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Terror, Religion, PR - What will Decide the 2015 Election?

A number of new trends that have surfaced, or are at least more prominent now than they were at the ballot box in 2013, could affect the outcome in this round of voting.

By Anshel Pfeffer Dec. 2, 2014 | 1:33 PM | Taken from Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by AFP

The disastrous meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid on Monday night succeeded in only one aspect: It put the third Netanyahu government out of its 20-month misery. There’s no official date yet but there is now no question that 2015 will be an election year in Israel.

Since less than two years have passed since the last election and the polls haven’t shown a major shift in public opinion since then – the most pertinent question is what, if anything, has changed and can we expect these elections to yield radically different results?

While journalistic cynicism almost demands the conclusion that nothing will change following the unnecessary early vote, there are a number of trends that are new to these elections, or at least more prominent now than they were in 2013, which could affect the outcome. These are the main factors that will come into play over the next few months on the way to the polls.

Terror: The 2013 elections took place in a period of relative calm. It is too early to foresee, of course, whether the wave of terror attacks in recent months has abated or will continue into the campaign. While conventional wisdom has it that a tense security period benefits the right wing, it also puts an awkward spotlight on the incumbent. Over the last 25 years, four elections were fought at a time when Israelis felt insecure on their own streets, in three of them (Yitzhak Shamir, 1992; Shimon Peres, 1996; Ehud Barak, 2000) the sitting prime minister lost. The only incumbent to win a “terror election” was Ariel Sharon in 2003. Netanyahu does not have Sharon’s rough-and-ready image and will find it difficult to win if Israelis go to the polls in fear.

Negative campaign: If unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank calms down over the next few months, and there are signs that is already happening, the Palestinian issue will not be the core theme of these elections. Of course, the parties to the right of Likud – Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi – will try and drum up hysteria, and portray themselves as the defenders of Israel. But Likud under Netanyahu will have to project a more centrist image, and the center-left parties know that the Israeli public doesn’t believe there is a possibility of peace on the horizon and thus will not make the Palestinian issue a central part of their campaign. However, these parties won’t have much else to work with. Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which did so well in the last balloting, promising to solve all the woes of the middle class, has nothing to show for the time it controlled the treasury and will probably fall back on demonizing Netanyahu’s preferred partners, the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah will once again promise it is the savior of Zionism but it is also fatally tainted by having been a member of the coalition. Labor may have remained in opposition but after doing badly in the last elections, focusing primarily on a social-democratic agenda, it will be looking for something more meaty. This won’t be an election fought on issues but a relentlessly negative campaign in which each party will try to smear its rivals as irresponsible fanatics. The victor, or more likely victors, in these elections will be those who succeed in banding together more effectively to smear their opponent, and once again Netanyahu is at a disadvantage here because there will be more parties seeking to discredit him than any other candidate.

Bibi and the bloc: There are two main reasons that many pundits believe that despite the hapless way he managed his latest government, Netanyahu is still almost assured reelection. The first is what looks like an impregnable right-wing-religious bloc of parties which the polls predict will continue to hold a Knesset majority after the next vote. How inevitable is that majority? Most polls give it around 65 seats. But the polls said similar things two years ago and the bloc got only 61 seats. That was a majority but a tenuous one that forced Netanyahu to capitulate and accept the Lapid-Bennett demand to keep his favored Haredi partners out of the coalition. Besides its numbers, the right wing has a major advantage in the absence of vetoes. While there is no love lost between its members, they are all prepared to work with each other. The chances of a center-left coalition are hugely diminished by the fact that the Haredi parties will never sit around the same table with Yesh Atid. Netanyahu, ever cautious, is already working to reinforce the bloc with a possible electoral alliance with Habayit Hayehudi and to advance coalition deals with Shas and United Torah Judaism. Even if the collective egos of the leaders of Labor, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah allow them to somehow cobble together a joint front, their only chance of winning is a massive anti-Netanyahu groundswell shifting enough voters away from the right-wing bloc, or a new party emerging which can win religious and right-wing votes and still join a center-left coalition. Such a party is already in the making.

The Kahlon factor: Former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon is about to officially launch his new party, which will focus on social issues. It’s hard to predict how well it will do before we know anything else about it, but Kahlon’s proven popularity and the fact that voters will once again be looking for alternatives to failed politicians gives some credence to the polls already indicating he can win anything between six and 16 seats. On the one hand, Kahlon retired from politics two years ago out of exasperation with Netanyahu; on the other, his instinctive positions on diplomatic and security issues have in the past been on the right. If he indeed does well, he may have the option of forcing Netanyahu to grant him the coveted treasury – or of denying him a fourth term.

No alternative: Between 1999 and 2009, three men kept Netanyahu out of power – Barak, Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Three deeply flawed politicians who had one characteristic in common, even if they were never popular for long, all had the stature and gravitas to command enough votes in an election, and then to go on and make the dirty deals necessary to build a coalition. Netanyahu has proved three times that he has it as well. None of the other current party leaders can say the same. Livni, Lapid, Isaac Herzog, Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and now Kahlon all believe they have what it takes, but none of them seems to have convinced a sufficient proportion of the public or their colleagues of this. Can any of them perform an image makeover in time to present a credible alternative to Netanyahu?

Snap election: By law, elections in Israel cannot take place sooner than three months after being called. Netanyahu has an interest in holding them as soon as possible, giving his rivals less time to grind down his image with a concerted negative campaign. He also fears Kahlon and hopes to limit his appeal by allowing him little time to get organized. The religious parties with their fixed constituencies and eagerness to get back into a coalition with Netanyahu are also interested in a speedy vote. Most of the other parties would prefer a lengthier campaign in the hope of reviving their sagging popularity. However, trying to prolong a costly and stagnating election season would probably only further diminish their public standing so Netanyahu will most likely get his earlier election date, sometime in March or early April.

Passing the threshold: The rules have changed for these elections and the electoral threshold that parties have to pass to gain access to the Knesset has now been raised from 2 percent to 3.25 percent. This spells political extinction for centrist Kadima, only six years ago the party of power. It also jeopardizes Hatnuah, the far-left “Arab” parties and far-right Tekumah, which in the last elections ran together with Habayit Hayehudi but is now threatening to break away. Most of these parties will join forces with others to avoid being wiped out, but if any of them go it alone and fail to cross the threshold – it will cost their bloc dearly and perhaps even tip the elections to the other side.

Wild Card Adelson: Many in Likud believe that last month’s vote on the so-called Israel Hayom bill – in which many coalition members supported the law preventing the pro-Netanyahu tabloid, owned by U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, from being distributed for free – was the final nail in the coalition’s coffin. Having only passed its first reading, a decision on this legislation will have to wait for a new Knesset and meanwhile hundreds of thousands of copies of Israel Hayom will continue to swamp the streets and coffee shops. Adelson has already proved in the U.S. that there is no limit to the amount of money he is prepared to pour on favored candidates and Netanyahu is the most favorite of all. Having circumvented campaign-finance laws with his freebie, which has no plan to ever make a profit, Adelson will now push Israel Hayom and his recently acquired religious newspaper in Israel, Makor Rishon, to saturation levels in Netanyahu’s service. Rival tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, traditionally hostile to Netanyahu, will be hard-pressed to provide an alternative. It’s unclear what effect, if at all, the “Bibiton” has had on public opinion, but these elections are going to be a media war as well.

Netanyahu's U.S. visit marred by memories of Gaza and lingering bad feelings

Israeli PM assumed that the magic of his "Hama=ISIS" equation would nullify Gaza resentment, sour relations with Obama and record of ill-timed announcements of building in the territories.

By Chemi Shalev | Oct. 5, 2014 | 3:06 AM | Taken from Haaretz

Netanyahu outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, October 1, 2014. Photo by AP

The Israeli sociologist Edna Lomsky-Feder published a book several years ago on the effects of the Yom Kippur War on lives of the soldiers who fought in it. The book’s main finding was encapsulated in its title: “As If There Was No War.” This headline can be borrowed to describe Israel’s rapid return to normalcy following Operation Protective Edge as well as the underlying theme of Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to America: “As if there was no Gaza.”

Netanyahu apparently assumed that the war that President Obama had launched against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria puts Jerusalem back in the same trenches as Washington and erases the criticism, if not rage, that had accumulated in the White House during the Gaza operation in August. As proof of Voltaire’s observation that the human mind has the capacity “to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe,” Netanyahu took for granted that the magical powers of his "Hamas=ISIS" equation could delete memories of the collapse of John Kerry’s peace process, the bitter spat over U.S. recognition of the Palestinian unity government, the unbridled personal attacks on Kerry’s efforts to achieve a cease fire, and, most significantly perhaps, of President Obama’s repeatedly ignored efforts to scaled down the ferocity of Israel’s aerial onslaught on Gaza.

Thus, Netanyahu heaped profuse praise on the morality of the IDF but paid only scant attention to its civilian and financial toll. He ripped into Mahmoud Abbas’ speech, perhaps justifiably, but ignored the Palestinian leader’s constrained and constructive role in the West Bank in the days of Protective Edge. He not only preached in public to Obama and portrayed him as an Iranian patsy, he added insult to injury by hobnobbing with Sheldon Adelson in a Manhattan restaurant, even though he knows, or should have known, that this was a red flag for the White House.

It was against this backdrop that the tenders for 2,610 new apartments in East Jerusalem and the pictures of the settlers entering apartments in Silwan brought a simmering White House to the boiling point that yielded the extraordinarily harsh if not overwrought condemnation that the administration published an hour or two after the end of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting. Resentment of similar incidents in the past – most notably the 1,600 housing units announced during Vice President Biden’s March 2010 visit to Israel – combined with U.S. exasperation during the Gaza campaign, and both were further fueled by the bad blood that always flows between the two leaders. The Americans came to the conclusion that Netanyahu had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, their fury got the best of them and even the electoral consideration of the upcoming Congressional elections failed to stem their fury. Netanyahu’s retort, that the U.S. “should get its facts straight,” poured yet another layer of fat on the fire.

And it’s not that Netanyahu was completely off the mark: the campaign against ISIS has indeed pushed back memories of Gaza and could have prepared the ground for enhanced U.S.-Israeli collaboration. But the effort to leverage the changed circumstances should have been handled with discretion, modesty and from a greater distance, possibly, rather than the clamorous and sometimes cocky campaign that Netanyahu brought with him to America.

On the other hand, one shouldn't exaggerate the portrayal of the damage done: the U.S. media is largely ignoring the new clash between Obama and Netanyahu, as befits old news of the dog bites man variety, as it devotes itself to the immediate threats posed by Islamic State and Ebola virus. So in the end there is reciprocity: Netanyahu speaks to America as there was no war, and America responds as if there was no visit. 

Hezbollah Attack Wounds 2 Israeli Soldiers on Lebanon Border

By ANNE BARNARD and ISABEL KERSHNER | OCT. 7, 2014 |Taken from The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, claimed responsibility for an explosion on Tuesday in a disputed area along the border with Israel that wounded two Israeli soldiers. The attack ended months of relative quiet on the border, where a cease-fire has largely held since Israel fought a monthlong war against Hezbollah in 2006.

Israel responded with artillery fire toward two Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon, according to the Israeli military. The military said that two blasts had occurred, but that the second caused no injuries.

Hezbollah’s Al Manar channel said the group had detonated an explosive device in Shebaa Farms, a disputed area that Lebanon considers occupied by Israel and that is also claimed by Syria.

Hezbollah did not cite a reason for the attack, but noted that it was carried out by a unit named after “the martyr Hassan Ali Haidar.” Mr. Haidar was a Hezbollah military operative who was killed in September when an Israeli drone detonated a spying device he was dismantling in the southern coastal town of Adloun, Lebanese news media reported.

Hezbollah and Israel have largely sought to keep the border calm amid chaos elsewhere in the region, and the quick claim of responsibility, less than four hours after the blast, came as a surprise. Hezbollah has denied responsibility for several rocket attacks in recent years across the border into Israel, which were probably carried out by Palestinian militant groups.

Hezbollah’s popularity in the wider Arab world, which soared after Israel failed to achieve its goals in the 2006 war, has fallen sharply. Many in the Sunni Arab majority view it as siding with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria against a Sunni-led insurgency.

The group is already fighting on two fronts: It is battling insurgents in Syria alongside Syrian security forces and fending off spillover attacks from the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front insurgent group, which attacked Hezbollah positions on the Syrian-Lebanese border over the weekend.

Hezbollah is keeping a wary eye on advances by Nusra along the border with the Golan Heights. It has portrayed groups like Nusra as serving the goals of Israel and the West — to weaken the Syrian government and its alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, and to divert attention from Israel and its conflicts with Hezbollah and the Palestinians.

The attack Tuesday may have been an attempt by Hezbollah to assert its presence on the border, or to send a message to Israel that it is not handicapped by its fight in Syria. Hezbollah’s leaders have consistently said that the fight in Syria does not detract from its ability to deter Israel on the southern border.

The blasts came after a confrontation on Sunday, when, the Israeli military said, a routine patrol identified suspects crossing the border from Lebanon into Israeli territory and opened fire, causing the suspects to flee back into Lebanon. The Lebanese Army offered a different account of that event, saying Israeli forces had opened fire at one of its positions, injuring one Lebanese soldier.

Israeli experts have attributed the occasional violence in the north to spillover from the turmoil in Syria.

In March a bomb was detonated against Israeli forces along the frontier in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, wounding four, and another bomb was detonated against an Israeli Army vehicle patrolling Israel’s border with Lebanon, damaging the vehicle. Those attacks were seen as possible attempts by Hezbollah to exact revenge for airstrikes against weapons convoys and stores that were attributed to Israel.

“The Lebanese government and Hezbollah are directly liable for this blatant breach of Israel’s sovereignty,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Tuesday, commenting on the latest attack. He said the military “responded to this unprovoked aggression against its forces and will continue to operate in order to maintain the safety of the northern border of Israel.”

Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.

After Land Seizure, West Bank Villages Symbolize an Elemental Conflict


Taken from The New York Times

WADI FUKIN, West Bank — At the edge of this small Palestinian village, an asphalt road turns into a dirt path that winds through a fertile valley where natural springs irrigate lush plots planted with a rich ratatouille of vegetables, as well as orchards and vines. Goats graze on the steep, rocky slopes, some bare and rugged, others planted with olive and almond trees and pines.

The veneer of pastoral serenity was shattered just over a week ago when a new crop suddenly dotted the hillsides: dozens of bright yellow plastic boards tied to metal stakes, printed with the logo of the Israeli military’s Civil Administration and in large, red Hebrew letters the words “STATE LANDS — NO TRESPASSING.”

The same warning appeared less prominently in small, black Arabic letters, as if to minimize the potential impact of a move that local Jewish settler leaders said could herald a new Jewish city in the area. Palestinians and anti-settlement groups like Peace Now described the action as possibly the biggest land grab in the occupied West Bank in 30 years.

The signs accompanied Israel’s formal declaration that it was laying claim to nearly 1,000 acres of territory in this area of the West Bank, prompting a storm of international criticism and a blunt call from the United States to reverse the decision. Wadi Fukin and four other villages directly affected by the announcement — Surif, Hussan, Jaba’a and Nahalin — instantly became the latest symbols of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pared down to the elemental struggle over the land.

Ahmad Sokar, the head of Wadi Fukin’s village council, said the signs appeared “to the north, south, east and west” of the village of 1,300 residents, who, he added, fear that they will find their community surrounded “like an island.”

It may be years before any settlement construction can take place. Palestinians with claims to the land were given 45 days to register objections. Village leaders and farmers are now poring over maps, meeting with lawyers and gathering documents for what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process in the Israeli courts.

But the episode has again illustrated the distance between the Israelis and the Palestinians months after the breakdown of American-brokered talks meant to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, and after a bloody war between Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that rules Gaza, and Israel.

When it comes to the basic question of who owns the land, the sides lack any common language.

“The concept of land for the Palestinians is not like in the West,” said Ata Munasra, a local tour guide. “It is part of your culture, your heritage, your existence. You can’t just move from here to there.” He added that when it came to the laws governing the land, “Israel picks and chooses what suits it.”

And villagers said the international condemnations had not yet influenced anything on the ground.

“It’s like cat and mouse,” said Abdel Hakim Munasra, a relative of Ata Munasra and the secretary of the village council. “The settlements creep across the land gradually. They start small and expand.”

The Palestinians and most of the world consider all Jewish settlement in the occupied territories illegal. Israelis said the choice of the 1,000 acres seemed to have been calibrated to cause the least physical damage to the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state, though Palestinians point out that it was made unilaterally.

The newly declared state land lies in what the Israelis call Gush Etzion, or the Etzion settlement bloc, south of Jerusalem. Israel says it intends to keep the bloc, which is part of the 60 percent of the West Bank that has remained under full Israeli control, under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians — though negotiations for a state would require the Palestinians to agree and Israel to offer a land swap in return.

The pre-1967 armistice line between the West Bank and Israel runs just to the west of Wadi Fukin. To the east is Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox, urban Jewish settlement of up to 50,000 residents that Israel expects to include within its eventual borders.

But precisely as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is demanding a definition of the borders of his future state, the Israeli move blurs the boundary. While Palestinian negotiators have agreed in principle to minor adjustments and land swaps along the 1967 lines, Xavier Abu Eid of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiation Affairs Department said the Palestinians “have never accepted the idea of settlement blocs” as unilaterally defined by Israel.

Most of the elongated tracts of newly appropriated land run adjacent to the 1967 line, stretching between the Palestinian villages, with a finger extending inward toward Gvaot, a tiny Israeli settlement of a few families in temporary homes. Dror Etkes, an Israeli expert on West Bank land issues who advocates on behalf of the Palestinians, said the intention was “to fill in the gap,” consolidating the connection between Gush Etzion and Israel.

Defenders of the Israeli policy say that the newly declared state land was never privately owned, and that it was land whose status was to be determined.

They also say that Gush Etzion has historic value for Israelis: Jews lived there until 1948 and returned after Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. It is also the area where Palestinian militants kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in June. The land declaration came as compensation for the settlers and was a punishment for the Palestinians at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under political pressure over the war in Gaza.

When Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, only one-third of the territory was recorded in the area’s land registry, adding to the legal ambiguity, Israelis said. Israel froze the registration process, and in the 1980s it began appropriating plots that had not been cultivated in three years, or were less than half cultivated, based on what Mr. Etkes described as “a manipulative interpretation of Ottoman law.”

Mr. Etkes said that only small parts of the newly declared state lands were cultivated, though he cautioned that construction in the area would be likely to choke the intensively cultivated parts.

In Wadi Fukin, villagers said that a large part of the appropriated land was owned by five extended families, and that some of it was planted with cereals for grazing.

Proving ownership will be difficult for most, unless they can produce Turkish land deeds, experts said. Mr. Munasra, the council secretary, said he owned an acre of land planted with olive saplings that was included in the appropriation. He said that he had tax receipts from the period of the British Mandate, and that the land was in the name of his grandfather, who died in 1970.

On a recent weekday, only an insistent drill from a distant construction site broke the silence in the valley. The apartment blocks of Beitar Illit spilled down a ridge above the farmland.

Maher Taher Sokar, a farmer, was sitting barefoot under an old mulberry tree, his work pants rolled up. He said he had fought in the Israeli courts to prove his ownership of more than 85 acres of land on a nearby mountain that is planted with wheat and olive trees. Once, he said, he waited two years for a signature from an Israeli official at the Civil Administration headquarters. He won the case in 2011, he said, after a 16-year legal battle.

Said Ghazali contributed reporting.

International Humanitarian Solutions for Gaza and Israel

Taken from Ameinu

The best way to rebuild Gaza while answering Israel’s security needs would be to establish a joint UN-Egyptian international zone in the northern Sinai desert close to Gaza.  The zone would include a seaport, desalinization plants, solar farms, a hospital and a small airport allowing shuttle flights to Cairo for Gaza residents wishing to connect to international flights.  The zone, financed by the international community that seems so committed to rebuilding Gaza, would create thousands of jobs for Egyptians as well as for residents of Gaza.

Creation of this zone would not require advance permission of Israeli or Palestinian leadership.  Although negotiations between two parties are usually the best way to resolve conflicts, sometimes the lack of mutual trust and outright hatred makes it necessary to think outside the usual conflict resolution box by looking for workable solutions that depend on international initiatives to create humane, ethical and economic solutions on the ground that would, hopefully, also lead to political solutions in the future.

     The seaport:  would allow for imports to Gaza and exports of Gazan agricultural products.  The UN, together with Egypt, would examine every incoming container both physically and electronically to assure that no weapons are being imported.  Building materials would be limited to pre-fabricated housing (see #2 below) and materials catalogued and certified by the UN for projects that are actually inspected by a special UN observer team to make sure they are not used for tunnels or rocket launchers.  The plans for any construction using these materials must be filed with the UN and inspected on a regular basis.

    The UN will recruit leading architects and contractors from around the world to help improve and design pre-fabricated housing that could be imported through the seaport to Gaza, thus minimizing the cost of the housing, the construction time, and, importantly, minimizing the amount of cement and and steel needed for construction and thus recognizing the legitimate Israeli fears about the use of construction materials for building terrorist tunnels into Israel.

    Solar farms:  The United States and China would each commit to building an enormous solar farm in the Sinai desert.  The power output would be allocated as 65% to Gaza, 25% to Egyptian use in the Sinai, and 10% to Israeli communities bordering Gaza.  The competition between the United States and China would be a showcase for marketing solar power plants for the world and would be an incentive to complete the project quickly and efficiently.  Since the cost of the construction would be absorbed by the two  countries, the ongoing operation and cost of power would be very low for the users.

    Desalinization plants: Using their unique experience in desalination (with or without the help of Israeli technology), Saudi Arabia and the Arab emirates would each build a major desalination plant in the Sinai, whose output, like the solar farms, would be allocated 65% to Gaza, 25% to Egyptian use in Sinai, and 10% to Israeli communities bordering Gaza.  Again, by absorbing the initial construction costs, Saudi Arabia and the Arab emirates would be making water very affordable, and the competitive urge for excellence would help each build the plant quickly and efficiently.

     Sinai airport: The small airport would be limited for the first ten years to flights between northern Sinai and Cairo.  This would allow for passengers crossing the Egyptian border from Gaza to connect through Cairo to other destinations.  After ten years of peace, the airport could be expanded to accommodate international flights directly.  The airport would be funded by European countries and donors and operated by the Egyptian airport authority.

    Hospital and regional clinic: A hospital in the international zone in Sinai funded by the WHO would serve both the people of Sinai and the people of Gaza.

These proposals would provide answers to the requests made in the name of the people of Gaza while also giving Israel a stronger sense that materials imported into Gaza will be used for the benefit of the Gazan population and not for building the infrastructure for continued warfare and conflict.  But none of these will eradicate the years of distrust, hatred and animosity that has grown on both sides during the hostilities.  Reconciliation will take many years, but can begin today with the creation of UN sponsored, but completely independent international Muslim and Jewish authorities who will report to the UN, each for its own people, on incitement and hatred in their own communities.  Although these leaders will not be censoring their peoples’ narratives and histories, these non-political, moderate and ethical religious leaders will have moral if not political force and will publicize hate speech and incitement to terrorism and violence on both sides of the border.

The Muslim authority, comprising 12 Muslim leaders from around the world chosen from major Muslim organizations by their reputations for tolerance and co-existence, will have two major reporting functions:  first, inspecting mosques on a quarterly basis in Gaza to make sure they are being used for religious and social purposes only and not for storing weapons or hiding entrances to tunnels meant to undermine peaceful coexistence.  Their second function will be to monitor political and religious leaders’ public speeches.  If by a 2/3’s majority, they decide to condemn one of their own leaders’ statements, they will do so privately twice, and only if the incitement continues will they publicize it in a report to the UN security council and the world press.

The Jewish authority, comprising 12 Jewish leaders from around the world chosen by major Jewish organizations by their reputations for tolerance and co-existence, will also twice privately reprimand Jewish religious and political leaders (Arab as well as Jewish Members of Knesset) who incite hatred and violence.  They will also publicize the names of any religious institution where leaders or students are arrested for violent, racist activities.

The two authorities could meet privately to discuss what constitutes free speech and what constitutes incitement.  They will have no other powers other than the moral power of public religious leadership condemning hate mongers.

Hatred and animosity won’t end quickly, but this naive proposal for religious and ethical leadership of two great religions would be a start in the long process of healing that will accompany a long process of physical rebuilding and restoring confidence that some solutions can work.

Immediately, the border between Israel and Gaza would be opened, subject to Israeli inspection of all goods entering Gaza through Israel and Gazan inspection of all goods exported through Israel to the Palestinian Authority and/or Jordan or other Arab countries bordering Israel.  But the long-term rebuilding of Gaza can only be accomplished by an international effort that removes some of the solution (port, power plants, desalination facilities, airport, hospital) physically from Gaza to the proposed international zone in Sinai.

Although Israel would retain its right to defend itself against any and all attacks coming from Gaza, the above international city in Sinai would certainly limit the ability of additional arms being smuggled into Gaza, and, hopefully, would provide answers to the humanitarian need to open the border with Gaza.

Egypt, together with the UN and the international community, would have a central role to play in this solution and would most likely make its own demands of the leaders of Gaza.  In addition to its successful closing of most of the smuggling tunnels from Sinai, Egypt, with the financing and help of the UN, would also create a patrolled, electronic perimeter fence ten kilometers from Gaza in Sinai that would help in preventing smuggling through Sinai to Gaza.

Dr. Joel Magid

Joel (Yoel) Magid, former world secretary of Habonim-Dror, lived for 25 years as a member of Kibbutz Be’eri, close to the Gaza border where one of the tunnels was discovered.  His daughter and her family live on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, just north of Gaza, and had to abandon their home during part of the hostilities.

Palestinians Suspected of Collaborating With Israel Are Executed in Gaza Strip


GAZA CITY — As many as 18 Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel were fatally shot in public on Friday, according to local news agencies and two witnesses, the largest number of such executions reported since the onset of this summer’s battle between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas militants prepared to execute a person suspected of collaborating with Israel on Friday in Gaza City. Reuters

The victims were not identified but were reported to have been previously arrested or convicted of collaboration, a crime punishable by death under Palestinian law. Gaza’s Interior Ministry, which handles judicial and security matters, declined to address the reported executions. But a statement signed by the so-called resistance was published on many Palestinian websites — including some affiliated with Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates Gaza — saying a “revolutionary court” had been formed “in agreement with the war’s circumstances.”

Al Majd, a website run by the Internal Security Service of the Hamas government that ran Gaza until June, quoted an unidentified official as saying that “the judiciary procedures and measures were completed against the accused.”

Journalists, human-rights workers and a witness said that either 9 or 11 people, including two women, were killed Friday morning in a public park and a bus stop near Al Azhar University in Gaza City, not far from the central prison where they were believed to have been held. Seven others, their hands tied behind their backs, were killed outside Al Omri mosque downtown after noon prayer, another witness said, leaving bloodstains on the ground that bystanders photographed with their mobile phones.

“The spies had their heads covered and were sitting by the wall outside the mosque,” said the witness at the mosque, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “There were about 20 masked gunmen in the area. One of them said loudly that the death sentence is going to be carried out against seven collaborators.”

“They did not mention their names,” he added. “They shot them after that and then the militants left. People were shouting, ‘God is great.'

The executions took place after Israeli airstrikes before dawn Thursday that killed three top commanders of Hamas’s armed wing, and the attempted assassination Tuesday night of its chief, Mohammed Deif, whose fate remains unknown.

The suspected informants who were executed on Friday, and three others that Palestinian news agencies reported suffered the same fate on Thursday, had apparently been detained for some time. But Israel’s attacks on the Hamas leaders, based on intelligence about their locations, most likely led the militants to want to send a harsh public message to potential informants, experts said.

“I think this has provoked, and let’s say triggered, this process,” said Hamdi Shaqqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza group that has long tracked and condemned such extrajudicial killings. “If you speak to any regular citizen in Gaza, nobody is looking with mercy on these people. Why? Because people are being bombarded. A lot of the blame for bombardment of specific places is being put on collaborators.”

Mr. Shaqqura said the center was investigating reports that five other collaborators were killed more than two weeks ago, and added that its director, Raji Sourani, had written urgent letters to Palestinian leaders on Friday “demanding that they immediately and decisively intervene to stop such extrajudicial executions.”

“In the middle of this onslaught on Gaza, we are in need to respect the rule of law and to respect human rights,” Mr. Shaqqura said. “More than any other time, it’s a challenge for us.”

Similar public executions were carried out during Israel’s last Gaza offensive, in 2012. Masked gunmen shot a handcuffed man identified as Ashraf Ouaida and left his bloodied body beneath a billboard, placing a poster around his neck that accused him of helping Israel kill 15 Palestinian leaders. A few days later, six more suspected collaborators were killed vigilante-style, and the body of one was dragged through a Gaza City neighborhood by motorcycle.

At least a dozen collaborators who escaped from Hamas jails during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 were also summarily executed in the street.

Collaboration has been considered a heinous crime in Palestinian society since before Israel became a state. During its seven-year rule of Gaza, Hamas used vigorous prosecution and the occasional public lynching of suspected spies to enforce loyalty. But rights groups that document such cases said the number had been radically reduced from the period between 1987 and 1994, when an estimated 1,000 people were executed as collaborators.

Hagai El-Ad, director of the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem, declined to speculate about why Hamas might have chosen Friday to kill the collaborators.

“This is something that cannot be justified, full stop,” he said in an interview. “Such actions are severe violations of international humanitarian law, and those involved in such actions are personally, criminally liable.”

Fares Akram reported from Gaza City and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.

AUGUST 9, 2014 4:00 A.M.

Lessons of the War in Gaza

Israel came off well in this face-off with barbarism, though it can expect more assaults before long. 

by Daniel Pipes
taken from the National Review Online

As Israeli operations against Hamas wind down, here are seven insights into the month-long conflict:

Missile shield: The superb performance of Iron Dome, the protective system that shot down nearly every Hamas rocket threatening life or property, has major military implications for Israel and the world. Its success signals that "Star Wars" (as opponents maliciously dubbed it upon introduction in 1983) can indeed provide protection from short-range and also presumably fro long-range rockets missiles, potentially changing the future of warfare.

Iron Dome in action, protecting Israelis.

Tunnels: Tunneling behind enemy lines is hardly a new tactic; historically, it has had success, such as the 1917 Battle of Messines, when British mines killed 10,000 German soldiers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) knew of Hamas' tunnels before hostilities began on July 8 but failed to appreciate their numbers, length, depth, quality of construction, and electronic sophistication. Jerusalem quickly realized, as the Times of Israel, wrote, that "Israel's air, sea and land supremacy is not mirrored underground." The IDF thus requires additional time to achieve subterranean dominance.

Consensus in Israel: Hamas' unrelenting barbarism created a rare consensus among Jewish Israelis in favor of victory. This near unanimity both strengthens the government's hand in dealing with outside powers (Prime Minister Netanyahu admonished the U.S. administration never again to second-guess him) and is likely to move Israeli domestic politics decisively to the right into the nationalist camp.

Middle Eastern response: With the exception of Hamas' state patrons (Turkey, Qatar, Iran), the Islamist terrorist found almost no governmental support in the region. In one striking example, Saudi King Abdullah said of Hamas killing Gazans, "It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are [mutilating the bodies of innocents and proudly publicizing their actions] in the name of religion." How well he knows his mortal enemy.

Better times: Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Khaled Meshaal (center) of Hamas in Jeddah with Saudi king Abdullah in 2007.

Rising antisemitism: Especially in Europe but also in Canada and Australia, antisemitism came to the fore, mainly from Palestinians and Islamists as well as from their far-left allies. This response will, in all probability, increase immigration to the two havens of Jewish life, Israel and the United States. By contrast, Middle East Muslims kept quiet, with the exception of Turks and those Arabs living under Israeli control.

Elite vs. popular responses: It's not every day that the secretary-general of the United Nations and all 28 foreign ministers of the European Union side with Israel against an Arab enemy, but that did occur. In the U.S. congress, the Senate unanimously approved and the House voted 395-8 in favor of an addition $225 million for the Iron Dome program. In contrast, among the wider public, pro-Israel sentiment declined almost everywhere (although not in the United States). How to explain this disparity? My hunch: Leaders imagine what they would do if faced with enemy rockets and tunnels, while the public focuses on photographs of dead babies in Gaza.

Dead babies: Which brings us to the most complex, counterintuitive, and strange aspect of the entire conflict. Because the IDF enjoys a cursing advantage over Hamas on the battlefield, their confrontation resembled a police operation more than a war. Thus, Israelis were judged primarily by the clarity of their leaders' public statements, the judicious use of force, and the handling of evidence. Accordingly, media attention invariably drifted from the military sphere to questions of proportionality, morality, and politics. Hamas' greatest strategic weapon in its effort to damage Israel's reputation and ostracize it was neither rockets nor tunnels but wrenching photographs of dead civilians purportedly killed by the IDF.

This leads to the bizarre situation in which Hamas seeks the destruction of Palestinian property, compels civilians to sustain injuries and death, inflates casualty figures, and may even intentionally attack its own territory - while the IDF takes gratuitous fatalities to spare harm to Palestinians. The Israeli government goes further, providing medical care and food and sending technicians into harm's way to make sure that Gazans continue to enjoy free electricity.

Trucks with food, medicines, and other provisions going from Israel to Gaza at the Kerem Shalom crossing during the hostilities.

It's a curious war in which Hamas celebrates Palestinian misery and Israel does its best to keep life normal for its enemy. Strange, indeed, but this is the nature of modern warfare, where opens op-eds often count for more than bullets. In Clausewitzian terms, war's center of gravity has moved from the battlefield to public relations.

In all, the civilized and moral forces of Israel came off well in this face-off with barbarism. But not well enough to forestall, for too long, yet another assault.

Mr. Pipes ( is president of the Middle East Forum. (c) 2014 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Portions of the Western Wall may be facing problematic erosion

By SHARON UDASIN 8/10/2014  19:41

Geologists have found that cracks in the wall may be indicative of erosion and structural instability. 

While the crevices in Jerusalem's Western Wall provide ample space for visitors to tuck in their thoughts and prayers, geologists have found that these very cracks may be indicative of erosion and structural instability.

People praying at Western Wall on Tisha Be'av 

Researchers from Hebrew University recently published their findings on the subject in a Geology journal article, called "Limestone weathering rates accelerated by micron-scale grain detachment." The article takes a look at how weathering of carbonate plays a significant role in the change of landscapes - focusing on the limestone degradation of the Western Wall. 

To calculate the amount of erosion that has occurred throughout the Western Wall, the researchers - led by senior lecturer Dr. Simon Emmanuel and Phd student Yael Levenson, of the Earth Sciences Institute - generated 3D models by using Iidar remote sensing laser technology.

In their research, the scientists reported that various types of limestone found in the wall eroded at vastly different rates. For example, stones made up of relatively large crystals were resistant to wear, making them almost unchanged in 2000 years, whereas stones with very small crystals eroded much faster.

The researchers discovered that tine-grained micritic limestone portions of the wall were "as much as two orders of magnitude higher than average rates estimated for coarse-grained limestone blocks at the same site," according to their article. In areas of the wall with this type of fine-grained stone, some portions had receded by up to tens of centimeters and consequently weakened the entire site's structure, the researchers argued.

"Understanding such weathering processes could help guide the development of effective preservation techniques," Emmanuel said.

In order to come to such an understanding, Emmanuel and Levenson collected samples of the different types of rocks from ancient quarries thought to have supplied the stones for the Second Temple.

Looking at samples of the stones under an atomic force microscope, they saw that the fine-grained micritic limestone dissolved particularly quickly in water. These elevated reaction rates were likely the result of "rapid dissolutions along micron-scale grain boundaries, followed by mechanical detachment of tiny particles from the surface," the authors wrote.

Such experiments stimulated the way in which rain interacts with limestone in nature, and might explain why some rocks experience more weathering than other, the researchers found. Through continued research efforts in lab like theirs, the scientists expressed hope that not only could methods be developed to help protect the structural stability of the Western Wall, but also of ancient landmarks across the globe.

"For example, it may be possible to develop materials that slow the rate of erosion by binding the tiny crystals in the rock together," Emmanuel said. "Advanced engineering techniques like this should assist efforts to protect not only the Western Wall, but other cultural heritage sites in Israel and around the world."

Jerusalemites to Tel Avivians: Light rail misery worth it

Business owners from the capital, who suffered last decade, tell Tel Avivians that there is light at the end of the light rail construction tunnel.

29/07/2015, 19:15

The owners of Tel Aviv businesses that will be affected by the construction work on the light trail can only imagine the frustration it will cause them over the next few years. But those who walked this path before them the business owners in Jerusalem have a clear message to their colleagues: be patient.

"I tell Tel Aviv residents breath deep, you will be going through a rough patch," said Nissan, a businessman, to Channel 2 news. Yoram, who owns a jewelry store in the Israeli capital offered similar advice. "I suggest to all the residents of Tel Aviv to be patient, it will take a long time."

Yoram recalled his personal experience with the construction of the light rail in Jerusalem. "We closed our shops, it was dirty and messy. This is the time, Tel Avivians, to cut back. I hope the municipality will help, but it will likely be pennies, as usual."

One Jerusalemite had a much harsher warning in store. "If the Tel Avivians think they live in heaven, from now on it will be hell," said Shimon, "The mother of all hells. Whoever has the chance to move away for six or seven years go. The mice and rats will party in the streets."

"Look quickly for an apartment in any kibbutz or town, get out of Tel Aviv until it's over," said several of the capital city's older residents. "They tell you, one year, two years, three years and it ends up a decade, minimum. Run. We suffered for ten years, everything as shut down. For ten years it was Stalingrad here. Now the Tel Avivians will feel it. There it's only two to three times bigger!"

Several business owners in Jerusalem said the damage was critical and long term. "The number of clients who pass through today is about one third as much as before the train," said Meir. "If I had friends there, I would tell them to close up shop. I cannot pay salaries today. We received no compensation and they raised our arnona (municipal tax). They promised us growth, but I have nowhere to load and unload goods. No supplier will come near. We need to sneak around illegally to bring in goods."

He warned emphatically: "They should close up and go home."

"The train is a blight rail not a light rail," said Yossi Cohen, a store owner in Jerusalem. "People don't walk on the light rail streets because there are no bus stations there. I gave my store to three agents but I cannot sell it. I warn the Tel Avivians sell your businesses."

And then there are those who offer a slight hint of optimism. "I am for the train, over time it is worthwhile," said Effi, a Jerusalem resident. "It saves time. The residents of Tel Aviv will suffer slightly but you need to look to the future."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on July 29, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

Why are Reform Jews issuing Yom Kippur messages in Arabic this year?

A closer look at their High Holy Day messages reveals how the various streams of Judaism in Israel are trying to brand themselves, and whom they see as target audiences.

By Judy Maltz | Oct. 1, 2014 | Taken from Haaretz

Thousands of Jews perform the Selichot prayer at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, backdropped by the Dome of the Rock mosque in the old city of Jerusalem on September 23, 2014Photo by AFP

Although still relatively small, the non-Orthodox – as well as more progressive Orthodox – Jewish movements have been gaining a foothold in Israel in recent years. In large part, the trend reflects a backlash against the stranglehold of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox establishments on many aspects of civil life in Israel.

A survey of online campaigns with a High Holy Day theme – the first of their kind – provides some insight into how the various Jewish movements are trying to brand themselves these days and whom they see as their target audiences.

Take, for example, the Reform movement, also known as the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. This most non-Orthodox of all the non-Orthodox movements has decided to take its usual message of egalitarianism and tolerance in a new direction this year, beyond the Jewish sphere: “Israelis helping Israelis celebrate the holidays with dignity” is the title of its holiday campaign, which urges Israeli Jews to embrace Israeli Muslims, and to take advantage of the rare coincidence of the fast of Yom Kippur falling this year on the very same day as the Islamic festival of Id al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice).

Led by the Reform movement’s Keren BeKavod (fund for dignity), the campaign calls on Israeli Jews to donate food to other Jews and to Muslims who don’t have anything to put on their tables during this holiday season.

On its website, where it promotes the campaign on a video in both Hebrew and Arabic, the Reform movement explains that the purpose is to “underscore our commitment to promoting coexistence and religious tolerance in Israeli society.” It urges Israelis with means to donate either a package of food or coupons for clothing to “disadvantaged Israeli families in all communities and sectors in Israeli society to help nurture a Jewish-Israeli voice that is responsible, moderate and seeks peace and interfaith understanding."

Yuli Goren, the spokeswoman of the Reform movement, explains that the decision to expand on the usual messages this year stemmed from a feeling that “we just couldn’t ignore the rising tide of racism in the country in recent months.” The High Holy Days, she says, “provided an opportunity to use the Jewish calendar to fight against racism, and we are the only Jewish movement in Israel doing something like this.”

Friendly Orthodoxy

Tzohar, an organization of progressive-minded Orthodox rabbis, doesn’t exactly qualify as a religious movement per se. Still, it’s gained prominence in recent years as a group that is bent on making Orthodoxy friendlier to secular Israelis, particularly by means of a large cadre of volunteer rabbis who officiate at wedding ceremonies around the country.

Tzohar may identify as an Orthodox organization, but a visitor to its (Hebrew) website could easily be led to understand otherwise. “We pray together on Yom Kippur” is the title of its High Holy Days campaign, which invites “men and women, parents and children, youngsters and adults, secular and religious, to a hospitable, experiential, Israeli, joint Yom Kippur prayer that includes explanation, song, discussion and shofar-blowing at the conclusion of the holiday.”

Aside from a photo of a man blowing a shofar, the page also includes a picture of what appears to be a happy family – a mother and father (incidentally, neither have their heads covered, as is typical among the Orthodox) and a daughter and son.

So is this what Tzohar means by “praying together” – no more gender separation? Will Mom and Dad and their children be able to sit together at one of the Tzohar-run services this Yom Kippur without a partition separating the men from the women?

Absolutely not, responds Tzofiya Hirschfeld, director of communications for the organization, who says there will be a mechitza, or partition, at each of the synagogues where Tzohar rabbis will lead services this Yom Kippur. She acknowledges, however, that an individual unfamiliar with the organization might “make the mistake” of understanding otherwise from its new online outreach campaign. “But anyone who knows what we’re about knows that we’re Orthodox,” she says.

To differentiate, that is to say, from the Conservative movement and its “Judaism with open arms” campaign on these High Holy Days, where “open, accepting, halakhic [i.e., in accordance with traditional Jewish law], egalitarian family prayer” comes “without mechitzas.”

'Embracing approach'

Indeed, there are no photos of a happy, non-Orthodox family on the Conservative, also known in Israel as Masorti, movement site – rather, a more traditional Jewish New Year image of apples, honey and pomegranates is featured.

Explaining the message behind the Conservative-Masorti campaign, Yizhar Hess, director of the movement in Israel, wrote in an e-mail: “We purposely chose an embracing, rather than confrontational, approach. The synagogue on the High Holy Days is a place of reconciliation and brotherhood, not of confrontation. We decided to leave the battles over religion and state outside the sacred atmosphere of these days.

"At the same time, we were adamant (perhaps in contrast to another holiday campaign that came out at the same time) about maintaining accuracy in our advertising. We are halakhic and egalitarian. We have not tried to mislead anyone with our message.”

Whom might he be referring to?

Israeli youths jailed for refusing to serve in army

Submitted by Maureen Clare Murphy on Thu, 10/02/2014 Taken from The Electronic Intifada

The anti-militarization group New Profile announced this week that two Israeli youths who refuse to serve in the army are once again being sent back to military prison.

Udi Segal, 18, has been handed down a fourth prison term and Uriel Ferera, 19, has been sent to jail for the eighth time; both were issued ten-day sentences on 29 September.

Segal and Ferera are among fifty youths who signed an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year stating their refusal to serve in Israel’s army because of its violations of Palestinians’ rights. Israeli youths are drafted into the military once they turn 18.

Against the occupation

“We’re using refusal as a tool in the struggle against the occupation, to end the occupation,” Segal says in the above video by Moriel Rothman-Zecher and Yuval Orr.

In the video Segal explains that up until the eighth grade, he was enrolled in one of Israel’s few desegregated schools where Palestinian and Jewish children are educated together. He was then transferred to a public school “that consistently boasts one of the highest rates of [Israeli military] enlistment, mostly in combat units.”

“It was a jarring transition,” the youth states.

In the video he explains in Arabic that he would tell Palestinians that “there are people who stand with you and that there are young Israelis who are against the occupation.”

Segal, who has two brothers serving in the army, including one who participated in the massive assault on Gaza this summer, told CNN that he has received threats because of his refusal of compulsory military service.

“The basic freedom that people don’t get in Gaza, also in the West Bank, also here in Israel, is because of the occupation. Because of the occupation, I live in a military society, in a violent society, a chauvinistic society,” he said.

“Imagine what they do to Palestinians”

Uriel Ferera as he enters an Israeli military base on 27 April 2014. (Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Before his eighth sentence was handed down on Monday, Uriel Ferera had already spent 127 days in jail.

When Ferera was first jailed in late April, he wore a T-shirt bearing a message of solidarity with fellow refuser Omar Saad. A musician and tennis instructor, Saad is a member of the Druze religious minority which, unlike the majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel, are required to serve in the military.

When he refused to put on an Israeli military uniform, Ferera told Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy, a guard screamed at him.

Ferera, an Orthodox Jew who was born in Buenos Aires and whose family settled in present-day Israel when he was six, told Levy: “I shouted to God in Spanish: Get me out of here. They laughed at me. They said God would not listen to me, and would not get me out of there.”

He added, “I thought: If this is how they belittle me and use force on me, imagine what they do to Palestinian youths.”

Growing movement

There have been several recent high-profile cases of conscientious objectors being jailed. Natan Blanc was jailed for 175 days before he was discharged in June 2013, according to Haaretz, and Omar Saad was imprisoned for 190 days beginning late last year. Saad became a well-known face in the growing movement of Druze youths who refuse to serve in the military.

Anan Shaheen, another Druze youth, expected to be imprisoned when he reported for his compulsory military registration appointment in August. But he was given an exemption on the spot.

Anti-militarization campaigner Maisan Hamdan told The Electronic Intifada at the time: “I believe that the Israeli occupation is frightened by conscientious objectors who refuse in a very public way.”

Hamdan is active with the Refuse — Your People Will Protect You group, which endeavors to give legal and financial support to Druze conscientious objectors so they have alternatives to the many state and private benefits conditioned on army service.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Israel are organizing to push back against the state’s new efforts to recruit Christians into the army.

Israeli violinist plays while undergoing brain surgery

Doctors at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center implanted electrodes in the brain to suppress the tremor she'd had for 20 years.

By Ido Efrati | Sep. 11, 2014 | 2:46 AM
Taken from Haaretz
Violinist plays while undergoing brain surgery

A former violinist whose career was cut short due to a condition known as “essential tremor” regained her ability to play while undergoing brain surgery at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center this week.

“It’s too bad I only heard of the operation now,” said Naomi Elishuv, a professional violinist who had to give up her musical career 20 years ago when she started suffering from the disorder. “Now I can start living again,” she said.

Elishuv, formerly a violinist with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Givatayim Conservatory of Music, gave the surgical team a private concert during deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery to suppress the essential tremor symptoms she has been suffering from for 20 years.

“My greatest love was playing the violin, but sadly I’ve had to make do with teaching until today. My tremor prevented me from playing professionally, and this was very difficult for a woman who was used to playing her entire life,” Elishuv said before entering surgery.

Professor Yitzhak Fried, the hospital’s director of Functional Neurosurgery, who operated on Elishuv on Tuesday morning, explained the procedure: “We implanted a brain pacemaker with electrodes in the area of the brain disturbance, which emits impulses to suppress the tremor that was interfering with Elishuv’s daily activities,” he said.

“The operation was performed under local anesthesia. In order to place the electrode in the optimal location, we wanted her active participation in real-time, so we asked Elishuv to play the violin during the surgery. During the procedure, she did not feel pain because these areas of the brain do not feel pain,” he said.

“Before the operation, I identified the optimal brain location, within millimeters. That is where I implanted the electrode,” he said.

“The surgery was performed via a minute hole in the skull, through which we inserted the 1.3-millimeter electrode and implanted it precisely in the thalamus region of the brain… In the second phase, we did an electrophysiological cell mapping, which gave us an indication of the precise problem location. I performed electrical stimulation in the center of the disturbed area and asked Elishuv to report any side effects caused by the stimulation. Indeed, when we activated the stimulation in the exact location, we found that the tremor had disappeared and Elishuv continued to play Mozart - with great emotion, but without the tremor or side effects,” Fried said.

“I can’t wait to resume normal life,” Elishuv said. “I want to play, to sign a paper, to drink tea without spilling it.”

Israel's Conservative movement gets its first openly gay pulpit rabbi

Mike Goldstein will serve as rabbi at Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel in Rehovot.

taken from Haaretz
By Judy Maltz, Sep. 7, 2014 11:28 PM

Rabbi Mikie Goldstein speaks at Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel, September 2014. Photo by Facebook

British-born Mikie Goldstein this week became the Israeli Conservative movement’s first openly gay congregational rabbi with his installation as spiritual leader of its synagogue in Rehovot.

Goldstein completed his studies for the rabbinate just a few months ago, at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He has been married for the past 20 years to Isi Yanouka, a veteran diplomat who serves today as Israel’s ambassador to the Ivory Coast.

“From my point of view, gender identity is not an issue,” Goldstein said. “What was important for our congregation was a rabbi who could teach and do outreach, and I believe that’s why they chose me. Being gay wasn’t an issue.”

The ordination of homosexual rabbis has long been a divisive issue among Conservative Jews, and it was only two years ago that the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Israel, which is affiliated with the movement, began admitting gay and lesbian students.

Rabbi Mikie Goldstein / Photo by Ellen Dubin

The Reform movement, by contrast, has been far more open to the idea of gay rabbis in its congregations.

Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel, where Goldstein will serve as rabbi, is one of the oldest Conservative congregations in Israel. Established in 1970 by immigrants from North America, it advertises itself as the only non-Orthodox synagogue between Nes Tziona and Ashdod. The 160 families that are members of the congregation include native Israelis as well as immigrants from the United States, Canada, South America, England, Russia, Australia and France.

Before leaving for his studies in the United States, Goldstein lived in Rehovot, where he was an active member of Adat-Shalom Emanuel.

Born in Liverpool, where he belonged to the national-religious Bnei Akiva youth movement, Goldstein moved to Israel in 1989. As a trail-along spouse, he has filled various diplomatic functions overseas.

He has also served as head of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, an organization that advocates on behalf of the LGBT community in the capital. In addition, Goldstein has held the position of resource director at the Conservative movement in Israel, also known as the Masorti movement. He interned last year at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York – the largest gay synagogue in the world – as part of his studies for the rabbinate.

Commenting on Goldstein’s installation, Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, said, “Mikie and the rabbinate were meant for each other, and he will be a remarkable pulpit rabbi.”

When Politics are Complex, Simple Joys at the Beach

Palestinian women and girls from the West Bank at the beach in Tel Aviv, after a group of Israeli women snuck them in the country for a daylong excursion.

Published: July 26, 2011

TEL AVIV — Skittish at first, then wide-eyed with delight, the women and girls entered the sea, smiling, splashing and then joining hands, getting knocked over by the waves, throwing back their heads and ultimately laughing with joy.

Most had never seen the sea before.

The women were Palestinians from the southern part of the West Bank, which is landlocked, and Israel does not allow them in. They risked criminal prosecution, along with the dozen Israeli women who took them to the beach. And that, in fact, was part of the point: to protest what they and their hosts consider unjust laws.

In the grinding rut of Israeli-Palestinian relations — no negotiations, mutual recriminations, growing distance and dehumanization — the illicit trip was a rare event that joined the simplest of pleasures with the most complex of politics. It showed why coexistence here is hard, but also why there are, on both sides, people who refuse to give up on it.

“What we are doing here will not change the situation,” said Hanna Rubinstein, who traveled to Tel Aviv from Haifa to take part. “But it is one more activity to oppose the occupation. One day in the future, people will ask, like they did of the Germans: ‘Did you know?’ And I will be able to say, ‘I knew. And I acted.’ ”

Such visits began a year ago as the idea of one Israeli, and have blossomed into a small, determined movement of civil disobedience.

Ilana Hammerman, a writer, translator and editor, had been spending time in the West Bank learning Arabic when a girl there told her she was desperate to get out, even for a day. Ms. Hammerman, 66, a widow with a grown son, decided to smuggle her to the beach. The resulting trip, described in an article she wrote for the weekend magazine of the newspaper Haaretz, prompted other Israeli women to invite her to speak, and led to the creation of a group they call We Will Not Obey. It also led a right-wing organization to report her to the police, who summoned her for questioning.

In a newspaper advertisement, the group of women declared: “We cannot assent to the legality of the Law of Entry into Israel, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right. They are not permitted free movement within the occupied territories nor are they allowed into the towns and cities across the green line, where their families, their nation, and their traditions are deeply rooted.

“They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to experience one of the most beautiful and exciting days of our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if only for one day.”

The police have questioned 28 Israeli women; their cases are pending. So far, none of the Palestinian women and girls have been caught or questioned by the police.

The beach trip last week followed a pattern: the Palestinian women went in disguise, which meant removing clothes rather than covering up. They sat in the back seats of Israeli cars driven by middle-aged Jewish women and took off headscarves and long gowns. As the cars drove through an Israeli Army checkpoint, everyone just waved.

Earlier, the Israelis had dropped off toys and equipment at the home of one of the Palestinian women, who is setting up a kindergarten. The Israelis also help the Palestinian women with medical and legal troubles.

Click here to see a slideshow from "A Joyous Swim, but a Risky One"

Israel’s military, which began limiting Palestinian movement into Israel two decades ago to prevent terrorism at a time of violent uprisings, is in charge of issuing permits for Palestinian visits to Israel. About 60,000 will be issued this year, twice the number for 2010 but still a token amount for a population of 2.5 million. Ms. Hammerman views the permits as the paperwork of colonialist bureaucrats — to be resisted, not indulged. Others have attacked her for picking and choosing which laws she will and will not obey.

The Palestinian visitors came with complicated histories. In most of their families the men have been locked up at some point. For example, Manal, who had never been to the sea before, is 36, the mother of three and pregnant; five of her brothers are in Israeli prisons, and another was killed when he entered a settler religious academy armed with a knife.

She brought with her an unsurprising stridency. “This is all ours,” she said in Tel Aviv. She did not go home a Zionist, but in the course of the day her views seemed to grow more textured — or less certain — as she found comfort in the company of Israeli women who said that they, too, had a home on this land.

Another visitor lives in a refugee camp with her husband and children. Her husband’s family does not approve of her visits (“ ‘How can you be with the Jews?’ they ask me. ‘Are you a collaborator?’ ”) but she did not hide the relief she felt at leaving her overcrowded camp for a day of friends and fun.

The beach trips — seven so far — have produced some tense moments. An effort to generate interest in a university library fell flat. An invitation to spend the night met with rejection by Palestinian husbands and fathers. Home-cooked Israeli food did not make a big impression. And at a predominantly Jewish beach, a policeman made everyone nervous.

So, on this latest visit, the selected beach was one in Jaffa that is frequented by Israeli Arabs. Nobody noticed the visitors.

Dinner was a surprise. Hagit Aharoni, a psychotherapist and the wife of the celebrity chef Yisrael Aharoni, is a member of the organizing group, so the beachgoers dined on the roof of the Aharonis’ home, five floors above stylish Rothschild Boulevard, where hundreds of tents are currently pitched by Israelis angry with the high cost of housing. The guests loved Mr. Aharoni’s cooking. They lighted cigarettes — something they cannot do in public at home — and put on joyous Palestinian music. As the pink sun set over the Mediterranean, they danced with their Israeli friends.

Ms. Aharoni was asked her thoughts. She replied: “For 44 years, we have occupied another country. I am 53, which means most of my life I have been an occupier. I don’t want to be an occupier. I am engaged in an illegal act of disobedience. I am not Rosa Parks, but I admire her, because she had the courage to break a law that was not right.”

Is Another Intifada Possible in the West Bank?

by Dalia Hatuga, Published on August 5, 2014
taken from The Nation

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK-The bullet was still lodged in Ahmad Kittaneh's right lung when he arrived at Ramallah Hospital late on a Thursday night. The 22-year-old went into cardiac arrest twice, but miraculously pulled through after having been shot by Israeli soliders at the Qalandia checkpoint, which separates the West Bank from Jerusalem.

On July 24, about 10,000 Palestinians, many of them young men like Kittaneh, turned out in full force to show solidarity with their Gaza compatriots who had been pounded by Israeli artillery for approximately three weeks. Today Gazans are breathing a sigh of relief as a three-day Egyptian-sponsored truce appears to be holding up, while Cairo talks to Palestinian and Israeli delegates separately on ways to end the war.

The July 24 demonstration, which appears to have been the largest since the second intifada, included Palestinians from all walks of life-elderly men, women with strollers, people in wheelchairs. They marched from Al Am'ari refugee camp in Ramallah towards Qalandia. Many had Palestinian flags in tow, ,but the factional banners of Hamas and Fatah were largely absent. The march was eventually meet with Israeli fire.

Kittaneh was one of three critically injured that day-the other two were separately shot in the left eye and right atrium of the heart-but his close encounter with death seems to have not deterred him. "I would go back to protests again," said Kittaneh, who studies journalism at a university near Jerusalem. "This is a national duty for every one of us."

Kittaneh's ordeal started a few days prior to the shooting, when he, along with several other young men, tried to march to Beit El, the Israeli military compound on the outskirts of Ramallah. There, he was met with another force-Palestinian Authority (PA) security-which Kittaneh said "showered" protesters with tear gas and stun grenades, driving them away from the military base.

"The only time I ever get tear gassed is-ironically-at the hands of the PA forces," he said. "I tried to reason with these guys, tell them that there's nowhere else for people to go to vent their anger, but they weren't listening."

The PA's relationship with its constituents here has become strained over the years as encounters like Kittaneh's have increased. Security forces have tried to stop frustrated Palestinians from approaching Israeli military outposts or checkpoints many times, often with brutal force.

But despite these efforts, protests fueled by anger over Gaza's ordeal have continue, and, in the last few weeks, become and almost daily occurrence. Multiple different demonstrations are taking place from Hebron in the south to Nablus in the north-a big jump compared to three months ago, or compared to the past few years of relative quiet in the West Bank.

In the last two weeks, three separate attacks on Israelis took place in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and two Palestinian men participating in separate protests in villages near Tulkarem and Ramallah were shot dead. These skirmishes, coupled with the massive protests that Kittaneh took part in, have left many wondering if they were witnessing the beginning of a formal Intifada-or if the uprising would just patter out over time.

"What I saw the other day were people finally rising up," Kittaneh insisted. "The numbers were huge. I don't think we can go back from this."

While the immediate motivation for these flare-ups may be the Gaza bombardment, it's undeniable that a change in West Bank dynamics has also played a major role. With the temporary trappings of a quasi state-let slipping away-the peace process at a standstill, economic stagnation setting in-the only part of the window dressing that remains are the PA's security forces whose main job, as far as regular Palestinians are concerned, is to protect Israel. This harsh reality has been in stark relief since Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left office roughly a year ago.

"People are coming to the conclusion that maybe what was taken by force cannot be returned except by force," said Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem-based activist and university professor. "There has been significant upheaval and anger. It's hard to determine the future, but the Palestinian psyche is changing, and we may be closer to a revolution against the PA, which is needed as well."

As it stands today, the resurgence of an Intifada may prove difficult precisely because the PA is acting as a bulwark against the very people trying to kick-start it.

"The PA security forces should not be stopping people from participating in protests and expressing themselves," said Qadura Fares, a former PA minister and high-ranking Fatah official who works on prisoner advocacy. "What's happening in Gaza is big, and trying to curb people will not serve the PA. This is a lesson learned and the PA security forces are acting based on that."

Indeed, the Palestinian leadership has even called for some protests to take place, holding a "Day of Rage," from which security forces were noticeably absent, a telling indication of the PA's efforts to use these protests to its advantage without letting them spiral out of their control.

"I think [the PA] is in an especially acute dilemma now," said Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. "On the one hand, they don't have room to suppress these demonstrations, and on the other, they desperately don't want them to grow because they feel like they will be their first victims."

Even PA President Mahmoud Abbas' rhetoric has steadily changed from stressing the "sacredness" of security coordination with Israel, to lead a PLO meeting that hailed[1] the "forces of resistance fighting heroically against the occupying army," to then citing[2] a Koranic verse that addresses the issue of permitting fighting for those who are wronged.

"The tensions between the public and the PA have been greatly exacerbated by the Gaza war so much so that you have seen a shift in rhetoric from the [Palestinian] leadership," Thrall said. "I don't think it reflects any change in their conviction, but it shows their estimation of where the public is and how they need to accommodate."

Since Fatah (which makes up a bulk of the PA) and Hamas formed a singled agreed-upon government, the PA has come under fire for lack of a united front with the Islamist group and for not mobilizing the West Bank to act in light of the Gaza offensive.

Neither group was faring well prior to this war: Fatah's close association with the PA left it with a legitimacy crisis, while Hamas was reeling from funding shortages and the chocking siege imposed by Israel and the new Egyptian regime.

But for now at least, Hamas seems primed to fill the void left by the beleaguered PA. And even though both Abbas and the Islamist group's leader Khaled Mishal have spoken about Gaza, the latter has come off as the more genuine of the two.

For now, the Islamist group's use of "armed resistance" has won hearts and minds over the PA, which is seen to have largely sat on the sidelines. Even in the West Bank, Fatah's stronghold, Hamas seems to be faring better-according a recent poll [3]-for the first time in many years.

Ultimately, Israel's military offensive has pushed Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip together-at least for the time being. And if the geographical and political schism between the two had anything to do with the West Bank's lack of mobilization, then these reasons don't seem to hold up either, leaving the door open-in principle at least-for a more galvanized, resurgent movement. Whether it will materialize is one thing; but some Palestinians are possibly approaching a tipping point.

"We're closer to a popular uprising than at any point over the past few years," Fares said. "But we need to keep in mind that for now, these inifada-esque acts are linked with what's happening in Gaza at the moment. For a sustainable uprising, there needs to be a strategic, organized planned undertaking by all factions, not just reactionary acts."