An Israeli prison guard escorts jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, middle, to a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court on Jan. 25, 2012. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Cookies for Barghouti; Crumbs for Palestinian people


Hunger strikes usually conjure up images of a united front of beleaguered campaigners for a just cause led by a heroic, larger-than-life leader.

Rarely however, does the mastermind behind a 1,000-strong hunger strikers get caught stuffing his face.

Now some Palestinians are left hungering for some truth.

Marwan Barghouti — the self-promoted reincarnation of Nelson Mandela — and a convicted murderer, recently called on Palestinians in Israeli prisons to join him in a hunger strike for better conditions. Only problem is a video showing Barghouti “eating two cookies and a candy bar in the toilet stall of his cell. The video shows Barghouti appearing to try to hide the evidence by flushing the wrapper down the toilet.”

Once a self-declared “peace advocate,” Barghouti turned mastermind of Intifada suicide bombing attacks against Israel. Barghouti was sentenced to fifteen years in jail on five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Just as he sent suicide bombers out to die during 2002-2005 while remaining safely behind the scenes, he now munches on cookies and, in the words of Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while he “urged his fellow prisoners to strike [against prison conditions] and suffer while he ate behind their back.”

It is this Cookie Monster of Palestinian Murder Incorporated who, from behind bars, plots the destruction of democratic Israel while the Palestinian man and woman in the street, beggared by the pervasive corruption of the Palestinian Authority, struggle to survive on the crumbs.

Barghouti’s shameful, murderous hypocrisy is also reflected in another member of the Barghouti clan, Omar, who founded the so-called BDS (Anti-Israel) boycott of Israel. Never designed to help a single Palestinian, its goal is to use “soft power” to demonize and cripple the Jewish state. Among their main “victories”, forcing Sodastream to close its factory built past the 1967 Green Line. As a result, Palestinian workers who were paid equal salaries as their Jewish co-workers, lost their ability to sustain their families. Recently arrested for tax evasion, he was allowed to travel to Yale to pick up the Gandhi Peace Prize!

Hate, hypocrisy, terrorism, and corruption of their leaders only delay and derail the hope of Palestinians for a bright future.

Instead of leading boycotts of Israelis, Palestinians should have attended the recent. 2017 Milken Global Conference. There a panel which included renowned venture capitalist and former UC Regent Chair Richard C. Blum, a Rwandan businesswomen-activist Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, Angela Homsi, Director of Angaza-Africa Impact Innovation Fund, joined with Jeremy Bentley, Head of Financial Institutions and Public Sector, Citi Israel, and other Israeli hi-tech innovators to discuss visionary but practical projects. Among the ideas discussed were using drones to overcome the infrastructure deficit across the developing world, foster new technologies to enable nations to meet sustainable development and climate goals, and jump-starting business startups across Africa.

Don’t look for purported “next generation” Palestinian leaders like the Barghoutis to embrace the true path towards peace and statehood. So long as there are millions pouring from the UN, governments, and NGOs that help sustain the bigotry, corruption and terrorism, Palestinians thirsting for opportunity in the here-and-now are having to forge their own path to a brighter and more prosperous future.

Let us hope that the new leaders of the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterrez and US President Donald Trump will lead the way by halting the funding of fraudsters, bigots, and murderers, and instead begin to invest in all those interested in real peace.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman is a historian and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

On Facebook, Abbas’ Fatah boasts of killing 11,000 Israelis


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party on Facebook cited killing 11,000 Israelis as an example of its many achievements.

The post appeared Tuesday on the party’s official Facebook page, according to Palestine Media Watch.

The list does not mention the Oslo Accords or any other peace talks or negotiations, listing only acts of violence and terror, according to PMW, which described the 11,000 figure as a “gross exaggeration.”

Since the wave of renewed violence that began in October, Israel has accused Fatah of inciting violence against Israelis on social media and other venues.

Tuesday’s post notes that Fatah “has sacrificed 170,000 martyrs,” and that it was the first to carry out terrorist attacks during the first intifada, which began in 1987.

It also claims Fatah was the first to fight in the second intifada and that it “was the first to defeat the Zionist enemy,” referring to a battle between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah’s forerunner)in Jordan in 1968. Both sides claimed to have won the battle.

Fatah posted a similar text on its Facebook page in 2014, according to PMW.

Cartoon: Stereo headphones


Senior Israeli officials fear PA collapse


Senior Israeli military and Shin Bet security service officials are warning that the Palestinian Authority could collapse, Haaretz reported.

The diplomatic-security cabinet held lengthy discussions about the possibility of the PA collapse Wednesday and Thursday, Haaretz reported, citing three sources who either attended the meetings or were briefed on them.

Senior Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet officials reportedly warned of security consequences if the PA collapsed under the weight of Israeli military pressure and the declining legitimacy of President Mahmoud Abbas. But other ministers reportedly argued that Israel could benefit and shouldn’t try to prevent it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially called the meeting because the government had received information that the Palestinians are contemplating fresh diplomatic initiatives against Israel, including a United Nations resolution calling for protection of the Palestinians in the “occupied State of Palestine.” Also reportedly under consideration is the revocation of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1993 recognition of Israel.

Abbas’ Fatah party blames Paris attacks on Israel


The Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has blamed the terror attacks in Paris on Israel.

Cartoons blaming Israel for the attacks were published on the party’s official Facebook page, Palestinian Media Watch reported Monday, one day after an Op-Ed in the official PA daily said that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was behind the attacks.

One cartoon shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu helping an ISIS terrorist near the Eiffel Tower aim his machine gun. Another cartoon shows two matches in a matchbox labeled “Terrorism,” with the head of one match shaped like an ISIS terrorist and the other like an Orthodox Jew.

The Op-Ed was published Sunday in the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and translated by PMW.

“It is not a coincidence that human blood was exploded in Paris at the same time that certain European sanctions are beginning to be implemented against settlement products, and while France leads Europe in advising the security council that will implement the two-state solution, Palestine and Israel — which the Israelis see as a warning of sudden danger coming from the direction of Europe, where the Zionist, occupying, settling endeavor was born,” the Op-Ed reads.

The PA newspaper also ran a cartoon that compares Israel to ISIS — an Israeli decapitates the Al-Aqsa mosque next to an ISIS terrorist beheading a hostage simultaneously and with the same sword.

Abbas and Fatah both condemned the Paris attacks.

Israeli gov’t minister says Abbas’ incitement reaches Hitler’s level


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement against Israel is on the same level as Adolf Hitler’s anti-Jewish propaganda, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

“The level and intensity of the incitement and the level of anti-Semitism is the same level as Hitler,” Steinitz said Sunday while speaking with reporters in Washington, where he was addressing the annual conference of the Israeli American Council.

“I see Abu Mazen as principally responsible for the wave of terrorism,” Steinitz said, using Abbas’ by-name and referring to the recent spate of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis.

Steinitz said Abbas’ Palestinian Authority peddles propaganda to children that champions Israel’s removal and dehumanizes Jews. He said also that Abbas’ accusations that Israel plans to alter the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews, are lies and have spurred the recent deadly violence.

“Abu Mazen is not a partner for peace as long as he does not stop, completely, the incitement toward destroying Israel,” he said.

Abbas has accused Israel of wanting to usurp Muslim claims to the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, and has said Israelis wrongfully killed Palestinian assailants, including a boy who turned out to be alive and cared for in an Israeli hospital. He has also condemned last week’s arson attack on a Jewish holy site in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Steinitz said he was speaking out because it was his “responsibility” to do so as a member both of the Israeli Cabinet and the smaller Security Cabinet, but made clear his views were his own and not those of the government.

Other Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have also said that Abbas has peddled incitement against Israel, but at the same time have maintained security cooperation with Abbas’ security forces.

Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union party, said at the same conference that government attacks on Abbas, whom he described as a flawed but viable peace partner, were bluster, and that little scared Netanyahu’s government more than the prospect of Abbas’ removal.

“Let’s not be hypocritical,” Herzog told the plenum, saying that Abbas’ absence would lead to more chaos.

Steinitz will also meet with his U.S. counterpart, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, while he is in Washington to advance the U.S.-Israel dialogue on energy.

Steinitz noted that this is the first time that the dialogue has taken place on a ministerial level, and attributed the elevation of the talks to an effort by both the U.S. and Israeli governments to improve ties after a year of tensions arising from the Iran nuclear deal. He said a central focus would be Israel’s experience in defending its facilities from cyber attack.

Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal


Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.

The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.

But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.

“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.

Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.

Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.

“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”

After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.

The separation barrier winding through the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israel's security barrier winding through the West Bank has proven controversial since it first started being built in the early 2000s. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90/JTA

Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.

The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.

The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.

“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.

“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.

Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.

“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”

But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.

“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”

Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.

“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”

The terror attacks in Israel: A timeline of the escalating violence


The past week has seen a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and Israeli military operations, again prompting fears of a third intifada. Here’s a timeline of the lead-up to the unrest and the attacks themselves.

Sept. 9: Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon outlaws the Mourabitat, an Islamist protest group that Israel says is violent, from the Temple Mount. Muslims, who revere the site as the Noble Sanctuary, protest the decision.

Sept. 13: Israeli security forces raid the mount in the morning, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, and discover stockpiles of firebombs, pipe bombs and rocks that they fear will be used against Jewish worshippers.

Palestinian protesters throw rocks at Alexander Levlovich, a 64-year-old Jewish-Israeli, as he drives home from Rosh Hashanah dinner. Levlovich loses control of the car and crashes. He dies the next morning.

Sept. 14: Israeli police clash with Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount. Two Israelis are injured. The U.S. State Department calls on all sides to “refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric.”

Sept. 15: On the third straight day of clashes on the mount, 26 Palestinians and five Israeli policemen are injured.

Sept. 18: In clashes in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, 21 Palestinians and three Israeli police officers are injured. Also, Israel bars Muslim men under 40 from the mount and increases police presence in the Old City of Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. Clashes temporarily die down.

Sept. 19: Rockets from the Gaza Strip land in Israel, causing no injuries. Israel retaliates with airstrikes on Gaza.

Sept. 22: If clashes continue, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says in a speech, it could lead to an “intifada we don’t want.”

Sept. 24: Israel increases the penalty for stone throwing, upping fines and prison sentences. Israel also relaxes the open-fire orders for police officers combating stone throwers.

Sept. 28: Riots start anew on the Temple Mount, then die down, as Israeli security forces again uncover stockpiles of weapons.

Sept. 30: Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, Abbas accuses Israel of using “brutal force to impose its plans to undermine the Islamic and Christian sanctities in Jerusalem.” He also says Israel has broken Israeli-Palestinian agreements and says the Palestinian Authority will not be bound by them.

Oct. 1: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses the United Nations. In addition to a lengthy rebuke of the world’s embrace of Iran, Netanyahu reiterates his assertion that Israel seeks to maintain the status quo on the mount. He also repeats his call to restart negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions.

At night, as they drive home through the West Bank, a Jewish-Israeli couple, Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, are ambushed by terrorists and shot dead in front of their four children.

Oct. 3: A terrorist kills two rabbis in the Old City of Jerusalem. Aharon Bennett, a 22-year-old Israeli soldier, is on the way to the Western Wall when he, his wife and their two sons are attacked. He is off duty and out of uniform. His wife, Adele, 21, is seriously wounded and undergoes emergency surgery.

The second victim, Nehemia Lavi, 41, is stabbed and killed when he tries to fend off the attacker with a gun. The assailant is shot by police.

Oct. 4: Moshe Malka, 15, is stabbed near the Old City. The alleged assailant, Fadi Alloun, is shot by police as he flees the scene. But the Palestinians claim that Alloun is innocent and was shot by police at the urging of an extremist Jewish mob.

Oct. 5: Thousands demonstrate in front of Netanyahu’s residence demanding harsher security measures.

Netanyahu says: “We are allowing our forces to take strong action against those who throw rocks and firebombs. This is necessary in order to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens on the roads and everywhere. We are not prepared to give immunity to any rioter, inciter or terrorist anywhere; therefore, there are no restrictions on the action of our security forces.”

In military raids in the West Bank, Israel kills two Palestinians, including a 13-year-old, within 24 hours. Israel says the 13-year-old was shot in error.

Oct. 6: The Israel Defense Forces arrests the five-man Hamas cell allegedly responsible for the Henkin attack.

Oct. 7: Jewish-Israelis are targeted in four separate attacks. A soldier is stabbed in the southern city of Kiryat Gat, a man is stabbed in the Old City of Jerusalem, a woman is attacked with stones as she drives to the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, and a man is stabbed in the central city of Petach Tikvah.

Oct. 8: Three more stabbing attacks take place: a man in Jerusalem, a woman in Hebron and five people in central Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv attack, which lightly injured the victims, is with a screwdriver.

Netanyahu bars all Knesset members from the Temple Mount, hoping to curb escalations.

Terror cell members that killed Israeli couple arrested


The members of a terror cell responsible for the murder of an Israeli couple whose four children were in the car at the time of the attack were arrested.

The five-member terror cell affiliated with the Hamas terror movement in Nablus in the West Bank were arrested Monday during a joint operation conducted by the Shin Bet security agency, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police, according to statements released by the security agencies.

Following the announcement of the capture of the terror cell, U.S. State Department spokesman Marc Toner confirmed that Rabbi Eitam Henkin, who with his wife Na’ama was killed in the attack, was an American citizen. He was the son of Rabbi Yehuda and Chana Henkin who moved to Israel from the United States in the 1970s and in 1990 founded Nishmat, an institute for advanced Torah study for women in Jerusalem.

Each of the Palestinian men arrested had a defined role in the attack, the Shin Bet said in a statement announcing their capture. One checked the route, three were in the vehicle used in the attack – a driver and two gunmen, and a cell commander, who was not in the vehicle. Several additional suspects have been arrested on suspicion of aiding the cell, according to the Shin Bet.

During questioning, the cell members said that after they opened fire on the car carrying the Henkin couple and their four young children, they left their vehicle and approached the Henkin’s car and fired on the couple at close range.

During the shooting, one of the cell members was accidentally shot by one of his colleagues and dropped his pistol, which was left at the scene and found by Israeli forces. After carrying out the shooing, the terrorists fled toward Nablus, according to the Shin Bet.

The cell members also said that they had been involved in two shooting attacks in recent weeks, neither of which resulted in casualties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the arrests in a statement issued Monday evening.

“We are acting with a strong hand against terrorism and against inciters,” Netanyahu said. “We are operating on all fronts. We have brought an additional four IDF battalions into Judea and Samaria, and thousands of police into Jerusalem. The police are going deeply into the Arab neighborhoods, which has not been done in the past. We will demolish terrorists’ homes. We are allowing our forces to take strong action against those who throw rocks and firebombs. This is necessary in order to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens on the roads and everywhere.”

Netanyahu added: “We are not prepared to give immunity to any rioter, inciter or terrorist anywhere; therefore, there are no restrictions on the action of our security forces. We will also lift restrictions regarding action against inciters.”

Netanyahu thanked Israel’s security forces “who have been working around the clock for our security; they are doing excellent work. They have full backing from me and from the government. We are in a difficult struggle but one thing should be clear – we will win. Just as we defeated previous waves of terrorism, we will defeat this one as well.”

Fatah unit claims responsibility for murder of Israeli couple


A cell affiliated with Fatah’s armed wing assumed responsibility for the murder of an Israeli couple near the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

The Abdel Qader al-Husseini Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, announced on Friday that its men on Thursday night opened fire on the car of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, a couple in their 30s, while they were driving home with four of their six children, aged four months to 9 years, from Hebron. The children were not wounded in the attack.

The victims are the son and daughter-in-law of Chana and Yehuda Henkin, a U.S.- born couple who in 1990 founded Nishmat, an institute for advanced Torah study for women in Jerusalem.

Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is the largest faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the governing body in West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

“With Allah’s help and in keeping with our people right for resistance and our duty to sacred jihad, our forces on Thursday night carried out a necessary action in which they fired on a car of occupying settlers that left the settlement of Itamar, built on Palestinian lands in the south of the city of Hebron,” the statement said. “They fired on the car and killed the settler and his partner.”

The statement, translated into Hebrew by the Ma’ariv daily, also warned “the enemy against taking revenge on civilians,” as “any war crimes would be severely retaliated against.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “wild Palestinian incitement leads to acts of terrorism and murder such as we have seen this evening.” He added he will consult Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on how to apprehend the killers, who fled the scene, and “increase security for all Israeli citizens.”

Shortly after the attack, unidentified individuals set on fire a car in the Palestinian village of Bitilu near Ramallah and wrote “Revenge Henkin” on a nearby wall. No one was hurt in the fire, Army Radio reported.

The Henkins, who lived in the West Bank settlement of Neria, were ambushed while driving home from Hebron, where Eitam Henkin was attending a reunion for graduates of Yeshivat Nir. He and his wife are to be buried today at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Palestinians split on two-state solution


Palestinians are divided in their feelings on a two-state solution with Israel, while 42 percent believe that armed action is the best way to achieve a state, a new poll found.

The survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that a slight majority, 51 percent, oppose the two-state solution while 48 percent are in favor. The margin of error, however, is 3 percent.

While armed action was the preferred method to a state, 29 percent of Palestinians surveyed think negotiations is the most effective way to achieve a state and 24 percent favor popular nonviolent resistance.

To carry out the poll, 1,270 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations from Sept. 17 to 19.

Some 66 percent of Palestinians reject a return to unconditional negotiations with Israel if it means that settlement activities will continue. In addition, 88 percent of Palestinians demand that the Palestinian Authority take Israel to the International Criminal Court in the Hague over the settlement building.

The poll also found Palestinians mostly split on the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders in return for peace, with 45 percent in support and 49 percent in opposition. Forty percent back a mutual recognition of Israel’s national identity as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people, but 58 percent oppose it.

Some 65 percent of Palestinians support indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel to reach a long term hudna, or truce, in the Gaza Strip in return for lifting the siege and 32 percent oppose such negotiations. At the same time, 59 percent of Palestinians believe that Hamas won last summer’s Gaza war, which breaks down to 69 percent of those in the West Bank and 42 percent in Gaza. Some 67 percent believe that rocket launches at Israel from Gaza should resume if the blockade of Gaza is not ended.

The poll found that 65 percent of the Palestinian public wants Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Satisfaction with Abbas’ job performance dropped to 38 percent from 44 percent three months ago and from 50 percent in June 2014.

If new elections were held today, according to the poll, 35 percent each would vote for Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party.

Palestinian unity government resigns


The Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah has resigned and the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister has been asked to form a new government.

Resignation letters were given to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reported. The possible collapse of the 14-month-old-government was signaled on Tuesday, despite P.A. denials.

Abbas received the resignations from the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, then asked Hamdallah to form a new government, AFP reported, citing Nimr Hammad, a close aide to Abbas.

The Palestinian unity agreement was signed in April 2014.

Hammad reportedly said that Hamas would be included in consultations to form a new government. Hamas reportedly had been against the dissolution of the government and said it was not consulted by Fatah, Abbas’ party, before the resignation were submitted.

The announcement of the resignation comes amid reports of indirect talks between Hamas and Israel in order to reach a long-term truce in the wake of last summer’s Gaza conflict. Arab and European countries reportedly have mediated the talks.

Fatah official: Palestinian unity government on verge of collapse


The Palestinians’ unity government forged last year between Hamas and Fatah will dissolve within the next 24 hours, a senior Palestinian official said.

“The government will resign in the next 24 hours because this one is weak and there is no chance that Hamas will allow it to work in Gaza,” Amin Maqbul, secretary general of the ruling Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council, said Tuesday, according to the French news agency AFP.

The unity government has been stymied by disagreements over the governance of Gaza, which has essentially remained under Hamas control and been in disarray since the Israel-Hamas war last summer.

An unidentified Palestinian government source denied to AFP that dissolution was imminent. The source did confirm, however, that the idea had been under discussion for weeks, since a government delegation was forced to abort a late April trip to Gaza because of a dispute with Hamas over salaries for government workers there.

The unity government established in May 2014 followed a reconciliation agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas belongs to the Fatah party.

Path to Israeli-Palestinian peace starts with meeting the neighbors


Palestinian peace activist Ali Abu Awwad shared the stage with an Israeli settler on May 28 as part of his ongoing attempt to accomplish what some might consider the unbelievable. 

“I couldn’t imagine that one day, I would be standing next to a settler, talking about any hope,” he said, “but sometimes we don’t reach solutions in life because we believe that we can’t do them.”

Listen to their stories – story continues after the video.

Awwad, who teaches nonviolent resistance as a means for pursuing peace, was joined by Zionist settler and Orthodox Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. Together, they headlined the Painful Hope Tour, which took place at the Pico Union Project near downtown Los Angeles.

Schlesinger, who divides his time between Texas and the West Bank settlement Alon Shvut, serves as the founder and executive director and community rabbinic scholar for the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas. He is active in promoting peace initiatives in Texas and Israel. 

He and Awwad are part of Friends of Roots (friendsofroots.net), a collaborative effort between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. It brings together local children from both sides of the conflict through after-school programs and summer camps that promote fun and friendship. Friends of Roots also runs a leadership program that unites 65 Israeli leaders who dedicate their lives to tolerance education.

Schlesinger told his story first during the local event: Born and reared in Israel, he found a profound disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians. He talked about the first time he left his settlement and ventured over to see Awwad after previously meeting at an event in the United States. 

“Until a year and a half ago, I’d never met a Palestinian,” he said. “I opened the front door and walked 20 minutes to the Palestinian vineyards, fields and orchards that surround my house to meet the neighbor that, until then, didn’t exist for me.” 

As for Awwad, he told the audience about how, before turning to nonviolence, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being part of a militant cell as a young man. Three years into his sentence, he held a hunger strike, demanding to see his mother, who was also detained. It was then that he realized nonviolence was far more effective than its alternative. His sentence was reduced, and he was released after the Oslo Accords. 

“It’s OK to be angry and act nonviolently,” he said. “Violence will not erase the anger. The pain will not disappear. But nonviolence is the management of that anger. When we act nonviolently, we celebrate our existence.” 

After the event, Schlesinger commented to the Journal about the cognitive dissonance that affects those who struggle with the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine.

“What I see today is just so different from what I saw a year and a half ago. We ask ourselves, ‘Which reality is true?’ The truth is that they are all true. Each reality comes to us differently depending on what assumptions we come with. Sometimes we don’t even know what those assumptions really are. What you have to do is examine these assumptions. Think of the drawing that, if you look at it one way, you see a woman, but if you look at it another way, you see a vase. You wonder, ‘Which is it really?’ It really is both!” 

Awwad said the evening at the Pico Union Project gave him hope and strength. 

“We are dealing with a very complex subject in a very crazy reality over there,” he said. “This event shows that people want a solution.” 

Friends Noor-Malika Chishti, a Muslim, and Rachel Landsman, an Orthodox Jew, were moved by what they heard. Both women are members of the West Los Angeles Cousins Club, a group of Muslim and Jewish women that meets monthly in the spirit of peaceful sisterhood. 

“We really believe that to know one another is to love one another,” Landsman said. “The path of reconciliation and nonviolence is what I’ve been waiting to hear.” 

Audience member Oren Rehany, an Israeli-born writer, actor and producer who has been living in Los Angeles for 12 years, said the only way peace will happen is through the efforts of everyday people like Schlesinger and Awwad.

“Politicians are probably not the ones who are going to make peace happen. Grass-roots movements like this one will make the change,” Rehany said. “This grass-roots style of education gives me a lot of hope as an Israeli. The only thing Schlesinger and Awwad are attacking is the demonization of either side of the conflict.”

Palestinians want world pressure on Israel after Netanyahu win


Palestinian leaders on Wednesday called for international pressure on Israel and support for their unilateral moves towards statehood after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election win.

Netanyahu's surprise victory, after pledging in the final days of the campaign that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was in power, left Palestinians grim about prospects for a negotiated solution to a decades-old conflict.

“It is clear Israel has voted for burying the peace process, against the two-state choice and for the continuation of occupation and settlement,” Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel that collapsed in April, told Voice of Palestine radio.

Seeking to shore up right-wing votes and saying that Islamist militants would move into any territory relinquished by Israel, Netanyahu also vowed to keep building settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state.

Palestinian leaders said a fourth term for the Likud party leader meant they must press forward with unilateral steps towards independence, including filing charges against Israelat the International Criminal Court.

“This makes it more necessary than ever to go to the international community, and to go to the ICC and escalate peaceful resistance and boycott against the occupation,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a Palestine Liberation Organization leader, told Reuters.

The Palestinians are due to become ICC members on April 1.

Erekat called in a statement on the international community to back Palestinian efforts “to internationalize our struggle for dignity and freedom through the International Criminal Court and through all other peaceful means”.

Netanyahu's stand against a Palestinian state had already threatened to strain ties with the United States and Europe.

The parliaments of several European countries, including Britain and France, have called on their governments to recognize an independent state of Palestine in the past year, reflecting exasperation at continued settlement building. Sweden formally recognized Palestine in October.

Netanyahu, who in 2009 had endorsed the two-state solution, seemed on course to form a coalition government leaning further to the right than his outgoing cabinet, which had included two centrist parties and engaged in the U.S-brokered peace talks.

“MASQUERADE IS OVER”

In his new coalition, Netanyahu is expected to include his natural allies, religious and far-right parties, as well as one centrist party which campaigned on internal social-economic issues rather than on matters of war and peace.

Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, said he was concerned that as head of rightist-dominated government, Netanyahu would move forward more easily towards expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, enclaves many countries view as illegal.

“Netanyahu's masquerade is over. Everything's clear now, we're talking about a man who has sworn allegiance to the right, not about a centrist,” Oppenheimer said.

Adding to Palestinian frustration is Israel's January decision to withhold $127 million tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a retaliatory step after the Palestinians moved to join the ICC.

Though Israeli officials have indicated no imminent change, Gaza-based political analyst Hani Habeeb said Netanyahu may unfreeze the funds, which cover around two-thirds of the Palestinian budget, now that the election is over.

“I do not rule out Netanyahu releasing the PA tax revenues to improve his (international) image,” Habeeb said. “He used it as a card during the election campaign and now he won.”

Erekat suggested the Palestinians may press on with their pledge this month to suspend security coordination with Israel, a move that could have an immediate impact on stability in the West Bank.

But Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, did not close the door completely on negotiations with Israel.

“We are not bothered by who is head of government in Israel, what we want from the Israeli government is to recognize the two-state solution and that east Jerusalem be the capital of the state of Palestine,” he said.

Fatah leader, Lebanese newspaper urge Arab-Israelis to vote Joint Arab List


A Fatah leader in the West Bank urged Arab-Israelis to vote for the Joint Arab List in the Israeli elections, as did a Lebanese newspaper.

In voicing an opinion about the election, Hatem Abdul Qader broke with Fatah’s longstanding policy of not intervening in Israeli politics, according to the Times of Israel.

Qader said the unification of numerous Arab parties into one list presented a critical opportunity for Arab-Israelis to demonstrate their opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s “fascism and racism” and to “determine the destiny of Arabs in Israel, whether they will remain marginalized or become an active force capable of influencing and claiming their rights.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper published an editorial Monday headlined “Say ‘yes’ to the Joint (Arab) List,” which noted that the election gives Arab-Israelis a “historic opportunity” to “assert the absent Palestinian presence in Israel.”

“An Israeli Arab vote for the Joint Arab List can be the start of a Palestinian awakening, a unique revival the echo of which will inevitably reach the Palestinian street, which suffers from disunity and fragmentation in Gaza and the West Bank,” the editorial said, the Times of Israel reported.

Also in the Lebanese media, the country’s Al-Mayadeen TV broadcast an interview with Hanin Zoabi, an Arab Knesset member from the Balad party, in which she said Arab Knesset members are part of the “Palestinian national project” and not Israeli politics.

“I don’t consider myself just a member of Knesset,” she said, according to the Times of Israel. “We are part of the national project. We don’t rely on any Israeli government to recognize our rights.”

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned a Knesset decision that sought to bar Zoabi, on the basis of her alleged support for Hamas, from participating in the elections.

Boycott tests depth of Palestinian market


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Responding to Israel's decision to withhold tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian officials have initiated a boycott against products manufactured by six leading Israeli companies.

The campaign was announced on February 11 by Fatah Central Committee member, Mahmoud Aloul and PLO member Wasel Abu Yousof.  The targeted companies, all of whom are top tier producers, include dairy giant Tnuva; food manufacturer Osem; chocolate, coffee and ice cream maker The Strauss Group; and soft drink manufacturers Prigat and Jafora-Tabori. Israeli produce also falls under the ban.

The Israeli move to withhold more than $100 million per month was intended as blowback for the Palestinian foray into membership at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, a move Jerusalem and Washington call unilateral and provocative. Although the Israelis have used the tactic in response to other acts by the Palestinian Authority that it deems to be offensive, officials in Ramallah have, until now, believed it lacked the ability to utilize a boycott: in particular, having substitute providers lined up to replace the boycotted goods. This time, those behind the boycott are promising customers that the subject goods will be replenished on their supermarket shelves within the two week period merchants have been given to rid their stores of the selected Israeli products.

Despite those assurances, though, boycott leaders say it has not – and will not – be easy to abide, again citing concerns that there are insufficient alternatives to the consumer goods that will not be available.

Amjad Mohtaseb, a sales manager at local dairy products manufacturer Al-Junaidi, told The Media Line that he hopes that his company, as well as other Palestinian owned dairy manufacturers, will be able to cover consumer demands. Mohtaseb points out that not only are all dairy products provided by Israel not currently manufactured in the Palestinian Territories, but most “in-put resources”  – the ingredients from which product is made – are also obtained from Israel.

Nevertheless, many Palestinians see the economic boycott as a way for Palestinians to express their anger at the Israeli withholding of funding at a time when the PA's economic situation is in dire straits.  Dr. Nafteh Abu Baker, an economist at An-Najah University in Nablus, believes that the economic boycott is a useful “non-violent tool of the struggle” that will eventually help create jobs and boost sales of local goods, predicting that the boycott campaign will be rather effective in the long run.

“Having a complete boycott is unattainable when there are goods or services we cannot import from other countries or provide locally, such as electricity, fuel, gas, and water,” Abu Baker told The Media Line. “If we want to see substantial changes, the government, civil society, and consumer protection bodies need to change their attitudes about Palestinian goods.”

Rather than being a spontaneous reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian tit-for-tat, the Palestinian “BDS Movement” – boycott, divestment and sanctions – has its fingerprints on the campaign.  Aisha Mansour, a volunteer with the global BDS movement, said, “Six years ago when I would talk about boycotting Israeli goods, people would roll their eyes at me. Today the boycott is growing as a culture among consumers.”

Nevertheless, many Palestinians realize the limitations of the boycott call, in particular because the Palestinian market is so strongly reliant on Israel. Through May 2014, 86.5 percent of Palestinian exports went to Israel, while approximately 65 percent of all Palestinian imports came from Israel, approximately $300 million worth of goods.

Abbas’ Fatah faction distances itself from from provocative Facebook post


The political faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas distanced itself from an image of skulls adorned with Jewish stars posted on its official Facebook page.

The image, posted Wednesday on the Fatah Facebook page, also displays a rifle, the Fatah flag and the words “lingering on your skulls.” It was posted on the occasion of Fatah’s 5oth anniversary.

A spokesman for Fatah told CNN on Friday that the group was not responsible for the image.

“Fatah did not design this image,” Mahmoud al-Aloul said, who added that the person who posted it “is currently being asked to remove it. The image and the text do not reflect the opinions of Fatah.”

The image was removed after al-Aloul’s comments were made to CNN.

This is not Fatah’s first Facebook controversy. After the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers last summer, Fatah’s page displayed a number of cartoons, including one depicting the kidnapped teens as rats caught on a fishing line.

Exchanging charges of incitement, Israelis and Palestinians stand firm


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

In the wake of the most recent spate of violence that is reverberating through Israel and the Palestinian territories, newspapers, television and street corner debates are all focusing on the issue of incitement – albeit perhaps more in an effort to assign blame for the increasing loss of life and soaring anxiety than to address ways of reducing tension. Each side reacting to the other’s ire with a sense of disingenuousness and anger, Israelis and Palestinians risk the rapid erosion of the most successful elements of post-Oslo Accord: joint security cooperation.

As is typical in the course of debates over the efficacy of the use of force to subdue armed resistance, many opine that a political solution is the only realistic course of action for ending the violence, a position expressed by Dr. Ghassan Khatib, a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority and labor minister. According to Khatib, both sides are correct when they accuse the other of incitement the level of which, he says, increases or decreases according to the state of relations between the two leaderships.

“When things are tense, incitement will increase. When there is an active peace process, it will decrease,” Khatib told The Media Line.

But following Tuesday’s synagogue shooting that left four Jewish worshippers and a policeman dead, fear is spreading among Israelis who believe much more bloodshed is in the offing, and who see the shootings, stabbings and motor vehicle attacks on pedestrians as premeditated terror while many Palestinian see the same incidents as predictable and for many, justified, responses to Israeli actions against Palestinians.

PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi told The Media Line that Israel itself is responsible for the surge of violence. “We have been cautioning against Israeli actions for the longest time. We said they will generate violence and create instability for Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop the incitement, accusing him of proffering “blood libel.” This despite Abbas’s condemnation of the synagogue killing.     

On the Palestinian street, the death of Yousef Al-Rimouni, a 32-year old bus driver for Israel’s Egged cooperative, is a clear case of murder by Israelis and casus belli for the synagogue slaughter despite findings of suicide resulting from an autopsy conducted by Israel’s chief medical examiner and witnessed by a Palestinian doctor appointed  by the Al-Rimouni family. The incident came after a mosque was torched, apparently by right-wing Jews intent on claiming revenge for acts committed by Palestinians.

Hamas, which praised the attack with a call for more “operations” to be carried out against Israeli targets, endorsed a cartoon that depicted a Palestinian wearing a koffiyeh (traditional Arab headdress) and dressed as a religious Jew, holding a knife dripping with blood, with bodies of Israelis on the ground above a caption that read: “show them to me.”

In the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, commentator Hassan Al-Batal criticized violence on any side, writing, “…nothing justifies the torching of a mosque of a terror attack on a synagogue even if there are multiple reasons and some will call these heroic deeds. A terrorist attack on a synagogue is a terrible and dangerous act.”

As for Fatah, while Abbas came out in condemnation of the synagogue shootings, a Fatah Facebook posting praised the attack. But Gaza based Palestinian journalist Saud Abu Ramadan believes the posting is not indicative of the larger organization. “The factions have their own agenda, have their own ideology and are certainly not going to be friendly with what the Israeli occupation is doing to them,” he told The Media Line. 

Khatib agrees that it deserves little attention. “Fatah is a huge movement that has never been unified. It could have been an individual that did that. The posting doesn’t say much.” Taking a shot at Netanyahu, Khatib added that he wishes the Israeli prime minister “can be as successful in restraining various Israeli officials from inciting violence.”

Nevertheless, in commemorating the 10th anniversary of Yassir Arafat’s death, the Fatah-aligned Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade warned Israelis that, “Our bullets will continue to be aimed at your chests and heads.”

Fatah spokesperson in Gaza Dr. Fayez Abu Atia says the most important element is that “Abbas does not support it.” He did acknowledge that Palestinians were inciting violence against Israelis because they were “emotionally affected by the acts and provocations of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.” He also said that Israel was responsible for this new wave of violence and “that a major part of the incitement problem is from Mr. Netanyahu,” adding that “It’s the Israeli media that encourages settlers to attack our people.”

Yoram Cohen, head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency disagrees with those who accuse Abbas of inciting to violence. He said the PA president was not inciting what he called “acts of terror, overtly or covertly” but that these attacks were driven by “subtler forces.”

Abu Ramadan sees incitement in the words of rightwing Israeli politicians Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Lieberman recently called plans by Abbas to go to the United Nations to pursue world recognition of the Palestinian state a “terror attack”; and Bennett has called for a military operation in east Jerusalem in response to the recent attacks perpetrated by residents of that part of the city.

Referring to restrictions barring Palestinians from the holy site Muslims call Al-Haram Al-Sharif [and Jews call The Temple Mount] during times of violent demonstrations, Abu Ramadan admonishes that, “every action has a reaction” and incitement is a result because it has “pushed them to carry out equivalent campaign.”

On other websites, Israelis expressed outrage at the site of Palestinians celebrating over the synagogue attack. But officials claim it’s not the voice of the majority. According to Ashrawi, “We do not condone acts of violence against any civilians.”

On the other hand, some 300 Israeli right-wing activists protested at the entrance of Jerusalem and Jaffa Road following the synagogue attack calling for “Death to Arabs.”

Meanwhile, for both Palestinians and Israelis, Khatib says “it’s not easy to correct the non-official media or individuals from doing it (incitement), be it Palestinian or Israeli.”

Kalman Levine: Born in Kansas City, transformed in L.A., murdered in Jerusalem


Rabbi Kalman Levine, born Cary Levine in Kansas City, Mo. on June 30, 1959, was murdered Tuesday morning in a terror attack at Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was in the middle of the daily morning prayer service.

A man who in many ways came of age while living in Los Angeles as a young adult, Levine was killed by two young Palestinian men who also murdered three other worshippers and injured at least another 12 in the synagogue.

The assailants, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32, attacked their victims with a gun, knives and axes.  Both were killed in a subsequent shootout with police. Zidan Saif, an Israeli Druze policeman who engaged the two Palestinian attackers, was shot in the head and died of his wounds Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

Levine leaves behind a wife, Chaya, who’s from Cleveland, and 10 children and five grandchildren. He was 55.

Shimon Kraft, Levine’s best friend from childhood, lives in Los Angeles and owns The Mitzvah Store. He shared memories of Levine just hours after he learned of the murder. He is also Levine’s former brother-in-law from Kraft’s previous marriage. He spoke about their lives growing up and how Levine, who was not raised Orthodox, was transformed when he spent six months at a kibbutz after high school and then moved to Los Angeles for college only to drop out after becoming engrossed in Torah study and inspired by an influential rabbi in North Hollywood.

Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.

“We lived at Royals Stadium in the summer,” Kraft said. “We used to trade baseball cards.”

After Levine graduated from Kansas City’s Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in the late ’70s, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for six months and then returned to the United States to enroll at a pre-dental program at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. Although he grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Kansas City, Levine’s time in Israel led to a religious transformation that led him to become Sabbath and kosher observant.

Levine, after he came to Los Angeles, became very close with Rabbi Zvi Block, who established the first Los Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah—an international Orthodox educational group—in North Hollywood. Levine’s relationship with Block helped solidify the transformation that began in Israel, and Levine eventually decided to drop out of USC and pursue Torah study full-time.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, a discernibly heartbroken Block spoke warmly of his former student. “I became a father to all these children, to all these talmidim (students)—they are like my children,” Block said. “This is a huge loss for me. You’re talking about someone who was 18 or 19 when we first met.”

Levine was one of Block’s first five students at Aish HaTorah and the Los Angeles rabbi remembers Levine as one of the brightest young minds he ever encountered. “When you start off a program you are not sure if you are going to be successful. I feel I owe a lot of gratitude to the ones that helped me start, to the original students,” Block said.

The rabbi also said that he encouraged his small group of students to improve their knowledge of Judaism and Torah by moving to Israel to learn in an environment immersed in yeshiva students.

“My goal at the time was really to send people off to Israel,” Block said. “I thought that would be the best way for them to develop, to really pursue their Judaism to the fullest.”

While Kraft visited Levine in Los Angeles in 1977, the two decided to travel to Israel together to learn Torah. They attended two years of yeshiva before they returned to Los Angeles to attend a post-high school study program at Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA).

Kraft said that Levine decided to return to Israel again in the early 1980s—this time he never left. Over the years in Jerusalem, Levine built a family and continued pursuing the passion of his life—Torah. Kraft said Levine even organized a group of men who would get together for the sole purpose of self-improvement and strengthening character traits.

“He was truly great,” Kraft said. “He was so unusual, so special.” Block remembered Levine as being a great entertainer during weddings and goofing off during skits that he and others would put on for the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. “I remember him being extraordinarily talented at weddings and doing all sorts of shtick,” Block said.

On Monday night in Los Angeles, as Kraft was going to bed, he heard about the attack in Har Nof, but didn’t think more of it. On Tuesday morning though, Kraft’s son called from Baltimore and told him the news—his best friend had been murdered.

“He died in the beit midrash [synagogue], which is where he lived his whole life,” Kraft said. “It’s where he lived and died.”

Block, while on the phone, found two books of Jewish law that Levine once gave to him as a symbol of gratitude. Block recalled that Levine wrote a note in one. Eventually finding the note, Block read it aloud as he tried to hold back tears:

“Dear Rabbi Block, here is a small token of appreciation for sending me to Eretz Yisrael. If it wasn't for you it is very possible I would never have had the opportunity to learn Torah. Thank you for changing my life, Kalman Levine.”

Palestinian analyst: ‘Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood one in the same’


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Despite the formation of a national consensus government, Hamas has not only failed to reconcile with Fatah, but the Islamist group is also beset by an internal rift between a majority who follow the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and those who seek independence from the group.

“The Palestinian cause is being held hostage by Hamas. Hamas is a catastrophe for us,” Palestinian analyst Abdelmajeed Sweilem told The Media Line. Arguing that Hamas is setting the agenda of the Palestinian issue, he charged that Hamas is echoing the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not wish to see statehood established for West Bank and Gaza residents. “Power is their [only] objective; not seeing a Palestinian state,” he said.

Sweilem believes Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – the party of ousted Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi — are one in the same. Through its actions, he says, Hamas is serving the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood while waiting for regional differences to benefit them.

“This is a catastrophe for Abu Mazen (nickname for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) because the [Muslim] Brotherhood wants to end the Palestinian cause. My opinion is that the Muslim Brotherhood has no problem with Palestinians being like North and South Koreans,” said Sweilem, suggesting that the Palestinian president is currently engaged in two fights: the first against Israel and the second versus Hamas.

Hamas spokesmen declined to speak to The Media Line for this article.

Offering an example of the Hamas internal rift, a source in Ramallah close to the Abbas government who spoke anonymously because he is not cleared to speak with media explained that “If one Hamas official in Gaza says something and a Hamas official in Qatar disagrees with it, he will accept it even though it’s wrong to sustain the illusion that there is unity among Hamas.”

Sweilem believes only a minority of Hamas members support reconciliation and peace while the “dominant side is the Muslim Brotherhood,” supporting division and violence.

In an exclusive interview with The Media Line, senior Fatah official Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the Fatah bloc and Political Committee, confirmed the existence of a split within Hamas.

“Logically speaking — although without proven evidence — there is no doubt that that many members of Hamas were shocked over the 15 explosions,” he said referring to the recent incident in the Gaza Strip where bombs exploded near the homes of prominent Fatah members. A spokesman for Hamas told The Media Line at the time that the group was not involved and that it would launch an investigation. The blasts came as Palestinians in Gaza were gearing up to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Yassir Arafat, but as a result of the incident, the festivities in Gaza were cancelled.

“[Holding commemorations] would have showed how many people are against Hamas,” Sweilem said, suggesting that the explosions were a Hamas tactic: talking in media about ending the Hamas/Fatah division but holding out the explosions to signify the “end of reconciliation” — proof that the Fatah officials there have no good will toward uniting the Palestinians.

In April, after seven years of disunity, the Palestinians were purportedly united, which led to the formation of a national consensus government comprised of technocrats.  But the short window of hope was to last only seven months.  

Sweilem says Hamas is “sending a clear message that you must deal with Hamas as the rulers [of Gaza] and forget about any elections, unification of the Palestinian institutions and the PLO constitution,” he added.

According to Abdullah, there are two lines of thinking within Hamas: “ideologues who don’t want to end the division [between Fatah and Hamas] as principle; and a second group, which is negatively affected materially and financially from reconciliation because “tunnel trade would end, and along with it, bribery on the crossings.” He gives the example of Gaza residents being forced to pay bribes to Hamas in order to be allowed to leave the enclave.

“Disunity and the lack of a consolidated internal front will no doubt cost the Palestinians,” he said.

Sweilem says anyone who thinks the Palestinians will ever be united is living a lie. “It’s irrational to ever think there will be Palestinian reconciliation. It’s a lie,” he said.

This comes at a time following the donor conference in Cairo which saw contributing nations pledge more than $5 billion to reconstruct Gaza in the aftermath of last summer’s 50-day war between Hamas and Israel that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead along with vast destruction. Sweilem says that Palestinian Presidential Guards will never replace Hamas forces; and the Palestinian Authority will never have sovereignty over a single inch of Gaza because Hamas’s leadership wants any reconstruction efforts to be channeled through them. 

Analysts believe that under the present conditions, there will be no consensus government and no restoration of Palestinian unity because Hamas is absolutely unwilling to accept the authority of the PA under Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

As proof that Hamas will not let the reconstruction process happen, Sweilem says, “If they wanted that to happen, they could have used money received after the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2012, but instead they built homes for its members.” He expects the current round of Gaza reconstruction to take place “trickle by trickle.”

 Many agree that the elements of the Fatah-Hamas stalemate will also hinder any efforts undertaken on the Palestinian-Israeli peace track.

Referring to rumors reported in local media, a senior source in the Abbas camp adamantly denies that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas held any secret meetings when both were in Amman to see King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State John Kerry. But it is acknowledged that “Kerry tried (to bring the two together), but Abbas refused because he doesn’t want to.”

Kerry also promised Abbas that he would get negotiations back on track. According to the source, the Palestinian did not respond himself, but someone from his delegation said to Kerry, “Only if Israel honors its commitments not to negotiate for the sake of negotiating, but to negotiate to yield peace results.”

The Palestinian leadership believes that the SecState “is afraid to lose and wants to end his career with any success.” Therefore, they believe Kerry convinced Netanyahu to have given the order to ease restrictions on Muslims allowed to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif (what Israelis call the Temple Mount) even before the Amman meeting with Kerry and the king in order to calm the situation down following a month of elevated tensions at the holy site and rioting in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

 “Netanyahu is looking for an Arab ally at this particular time and that’s Jordan,” the source said. He also says the King of Jordan was very direct with the Israeli Prime Minister, reminding him of the borders between the two, the long peace agreement between Israel and Jordan and the alliance. “We will not accept any actions in Jerusalem,” King Abdullah reportedly told Netanyahu.

Sweilem believes the Americans exerted significant pressure on Netanyahu for the first time. “What this proves is that if the Americans are willing to pressure Israel in to making peace, they can and Israel can’t say no,” he said.

Meanwhile, sources in Ramallah believe that Abbas does not want a third Intifada (Palestinian uprising.)

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah says the Palestinian president is committed to not letting Gaza down. And when asked why Abbas insists on not giving up on unity with Hamas, he says the Palestinian leader is “polite” and wants to “keep the window open” because Hamas is a part of the Palestinians; and Gaza and the West Bank will never be separated. “President Abbas has said to Israel not to give Hamas an excuse to make violence and instead give them hope; and when that happens, it will convince extremists to end their violence because there is a solution.”

Gaza commemoration for Arafat canceled following attacks on Fatah leaders


A commemoration rally in Gaza for the late Palestinian Fatah party leader Yasser Arafat was canceled after attacks on Fatah leaders there.

The event set for Tuesday was canceled on Sunday, two days after the homes and cars of Fatah leaders were blown up, as well as the stage where the commemoration was to take place.

Hamas has denied responsibility for the attacks.

A crowd of hundreds of thousands was expected to attend the rally, which was being held on the 10th anniversary of Arafat’s death, Reuters reported.

“After the series of explosions and assaults against Fatah leaders, we have been notified by Hamas’ political and security officials that security services won’t be able to take charge of security arrangements during the Arafat anniversary ceremony,” a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip told the Palestinian Maan news agency.

It would have been the first time that a public commemoration of Arafat’s death would be held in Gaza since it was taken over by Hamas in 2007.

In June, Hamas and Fatah formed a unity government under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mahmoud Abbas will visit Gaza in coming weeks


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A Palestinian official close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told The Media Line that security preparations are underway for the president to visit the Gaza Strip in the next few weeks: the first time since 2006. The visit would seem to mark the victory of his Fatah movement over the Islamist Hamas faction which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

“There is a lot of talk about the President going, but the goal of the visit has yet to be worked out,” the official said, saying there had to be more to the visit than just a photo opportunity.

When pressed, he said Abbas is expected to make a major announcement from the Gaza Strip, but failed to say exactly what it would be.

“It could be about new Palestinian elections, a unity government (between Fatah and Hamas) or lifting of the siege on Gaza,” the official said.

Until now Abbas reportedly was afraid to visit Gaza fearing for his own safety because of the rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions. The reports of a visit came after Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah convened the first meeting of a joint government with Hamas in Gaza last week.

The Abbas visit also comes as dozens of donor countries are meeting in Egypt to discuss rebuilding the Gaza Strip after this summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. Abbas has said it will cost $4 billion to rebuild the embattled Gaza Strip. As the conference convened, Qatar offered $1 billion in aid, and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the US would chip in an additional $212 million, and the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million. A total of $5.4 billion was pledged at the October 12 donors’ meeting.

However, all of the money will not be useful unless Israel agrees to allow construction materials like cement and iron into Gaza. In the past Israel has said that Hamas could divert that material to build underground tunnels, dozens of which were discovered during the latest fighting, and weapons. Both the US and Israel insist that they won’t deal directly with Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization.

The international community has made clear that it prefers that a unity government, with Abbas’s Fatah as the senior partner, be in charge in Gaza. That would also be the key to reopening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza by force, Fatah has kept a relatively low profile in the Gaza Strip. “Fatah has been suppressed by Hamas, its members imprisoned and even shot,” a member of the group told The Media Line on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly speak out against the Gaza rulers.  He also said Hamas replaced many Fatah members with its own.

When it comes to the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, passports are still issued in Ramallah and mailed to Gaza free of charge. The PA pays for water and electricity in Gaza, although many say that Hamas charges the Gaza residents a second time. 

Long-time Fatah activist in Gaza, Mamoun Swaidan confirmed to The Media Line that discussions were being held in advance of an Abbas visit, but said he did not know if Hamas is being included in these talks.

“The president is planning to visit Gaza and does not need an invitation from anyone to do so. Gaza is a part of our national state and he (Abbas) has complete jurisdiction here, like the West Bank.  I am sure he will visit Gaza very soon,” Swaidan, who is Fatah’s Gaza based international affairs officer said.

Fatah has continued to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of its employees in Gaza who were replaced by Hamas loyalists.

“Abbas is responsible for Gaza not just today but from before. To those who have doubts, yes, Abbas is back in charge of Gaza,” Swaidan said. He said that the “presence and power” of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority on the ground will be seen soon.

There has clearly been a change on the ground. In July, Hamas supporters chased out the Palestinian Minister of Health who was bringing medicine and equipment to Gaza.

Hamas interior minister Kamal Abu Madi has denied media reports that the presidential guards and intelligence officials of the PA would return to Gaza, comments that directly contradict a statement by the deputy prime minister Muhammad Mustafa, who on Friday said his government would assume control of Gaza crossings today.

“Hamas has been crippled, they know Gaza won’t be rebuilt without President Abbas but it will take time for them to come to grips with reality,” Swaidan said.

Mahmoud Abbas: Winning abroad but losing at home


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Palestinians say that when it comes to diplomacy abroad, nobody can challenge the 80-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. But when it comes to tending to matters in the Palestinian territories, he doesn’t do so well.

In his speech on Sept. 26 to the United Nations Security Council, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of conducting a “war of genocide” during the recent aggression on Gaza. The United States slammed Abbas’ speech as “offensive” and “counterproductive” for any future peace talks.   

Palestinian analysts said Abbas was aiming at his home audience, where he was seen as not being tough enough on Israel during the summer’s fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. But while Abbas has stature outside the West Bank, he is coming under growing criticism at home.

“He has gained among international parties, but failed on the internal issue. There is still division [between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas], no state institutions and a suspended Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC],” Hassan Khresheh, vice president of the PLC, said. “He has not worked hard enough on ending the division. The unity government is not functioning at all and if they don’t unite now, they will never be united.”

In April, a unity deal between the previously bitter rivals of Fatah and Hamas was reached, although it has not been implemented. Last week, Palestinian representatives of Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo that the Palestinian unity government will extend its control to include the Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes that the new government will manage to pay the salaries of 45,000 employees who were added to the Palestinian Authority (PA) during Hamas’ control of Gaza since 2007. Palestinian media report that efforts are underway to pay them through a third party before Eid Al-Adha (Muslim holiday of the sacrifice) beginning the evening of Oct. 4.

Khresheh said Abbas’ main agenda is returning to negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Americans. But he said that most Palestinians have given up on bilateral negotiations with Israel, which have achieved little.

“Such negotiations will not bring rights to our people,” Khresheh said.

The fact that Abbas has been a key player in the Palestinian political process for years and hasn’t called it quits deserves recognition, he said. “He works very well diplomatically, although he is under constant pressure from the United States and Israel.”   

Khresheh said that as nothing has been gained since the U.N. recognized Israel as a non-member observer state two years ago, the PA should join other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel has opposed this, fearing that it could be subject to war crimes trials. 

Khalida Jarrar, a member of the small hard-line group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said negotiations with Israel have not achieved anything and Abbas should pressure Israel via international organizations.

“I disagree with going back to negotiations,” Jarrar said, adding that action is needed, not more speeches. “He is just delaying going to the International Criminal Court. The ICC and sustaining Palestinian unity should be top priorities.” 

Fatah senior foreign policy adviser Husam Zomlot said bilateral talks with sole U.S. sponsorship has failed the Palestinians for 21 years and only gotten them a “state of limbo.” He urged Israel to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with Abbas, who has long advocated a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The president believes firmly in the two-state solution and supports nonviolence,” Zomlot said. “This is an opportunity,” he suggested, that “will not repeat itself.”

The Fatah official said a peace partner like Abbas, who has clear political horizon, may not come again.  

London-based researcher Abdullah Hamidaddin said the real question is how Abbas will manage the negotiations. 

“Abbas has worked very hard but has had few successes,” Hamidaddin said. “But he was not decisive enough in the last round of negotiations. He entered them after much hesitation, and then hesitated to make tough decisions,” such as pulling out of the talks as Israel continued to expand construction in areas that Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state.

Abbas: Hamas unity pact is off if gov’t doesn’t allow unity gov’t to run Gaza


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would break his government’s unity agreement with Hamas if Hamas does not allow the unity government to operate in Gaza.

“We won’t accept a partnership with them if the situation continues like this in Gaza where there is a shadow government running the territory,” Abbas said late Saturday night in Cairo, where he was scheduled to address the Arab League, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“If Hamas won’t accept a Palestinian state with one state and one law, then there won’t be any partnership between us. This is our condition, and we won’t back away from it.”

Abbas told reporters that the Palestinian leadership is making every effort to help the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and is working to provide all forms of assistance.

He estimated that it will take $7 billion and at least 15 years to rebuild what was destroyed in Gaza during Israel’s seven-week Operation Protective Edge.

Some 461,643 people were displaced in Gaza, with at least 280,000 of them in United Nations shelters and schools, the P.A. leader said.

Abbas said some 18,000 homes were destroyed and another 41,000 were damaged, and that 75 schools were destroyed and another 145 suffered damage. Dozens of public buildings, including mosques, also were destroyed.

The view from Gaza: A bitter resolve


During the past month of fighting in the Gaza Strip — a rectangle of desert and farmland along Israel’s southern coast, home to 1.8 million Palestinians — a small boy with a shy smile lost his big brother. Now, squinting through the scope of an imaginary sniper rifle, he vows to kill Israeli soldiers as revenge. A curly-topped toddler lost her mother and the tendons in her tiny legs before she ever learned to walk. A young father lost the home he finished building for his family just two years ago. A mechanic lost his auto repair shop — today a sad pile of rubble and crumpled car parts. A Palestinian photojournalist for Agence France-Presse lost his best friend, another journalist, meeting him for the last time at a morgue instead of a cafe.

“Everybody in Gaza has lost something in this war,” said Mahmoud Abu Ghalion, 35, whose family’s tile factory was bombed useless  (for the second time) during Israel’s recent operation.

“If you didn’t lose your son, you lost your house, you lost your business,” he said.

[RELATED: Relatives say 1-year-old Raiga Wahadan, who lost her mother and older sister in strikes on Beit Hanoun, may never take her first steps after an Israeli drone rocket snapped tendons in one leg and blew a hole in the other.

At a high-energy (if slightly under-attended) victory march down one of Gaza City’s main roadways on Aug. 7, the third and last day of a temporary cease fire, Hamas parliament member Mushir al-Masri announced, “We have won the military battle, and with the permission of God, we‘ll win the political battle.” Gazans cheered, waving green Hamas flags. On side streets, young girls could be spotted skipping to the tune of Hamas victory songs pumped from rickety vans speeding through the city.

“We have to keep fighting until we get what we want,” said Misham Nasar, 40, a doctor at Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City who was front-row at the rally.

“Tell your people we are not killers,” Nasar said to an American journalist in the crowd. “We like life, like you. But if we have to die, we like to die standing. We love our resistance — not because we love killing, but because it is all we have to win our freedom.”

Dozens of Gaza residents interviewed by the Journal echoed this sentiment: To them, the fight had become more than a showdown between Hamas and Israel. It had become a war of independence.

“We lost a lot of people and homes. We can’t feel that we lost everything for nothing,” said Ahmad Al Eigla, 22, who had moved to a makeshift refugee camp outside Shifa, Gaza City’s main hospital, after surviving an airstrike on his home.

Naim Al Ghoul, 20, a Gaza City resident studying to become a teacher, said: “We are proud of [the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing] and all the fighters on the ground. We will support them until we get what we want. We need to break the blockade to go out to study, to do business — to have a normal life like everybody in the world. We prefer to die [than to stop fighting] because we feel like we are already dead,” the young man said.

Along with the lives of 64 soldiers and three civilians, Operation Protective Edge reportedly cost Israel up to $3 billion in military expenses and indirect hits to the economy. It also boosted anti-Israel sentiment around the world and Hamas’ popularity in Gaza.

“Israel gave Hamas the life kiss” with this war, said longtime Hamas critic al-Ghoul.

“So if Hamas is our destiny in Gaza, at least give them a chance to be a government,” she said.

That may be one of Israel’s only viable options at this point. Ben-David said that if the IDF had wanted to take out Hamas, it could have — but that Israel knows Hamas is a safer neighbor than even more radical Islamist organizations that could rise to fill its shoes.

“Compared to others in the region, they look almost vegetarian,” Ben-David said of Hamas.

Avi, an IDF combat soldier who fought in Gaza and could not give his last name while in uniform, said Israeli troops understood Hamas wasn’t to be taken out completely. “We know Hamas — we don’t know others,” he said.

However, this made for a confused offensive. “The whole Israeli establishment, the military and political echelon, were looking at it as an operation,” Ben-David said. “But for Hamas, it was a war … and you cannot really fight a war when you announce to your enemy that they’re not going to lose it.”

He and many others have argued that once Israel entered Gaza, ground troops should have pushed all the way to the sea — at which point Hamas would have been forced to play by Israel’s rules.

“We should have avoided this war,” Ben-David said. “But once you’re in it, you can’t go in it without aiming to win.”

Young Palestinian mother Samar Mkat and her three children fled their home in northern Gaza weeks ago, when airstrikes came too close for comfort. The house was later destroyed by Israeli fighter planes, which were targeting Hamas rocket-launching sites in her backyard.

“I wish I could go back to my home, but at the same time, I’m proud [of Hamas fighters],” she said. “We love them more after the war, because they’re taking care of us.”

Mkat now shares sleeping quarters with 10 others in a sweltering elevator nook the size of a broom closet at a United Nations school in Gaza City that has become a shelter for more than 2,000 refugees. She is one of an estimated 250,000 people in Gaza who will have no home to return to when the war finally ends.

But despite her desperate situation, Mkat said Hamas’ end goals — including lifting Israel’s economic and travel blockade on Gaza — were worth the war. “We can’t find food, we can’t find work, we can’t find bread” because of the blockade, she said. “If my husband died and we had no money, what would we do?”

Even in wartime, the gangs of barefoot kids running the streets of Gaza are their usual elfish selves, darting through alleyways and doorways as if powered by jet packs. When asked, many will tell you they want to fight Israel when they grow up.

“Of course I want to be a fighter,” 11-year-old Shedi Al Dawawseh said. “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, it doesn’t matter. We are all one people.”

Shedi and his brother Mohammed, 6, sat on a couch in their family’s stately living room on Aug. 9 as the house grew dark with the night. (Gaza has been without electricity since its only power plant was bombed.) On the walls hung big portraits of Fatah leaders next to photos of men in the Al Dawawseh family, prominent Fatah supporters.

“I’m Fatah,” the boys’ father, Zuheir, said proudly. “But the Israelis can’t differentiate between anyone. All for them is black-and-white.”

The first boom of the evening shook the room — an airstrike nearby, somewhere in Gaza City. Kids shrieked in the streets below, running past the spot where Zuheir’s 10-year-old son, Ibrahim, had been killed a day before — the first fatality after a 72-hour cease-fire dissolved. 

On the morning of Aug. 8, Israel apparently dropped a drone rocket on the Nour al-Mohammedi mosque, still under construction after being destroyed in Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza. It crashed through the scaffolding, killing Ibrahim and injuring other boys who had been acting out an imaginary gunfight at the site.

“The IDF was targeting two rocket-launching sites in the vicinity of the mosque,” an IDF spokesman told the Journal.

Asked if the boys playing at the mosque had been visible, the spokesman said: “Sadly, positioning terror sites near civilian areas such as a mosque is a method often employed by Hamas. The IDF goes to great lengths to avoid harming civilians when fighting in urban areas, while Hamas specifically uses its own population as human shields for its terror activities. In doing so, Hamas endangers civilians on both sides, for its agenda.”

When 2-year-old Baraa Bakroon, pictured here in his demolished home in Shujaiya, hears Israeli bombs falling nearby, he says, “Don’t be afraid, Dad.”

Neighborhood children said they searched through clouds of dust created by the strike for 10 minutes, finding various pieces of Ibrahim before they located his body.

One little boy held up a chunk of Ibrahim’s skull between two fingers to show a reporter. “This is from his head, see?” the boy said.

For the first time in three days, an ambulance screamed through Gaza City and pulled into the roundabout in front of Shifa Hospital. A swarm of photographers rushed to snap a photo of Ibrahim as he was pulled from the vehicle — his forehead peeled back, his head split open.

“We found him without a head,” his father Zuheir said to the reporters, sobbing uncontrollably. “He doesn’t fire a rocket, he doesn’t make anything. There is no reason to kill these kids.”

Zuheir turned his wet face to the sky. “Why did you kill him?” he asked. “What’s your message?” 

Later, at his home, Zuheir said he feared Ibrahim’s death would have long-term effects on his remaining sons. “I wish these kids would take care of me when I’m an old man, but now they are starting to think about being fighters because they can’t forget what happened to their brother.

“The Israeli army puts something inside these kids,” he said. “They give them a reason to be a fighter now.”

Al Monitor columnist Al-Ghoul has fought for women’s rights in Gaza, for her freedom to wear blue jeans in the street and, especially, for unity between the Palestinian political parties Hamas and Fatah.

But with Operation Protective Edge, she said Israel knocked the wind out of Gaza’s internal struggle.

“Even simple people who never fight, they start to talk about resistance and fighting,” al-Ghoul said over the phone. “This is not Hamas’ fault — this is Israel’s fault. If anybody makes Hamas more strong in the street, and if they win the next election, who did this? Israel and [Abbas].”

Al-Ghoul had just returned to work after taking a week off to grieve. “I still see their faces everywhere,” she said of her family in Rafah.

Despite Israel’s attempts throughout the operation to notify Palestinian civilians when they needed to evacuate, many did not. Some said they never received a warning from the IDF; others said they received one and decided to wait out the fighting like they had in past wars, when the IDF had targeted specific homes but didn’t tear down entire neighborhoods. Still others said they simply didn’t know of a safer place to go.

Kerem Batniji, a 35-year-old doctor at Shifa, said the severity of the war hit him after the first night of the IDF’s tank incursion into Shujaiya — a battle that churned the neighborhood into an unrecognizable gray pulp and reportedly killed more than 60 people. Batniji remembered treating a young boy on the brink of death that night.

“From the front, it looked like nothing happened to him,” Batniji said of the boy. “But his buttocks and back were totally evacuated. So I gave him pain medication and asked my fellow nurses to take him to a nice corner to die in peace. That was the only time I almost cried.”

An old man walking by, hearing the doctor’s story, said quietly: “We do not expect this from a civilized people.”

Some of the war’s most horrific scenes played out in the Khuzaa neighborhood, south of Shujaiya along the border with Israel.

The neighborhood — once among Gaza’s most beautiful, its streets lined with palm trees and its backyards filled with rabbits, chickens and grape-leaf arbors — was crushed to dust over days of fighting.

On Aug. 9, residents wandered the streets, dazed, surveying the damage and setting up blanket forts in the ruins of their homes. The air smelled of unrefrigerated food, sewage and rotting flesh. One group of men started a small fire at a bombed-out gas station to barbecue what remained of their dismembered chickens. A toddler stuck out his tongue under the faucet of a dried-up UNICEF water tank. 

Close by, the war marched on: A Hamas rocket shot up from the earth, followed minutes later by an Israeli airstrike targeting open land. Khuzaa residents were careful not to gather in large groups, saying they feared an Israeli drone that could be heard buzzing above would deem them a threat.

But a few young men took the risk, leading this reporter into a nearby sand pit that they said had been filled with Israeli tanks during the Khuzaa fighting. Heaps of toiletries and old, rotting food with Hebrew labeling — canned fruit, hot-dog buns, cranberry cereal bars, broken eggs — littered the area.

The land had once been a farm belonging to the Qdeih family, said 25-year-old neighbor Khaled Al Karaa. More trash littering the marbled family home indicated Israeli soldiers had been sleeping there; gaping holes in its walls and rubble on its floors indicated they had shelled it afterward.

“They destroyed everything,” Al Karaa said. “It’s like this is not someone’s home.”

A damning report out of Khuzaa from Human Rights Watch quoted Palestinians who said they had traumatic run-ins with Israeli soldiers while trying to flee fighting in the area between July 23 and July 25. In it, witnesses allege that IDF soldiers deliberately shot and killed civilians after telling them they could evacuate. Multiple residents of Khuzaa who spoke to the Journal said they witnessed similar atrocities.

“I was just crying and thinking they would also kill me,” said Mohammed Abu Reeda, a  red-haired 12-year-old from Khuzaa.

(When presented with witness accounts from Khuzaa, an IDF spokesman said the allegations were “still being looked into by the IDF.”)

Ahmad Al Najar, 78, an elderly Khuzaa resident wearing a red-checkered keffiyeh, said that of all the wars he’s experienced in his lifetime, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

As tens of thousands of homes lay in ruins, years from repair, and international organizations race to patch the city’s most essential infrastructure before a public-health disaster, even Gaza’s brightest optimists are struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

But al-Ghoul said despite it all, she still believes that, one day, “Gaza will be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I was in Europe just three months ago — I can stay in any country I want with my children. But I believe in Gaza. Even if Israel comes every three years to kill the beauty and the peace, I believe Gaza will help itself.”

She said she thought the only immediate way to escape this cycle would be for Israel and the international community to recognize the Fatah-Hamas unity government — the same union that Israel originally resisted as if “bitten by a snake,” as Yigal Elam wrote in Haaretz.

Elam, a historian and scholar of the history of Zionism, argued in an Aug. 12 op-ed that Israel can’t afford any further operations in Gaza if it wants to retain any international legitimacy.

With violent options exhausted, he wrote, the only road left is diplomatic.

“I do not believe in reconciliation — nations do not reconcile,” Elam wrote. “But states do make peace and sign agreements in order to ensure the safety and well-being of their inhabitants.”

Fired by Netanyahu in midst of Gaza campaign, rival aims to give voice to Likud’s hawks


Former Israeli deputy defense minister Danny Danon did not seem bothered by the fallout from his rift in mid-July with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—a spat that ended with Netanyahu removing Danon as this country’s Deputy Minister of Defense.

In fact, he seemed more relaxed than he did during previous in-person and telephone interviews as he sat down at a Tel Aviv café Wednesday morning.

The ambitious young Knesset member and chairman of Likud’s powerful Central Committee has always seemed more than willing to promote his ideology to English-language media, whether to The Times of Israel, Al-Monitor or Glenn Beck.

And on Wednesday, Danon, 43, cited his public opposition to Netanyahu’s acceptance of a failed July cease-fire with Hamas as the most recent example of his willingness to call out Likud leaders when he believes their actions stray uncomfortably to the left.

But for someone who aims to represent Likud’s right-wing bloc in the future, perhaps as a cabinet member or even tPrime Minister, whether Danon can successfully balance his commitment to what he says are the party’s core values with the need for political gamesmanship and acuity is yet to be seen.

Asked whether he now regrets publicly opposing Netanyahu given the political fallout, Danon said he “absolutely” does not, adding that his opposition to the Prime Minister’s acceptance of a July 15 cease-fire with Hamas (which the group rejected) was validated when an Israeli ground invasion that began July 17 revealed over 30 underground cross-border tunnels that Hamas planned to use in terror attacks and kidnappings.

“I did the right thing by criticizing it, otherwise we would have woken up Rosh Hashanah with hundreds of Hams terrorists [inside Israel],” he said, alluding to reports that alleged Hamas was planning a massive September assault on Israeli towns and communities near the border. “Today, people say the highlight of the operation is that we dealt with the tunnels.”

A public opponent of the two-state solution and a proponent of annexing large portions of the West Bank and returning much of the Palestinian population to Jordanian rule, Danon had already butted heads with Netanyahu in March when he announced that he would resign his deputy minister post if 26 Palestinian prisoners were let go as part of a final stage of releases that were agreed upon as a prerequisite to embarking on the most recently failed peace negotiations.  

Netanyahu shelved the release in March, effectively allowing Danon to (temporarily) hold his minister post while at the same time holding firm in his opposition. In a Spring interview with Al-Monitor, asked whether he was worried about being fired by Netanyahu for his repeated antagonistic public remarks, Danon responded that no, he was not worried and that receiving the boot from Netanyahu “will only strengthen me.”

“I am fighting to bring the faction back to life,” Danon told Al-Monitor. Wednesday, too, Danon portrayed himself as the bearer of Likud’s flag and someone who “will make sure the Likud party stays in the right direction” amidst a Prime Minister who, he said, “is shifting” too far left.

“If for example Netanyahu will become a subcontractor of [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni or who like [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon will decide to adopt a different ideology,” Danon said, “I will be there to block it.”

Unsurprisingly, Danon, like many Israelis and most Likud members, wishes Israel increased the intensity of its Gaza campaign and removed Hamas from Gaza. Somewhat surprisingly, though, given his opposition to negotiating with Hamas, he suggested that if Israel refused to provide economic relief to Hamas and Gaza until the group demilitarized, it may decide that doing so is in its best interest.

Asked why Hamas, given its historically violent resistance to Israel, would voluntarily disarm itself, Danon likened the situation to America’s threat to use force in Syria in Aug. 2013 amidst that government’s use of chemical weapons on its own civilians. The Assad regime eventually capitulated and agreed to part with a significant portion of its stockpile.

“People thought Syria would never give away their chemical weapons,” Danon said. “And it happened.”

On West Bank security concerns, Danon advocated for the construction of a settlement on the land where three murdered Jewish teens were discovered in June and called for the deportation of the murderers’ families to the Gaza Strip and for the destruction of their West Bank homes. As for the Palestinian Authority, Danon is skeptical that it will be the “heroes of the Palestinian people.”

While the outspoken Knesset member’s consistent and vocal opposition to the head of state is nothing new for Israeli politics, his rapid rise within Likud and his recurrent coverage in the media at such an early stage in his career—without having the benefit of either cabinet experience or a place in Israeli military lore—indicates that Danon has thought through how he intends to climb the political ladder. He cited his close relationship with Sharon (who was his oldest son's godfather) before the Gaza disengagement and said that the former Prime Minister told him that there's nothing wrong with seeking positions of greater political influence.

In Likud’s 2012 primary elections, Danon finished fifth, ahead of current President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. And today, he says much of Likud is alarmed at Netanyahu’s tilt away from the base on security issues.

Wednesday, though, Danon rejected any comparison of his role within Likud as similar to the Tea Party’s role within the Republican Party—a conservative faction seeking to keep the party in line.

“The Tea Party is mostly new people who joined the Republican Party,” Danon said. “The people that I represent are the people who grew up in the party.”

While Danon said he has “no fear” of running for higher office if Likud’s leaders stray “in terms of ideology and policy,” for the foreseeable future the price he paid for criticizing Netanyahu may result in lost political influence.

Asked whether he still has the Prime Minister’s ear after the flap one month ago, Danon responded:

“As of today, not—but things can change.”

Israel, Palestinians pursue Gaza deal with cease-fire clock ticking


The threat of renewed war in Gaza loomed on Wednesday as the clock ticked toward the end of a three-day cease-fire with no sign of a breakthrough in indirect talks in Cairo between Israel and the Palestinians.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of the negotiations saidEgypt had presented a new proposal for a permanent truce agreement that addressed a major Palestinian demand for a lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt harbor deep security concerns about Hamas, the dominant Islamist group in the small, Mediterranean coastal enclave, complicating any deal on easing border restrictions.

It was unclear from the official's remarks how those worries, along with Israel's demand for Gaza's demilitarization, would be dealt with. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said disarming was not an option.

Israeli negotiators returned to Egypt after overnighting in Israel with the truce in the month-old hostilities – which have killed 1,945 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 67 on the Israeli side – due to expire at 5.00 p.m. ET.

Palestinian delegates and Egyptian intelligence officials reconvened for talks that could go down to the wire.

Azzam Ahmed, an official of the mainstream Fatah party who heads the Palestinian team in Cairo, said the negotiations were at a very sensitive stage and it hoped to reach a cease-fire agreement before the current truce runs out.

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said Israel had tentatively agreed to allow some supplies into the Gaza Strip and relax curbs on the cross-border movement of people and goods, subject to certain conditions. They did not elaborate, and in Israel, officials remained silent on the state of the talks.

A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has also been a stumbling block, with the Jewish state citing security reasons for opposing their operation.

But the Palestinian official said Egypt had proposed that a discussion of that issue be delayed for a month after the long-term cease-fire deal takes hold.

FISHING LIMITS

As part of the Egyptian blueprint, Israel would expand fishing limits it imposes on Gaza fishermen to six miles (10 km) from the usual three-mile offshore zone.

“It will increase gradually to no less than 12 miles in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” the official said, referring to a likely expanded role in Gaza affairs for the government of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas of the West Bank.

In addition, the official said, the Egyptian plan calls for reducing the size of a “no-go” area for Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border from 300 meters (984 feet) to 100 meters (328 feet) so that local farmers can recover plots lost to security crackdowns.

A Palestinian official said the Palestinian delegation had agreed that reconstruction in Gaza should be carried out by a unity government of technocrats set up in June by Hamas and Abbas's more secular Fatah party.

The two sides are not meeting face-to-face in Cairo: Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its destruction, as a terrorist group. But the official said once they inform Egypt of their agreement, a cease-fire accord could be signed the same day.

Since Israel launched its military campaign on July 8 to quell cross-border rocket fire from Gaza into the Jewish state, most of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, hospital officials in the small, densely populated enclave say.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians. Many of the Palestinian rocket salvoes have been intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system or fallen on open ground, but have disrupted life for tens of thousands of Israelis.

The heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza, where the United Nations said 425,000 of 1.8 million population have been displaced by the war, have stoked international alarm.

On Tuesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas's leader in Cairo, described the negotiations as “difficult”. An Israeli official, who declined to be identified, said no progress had been made.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking on Tuesday, told Israel's armed forces to prepare for a possible resumption of fighting. A previous 72-hour cease-fire last week expired without a longer-term deal and Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes resumed, although at lower intensity.

“It could be that shooting will erupt again and we will again be firing at them,” Yaalon said.

Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza last week after it said the army had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border ambushes. It now wants guarantees Hamas will not use any reconstruction supplies sent into the enclave to rebuild the tunnels.

After the fog of war: An early assessment of the Israel-Gaza conflict


It is far too early to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order:

Anti-Semitism panic

Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in anti-Semitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distinguished a student of anti-Semitism as my revered colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934.

Permit me to dissent. 

Nothing fundamental has changed nothing.

In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions, and Jews are accepted, respected and empowered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices, as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the oil crisis of 1979, or a drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict, as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are generational divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the human-rights community and the supporters of Israel will endure.

In Europe, the problem remains threefold: 

There is anti-Semitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt European values, including pluralism and tolerance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no particular problems with their Jewish neighbors. 

However, a significant segment of Muslim populations living in European countries dwell in these countries — some for generations — without acculturating to European values. They live “in Europe,” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-European Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East — as they did at the beginning of the Second Intifada, the Passover attacks and the second Lebanon War  — with an outbreak of violence against Jews. 

Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, anti-Semitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Israel than in previous conflicts, thus depriving their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.

What has not changed is that opposition to Israel on the left has given an intellectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell; thus, their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.

Fortunately, Muslim immigrants cannot find common cause with the other anti-Semitic elements in Europe — the far right — because the far right is deeply anti-immigrant. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen has muted her father’s anti-Semitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)

Parenthetically, this European problem should serve to warn against American proposals for a guest worker program or permanent residence permits for immigrants to America without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing immigrant presence in the United States.

Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.

Assessing the current situation is neither an excuse for complacency nor a reason not to condemn the expressions of anti-Semitism vehemently. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routinization of such anti-Semitism and the failure to disqualify the anti-Semites and their supporters from participating in the mainstream of European — or American — culture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn anti-Semitism despite the growing presence of its supporters.

Problem for the right wing, the left wing, no return to status quo ante

The war has created a problem for Israel’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Mossad and the Shin Bet — past and present — have long argued: There is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is compatible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoccupy Gaza and thus more completely dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas. 

This summer, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist solution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhappy to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, the rapid gains of ISIS and President Barack Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month, and Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is discovering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more hawkish Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF soldiers.

The war also demonstrated that the status quo, even the status quo ante, is untenable and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reaction to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas, and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him.

The confluence of interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.

The left wing also should take no solace from recent events as the furies of hatred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding. 

The perceived rise in anti-Semitism comes as a shock to Zionists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extinguish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years, we have seen that Israel can also fuel the flames of anti-Semitism.

Ironically, some French Jews are fleeing violence at home to face enemy rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Diaspora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.

Genocide

I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and genocide studies to condemn the statements equating Israel’s actions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Israel of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broadcast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkey’s prime minister— now president-elect — Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fascism.”

These comparisons are odious, especially so since Israel has the power to commit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.

Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted but required as a result of his utterances.

One may not condemn others without challenging our own.

I must also condemn not only the blog post offering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the proposals of the deputy speaker of the Knesset for advocating ethnic cleansing in Gaza. 

We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Shoah, and we must retain our opposition, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com.

Renewed Israel, Palestinian truce off to shaky start


Israel and the Palestinians renewed a truce that had largely tempered a five-week-old war, but the deal got off to a shaky start on Thursday with rockets from Gaza slamming into Israel and Israel retaliating with air strikes.

Hamas, which denied involvement in firing some of what Israel counted as eight rockets shot just as an earlier truce expired on Wednesday, and accused the Jewish state of violating the new truce by launching air strikes.

There were no reported casualties in any of the incidents that marred an Egyptian-brokered agreement announced in Cairo to extend a ceasefire begun on Monday by another five days, or until Aug. 19.

Israel had no comment on the deal the Palestinians announced in Cairo. Egyptian mediators had won the deal to extend a ceasefire when the sides were clearly headed toward failure to bridge key differences in time for a midnight deadline.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israeli forces to fire rocks in response to what he called a breach of the ceasefire by Hamas.

Hamas official Izzat Reshiq denied the Palestinians had breached the truce, and denounced Israel's air strikes as “a violation of the calm.”

The Israeli military said its air strikes were “targeting terror sites across the Gaza Strip,” and these attacks were followed by two more rocket attacks at Israel from Gaza.

In announcing the truce extension on Wednesday, Azzam Al-Ahmed, the head Palestinian negotiator in Egypt, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's mainstream Fatah faction said on Wednesday evening in Cairo that “it was agreed to extend ceasefire by five days.”

The extension was intended to give the sides more time to reach a more lasting deal after they had failed to bridge differences over an Egyptian proposal for a permanent truce that addressed a key Palestinian demand to lift the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip.

It was unclear how Israel's and Egypt's security concerns about Islamist Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, were addressed by Egypt's new proposal, or how it could be reconciled with Israel's demand for Gaza's demilitarization.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Aqsa Hamas television on Wednesday that the group would insist on “lifting the Gaza blockade” and reducing movement restrictions on the territory's 1.8 million residents, as a prerequisite to a “permanent calm”.

STEPS TO EASE BLOCKADE

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said Israel had tentatively agreed to allow some supplies into the Gaza Strip and relax curbs on the cross-border movement of people and goods, subject to certain conditions.

A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has also been a stumbling block, with the Jewish state citing security reasons for opposing their operation.

The sides have agreed to delay discussion of any agreement on the ports for a month, a Palestinian official said.

As part of the Egyptian blueprint, Israel was expected to expand fishing limits it imposes on Gaza fishermen to 6 miles (10 km) from the usual 3-mile offshore zone.

“It will increase gradually to no less than 12 miles in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” the official said, referring to a likely expanded role in Gaza affairs for the government of Western-backed Abbas, based in areas of the West Bank.

In addition, the official said, the Egyptian plan calls for reducing the size of a “no-go” area for Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border from 300 meters (328 yards) to 100 meters so that local farmers can recover plots lost during security crackdowns.

Israel and Hamas have not met face-to-face in Cairo: Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its destruction, as a terrorist group. But the official said once they inform Egypt of their agreement, a ceasefire accord could be signed the same day.

The Gaza hostilities have killed 1,945 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 67 on the Israeli side. Most of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, hospital officials in the small, densely populated enclave say.

Israel launched its military campaign on July 8 to quell cross-border rocket fire from Gaza

The heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza – where the United Nations said 425,000 of a population of 1.8 million have been displaced by the war – have stoked international alarm.

Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza last week after it said the army had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border ambushes. It now wants guarantees Hamas will not use any reconstruction supplies sent into the enclave to rebuild the tunnels.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Lin Noueihed in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Ken Wills