an outright majority. The Social Democrats emerged as the largest party in elections on Sept. 14, defeating a center-right coalition led by Mr. Lofven’s predecessor, Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of Sweden in Parliament. Credit: Janerik Henriksson/European Pressphoto Agency

Though Mr. Reinfeldt’s government had been critical of Israeli policies on settlements and the recent Gaza war, it refused to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, arguing that the government there did not satisfy a basic criterion of sovereignty: to have control over its territory.

Mr. Lofven told Parliament on Friday that “the conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law.” Such a solution, he said, “requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful coexistence,” and “Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.” He did not specify when that would happen.

The announcement will be welcome news for President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, who has been pushing for formal statehood while negotiations with Israel over a permanent peace settlement have repeatedly faltered.

The Palestinians are seeking pledges for reconstruction aid to rebuild Gaza, which was badly damaged in the conflict. At a conference this month in Cairo, Mr. Abbas is expected to ask for $4 billion in aid for Gaza, which is still largely blockaded by both Israel and Egypt. His Fatah political movement and Hamas, the rival militant group that controls Gaza, have formed a unity government but are still arguing over how to make such a government function in practice. Even so, Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, issued a statement on Friday calling on other European Union nations to follow Sweden’s lead and recognize Palestinian statehood. He praised Sweden for its support for “the values of freedom and dignity and human rights,” and said that recognition of Palestine would aid “a comprehensive and just peace.” His statement continued: “In the name of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership, we thank and salute the Swedish position.” He mentioned Malta, Cyprus, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia as examples of other European states that recognize Palestine.

Israel, for its part, is expected to criticize Mr. Lofven’s announcement, which came at the start of the quiet period around Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Israel has argued that a sovereign Palestinian state with fixed borders can emerge only at the end of negotiations that yield a permanent peace settlement. Israel also argues that the Oslo Accords committed both sides not to pursue unilateral moves before a final settlement.

The United Nations General Assembly approved the recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine — as a nonmember observer state — in November 2012. More than 100 countries recognize the state of Palestine. But the United States, the European Union and most of its member countries do not. The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters in Washington on Friday that the Swedish decision was “premature.”

“We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognitions by both parties,” Ms. Psaki said.

The foreign minister in the new Swedish government will be Margot Wallstrom, a former European Union commissioner and former United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict. She replaces Carl Bildt, who gave Sweden a prominent profile in international affairs during his tenure.

Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza City.

What Obama's speech has to do with Israel and the Palestinians


By Ami Eden | September 11, 2014 9:58am

Taken from Telegraph


President Obama delivers a prime time address about ISIS from the Cross Hall of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014, Washington, DC (Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

President Obama did not mention Israel or the Palestinians during his national address Wednesday night. But his pledge to lead a U.S.-coordinated effort to destroy ISIS could end up doing more to get  Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back on track than anything that Secretary of State Kerry and his team managed to produce with their shuttle diplomacy.

Reaching a final deal is hard enough when the region is calm. But it becomes significantly more difficult, if not impossible, when Islamic extremism is on the march and U.S. influence is in retreat. Good luck convincing Israeli leaders that it is safe to abandon any part of the Golan Heights or the Jordan Valley as ISIS destabilizes the region and moves closer to its borders, especially with a president perceived as being more interested in golf and Asia than confronting the gathering storms in the Middle East.

History suggests that the most effective thing America can do to encourage Israeli risk-taking is to show that we’re serious about reducing regional threats to the Jewish state.

It is no accident that Israel’s biggest steps vis a vis the Palestinians — acceptance of the PLO as a governing power in the West Bank and Gaza, major withdrawals, dismantling of settlements — followed the two U.S. invasions of Iraq. Nor is it an accident that these Israeli moves toward a two-state solution have not worked out too well — they have been systematically undermined by terrorism and missile attacks carried out by Iranian-backed proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas.

So if you’re someone who thinks a two-state solution is a must, then you have one more reason to hope that the president’s plan for defeating ISIS pans out. And while you’re at it, you may want to come up with a plan for keeping Iran in check.


Ukrainian Jews Seen Looking To The West

09/09/14 | Stewart Ain | Taken from The Jewish Week

Mark Levin has served as the executive director of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (formerly the National Conference on Soviet Jewry) since 1992. He first visited Russia in 1982, leading a congressional delegation meeting Soviet officials and Jewish activists. He was instrumental in creating the Congressional Coalition for Soviet Jews and was a major organizer of the Washington Mobilization on behalf of Soviet Jewry that brought more than 250,000 people to Washington in 2007. He spoke with The Jewish Week about the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. This is an edited transcript.

Q: How large is the Ukrainian Jewish community?

A: Our best guess is that it is between 300,000 and 350,000. That would make it the fifth largest in the world, behind the U.S., Israel, France and Russia.   

Q: Many Ukrainian Jews are said to be prosperous and to have a vibrant communal life, with perhaps as many as four rabbis claiming to be the chief rabbi of Kiev. How are they faring amid the political and military turmoil in their country?

A: Overall, the community is experiencing the same problems and challenges as the larger Ukrainian population.

Q: It is said that 120,000 people in Ukraine have been displaced. How many Jews are in the conflict areas?

A: About 20 percent of the country is in conflict. The number of Jews in those areas is about 40,000 — 15 to 20 percent of the Jewish population. For instance, in Donetsk in the eastern part of Ukraine we estimate that there were 18,000 Jews, but we do not know how many are there now. And in Crimea, there were 10,000-15,000 Jews, but we know that people have been moving since the Russian annexation.

Q: In what sections of the country are the Jews concentrated?

A: Most of the Jews live in central, eastern and southern Ukraine. The largest Jewish population is in Kiev, followed by Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk and Cherkassy.

Q: Do the Jews favor closer ties with Russia or the West?

Evidence we have seen suggests that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian Jews want to look to the West. Even in the eastern and southern areas, there is almost a 50-50 split.

Q: In April, Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk were handed leaflets telling them to “register” with pro-Russian militants, list their property and pay a registration fee or lose their citizenship. Those leaflets were later discredited, but it shook up the Jewish community.

A: This was such a heinous act; we still don’t know who was responsible. But the fact that they would be comfortable replicating something the Nazis did every time they entered a new town is vile. If any positive came out of this, it is the strong reaction from local and national Ukrainian authorities that almost immediately came out and condemned this act.  

Q: The Donetsk Jewish community leadership said the flyers were intended to incite conflict.

A: It was another in a series of provocations that tried to paint the Ukrainian government as a fascist, neo-political, Nazi, anti-Semitic entity. But on the contrary, the government has been quite forceful in seeking to find out who was responsible and in denouncing them.

Q: Has there been a repeat of such anti-Semitic incidents?

A: We have not seen more.

Q: Yet thousands of Ukrainians still make an annual pilgrimage to the grave of a 13-year-old boy whose mysterious death 103-years-ago they attribute to Jews who killed him to use his blood to make matzah for Passover.

A: There has been anti-Semitism in Ukraine, there is anti-Semitism in Ukraine and there will be. The question is how does the government and civil society address the ebbs and flows of anti-Semitism. 

Q: Openly anti-Semitic parties have been in Ukraine since the country’s independence in 1991. How strong are they?

A: These parties come and go and right now there are two prominent ones; one is part of the ruling coalition government. In the recent presidential election, the two right-wing candidates got less than 2 percent of the vote combined, while the only announced Jewish candidate got more than 2 percent.

stewart@jewishweek.org


Santorum & NRB executives showed real leadership by visiting Israel amidst a hot war. They get the importance of US-Israel alliance & gravity of jihadist threat. 

Taken from Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2014 at 7:19 am

(Central Israel) — Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to and travel through Israel with two solidarity delegations from the United States. One was organized by former Senator Rick Santorum and included businessmen, journalists and evangelical Christian pastors from across the country. The other was led by Dr. Jerry Johnson, president & CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters and included highly-respected Christian leaders such as Anne Graham Lotz, Kay Arthur, Tony Perkins and Dr. Richard Land.

I shared some of our experiences on my blog last week. But I want to add a few thoughts upon having had time to reflect further on what I saw.

Senator Santorum and the NRB executives showed tremendous leadership by visiting Israel during a hot war. Each is a long-time friend of Israel, but this was above and beyond the call of duty. These principled men and women demonstrated true love and support for America’s number one ally in the Middle East. They came here even while hundreds of rockets were raining down on the Jewish state. They came when almost no one else was visiting the country. They visited troops on the frontlines.  They visited Israelis personally scarred by Hamas terrorism. They met with high-level government officials. They met with everyday Israelis — Jews and Arabs — all over the country. They learned how the Iron Dome system works and saw its benefits. They heard the Code Red sirens go off. They ran to bomb shelters like everyone else. Most importantly, they studied the Scriptures together and prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and communicated what they saw and heard back to millions of Americans back home via radio, TV and newspaper interviews, as well as via Facebook and Twitter.

How many others did that over the past fifty days of this cruel war?

I don’t know whether Senator Santorum will run for President again. I know he did remarkably well in 2012, coming in second after Gov. Romney, after winning the Iowa caucuses and a total of 11 primaries and some four million votes. He’s not currently a declared candidate, and won’t make his decision about 2016 until sometime next year. Therefore, what impresses me is that he is standing up for what is right, right now. He didn’t come for a photo op. He came to better understand the crisis in the Middle East and explain it to the American people.

When Santorum was serving in the Senate, he took the lead in supporting Israel and advancing legislation to deal with the threats from Iran and Syria. Today, though he is out of office, he continues to demonstrate that he gets the importance of a strong US-Israel relationship; that he truly understands the threat Radical Islamic jihadists pose to the U.S., Israel and our Arab allies in the Middle East; that he sees the danger Christians, Jews and other minorities face in the epicenter. He has enormous experience on these issues, and it shows in the way he speaks about these issues and the policies for which he advocates. He’s willing to speak out in a bold, principled way, regardless of whether the establishment in Washington notices or cares, and regardless of whether the mainstream media notices or cares.

Good for him. I’m impressed and grateful. May his tribe increase.

Likewise, Dr. Jerry Johnson and the folks from NRB are acting as true Christian statesmen. They love and support Israel. But they also care deeply for the plight of the Palestinian people who are being traumatized by Hamas and being caught in the crossfire of this terrible, painful war. These Christian leaders aren’t succumbing to the moral relativism of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) or other liberal, apostate denominations that have abandoned the Bible and the Scriptural call to bless Israel. They are standing on the Word of God, boldly and without apology.

Good for them. I’m impressed and grateful. May their tribe increase, as well.

One last thought for now: I strongly agree with the point Senator Santorum makes in his new op-ed (see below) — supporting Israel should not be a partisan issue. It should be a bipartisan commitment. Sadly, the President has brought US-Israel relations to its lowest point in 66 years. This deeply concerns me. That’s why I’m working on building friendships with Democrats as well as Republicans who support Israel and understand the issues here in the Middle East, or want to. To the extent time permits, I will do my best to help any leader who cares about these issues and is trying to do the right thing. That’s why I joined the Santorum and NRB delegations, and why I’ll help others in the future.

Please join me in thanking Rick, Jerry Johnson, and all who joined their delegations for showing true leadership and the courage of their convictions “at such a time as this.”

RICK SANTORUM: WHEN ISRAEL NEEDS OUR HELP, WE HAVE TO BE THERE

Op-ed in the Manchester (NH) Union Leader by former Senator Rick Santorum, published on August 27, 2014

On May 14, 1948, the United States of America was the first nation to officially recognize the newly reborn State of Israel. It was morally right and strategically wise that we did so, and we have been blessed as a nation ever since with a true friend in the Middle East.

It happened to be a Democrat, President Harry Truman, who understood the Jewish people’s right and need to return to their ancient homeland to be safe and free, especially in the wake of the Holocaust. To his great credit, Mr. Truman refused to follow the counsel of those in his own administration, even his own secretary of state, who said it was foolish for America to support a strong, safe and free Jewish state.

Yet while it was a Democrat in the White House who set into motion America’s alliance with Israel, it is another Democrat in the White House who has brought U.S.-Israel relations to their lowest point in 66 years.

This great alliance should not be a partisan issue. Indeed, support for Israel on Capitol Hill is one of the few issues that bring both parties together. Yet the President is an outlier, consistently creating new tensions and divisions with Israel, even while she is under attack by a virulent and ruthless enemy.

This should not be. Most Americans see Israel not simply as an ancient nation but a modern miracle, a true partner on many fronts, from manufacturing to agriculture to the development of state-of-the-art weapons systems like the Iron Dome. They also see a vibrant democracy and a real partner in the war with terrorists.

Yet it has become painfully apparent that our current          President does not agree.

I came to Israel last week to show solidarity with her            people and government, in part because I am embarrassed by the actions of my own government. The White House should never pressure an ally to accept flawed, biased ceasefire proposals in a war with terrorists who are hell-bent on annihilating them.

    The U.S. government should never hold back arms from — or micromanage arms transfers to — an ally fighting for her life.

    No administration should try to force an ally to divide her own capital city and surrender the sovereignty of that capital to an enemy sworn to obliterate her.

Nor should any administration leak to the media policy or personal disagreements with an ally, especially during war time.

Yet this is exactly what is happening.

The delegation of American business leaders, pastors and journalists I brought to Jerusalem join me in standing with Israel because we see a friend under attack and feeling increasingly alone. While we were there, Hamas fired more than 150 rockets at Israeli civilian population centers, bringing their total rocket attacks to more than 4,000 in the past seven weeks. My colleagues and I were in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening when the Code Red sirens sounded. A rocket was headed for the Holy City and we had to rush into bomb shelters with our Israeli friends. Yet the world repeatedly criticizes and condemns Israel for exercising her right to self-defense.

Imagine if Washington, D.C., or St. Louis or San Diego were under rocket attack. Would we not strike back hard and relentlessly at those firing the rockets? Would we take kindly to foreign leaders who told us to stop defending ourselves even as the terrorists kept shooting at us?

The most moving part of our visit was meeting with the precious parents of Gil’Ad Shaer, one of the teenage boys Hamas kidnapped and murdered in June. As we sat in their home we heard their story and saw their grief. But we also saw their determination not to let the jihadists destroy their country or their hope for the future.

America must stand with such brave souls. After all, Israel’s fight against radical Islam is our fight too. If we do not defeat the terrorists in the Mideast, they will strike America at home.

Our commitment to Israel does not mean we are blind to the pain and challenges the Palestinians in Gaza face. To the contrary, we care deeply about them and seek their freedom from tyranny.

The Palestinians of Gaza absolutely need to be liberated….from the cruel occupation of Hamas. The Palestinians of Gaza need to be set free from Hamas’ reign of terror and barbarity. This should be a major priority of the U.S. government.

Unfortunately, American foreign policy today is in complete disarray. Incompetence reigns in the White House and State Department and has for six years. Our friends no longer trust us. Our enemies no longer fear us. This is a recipe for disaster.

“Leading from behind” is not leadership at all. The President’s steady retreat from the Mideast is creating a dangerous vacuum jihadist forces are moving to fill from Syria to Iraq to Gaza.

We can and must do better. Democrats should start by putting serious pressure on the President to truly and fully support Israel and to stop pressuring her to make bad deals with dangerous foes. Republicans can start by repudiating isolationist voices in our party and those who call for ending all military aid to Israel.

Now is the time to stand unified for Israel.

Follow on Twitter at joelcrosenberg

———————

Rick Santorum is a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

PM Netanyahu Visits Site of Terror Attack in Paris


Posted 1/12/2015

Israeli museum unveils ancient Jewish prayer book


Siddur was carbon-dated back to 9th century A.D. and is possibly the oldest Hebrew codex known to exist
BY AP September 18, 2014, 11:17 pm

An ancient prayer book is seen on display at the Bible Lands museum in Jerusalem, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

An Israeli museum on Thursday unveiled what it says in the oldest known Jewish prayer book in the world, dating back to the 9th century A.D.

The Siddur, about 10 centimeters (four inches) long and seven centimeters wide, is written in Hebrew, contains about 50 pages, and is still in its original binding. It was donated to the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem by Oklahoma businessman Steve Green, a devout Christian and owner of one of the largest collections of rare biblical artifacts in the world.

Green’s family controls the Hobby Lobby crafts store chain, which won a closely watched US Supreme Court ruling in June that allows it to assert religious beliefs to avoid covering contraceptives in employee health plans.

Green told The Associated Press that the book originated in the Middle East and that three experts, working independently, had carbon-dated it to 820 A.D.

Haggai Ben Shammai, the academic director of Israel’s National Library, agreed that the prayer book could be the most ancient Hebrew codex known to exist, though he said there is another contender in Germany.

Israeli Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein looks at an ancient prayer book on display at the Bible Lands museum in Jerusalem, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

A codex is a manuscript bound in book form with writing on both sides of page. Until the 5th or 6th century, Hebrew documents were written on parchment scrolls, so a codex represents a big step forward in the history of manuscripts.

“I have no doubt it’s an important thing,” Shammai said. “We don’t have very ancient examples of Jewish codexes.”

But Aviad Stollman, curator of the National Library’s Judaica collection, said he is not convinced Green’s donation is from the 9th century, or that it is even an ancient codex or Jewish prayer book. He said the manuscript needed further research to shed light on its authenticity.

“Perhaps it is a collection of papers,” Stollman said. “In some ways it looks as if someone took a bunch of papers and collated them.”

Museum director Amanda Weiss said she was convinced that the prayer book is genuine based on the carbon dating of Green’s experts. Alluding to the prayers it contains — prayers still recited by observant Jews today — she said it had special cultural significance and is “a testament to the continuity of the Jewish people.”

Green said he came from a very religious family and had several relatives who had been clergymen. He said he donated the book because he wanted to “bring our love for the Bible to the land of the Bible.”

His family plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a Bible museum on land near the National Mall in Washington. It’s scheduled to open in 2017 and will display the family’s massive collection of biblical artifacts, including ancient texts.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.


Hollywood starts attack Hamas in NY Times ad


The likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Rogen, Aaron Sorkin, Roseanne Barr, Sherry Lansing, Sarah Silverman and Kathy Ireland said 'Hamas cannot be allowed to rain rockets on Israeli cities.'

By JTA | Sep. 14, 2014 | 8:53 PM Taken from Haaretz

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) pose Photo by Reuters

Some 300 Hollywood elite published an ad in The New York Times holding Hamas responsible for the “devastating loss of life” in the latest Hamas-Israel conflict.

Actors to directors to studio heads signed the statement by members of the Creative Community for Peace. Among the signers are Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Rogen, Aaron Sorkin, Roseanne Barr, Sherry Lansing, Sarah Silverman and Kathy Ireland.

“Hamas cannot be allowed to rain rockets on Israeli cities, nor can it be allowed to hold its own people hostage,” the statement reads. “Hospitals are for healing, not for hiding weapons. Schools are for learning, not for launching missiles. Children are our hope, not our human shields.”

The statement laments the “devastating loss of life endured by Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza” and expresses” hope for a solution that brings peace to the region.”

Amid the conflict, the statement had been published in August in Hollywood publications including Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. The statement with additional signatures reportedly will be printed in international publications.

The statement concludes: “We join together in support of the democratic values we all cherish and in the hope that the healing and transformative power of the arts can be used to build bridges of peace.”

Creative Community for Peace was formed to counter the singling-out of Israel as a target for cultural boycotts.


Seinfeld, 'Yada Yada Yada'


Posted: 09/09/2014 10:03 am  Updated: 9 minutes ago

Twenty-five years ago, "Seinfeld" hit the small screen, making us all want endless amounts of matzo ball soup and coffee.

But even though you may have watched the show religiously -- and watched it again in syndication -- you could probably stand to brush up on your Seinfeld trivia.

Luckily, the TV buffs of YouTube channel CineFix are here to provide seven facts about "Seinfeld" that most people don't know.

For example, did you know Seinfeld mentions he has a sister in "The Chinese Restaurant" episode, but never again throughout the show? Where did his sister go? Maybe the dingo ate her.

Now go "re-gift" this video by sharing it with your other Seinfeld-loving friends.

[h/t Tastefully Offensive]

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated "Seinfeld" hit the silver screen instead of the small screen.


How Hamas uses its tunnels to kill and capture Israeli soldiers

by Terrence McCoy, Published on July 21


















It was a Monday in October 2013 when residents of a kibbutz called Ein Hashlosha just east of the Gaza border heard strange sounds.

It may have been difficult to pinpoint the sure. The sounds weren't coming from above ground - but beneath it. The Israel 
Defense Forces (IDF) soon discovered that the sounds signaled an "extremely advanced and well prepared" tunnel.

Not only was the burrow remarkable in depth and length - 1.5 miles long and 66 feet underground - it was equipped with electricity and contained enough cookies, yogurt and other provisions to last its occupants several months. Israeli forces estimated that Hamas had dumped $10 million and 800 tons of concrete into the two-year project.

Such "terror tunnels," the Israeli military said in a statement Friday, are "complex and advanced." And their use, Israel said, is "to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and soldiers alike, infiltrations in Israeli communities, mass murders and hostage-taking scenarios."

Describing this emerging "tunnel war," a Palestinian militia document obtained by the news Web site al-Monitor said the objective of the underground network was "to surprise the enemy and strike it a deadly blow that doesn't allow a chance for survival or escape or allow him a chance to confront and defend itself."

On Saturday, in what The Washington Post called an "audacious attack," Hamas fighters wearing Israeli army uniforms slipped from central Gaza into Israel through a tunnel and attacked an Israeli army patrol, killing two soldiers. In a second attempt Saturday to enter Israel through their tunnels, The Post reported, the Israeli military discovered Hamas operatives carry handcuffs and tranquilizers in an apparent attempt to kidnap soldiers; the militants were killed. Also Saturday, a militant climbed out of a concealed tunnel in southern Gaza and started firing at soldiers. 

Then early Monday, a spokesman for the Israeli military said two "terrorist squads" had infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza. Israeli aircraft hit one group; the second fired an antitank missile at an army vehicle before 10 of the operatives were killed by return fire. And now, as the full extent of the Hamas tunnel network becomes clear, the IDF says dismantling the burrows is seminal priority.

"We've expanded the forces on the ground in order to accomplish that mission," said Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman. "All of Gaza is an underground city, and the amount of infrastructure Hamas built up over the years is immense. There are tunnels, extended bunkers, weapons storage facilities, even within urban areas."

Analysts said the tunnels are a major prong of Hamas's military strategy against Israel. The IDF has sussed out 36 of what it calls "terror tunnels," but there are probably more. While the Gaza Strip remains mired in poverty - the 2011 per capita income was $1,165 - Hamas is thought to have sunk more than $1 million into the excavation and maintenance of every tunnel. "Much to the misfortune of the people of Gaza, Hamas has invested far more resources in 'underground Gaza' than in 'upper Gaza,'" wrote al-Monitor's Shlomi Eldar. "The change and reform that Hamas has offered its voters was invested in its tunnels a the expense of the people of Gaza."

If the tunnels are a result of Hamas's 2006 election, the group got down to business almost immediately. In June that year, Hamas used a tunnel to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. That day, according to Haaretz, militants crossed underneath the Gaza border and attacked Shalit's guard tower at 5:13 a.m. Within six minutes, the attackers secreted Shalit back across the border in a tunnel - and he wasn't returned to Israel for five years.






In the years since, Hamas's tunnels have come possibly rival those used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Communist guerrilla fighters were said have constructed thousands of miles of tunnels in the region around Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam.

But Hamas's tunnels materialized in a different context. One reason they were built, Eldar wrote in a separate article, was to keep soldiers occupied during a period of relative peace. "What do you do with thousands of motivated, armed men with the urge to fight?" he said. "You come up with some operational occupation. Digging an underground tunnel."

One tunnel digger, who says workers stay underground for long periods, explained how they're constructed. "The drilling is done via a mechanical device, not an electronic one, to avoid making noise," he told al-Monitor. "It uses a [pedal-powered] chain, similar to a bicycle chain. [The chain] moves metal pieces that dig through the dirt. During the digging, the digger lies on his back and pedals with his feet." The tunnels are high enough to walk through standing up and are reinforced by concrete.

The tunnels take a human toll, according to an unusually detailed article by James Verini in the August issue of National Geographic, which describes this incident:

    It was about 9 p.m., and the brothers were on a night
    shift doing maintenance on the tunnel, which, like many
    of its kind — and there are hundreds stretching
    between Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — was
    lethally shoddy in its construction. Nearly a hundred
    feet below Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, Samir was
    working close to the entrance, while Yussef and two
    co-workers, Kareem and Khamis, were near the middle
    of the tunnel. They were trying to wedge a piece of
    plywood into the wall to shore it up when it began
    collapsing. Kareem pulled Khamis out of the way, as
    Yussef leaped in the other direction. For a moment the
    surge of soil and rocks stopped, and seeing that his
    friends were safe, Yussef yelled out to them,
    ‘Alhamdulillah! — Thank Allah!’
    
    Then the tunnel gave way again, and Yussef
    disappeared.

There are three types of tunnel, experts say. The first are economic: hundreds of tunnels burrowing into Egypt, which allowed Hamas to funnel in resources, guns and rockets until the Egyptians sealed off many of them.

Another set of tunnels reportedly services the Hamas high command. "Every single leader of Hamas, from its lowest bureaucrats to its most senior leaders, is intimately familiar with the route to the security tunnel assigned to him and his family," al-Monitor reported. "The most senior leadership has its own specific tunnel."

The last kind is allegedly driving the Israeli invasion: tunnels that can carry Hamas militants under the Gaza border and into Israel.

Terrence McCoy
 is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.