Two rockets fired from Gaza, no injuries reported


Two rockets fired from Gaza landed in open areas in Israel’s Negev Desert.

No injuries were reported from the rockets fired Wednesday night, the Times of Israel reported.

The attack came eight days after a Grad rocket fired from Gaza landed in the Israeli town of Gan Yavneh. Grad rockets have a longer range than Kassams and had not previously been fired from Gaza.

During last summer’s Israel-Gaza war, Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities. Over 2,200 people were killed in the war, the majority of them Palestinians.

Israel, Palestinians pull back after Gaza exchange of fire


Israel and Palestinian militants appeared to be pulling back on Wednesday from further hostilities after Israel responded with air strikes to a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.

No casualties were reported on either side of the border, and Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon blamed the rocket launching late on Tuesday on “elements in the Islamic Jihad” group in the Hamas Islamist-run enclave.

His comments followed Israeli media reports that infighting among Islamic Jihad militants may have precipitated the rocket firing without the permission of Hamas authorities.

The reports also said that Hamas, whose forces are dominant in the territory of 1.8 million Palestinians, had arrested Islamic Jihad members behind the missile strike, the deepest into Israel since the end of last year's 50-day Gaza war.

An Islamic Jihad spokesman was not available to comment. Hamas officials had no comment on the reported arrests.

The projectile struck near the Israeli port city of Ashdod, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Gaza frontier, Israeli security forces said, and hours after the attack there was still no claim of responsibility.

Israeli warplanes hit back early on Wednesday, striking four “terror infrastructures” in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said. Gaza residents said the targets included training camps used by Islamic Jihad militants.

No further fighting was reported, and it appeared that Israel chose to attack evacuated or open areas in a signal to Hamas that it hoped to avoid escalation.

It also issued a warning that further rocket strikes would draw a more powerful response.

“If there is no quiet in Israel, the Gaza Strip will pay a very heavy price, which will cause anyone planning to challenge us to regret their actions,” Yaalon said in a statement.

In comments posted on a pro-Hamas website, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the group, said Israel was responsible for “the escalation last night and it must stop these foolish acts”.

Last year, militants in Gaza launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs into Israel during a July-August war in which Israeli shelling and air strikes battered the small, coastal Palestinian enclave.

The region has been largely quiet since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that halted seven weeks of fighting.

For Israelis in the western Negev, each day is ‘Russian Roulette’


When the tzeva adom, red alert, screams its siren as Yasmine Parda eats out in Ashkelon at her favorite restaurant, she waits and hopes for the best—no rocket shelters are reachable by foot within the siren’s reported 15-second warning interval.

“We sit in the restaurant and wait,” said the 27-year-old secretary as she stopped for a few moments along Yig’al Alon Street in Sderot on Aug. 14, the morning after a five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced.

Paya Amirov, Parda’s friend, described her life as a game of “Russian Roulette”—she can’t know whether the next minute, hour, or day will be quiet or chaotic, with the ever-present possibility of needing to drop everything and run from scorching metal and shrapnel that falls from the sky shortly after being fired from the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Michal Tweeto, who lives on Moshav Tkuma, a community next to Gaza, with her husband and three children, brought two of her kids—Tova, 5, and Avraham, 3—to a massive indoor playground and community center in Sderot so they could enjoy some respite for the day. In recent weeks, the kids have barely been able to leave the house. And even during this ceasefire, there’s no guarantee of safety.

“My kids are afraid. That’s the biggest problem for me,” Tweeto said. “I’m more afraid from the trauma than from the rockets.”

At the $5 million, 21,000-square-foot facility, which was built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 2009, recreation rooms and play areas double as bomb shelters, giving parents like Tweeto the peace of mind that they enjoyed before 2001, when rocket fire from neighboring Gaza became a regular occurrence.

Located in an old warehouse on the eastern edge of Sderot, the facility has basketball courts, a café, computers and a small movie theater. On a recent visit, the happy screams of children playing rang through the air as parents sat at tables and socialized with each other.

This $5 million, 21,000 square foot indoor rec center in Sderot was built by the Jewish National Fund in 2009 as a response to rocket fire.

Just one mile away from the indoor playground, another stark reminder of life here, particularly for children, is made apparent by a large structure on an outdoor playground on Ha-Rakefet Street. Artfully built into the playground, the structure looks like a large friendly snake with a hollowed out interior play area.

This snake-like structure on an outdoor playground doubles as a bomb shelter.

Approaching it, though, a sign on it reads in Hebrew: “When the tzeva adom sounds, you have to enter under my protection beyond the orange line.”

This sign at an outdoor Sderot playground tells children to enter the inside of what is a playful looking snake if they hear the “red alert” siren.

Moshe and Linor Barsheshet, Netivot residents who came for the day to the indoor JNF playground with their two children, Haddas and Yonatan, left home for Beit Shemesh during the war and returned during the first cease fire two weeks ago.

Government officials asked residents in the south to return home, expecting that the cease-fire would hold—Hamas broke it on the morning of Aug. 8, firing a volley of rockets over the border and further shattering the confidence of many locals.

“It’s impossible to leave the house,” Moshe said.

Arnold Rosenblum, who came to Israel five years ago from Russia, recently moved to Sderot to enroll at Sapir College. Walking in the downtown shopping area, Rosenblum, 23, sat down for a few minutes to speak with a reporter.

“What can I say?” Rosenblum said, asked how the rockets and sirens have impacted his life. “We are getting used to this. First time is very hard and you really think maybe you should leave Sderot.”

After that initial shock, though, he said, the regular interruptions just become normal. “I say like this: if I made a choice to live here, no Hamas, no someone else can make me change my choice.”

During parts July and August, when classes at Sapir were cancelled due to the war in Gaza, Rosenblum worked at a plastics factory in town. He said that, during work, if the siren rang, people would have 13 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter—he said that by the time the red alert goes off, two seconds have already been shaved off from the 15.

When he is home during the siren, he said his two and three-year-old nephews and nieces panic amidst the rush to get to a shelter.

“Everyone is screaming. Everyone is crying,” Rosenblum said, adding glumly when asked about the current lull in fighting: “It’s very sad.”

Hesitant to offer his opinion on the war and on the government’s decision, for now, to halt its operation, Rosenblum instead offered some dark humor:

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin asks God, ‘What do you think? When is it going to be the end of terrorism in Chechnya?”

“Not in your [presidential] term,” God said.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu asks God,” said Rosenblum. “‘What do you think? When is it going to be quiet in Gaza?’”

“God said, ‘Not in my term.’”

French, Indian TV show Hamas rocket launches in civilian areas


French and Indian TV stations broadcast footage showing Hamas rocket launching facilities in a civilian area.

The French TV station, France 24, showed a rocket launching pad located about 100 yards from a United Nations building flying the blue U.N. flag. A hotel housing journalists covering the Gaza conflict was located about 50 yards from the launching pad, according to correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza City.

The video was released on Aug. 5.

“This type of setup is at the heart of the debate,” Gallagher reported. “The Israeli army has repeatedly accused the Palestinian militants of shooting from within densely populated civilian areas and that is precisely the type of setup we have here.”

Fenwick and members of his crew were forced to take cover when reporting from the site last week when a rocket was unexpectedly launched.

The report on India’s NDTV by Sreenivasan Jain also shows a Palestinian rocket crew using a tent as cover to set up a rocket launch from a dense urban area, then launching the rocket. The footage was recorded on Aug. 4.

Humanitarian cease-fire called by Israel broken by rocket fire from Gaza


Israel’s military said it was observing a seven-hour unilateral humanitarian cease-fire.

Monday’s “humanitarian window” was set to last until 5 p.m., according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel said several rockets were fired into the country during its cessation of fire.

The Palestinians accused Israel of breaking the cease-fire less than two hours after it began, saying an 8-year-old girl was killed and some 30 people wounded in an Israeli strike on the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.

The cease-fire does not include Rafah, in southern Gaza, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days as Israeli troops continued to search for tunnels leading from the strip to Israel, the IDF said before the start of the humanitarian window.

Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, warned, “If the truce is breached, the military will return fire during the declared duration of the truce.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the international media that Israel was aiming to divert attention away from its “massacres.”

“We do not trust such a calm and we urge our people to exercise caution,” Zuhri said.

More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of Israel’s Gaza operation on July 8, according to reports citing the Gaza Ministry of Health. Nearly 270,000 have been displaced, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians in Gaza.

The images missing from the Gaza war


There’s no shortage of images from the Gaza conflict.

We’ve seen rubble, dead Palestinian children, Israelis cowering during rocket attacks, Israeli military maneuvers and IDF footage of Hamas militants emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli soldiers.

What we haven’t seen are practically any images of Hamas fighters inside Gaza.

We know they’re there: Someone’s got to be launching those rockets into Israel (more than 2,800) and firing at invading Israeli troops. But so far the only images we’ve seen (or even heard about) are the Israel Defense Forces’ videos of Hamas fighters using hospitals, ambulances, mosques and schools (and tunnels) to launch attacks against Israeli targets or ferry arms around Gaza.

Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?

We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war — in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq — why is Gaza an exception?

If journalists are being threatened and intimidated when they try to document Hamas activity in Gaza, their news outlets should be out front saying so. They’re not.

On Tuesday, The New York Times published an account by photographer Sergey Ponomarev on what his days are like in Gaza. Here’s what Ponomarev said:

It was a war routine. You leave early in the morning to see the houses destroyed the night before. Then you go to funerals, then to the hospital because more injured people arrive, and in the evening you go back to see more destroyed houses.

It was the same thing every day, just switching between Rafah and Khan Younis.

Are there attempts to document Hamas activity?

If you’re wondering whether the Times has assigned another photographer to cover this aspect of the story, so am I: The Times hasn’t been running photos of Hamas fighters in Gaza — period. Looking through the Times’ most recent three slideshows on the conflict (herehere and here), encompassing 37 images, there’s not a single one of a Hamas fighter.

In an L.A. Times slideshow of more than 75 photographs from the conflict, there’s not a single image of a Hamas fighter either, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

For many viewers, the narrative of this war must appear quite straightforward: Powerful Israel is bombarding defenseless Palestinians. That’s understandable when there are hardly any photographs of Palestinian aggressors.

In a July 15 Washington Post story by William Booth, Hamas’ use of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as an operating base is mentioned — but only in half a sentence in the story’s eighth paragraph.

The minister was turned away before he reached the hospital, which has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.

As Tablet noted, that’s called burying the lede.

Likewise, a Palestinian(!) news agency reported this week that Hamas executed dozens of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel last week. JTA reported this, but it got no mention in mainstream media outlets.

Either reporters and editors are uninterested in telling the side of the story that shows what Hamas is doing in Gaza or they’re unable. Let’s consider that latter possibility.

Much has been made by Israel supporters of a decision by The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Casey to delete a tweet about how Hamas uses Shifa Hospital as a base of operations. Presumably, Casey deleted the tweet because of threats by Hamas either to his person or his ability to continue to cover the conflict.

Times of Israel report earlier this week suggested as much:

Several Western journalists currently working in Gaza have been harassed and threatened by Hamas for documenting cases of the terrorist group’s involvement of civilians in warfare against Israel, Israeli officials said, expressing outrage that some in the international media apparently allow themselves to be intimidated and do not report on such incidents.

The Times of Israel confirmed several incidents in which journalists were questioned and threatened. These included cases involving photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances — gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, and/or fighting in civilian clothing — and who were then approached by Hamas men, bullied and had their equipment taken away. Another case involving a French reporter was initially reported by the journalist involved, but the account was subsequently removed from the Internet.

After leaving Gaza, freelance Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati, in a pair of tweets blaming Hamas for a recent civilian casualty incident, backed up the claims that Hamas threatens reporters:

Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris (July 29)

Why are we reading about this intimidation only in Jewish or Israeli media — or on blogs — and not in Western mainstream media?

Attorney Scott Johnson takes news outlets to task for this on the blog Powerline:

Hamas threats don’t account for the relentless ignorance and stupidity of the coverage of the Gaza hostilities, but they account for some of it. Reporters and their media employers cooperate with Hamas not only in suppressing stories that do not serve Hamas’s purposes, but also by failing to report on the restrictive conditions under which they are working.

This is no small point. Public opinion is a crucial element to this conflict. It will play a role in determining when the fighting ends, what a cease-fire looks like and who bears primary responsibility for the deaths of innocents.

If media outlets are suppressing images of Hamas fighters using civilians as shields, and using schools and hospitals as bases of operation, then people watching around the world naturally will have trouble viewing the Israelis as anything but aggressors and the Palestinians as anything but victims.

But they’re only getting half the story. And where I come from, a half-truth is considered a lie.

Dermer: Over 500 rockets fired at Israel landed back in Gaza


Over 500 of the rockets fired from Gaza at Israel in the last three weeks have landed in Gaza territory, Israel’s ambassador told U.S. Jewish and political leaders.

During an address Monday at the National Leadership Assembly for Israel in Washington D.C., Ambassador Ron Dermer said that more than one-fifth of the 2,500 rockets fired by Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza since the start of Israel’s Gaza operation on July 8 have landed back in Gaza and have hit civilian areas.

He referred specifically to two Islamic Jihad-launched rockets that were aimed at Israel  but landed on Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital and in a park in a nearby refugee camp.

“That may not be what they report in the media today, but that is the truth,” Dermer said.

Israel extends Gaza humanitarian ceasefire for another 24 hours


Israel's security cabinet approved extending the humanitarian cease-fire begun early on Saturday until midnight local time (1700 EST) on Sunday, an Israeli government official said.

“At the request of the United Nations, the cabinet has approved a humanitarian hiatus until tomorrow (Sunday) at 24:00. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will act against any breach of the cease-fire,” the official, who was not named, said in a statement.

Late on Saturday, militants ignored an Israeli announcement that it would extend the truce by four hours and resumed firing rockets into Israel from Gaza around two hours after the end of the initial 12-hour cease-fire period. It began at 8 a.m. (0100 EST) on Saturday.

After the ceas-efire began early on Saturday, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to retrieve their dead and stock up on food, flooding into the streets to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas.

At least 1,033 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting since July 8 when Israel launched its offensive, aimed at ending rocket fire by Islamist militants out of Gaza.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed in pre-truce fighting in Gaza and two others died of their wounds in hospital, bringing the army death toll to 42 as troops battled militants in the tiny Mediterranean enclave that is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.

Three civilians, including two Israeli citizens and a Thai laborer, have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

Israel's and Hamas's positions remained far apart regarding a long-lasting halt to hostilities.

Hamas said it would only endorse the cease-fire if Israel removes its troops from the areas into which it has entered in the Gaza Strip.

“Any humanitarian calm that does not include the withdrawal of occupation soldiers from the Gaza Strip and enable the people to return to their houses and to evacuate the wounded is not acceptable,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman.

Crunch time for Gaza truce talks as death toll passes 800


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed regional leaders to nail down a Gaza cease-fire on Friday as the civilian death toll soared, and further violence flared between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Mediators hope any truce in the Gaza Strip can coincide with a Muslim festival that starts next week, and are looking to overcome seemingly irreconcilable demands from Israel and Hamas-led Islamist fighters, locked in conflict since July 8.

As the diplomacy continued, so did the fighting.

Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 33 people on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 822, most of them civilians.

Militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel, including at the country's main airport. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.

The Gaza turmoil stoked tensions in the nearby West Bank, where U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with Israel.

Medics said five Palestinians were killed in separate incidents near the cities of Nablus and Hebron, including one shooting that witnesses blamed on an apparent Jewish settler.

On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah – a scale recalling mass revolts of the past. Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops opened fire.

Israel said an army reservist was killed in Gaza on Friday, bringing to 34 the number of soldiers lost in a ground advance it says aims to destroy dozens of cross-border tunnels used by Hamas to threaten its southern farming villages and army bases.

It also announced that a soldier unaccounted for after an ambush in Gaza six days ago was definitely dead, although his body had not been recovered. Hamas said on Sunday it had captured the man, but did not release a photograph of him.

Three civilians have also been killed in Israel by rockets from Gaza – the kind of attack that surged last month amid Hamas anger at a crackdown on its activists in the West Bank, prompting the July 8 launch of the Israeli offensive.

NEGOTIATIONS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Friday to discuss a limited humanitarian truce under which Palestinian movement would be freed up to allow in aid and for the dead and wounded to be recovered.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations said Turkey and Qatar had proposed a 7-day halt to the fighting, which had been relayed to Israel by Kerry while Hamas considered it.

An Israeli official acknowledged that the proposal had been received, but said any decision by the Netanyahu government would likely come after Hamas had delivered its own response.

Israel insists that, even if such a cease-fire is agreed, its army will continue digging up tunnels along Gaza's eastern frontier, a mission that could take between one and two weeks.

Netanyahu has said a truce should also lead to the eventual stripping of Gaza's rocket arsenals – something Hamas rules out.

“We must stop the rocket launches. How this is done – whether through occupying (Gaza), or broadening (the operation), or (international) guarantees, or anything else, I have to see it with my own eyes,” said police minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

The rockets have sent Israelis regularly rushing to shelters and dented the economy despite Iron Dome's high rate of success.

A Hamas rocket intercepted near Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to halt American commercial flights to Israel's main international gateway. Some European carriers followed suit.

Jolted by the blow at the height of an already stagnant summer tourism season, Israel persuaded U.S. authorities to lift the flight ban on Thursday, after which the European aviation regulator removed its own advisory against flying to Ben Gurion.

In the second such salvo in as many days, Hamas said it fired three rockets at the airport on Friday, an apparent bid to cripple operations there again. There was no word of impacts at Ben Gurion, whose passenger hall emptied at the sound of sirens.

HAMAS WANTS GAZA OPENED UP

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had on Wednesday voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza's 1.8 million people. Hamas wants Egypt to open up its border with Gaza, too, and demands that Israel release hundreds of prisoners rounded up in the West Bank last month following the kidnap and killing of three Jewish seminary students.

Such concessions appear unlikely, however, as both Israel and Egypt consider Hamas a security threat.

One Cairo official said next week's Eid al-Fitr festival, which concludes Ramadan, was a possible date for a truce. But U.S. officials were circumspect on progress made by Kerry, whose mediation has involved Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Abbas, as Washington, like Israel and the European Union, won't deal directly with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

“Secretary Kerry has been on the phone all morning, and he will remain in close touch with leaders in the region over the course of the morning as he continues work on achieving a cease-fire,” said a senior U.S. State Department official in Cairo, which has been Kerry’s base over the last four days as he has tried to bring about a temporary end to the conflict.

On Thursday, a U.S. official said Kerry was seeking a way of bridging gaps between Israel and Hamas but that the diplomat would not stay in the region “for an indefinite amount of time”.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza by the fighting, many of them seeking shelter in buildings run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

An UNRWA spokesman said the agency had tried in vain to arrange with Israel to evacuate civilians from the school in northern Beit Hanoun before it was shelled on Thursday.

Scores of crying families who had been living in the school ran with their children to a hospital a few hundred meters away where the victims were being treated. Laila Al-Shinbari, who was at the school when it was hit, told Reuters that families had gathered in the courtyard expecting to be evacuated shortly in a Red Cross convoy.

“All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, (there was) blood and screams. My son is dead, and all my relatives are wounded, including my other kids,” she said, weeping.

Five Palestinians killed in West Bank violence


Five Palestinians were killed in the West Bank on Friday in shootings involving both Israeli forces and a civilian who appeared to be a Jewish settler, medics and witnesses said.

Three Palestinians were killed during clashes between Israeli forces shooting live bullets and protesters throwing stones near the flashpoint city of Hebron.

In a separate incident near another protest against the ongoing conflict in Gaza, witnesses said a person in a car believed to be a settler shot dead one man and wounded three others near the city of Nablus.

The victims were walking along a main street used by both Palestinians and settlers.

Clashes between Israeli border police and Palestinian youths throwing petrol bombs and fireworks escalated. A Reuters photographer witnessed the forces shoot and kill another man.

Israeli forces also shot and wounded two protesters and a local journalist approaching a military checkpoint near a settlement beside the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Israeli police said it was investigating the violence.

The clashes follow the killing of a Palestinian north of Jerusalem during a thousands-strong protest which was one of the largest since a Palestinian uprising which ended in 2005.

Palestinian fury has mounted after 822 Palestinians – mostly civilians, according to Palestinian medics – have been killed in nearly three weeks of cross-border fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The United States and regional powers are urgently seeking a truce.

Immunity and Impunity: Fear and Loathing in Gaza


“The terrorists are firing rockets from schools, from mosques, from hospitals, from heavily civilian populations. We have to try and are doing our best to minimize civilian casualties. But we cannot give our attackers immunity or impunity.”– Benyamin Netanyahu, on July 24, 2014

Instead of using a Torah passage to begin a teaching, I want to start with these words of Netanyahu. On the same day that Bibi spoke them, Israel may have bombed a UN school, which had become a place of refuge for Palestinians who left their homes to escape the shelling – at least fifteen died, and a hundred were wounded. We don’t know for sure if it was Israeli fire that hit this school, but Israel has shelled schools two other times during this war. As Bibi said, “we cannot give our attackers immunity or impunity.” I want to drash these words – explain them – using Torah and rabbinic tradition.

The Talmud (Beitzah 32b) says that the Jews are a compassionate people (rachmanim), and that someone who claims to be Jewish but doesn’t show the quality of compassion is not really a Jew. Sefer Chinukh (Yitro 42) says that Jews are “compassionate people, sons and daughters of compassionate people”. The Zohar (1:174a) even says that when Jacob received the name Israel after wrestling the angel, that this was in order to allow Jacob to become attached to this quality of compassion.

According to rabbinic tradition (both midrash and Kabbalah), the most important name of God, YHVH (often translated as Lord), is also tied to compassion, whereas the name Elohim is tied to God’s judgment. The Zohar explains that Jacob was renamed Israel in order to bring down into the world that quality of YHVH’s compassion.

At the same time, there still is a need for God’s judgment. When is that? Says the Zohar (ibid.), “When the wicked abound in the world, God’s name becomes Elohim” – because God must bring judgment upon the wicked in order to save the world.

Now listen again to what Netanyahu is saying. He is not just prosecuting a war, he is carrying out a judgment, deciding between those who should have immunity, and those who should not. It is as if Bibi were casting the IDF in the role of instrument of God’s judgment. Bibi sounds a note of compassion (“we have to try to minimize civilian casualties”), but he does so in order to validate that what is raining down upon Hamas is truly justice, not just vengeance.

But what is justice, and what is vengeance?

Take a step back, to before this war. One of Hamas’s demands is an end to the blockade of Gaza. Israel’s blockade of Gaza has been going on since Hamas came to power. The blockade has always had several purposes. One was to stop arms from being smuggled in. But, many say, another goal was to make sure the Gazan Palestinians knew that they had chosen wrongly by electing Hamas, by electing a government that rejects the existence of Israel. To put it bluntly, the people were made to suffer because they had sinned.

When Bibi says that there can be no “immunity or impunity”, it doesn’t just mean impunity for Hamas. It means that there is no place in Gaza safe from Israel’s arm of justice, the arm that brings down God’s judgment. In reality, because of the way Gaza is set up and fenced in, this means no impunity for anyone. There is no place in Gaza where non-combatants, families, children, can be immune from attack – not the beach, not a school, not a hospital.

It is possible to claim that it is right for Israel to enact God’s judgment. After all, the same Zohar passage teaches that even though Jacob became attached to compassion when he was renamed Israel, sometimes Israel must turn back into Jacob: “When Jacob was not in the
midst of enemies or in a foreign land, he was called Israel; when he was among enemies or in a foreign land, he was called Jacob.” From the Zohar’s perspective, when Israel is in the midst of enemies, it is both necessary and right for Israel to turn back into Jacob, to embody and become the instrument of God’s judgment.

And yet: “One who shows no compassion, it is known for sure that he is not of the seed of Abraham.” (Talmud, ibid.) I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Hamas members, being Muslim, are also of the seed of Abraham. That Hamas has been hiding rockets in schools, daring Israel to fire on places that should be safe (see Haaretz.) That Hamas used concrete to build miles of tunnels and no public bomb shelters. And that Hamas’s lack of compassion, to their own people and to Israeli civilians, shows that they are neither true Muslims, nor of the spiritual seed of Abraham.

Yet Netanyahu’s nod to compassion also seems like the nod of one who has lost compassion’s compass, not like one “from the seed of Abraham”. Why must there be no place of “immunity or impunity”? What if Israel decided to never shell schools and hospitals where people were taking refuge?

Surely I will never be called on to make such decisions, and I also know that people in Israel – Jews and Arabs – are traumatized by Gaza’s rocket fire, and that it needs to stop. I know Israel needs to defend itself. And yet…

This shabbat, we read about the city of refuge or “ir miklat”, where someone who has accidentally killed another can flee in order to be safe from punishment. (Numbers 35) Just as happens in war, outside the city of refuge (by analogy, in the chaos of a combat zone), a “blood-redeemer” has the right to avenge the victim’s death. However, if this blood-redeemer attempts to kill a person who has reached a refuge, he or she is counted as a murderer.

But what if there is no refuge? What if the fighting leaves no site of refuge in Gaza to which people can flee? As Netanyahu has clearly said, there will be no place off-limits to Israel’s artillery. If Hamas makes any building a target, the IDF will shoot at it.

The idea of a city of refuge isn’t just an analogy; the idea at its heart threads its way throughout Jewish law, which requires that if one besieges a city, one side of the city must be left open for people who wish to flee. “A place should be left open for fleeing, and for all those who desire to escape with their lives.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 6:7)

If one prosecutes a war, in a place where innocents have no place safe to flee to, and no way to leave, then that becomes murder. If the attacking army drops leaflets and calls civilians, telling them to evacuate an area that will be bombed, but there is no place to evacuate to, what compassion is this? How does it affect the “purity of arms” that has always been the hallmark of the IDF?

And yet – such liberal interpretations are good, but this week’s Torah reading is also a bonanza for the most right-wing policies. It defines the borders of the land of Israel in a way that includes all of Gaza and the West Bank (Numbers 34), and in Numbers 33:55, it commands the Israelites to “drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you” because otherwise “they will be thorns in your sides and they will harass you”. The rabbinic response was that these strictures applied only to the original Canaanite nations, and not to anyone else, certainly not to the Palestinians. But that won’t stop those right-wing people who believe that God is on their side, who may wish to believe that they are the arm of God’s judgment.

One thing is true, however. If we ever were “compassionate people, the sons and daughters of compassionate people”, we can no longer count on this. Along with hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis who have died, so has our claim as Jews to be the unwavering seed of Abraham. Perhaps if we realized this, we would be ready to make peace, one broken people to another.

A prayer for peace


As an American visiting Jerusalem for a month, the Tuesday night of the first air raid siren in the city was a new experience for me. Rationality told me that I was safe. Under the protection of the Iron Dome, the probability of one of Hamas’ rockets reaching the ground was slim, and the likeliness of them causing serious damage was even slighter. Still, as I listened from the darkness of my apartment's safe room to the echoing sound of distant blasts, I couldn't help but endure a sensation of utter dread: a sudden awareness of my vulnerability to the rockets soaring overhead.

A few days later, I found myself in the basement of a community center in my neighborhood for Friday night Shabbat services. The service began with Shalom Aleichem. Time seemed to freeze as the union of voices sang, slowly and passionately, for peace. This was the most genuine experience of Shabbat I'd experienced in a long while, encountering a moment that stood independently of all else surrounding it: a sense of peace amongst chaos, hope amidst despair.

But this experience of Shabbat was a privilege. The serenity was a result of the protective measures taken to ensure my safety. I can only imagine that the fear I experienced in the bomb shelter–the defenselessness in the midst of explosives hurtling from the sky, collapsing buildings and pillars of smoke–was a mere fraction of what the Gazans were experiencing with no Iron Dome or bomb shelters to protect them. Do they, living just sixty miles away, have the same opportunity to gather, to pray for peace amidst the bloodshed?

What role do we play, as people who are able to secure ourselves from the violence? The reaction thus far has been uniform: offering statistics to argue which side has suffered more, disclosing details that preserve the image of one while attributing full blame to the other.

What do these responses achieve? If anything, they ensure the perpetuation of a conflict that thrives off of the absolute separation from the other–identifying the differences between a family in Gaza and a family in Sderot instead of drawing them closer, unifying them under a single category of human: people whose lives have been affected by this awful, relentless conflict. 

The struggle for ethical superiority distracts from the pursuit of a solution to the violence. The fight is not for the moral high ground. It’s for peace.

Unfortunately, no ceasefire on its own will produce a lasting peace; this round of violence is rooted in years of accumulated tension. Peace and security are only possible if we acknowledge the underlying context in this situation: the ongoing occupation. In Gaza, millions of people’s basic human needs are not met on a daily basis. In the West Bank, settlement construction continues. They inflict added tension to the region and fuel hatred on both sides, and we cannot hope to take any steps towards reconciliation while this continues. Each day these conditions persist is a day we move further from any prospect of peace. As American Jews, by failing to explicitly condemn the occupation, we share responsibility for undercutting the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. Jewish community leaders such as Adam Bronfman and Eric Yoffie have recently, even in the midst of the ongoing operation, called for an end to settlement construction. Will the rest of the community join them? 

The latest round of peace talks have collapsed. Currently, Hamas is the only Palestinian entity to which Israel seems to respond in a serious way. What if the Palestinian people witnessed an equally wholehearted reaction from Israeli leaders towards its more moderate authorities who pursue an end to the conflict through diplomatic means? Only through these nonviolent methods can we achieve a lasting end to this violence, and only after that can Israel celebrate true, sustainable security.

We, who are able to come together to pray for peace in this time of war, must ask ourselves: when we pray for peace, do we really mean it? Are we demanding unrealistic requirements to achieve it, focusing our attention on arguments that can only be held from the safety of the Iron Dome? Or are we willing to concede some dignity, and make the compromises necessary to attain a real, sustainable peace?

Nothing is going to end the ever-heightening escalation of violence other than a peace agreement; there is no other viable long-term solution. What are we going to do to make that a reality?

ARIEL ROSE BRENNER is a student at UC Berkeley studying architecture and involved in J Street

Relocate nationals from near Gaza border, Thai embassy asks


The Thai embassy in Tel Aviv asked the Israeli government to relocate Thai nationals working in southern Israel near the Gaza border.

The request on Thursday came a day after a Thai worker was killed when a mortar fired from Gaza struck the hothouse in which he was working.

Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, was the third civilian killed in Israel since the start of the Israeli operation in Gaza on July 8. His body will be returned to Thailand.

Foreign Ministry Information Department chief Sek Wannamethee announced the request in a statement to Thai reporters, the Bangkok Post reported. Sek reportedly said there are no plans to evacuate Thai workers from Israel.

Meanwhile, the Thai embassy has halted sending new Thai workers to areas within up to 24 miles from the Gaza border. Some 38 workers in the area also have requested assistance in moving to a safer place.

Some 25,000 Thais are working in Israel, most in factories or in agriculture. About 4,000 of the workers are located in agricultural settlements in southern Israel, according to the Bangkok Post.

 

3 senators urge Obama to let Israel neutralize Hamas ahead of cease-fire


Three senators urged President Obama to ensure that Israel removes Hamas’ military threat before a cease-fire is in place.

“The threats posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels whose only purpose is to kill and kidnap Israelis are intolerable, and Israel must be allowed to take any actions necessary to remove those threats,” Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Lindsey Graham (R- S. C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter Wednesday. “Any effort to broker a cease-fire agreement that does not eliminate those threats cannot be sustained in the long run and will leave Israel vulnerable to future attacks.”

While expressing sympathy for the death of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, the senators wrote that Hamas’ “primary goal is to destroy Israel. We must do everything possible to ensure they do not succeed.”

Cardin, along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), also wrote to Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, on Wednesday to express “our strong objections” to his calling Israel’s operations in Gaza an “atrocious action.”

“We respectfully request that your future comments recognize the fact that the ‘atrocious action’ is the deliberate terrorist attack on civilians — not the measured response of a nation-state trying to defend its citizens,” the Cardin and Ayotte wrote.

They said Ban’s pronouncement “lends a degree of perceived legitimacy that terrorist organizations do not deserve” and also “undercuts the legitimate right of the nation-states to defend their citizens.”

In a third letter concerning the war between Israel and Hamas, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) wrote to Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, to condemn Wednesday’s decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry focusing mostly on Israel’s actions in Gaza without addressing allegations that Hamas hides its weapons and fighters among civilians.

“Hamas’ continued use of civilians as human shields is a direct violation of international law,” the Congress members wrote in a two-page letter that also condemned Hamas’ use of schools, hospitals and mosques “as covers for their rocket launchers and weapons caches.”

Separately, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a physician, called on Israel not to target medical facilities.

“I am distressed by reports that Israel has attacked hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel in its on-going military offensive in the Gaza Strip,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“Palestinian health and emergency workers are unable to reach the dead and wounded in many parts of Gaza due to the danger of being attacked themselves,” McDermott said. “I call on America’s long-time friend and ally Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and cease all attacks against health facilities and workers.”

 

Ban orders review following allegations UNRWA gave rockets back to Hamas


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commissioned a review of U.N. practices for relocating weapons found on its premises following reports that rockets found in an UNRWA school were returned to Hamas.

“The Secretary-General is alarmed to hear that rockets were placed in an UNRWA school in Gaza and that subsequently these have gone missing,” Ban said in a statement Wednesday, a day after the second such cache of weapons was uncovered in a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the principal group assisting Palestinian refugees.

“The Secretary-General has asked for a full review of such incidents and how the U.N. responds in such instances,” the statement said. “The United Nations is taking concerted action to increase its vigilance in preventing such episodes from happening again.”

Ban, the statement said, directed two security departments to “to immediately develop and implement an effective security plan for the safe and secure handling of any weapons discovered in U.N. premises.”

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, accused UNRWA of returning the missiles to Hamas when he met Wednesday with Ban, who is in the region trying to bring about a cease-fire, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Christopher McGrath, an UNRWA spokesman, told JTA in an email that UNRWA’s practice was to refer unexploded ordnance to “local authorities.” He said the local authorities in this case did not answer to Hamas but to the government of unaffiliated technocrats in Ramallah.

“They pledged to pass a message to all parties not to violate UNRWA neutrality,” he said of the authorities.

Another UNRWA spokesman said the missing weapons to which Ban referred was the second batch, discovered Tuesday. UNRWA evacuated the school, Christopher Gunness told JTA, and its staff sought appropriate personnel to remove the weapons only to discover the next day when they returned that the weapons had been removed.

“We evacuated the premises and placed a guard at the gate,” Gunness told JTA in an email from Jerusalem, where he is based.

“At the same time, we began intensive consultations to find an international actor to help survey the weapons so the extent of the problem could be ascertained and a safe disposal plan developed,” he said. “There were 1,500 displaced civilians in schools on either side of the installation and their safety was paramount. UNRWA staff did not re-enter the installation until the following day when displaced people from Beit Hanoun forced open the school seeking refuge. At that point our staff went to secure the area in which the weapons had been discovered the previous day and found they had been removed.”

Gunness noted that UNRWA staff have come under fire during the war. Three teachers, all women, were killed Thursday by Israeli fire — two in their residences, where family members also were killed, and one returning home from an UNRWA emergency shelter.

“Our hearts go out to their surviving family members,” he said.

 

Israel flight cancellations tip of economic iceberg


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Esther Olive, a French Jew who lives in Israel, is stranded at the Istanbul airport and is petrified.

“People from the airline screamed at us and said that we couldn’t stay in the airport and had to go to a hotel,” she told The Media Line by phone from Turkey. “As a Jew, I just don’t feel safe here.” 

Olive, a tour operator who brings French tourists to Israel, was on her way back from a family vacation in France on Pegasus, a Turkish charter airline. She said she was with a group of 70 Israelis and Jews that was stranded in Istanbul after almost all international carriers cancelled their flights in and out of Ben Gurion International, Israel’s primary gateway outside of Tel Aviv. The drastic response came after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed inside a community nearby the airport, destroying a house. Until then, during the two-week old hostilities between Israel and Hamas, all rockets that came close to the airport were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Olive and the others went to a hotel for the night and then returned back to the airport.

“Why isn’t anyone helping us?” she asked nervously. “Why isn’t El Al sending a flight for us?”

Israeli government officials told The Media Line they were aware of the situation and were working to solve it. The Department of Transportation issued a statement saying that four aircraft would fly to Turkey to bring thousands of stranded Israelis home. The Ministry's statement said in part that, “the Israelis in Turkey need to stay calm. We are working to bring you back as soon as possible.”

Following announcements by individual airlines that their Tel Aviv flights would be cancelled, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directive to avoid Ben Gurion Airport for at least 24 hours, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealed to Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the region trying to mediate a cease-fire, to convince US airlines to start flying again. Coincidentally, Kerry’s own State Department plane presumably landed at Ben Gurion during the time stated in the FAA advisory.

“Canceling flights to Israel was a disaster for the country,” Mark Feldman, the CEO of Jerusalem-based Ziontours, told The Media Line. “It is the worst thing that has happened to tourism here since 9/11.” Feldman noted that even during the previous two Israeli military incursions the present operation is being compared to, in 2008 and 2012, the airport remained open.

Even before the FAA decision, economic damage to Israel’s tourism and hospitality industries was estimated to be at least $500 million, spurred by a 34 percent drop in the number of foreign visitors in the third quarter of the year – the key tourism months of July, August and September. A further predicted loss of $25 million will come from a decline in domestic tourism as many Israelis who had planned vacations inside of Israel cancelled them, typically after a family member was activated into reserve army duty. At the moment, some of Tel Aviv’s most popular hotels are almost empty, although properties in the southern Red Sea resort town of Eilat and hotels on the Dead Sea, remain near capacity.

How much time it will take for a tourism rebound when the dust settles remains to be seen. Yaakov Fried of Da’at Educational Expeditions, told The Media Line that it depends on how the hostilities end. “If there is a clear resolution and the rockets stop, it will happen quickly,” he opined. “But if the ceasefire is uncertain and there are still rockets, it will take longer to rebuild.” November and December are key indicators according to Fried.

Despite the pinch being felt by small businesses, some experts are relying on Israel’s historic resilience in bouncing back after such campaigns. 

Adrian Filut of the economic newspaper Globes says that losses are evaluated in the categories of military expenditures; indirect and direct costs. He told The Media Line that he believes if Operation Protective Edge extends another week, the total cost to the Israeli economy will be $2.1 billion, including the loss of trade and services and other ancillaries. 

The Pastry Shop – Baked from the Heart is a chain of three coffee shops/bakeries, one of which is located in the central Israel Tel Aviv-area Ra’anana, while the other two are in the southern towns of Ashdod and Netivot, both within the most frequent range of missiles from Gaza. Owner Binyamin Maimon says business is down by 50 percent because of the situation in Gaza. 

“Because of the rocket attacks, people are not going out to have coffee,” Maimon told The Media Line. “Some of our workers have to get to work under missile fire. But we are opening every day and trying to have business as usual.” 

After The Pastry Shop’s name and number appeared in an Israeli newspaper, Maimon received dozens of calls from Tel Aviv area residents placing orders. While the amounts so far have been symbolic rather than substantive, he said he is touched. 

“It is like getting a big hug,” Maimon said. “It is really heart-warming.”

A spokeswoman at Israel’s tax authority said they had extended the July 15 deadline for paying taxes as long as needed and were preparing to compensate businesses for damage and lost revenue. 

In the coastal Mediterranean city of Ashkelon, hotels and beaches are empty. Residents spend most of the day inside bomb shelters or safe rooms, as hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza have landed here or have been intercepted by the Iron Dome in the skies above. Prior to the current conflict, Ashkelon was one of the up and coming real estate markets in Israel.

“Now business is down by 50 percent and everything is completely on hold,” David Zwebner, an American-born entrepreneur told The Media Line. “People are home eating chocolates, going to funerals, and waiting.” 

During the past two operations Israel fought in the Gaza Strip, most of the Hamas rockets landed in southern communities like Sderot, Ashdod and Ashkelon. This time, however, despite the majority falling there, Hamas has made good on its threat to reach all parts of the country with its rocketry.

Ro’i Gafni, the head of sales and marketing for Afridar, a large construction company, is in the midst of building a mall and two luxury housing developments in Ashkelon. He was called up for reserve duty and confirmed that purchases have been put on hold for the duration of hostilities. 

Yet, there is reason for optimism for Israelis who fear the long period of time it could take to rebuild economic sectors such as tourism. Globe’s Filut points to the aftermath of the 2006, 2008 and 2012 military operations, including the costly Second Lebanon War.  

“Even now, during the fighting, you can see a rapid recovery. Look what happened to the dollar. You can almost say there wasn’t a war here. The shekel got stronger toward the Euro and the dollar. The opposite should have taken place during a war. On Israel’s stock exchange, the major indexes are higher today than before the war. This is what happened during the last wars. It’s a clear sign the Israeli economy is resilient.”

Why is this Gaza conflict different? Dead children.


I was a guest on Warren Olney’s “Which Way, L.A.?” on KCRW-FM this past Monday afternoon when the host stumped me. He was speaking with me about the response of the Los Angeles Jewish community to the Gaza war. 

“Is the reaction any different than in the last two Gaza operations?” Olney asked. 

It was, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” but without a song for an answer.

I told Olney this conflict seems more intense and more personal. 

Part of the reason is that more Americans come from, visit or have relatives in Israel and Palestine than ever before. When things are relatively quiet in the Middle East, we all get along swimmingly. But war there now seems to send us to the barricades here.

The other reason, I explained, was technology. Social media has brought instant images from Gaza and Israel to our cell phones via Twitter and Instagram. The 24-hour news cycle has filled the airwaves with anguished victims on both sides. 

The two opponents have media sophistication that rivals HuffPo. Hamas sends out heavily produced videos of varying veracity detailing its glorious achievements, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) posts Paul Greengrass-quality clips of military operations, which pop up right beside the latest Iggy Azalea downloads. 

Surreal doesn’t begin to describe standing on a tennis court in Venice and watching a video of Israeli combat troops 10,000 miles away taking out Hamas terrorists emerging from a tunnel — the whole operation going down about when my set began. 

But after my KCRW interview was over, it occurred to me: I was wrong. What makes this war more personal has nothing to do with technology. 

It’s about dead children — theirs and ours. 

It began with the images of the three murdered Israeli teens, then the lynched Palestinian teen — and worsened from there.

On the Palestinian side, the images are tragic and relentless. Of the more than 600 Palestinian dead thus far, the United Nations estimates that some 20 percent are children. 

If this war were just about killing Hamas terrorists, most of the world, including the Arab world, would approve. But in the densely populated Gaza Strip, where half the population is under 18, child casualties are inevitable — no matter how many precautions Israel takes. And Operation Protective Edge, which at the start looked, to most fair-minded viewers, truly protective, has become something else.

There is a difference between Hamas’ intentional targeting of Israeli children and Israel’s inevitable striking of the Palestinian children Hamas leaves in harm’s way — but as the body counts climb and the images pour forth from Gaza, that moral distinction is increasingly lost on the world.

Americans, wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells at NYMag.com, now see “Palestinians a little bit less as demagogues and terrorists and a little bit more as they see themselves, as ordinary people living in often impossible circumstances.”

But what some of those who are justifiably heartbroken over the dead Palestinian children fail to see is that for the Israelis, this is also about their children. 

There are the children of southern Israel, who spend much of their lives running for shelter at the sounds of air raid sirens. That they aren’t killed has nothing to do with Hamas’ intentions.

Then there are those miles of tunnels. Those Hamas terrorists who I watched on video emerge from the tunnel that ran from Gaza into Israel did so intending to storm a nearby kibbutz and slaughter its men, women and children. 

The cold, cruel choice Israelis and their supporters feel they must make is this: Should we kill as few of their children as possible now, or wait until they kill as many of our children as they can later?

Putting these sobering thoughts aside, Israelis are just as heartbroken at having to send their children — the ones who happen to be soldiers — back into Gaza to confront an entrenched and suicidal enemy. 

This reality became painfully apparent when a colleague from abroad called me early Sunday morning with the information that among the 13 IDF soldiers killed the previous evening in Gaza was Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from Woodland Hills. 

The news brought the war home in a way I never experienced. Angelenos have died in terror attacks in Israel. But Steinberg was the first Los Angeles Jew to die in combat in Israel since 1948.

Soon after they received the news, the family allowed our reporter Jared Sichel and Jewish Journal President David Suissa to meet them in their house of mourning. As you read Jared’s account of Evie and Stuart Steinberg’s unfathomable loss, you will understand they are not talking about their soldier, but about their child.

Our concern over our children fuels the ferocious, intense debate over morality and tactics. It spills over into the heightened anger of the rallies and protests, the relentless online arguments. It’s what makes a distant war visceral.

I only pray that between the time this round of violence ends and the next round of violence begins, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, find a better way to settle their differences than over their children’s dead bodies.

As rockets fly, poor towns in southern Israel cry out for better protection


Fares Alhozael doesn’t want much from the Israeli government.

The roads in his neighborhood aren’t paved, and earlier this year Israel destroyed his cousin’s house for having been built illegally.

Slumped on a faded bed in the bare, beige, tin-roofed house he shares with his six children and their families, Alhozael, 55, hasn’t worked in more than two decades, since he injured his leg in a produce factory.

But he doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, he sings the government’s praises and waves off criticism of Israel’s current military operation in Gaza, saying “we need to destroy the entire Islamist movement, whoever raises his head.”

All he wants, he says, is a bomb shelter.

When a rocket is fired from Gaza, Alhozael has just 45 seconds until impact to find shelter, but the nearest one is four minutes away.

“The state must answer us — just a shelter,” Alhozael said. “We asked for one from the politicians, from everyone. They said OK and didn’t do anything. There are 500 people here. Where will they go?”

Alhozael is among thousands of southern Israelis who lack access to a bomb shelter. Two weeks into the latest outbreak of fighting in Gaza, in which a barrage of Hamas missiles has rained down on Israeli cities, many southern Israelis say they hold slim hope for protection during this go-round. They only hope the state answers their requests before the next battle starts.

“The situation is intolerable,” said Hassan Alhozael, Fares’ cousin and the local public school vice principal. “There’s trauma for the Bedouin children. The siren sounds and they have no place to hide. The state turns its back. The government needs to do well by us.”

Security isn’t much better in Rahat’s city center, which features a drab city hall, a modern community center and a traditional open market where merchants sell food, clothes and housewares piled on the ground.

Some of the newer buildings have protected rooms, but only three small mobile shelters serve the market’s customers. One of them stands in the middle of a parking lot surrounded by trash and flies, its entrance blocked by bags of garbage. Inside, the shelter is filled with torn-up cardboard boxes and an intolerable stench.


A shelter in the center of Rahat in southern Israel is filled with trash.

Only about half of the houses in Rahat have protected rooms. For the rest of the city’s 60,000 residents, there are only 33 shelters, almost all of them in local schools. If schools weren’t closed for the summer, students would fill the shelters and leave no space for other residents, according to Ahmad Alhozael, head of the city’s security and emergency division and another cousin of Fares and Hassan Alhozael.

“I complain all day and they don’t answer,” said Ahmed Alhozael, pulling up a record of emails that he has sent daily to Israel’s Home Front Command requesting 15 shelters. He hasn’t received a response.

The lack of shelters in Bedouin communities has already led to tragedy. One Bedouin man — Ouda Lafi al-Waj, 32 — was killed and four of his family members were injured after a rocket struck their home in a Bedouin village on July 13. The village had no shelters.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel requesting shelters for exposed Bedouin neighborhoods. The judges wrote that the state has limited means of defending its citizens and that the choice to leave certain communities exposed was not a result of ethnic discrimination.

“We trust and are certain that if circumstances change in a way that would justify moving shelters from their present location” to the Bedouin neighborhoods, the government would do so, the judges wrote.

Southwest of Rahat, residents of the Jewish town of Ofakim also say the state has let them down. Ofakim has four times as many shelters as Rahat for half the population, but the owners of shops on the ground floor of city hall say they have nowhere to run. In the early days of the conflict, a shelter was available, but they say it has since been moved.

Now when a siren sounds, the shopkeepers stay inside. Employees of a barbershop said they lie on the floor during rocket fire. Municipal employees, meanwhile, have relocated to a protected complex in another neighborhood.

“If the government wants us to be protected it should help us be protected,” said Margo Kadosh, who owns a clothing shop below city hall with her husband, David. “There are shelters, but you can’t get there in time.”

At 6 p.m. Sunday, a brick-paved plaza surrounded by stores and restaurants in central Ofakim was nearly empty. Shuki Matok, a local florist, said business has suffered because people are afraid to venture out.

Ofakim spokesman Maor Zabari acknowledged that the city does not have enough protection and said more shelters had been requested from Jerusalem. But Zabari said that “outdoor shelters are not the issue,” and that in advance of future conflicts the city should focus on long-term investments like outfitting buildings and houses with protected rooms.

Like Fares Alhozael, Ofakim residents remain supportive of the government. But Bedouin youth say they feel disconnected from a country that doesn’t serve them.

Loai Alhozael, 17, Fares’ grandnephew, doesn’t plan on joining the Israeli army after graduating high school like many Israeli Bedouin. Instead, he wants to become a lawyer so he can advocate in court for his family and neighbors.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We don’t belong at all [to Israel]. Why should I help a state like this?”

Finding unity in a bomb shelter


When the siren sounded, the Rolling Stones’ tortured 1969 track “Gimme Shelter” popped into my head, oddly enough.

That haunting song offered a stunning reminder of the endless horrors of war, reawakening a sleepy world with a vivid musical picture of human pain in times of combat. Merry Clayton’s evocative vocalization of disturbing lyrics over a harsh musical background focused global attention on the awful realities of the Vietnam War.

Nowadays, though, one hardly requires a song to experience war — live news feeds, endless websites and constant e-alerts satiate us with such input constantly. Such has certainly been the case with the ongoing Gaza-Israel crisis of the past weeks. Often ignored amid the images we see, however, are the more human sides of military conflict.

Last week in Jerusalem, I witnessed this more human side. It started in a crowded lecture hall when the alarming, warbling music of the first siren in the city immediately captured the attention of all present. Quickly, though not very quietly, we filed into the “miklat” — the shelter located in the basement of almost every building in Israel.

Many Israelis do this with a practiced nonchalance learned over many wars and missile attacks. They roll their eyes at the inconvenience, remark on the fact that a little siren can take precedence over even the most important conversation or event, chuckle at morbid jokes and generally riff on the annoyance of such happenings.

It is, I suppose, a way of normalizing the abnormal — if quotidian life can continue even in the face of the fear, then the victory of Hamas, Hezbollah or whoever the present enemy may be is thereby restricted and limited.

In the shelter, the most remarkable equality reigns. Babies, young children, teens, soldiers, the elderly are all there — the entire cycle of life walks down those stairs to seek safety, with all its glories and challenges blatantly displayed. Those bedecked in yarmulkes or dressed in the black suits and hats of the haredi Orthodox stand alongside those who live Reform, Conservative, secular or more postmodern lives, along with Israeli Arabs, Druze, Christians and others.

Some pray, others recite Psalms, some chat, but most sit quietly and await the “all clear.” For a few minutes, the divergent, contradictory and competitive streams of life in Israel all converge, and human safety becomes the sole communal objective.

Walking on the street in Jerusalem when the alarm sounds, the scene is even more profound. As people move to their private shelters, whoever happens to be on the street is welcomed in, no questions asked. Shopkeepers, normally reticent to share their precious stockrooms with strangers, welcome passers-by into their inner sanctum without hesitation. Doors everywhere fly rapidly open, and the true value of “hakhnasat orhim” – welcoming the stranger – happens all over the country.

On buses and in cars, the same principle holds true, for wherever one stops, one is welcomed. Such shared vulnerability unites the country, reminding everyone of their inescapable linkage to state and people, shared government and collective fate.

This particular night, I happened to be with a group of our North American students who had come to Jerusalem just days before to begin the first year of their studies to become rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators. It was surreal for them, to be sure, these young visitors so recently transplanted into a new and foreign culture at a very challenging time.

Along with a palpable nervousness, what emerged with them as we left the shelter together and dispersed into the balmy Jerusalem night was a sense of being at one with their people. A people sheltered together, against whatever the world might tender.

(Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D, is the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.)

Rockets from Gaza still striking Israel after it accepts cease-fire


Rockets fired from Gaza continued to land in populated areas of Israel after its security Cabinet accepted and put into effect an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire.

The Cabinet announced in a one-sentence statement its acceptance of the cease-fire at 9 a.m. Tuesday, the time it was scheduled to go into effect.

More than 35 rockets landed in southern Israel and further inward in the hours after Israel put the cease-fire into effect. Rockets were fired as far north as Haifa and Zichron Yaakov.

Hamas took responsibility for the long-range rocket fired on Haifa that was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Also, a home in Ashdod was hit by a rocket fired Tuesday morning.

“Israel’s leadership has directed our forces to suspend strikes in Gaza. We remain prepared to respond to Hamas attacks and defend Israel,” the IDF spokesman said Tuesday morning.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement early Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Israel will defend itself if necessary,  despite accepting a cease-fire.

“We accepted the Egyptian proposal in order to present an opportunity for Gaza to be disarmed of its missiles, rockets, and tunnels through political means, but if Hamas does not accept this proposed cease-fire – and this is how it appears at present — Israel will have full international legitimacy for an expanded military operation to return the necessary quiet,” he said.

Hamas reportedly rejected the cease-fire proposal, calling it unacceptable. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Palestinian Maan news agency that Hamas was not officially informed of the proposal by the Egyptians or any other party.

“We are a people under occupation and resistance is a legitimate right for occupied peoples,” he said, according to Maan.

Reuters reported Tuesday morning, however, that Hamas leadership was in Cairo debating the proposed Gaza truce and meeting with Egyptian officials.

The military wing of Islamic Jihad called the proposal a “surrender.”

“If what has been circulated is true, this initiative means kneeling and submissiveness, and so we completely refuse it and to us, it’s not worth the ink used in writing it,” a statement said, according to Maan.

Meanwhile, at least five Israelis were injured early Tuesday morning when three rockets were fired at the southern resort town of Eilat. One of the rockets struck four cars, sparking a fire. The rockets were launched from the Sinai Peninsula, Haaretz reported.

Overnight, the Israeli Air Force attacked 25 Gaza targets. In the 24 hours ending Tuesday morning, the IAF attacked 132 targets, including more than 50 concealed rocket launching pads and 11 weapons storage facilities. Among the targets hit was the home of Marwan Issa, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

More than 180 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday morning decided not to fly to the area to push the cease-fire following his nine-day trip to Asia and Europe, as he had been considering.

U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro posted on his Facebook page a statement attributed to Kerry: “The Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire & negotiations provides an opportunity to end the violence and restore calm. We welcome the Israeli cabinet’s decision to accept it. We urge all other parties to accept the proposal.”

 

At summer camps and trauma centers, Beersheba students facing rockets with locals


During Israel’s conflict with Hamas in 2009, Eli Nachmani, already using a wheelchair, injured his leg when a rocket hit this southern Israeli city.

In the last clash in 2012, Nachmani sustained a head injury when the blast from a rocket knocked him out of his wheelchair.

The nearest bomb shelter is 50 yards from his house, and he can’t cover the distance on his own in the seconds between the sounding of the air-raid siren and the impact of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

Calls to Israel’s Welfare Ministry and the Beersheba municipality have gone unanswered. His only help is Noa Pney-Gil, a 24-year-old education major from the nearby Ben-Gurion University.

“I thank her, thank her, thank her from the bottom of my heart,” Nachmani said. “We should have many more like her.”

Fortunately, there are.

After Israel’s latest round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza broke out last week, Pney-Gil joined hundreds of Ben-Gurion University student volunteers who stayed in the conflict zone past the end of the school year to assist city residents in need.

The volunteers have helped out in hospitals, delivered supplies to the homebound elderly and disabled, and assisted with post-trauma care.

“When you go home, you understand people need help here and are waiting,” said Pney-Gil, a Tel Aviv native who considers herself a Beersheba-ite. “I want to be connected to the place I live. I won’t escape to Tel Aviv every time there’s a problem. I’ll deal with the problem here.”

The size of the volunteer corps is a testament to the success of university efforts to inculcate a culture of community involvement and serve as a catalyst for the city’s improvement. Some scholarships are tied to the number of hours students volunteer with underprivileged residents. The university provides discounted housing to students willing to live in Beersheba’s rundown city center.

Tami Ivgi Hadad, 32, a doctoral student researching nonprofits, began volunteering as an undergraduate in exchange for a scholarship. Over time she came to realize she really enjoyed it.

Today, Ivgi Hadad coordinates city volunteers during emergencies in addition to her studies. In a municipal building near the university earlier this week, she alternated between phone calls and typing on her laptop. Of her 250 volunteers Sunday, 200 were Ben-Gurion students.

“During routine times, you see a lot of adults volunteering, and young people don’t find free time,” she said. “But when there aren’t work or classes, they come out. They have this kind of adrenaline. Adults have gone through things in life. They don’t come out quickly under fire.”

Missiles overhead Sunday morning didn’t faze Dafna Kandelman, a first-year medical student volunteering as a counselor at an impromptu day camp for children of the local hospital’s staff.

Israeli law compels hospital workers to stay on the job in times of emergency, but it poses a child care dilemma for employees since many day camps have been canceled because of the missile threat. So medical students set up and run a camp for some 250 children of hospital workers.

At 10:45 a.m., the kids were having a late breakfast in the bomb shelter when a missile siren blared. Kandelman and other volunteers rushed to gather campers playing outside, only to find that many of them already were filing into the shelter.

Growing up in southern Israel, a major target for rocket attacks from Gaza, the kids knew the protocol. Kandelman found it harder to adapt.

“You can’t get used to it,” she said. “You [say], ‘OK, there’s a siren, let’s go to a stairwell, let’s go to a reinforced room.’ Most of the day it’s OK. Then you let your guard down and it comes out of nowhere. It catches you off guard every time. That’s the hard thing.”

While Israel suffered its first death in the conflict on Tuesday, some Beersheba residents have been treated for shock from missile strikes. At a temporary treatment center for trauma victims, student volunteers handle administration and engage the patients in preliminary conversation before professional social workers and psychologists treat them. Students are responsible as well for helping to move patients to a shelter when a siren goes off.

“They can run and hit a wall, fall down the stairs,” said Moshe Levy, 27, a physiology student volunteering at the trauma center. “They’re already in a sensitive situation, so any alarm puts them off balance.”

Helping out during the conflict comes naturally to medical students because the medical school’s students’ association places a high priority on volunteering all year round, said Nadav Zillcha, the association’s chairman.

Zillcha, 30, with graying hair and a firm expression, was skipping one day of a rotation at another hospital to organize volunteers. He said helping out during the conflict prepares medical students for the gravity of saving people’s lives.

“There’s a need here,” Zillcha said, adding, “We need to realize that now.”

 

Thousands of Gaza civilians flee after Israeli warning


Thousands fled their homes in a Gaza town on Sunday after Israel warned them to leave ahead of threatened attacks on rocket-launching sites, on the sixth day of an offensive that Palestinian officials said has killed at least 160 people.

Militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip kept up rockets salvoes deep into the Jewish state and the worst bout of Israel-Palestinian bloodshed in two years showed no signs of abating, and Western foreign ministers meeting on Sunday said a ceasefire was an urgent priority.

Israeli forces dropped leaflets into the town of Beit Lahiya near Gaza's northern border with Israel. They read: “Those who fail to comply with the instructions to leave immediately will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware.”

The Israeli military told the residents of three of Beit Lahiya's 10 neighborhoods to get out of the town of 70,000 by midday on Sunday. U.N. officials said some 4,000 people had fled south to eight schools run by the world body in Gaza City.

A senior Israeli military officer, in a telephone briefing with foreign reporters, said Israel would “strike with might” in the Beit Lahiya area from the late evening hours on Sunday.

He did not say if this would include an expansion of an air and naval offensive into a ground operation in the north of the narrow, densely populated Mediterranean enclave.

“The enemy has built rocket infrastructure in-between the houses (in Beit Lahiya),” the officer said. “He wants to trap me into an attack and into hurting civilians.”

At schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, Beit Lahiya residents arrived in donkey carts filled with children, luggage and mattresses, while others came by car or taxi. One man, still in his pajamas, said some inhabitants had received phone calls warning them to clear out.

“What could we do? We had to run in order to save the lives of our children,” said Salem Abu Halima, 25, a father of two.

The Gaza Interior Ministry, in a statement on Hamas radio, dismissed the Israeli warnings as “psychological warfare” and instructed those who left their homes to return and others to stay put.

Dozens of houses in parts of Beit Lahiya were leveled by Israeli bulldozers during a month-long Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. Israel says such structures provide cover for militants and rocket launchers.

The leaflets marked the first time Israel had warned Palestinians to vacate dwellings in such a wide area. Previous warnings, by telephone or so-called “knock-on-the-door” missiles without explosive warheads, had been directed at individual homes slated for attack.

 

135 PALESTINIAN CIVILIAN DEATHS

A Palestinian woman and a girl aged 3 were killed in Israeli air strikes early on Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Hours before, 17 people were killed when the house of Gaza's police chief was bombed from the air – the single deadliest attack of Israel's offensive. Palestinian officials originally said 18 were dead, but doctors later revised the figure.

The Health Ministry said at least 160 Palestinians, including about 135 civilians – among them some 30 children, have been killed six days of warfare, and more than 1,000 have been wounded.

Hostilities along the Israel-Gaza frontier first intensified last month after Israeli forces arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the West Bank following the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected revenge attack by Israelis. Despite intensified Israeli military action – which included a commando raid overnight in what was Israel's first reported ground action in Gaza during the current fighting – militants continued to launch rocket after rocket across the border.

A long-range burst on Sunday morning triggered air raid sirens at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion international airport, which has not been struck in the hostilities and where flights have been operating normally, and some city suburbs.

On Saturday night, Hamas – the Islamist movement that rules Gaza – made good on a threat to send rockets streaking toward Tel Aviv at 9 p.m. (2.00 p.m. EDT) and other areas in heavily populated central Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis sought shelter as Palestinians in the streets of Gaza City cheered the launchings, the biggest strike yet on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

Those rockets and the ones unleashed on Sunday were intercepted by the Israeli-built, and partly U.S.-funded, Iron Dome missile defense system that has proved effective against Hamas's most powerful weaponry.

 

ISRAELI BEACHGOERS WATCH AS ROCKETS SHOT DOWN

No one has been killed by the more than 800 rockets the Israeli military said has been fired by Palestinians since the offensive began. During Saturday night's barrage, customers in Tel Aviv beachfront cafes shouted their approval as they watched the projectiles being shot out of the sky.

“We will continue to act with patience, forbearance, with determination, responsibility and aggression to achieve the goal of the campaign – restoring calm for a long period by dealing a significant blow to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks after meeting his cabinet.

“We don't know when this operation will be over, it may take a long time and we need your support and also your discipline,” he said in a message to the Israeli public.

International pressure on both sides for a return to calm has increased, with the U.N. Security Council calling for a cessation of hostilities and Western foreign ministers meeting on Sunday to weigh strategy.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to the Middle East on Monday and meet Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, German media reported.

Germany mediated a prisoner swap in 2011 in which an Israeli soldier held by Hamas was freed in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Israel says a ground invasion of Gaza remains an option, and it has already mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to do so, but most attacks have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets in the territory.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of “a dangerous escalation” between Israel and Hamas and told reporters before talks in Vienna with his U.S., German and British counterparts that securing a ceasefire was “an absolute priority”.

He and British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was an urgent need to reinstate the truce struck in 2012.

Giving details of the naval commando operation early on Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said four members of the force were wounded in exchanges of fire with militants but the long-range rocket launching site they attacked was hit.

Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing. Lerner said the forces had “completed their mission”.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funerals on Sunday of the 17 Palestinians killed in the bombing of Gaza police chief Taysee Al-Basth's home. “With our souls and blood we will redeem the martyrs!” the crowd chanted as armed men fired in the air.

A Hamas source said Batsh was in critical condition and that all the dead were members of his family.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said 45 people were wounded in the bombing. An Israeli teenager was wounded on Sunday by a rocket that struck the southern town of Ashkelon, emergency services said.

Hamas calls on Palestinian civilians to remain in homes in face of Israeli warnings


Hamas leaders called on Palestinians living in the northern Gaza Strip to return to their homes, and ignore Israeli warnings of an impending military operation.

“To all of our people who have evacuated their homes – return to them immediately and do not leave the house,” said a statement titled “Urgent call to the residents of the Gaza Strip”  released by the Hamas Interior Ministry, Ynet reported. “You must follow the directives of the Interior Ministry. This is psychological warfare, random messages to instill panic in people.”

The statement came after the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday morning dropped leaflets above areas in the northern Gaza Strip, warning Palestinian civilians to evacuate their homes in advance of a military campaign to destroy rocket launchers.

“The IDF’s campaign is to be short and temporary,” the messages said. “Those who fail to comply with the instructions will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware.”

Some 4,000 residents of the Beit Lahiya area reportedly left their homes ahead of the noon deadline. Some 75,000 civilians reportedly live in the area.

Meanwhile, a Hamas spokesman took to Facebook to urge Palestinian citizens to remain in their homes.

“We are asking the courageous residents of Gaza not to follow the directives of the Israeli occupation army on leaflets that it dropped from the air and in telephone messages,” Hamas spokesman Eyad al-Bazam wrote on Facebook, according to Israeli news site NRG.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way during the Sunday morning Cabinet meeting. “We are striking Hamas with increasing strength. We are hitting commanders, militants, arsenals and command centers. The IDF, ISA, security services, firefighters, the Israel Police – everyone is doing their part and doing it in the best way possible,” he said. “But one must understand how our enemy operates. Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas. Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza; therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility.”

Rocket seriously injures Israeli teen in Ashkelon, dual citizens leave Gaza


An Israeli teenager was seriously injured by a rocket fired from Gaza that landed in Ashkelon.

Another Israeli man was wounded in the rocket strike on Sunday afternoon in a residential area of the city.

“Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting. “I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens and this is what we are doing.”

“One must understand how our enemy operates,” he said. “Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas. Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza; therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility.”

Early Sunday morning, four Israeli Naval commandos were injured in a ground battle on a beach near Gaza City, where they destroyed long-range rockets and its launcher, according to the IDF. Three Hamas fighters reportedly were killed in the clash.

Also Sunday morning, nearly 700 Palestinians with foreign passports, including dozens of  dual Palestinian-Americans, left Gaza for Israel. From there, they will travel to their other home locations.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, more than 800 rockets have been fired from Gaza on southern, central and northern Israel, according to the IDF. Some 147 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

IDF forces have struck 1,320 of what it calls “terror targets” across Gaza, including 735 concealed rocket launchers, 64 training bases and militant compounds, 58 weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, 32 Hamas leadership facilities, 29 communications infrastructures and additional sites used for terrorist activities, according to the IDF.

Cities throughout northern Israel on Sunday checked and opened public bomb shelters, following two salvos of rockets fired from Lebanon since the start of Operation Defensive Edge.

Also Sunday, the Temple Mount was closed to visitors after Palestinians rioted, throwing rocks and explosives at Israeli policemen. Two officers were injured in the unrest.

Hamas warns Israel before barrage on Tel Aviv


Hamas warned Israel in a Hebrew message that it would fire on Tel Aviv in a barrage that would test the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The rockets were fired on Tel Aviv after 9 p.m. on Saturday, an hour after Hamas warned the operators of the Iron Dome batteries to be “prepared to the maximum.”

Rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel’s south and center all day on Saturday, with nearly 90 from morning to evening.

Following the barrage on Tel Aviv, Hamas said it fired 10 rockets on the major Israeli city. Iron Dome intercepted six of them.

Following the announcement of the evening rocket fire on Tel Aviv, Gazans danced in Jabalya, located near Gaza City in North Gaza, after false reports that Israelis were injured. Footage of the celebrations was broadcast on Israel Channel 2.

Tel Aviv night life reportedly continued as usual, with bars and coffee houses as busy as usual. A performance of the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv went on as scheduled.

Also Saturday evening, two rockets fired from Gaza landed near Hebron and Bethlehem, in areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Following those attacks, the IDF distributed rocket safety information in Arabic to residents of the Palestinian Authority.

An Israeli strike air on what has been identified as the home of Gaza’s police chief Tayseer Al-Batsh killed 15 Palestinians on Saturday, many of them from the same family, Gazan authorities told AFP.

The Palestinian death toll since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge five days ago is 151, with over 1,000 wounded, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a declaration calling on Israel and the Palestinians to end the hostilities and return to the “calm and restitution of the November 2012 ceasefire,” following Israel’s last operation in Gaza.”

The statement, prepared by the United States and Jordan, conveyed “serious concern” for the “protection and welfare of civilians on both sides,” and called on Israel and the Palestinians to respect “international humanitarian laws.” The declaration also called on Israel and the Palestinians to return to the peace negotiating table and arrive at an agreement “based on the two-state solution.”

Also on Saturday, three rockets fired from Lebanon landed in northern Israel. Israel responded with artillery fire into Lebanon in the direction of the rocket fire.

Israel deploys more missile interceptors, Gaza death toll up to 121


Israel rushed an eighth missile interceptor battery into service on Saturday to counter stronger-than-expected rocket fire from Gaza as the military pounded positions in the Palestinian enclave for a fifth day, killing 15 people, medics said.

The Jewish state kept options open for a possible ground offensive into densely populated Gaza despite international pressure to negotiate a ceasefire in the conflict, which has killed 121 in the Islamist-ruled enclave since Tuesday.

Residents said a mosque in the central Gaza Strip was bombed to rubble. The Israeli military said the mosque had housed a weapons cache. Referring to Israel's prime minister, graffiti scrawled on one of the mosque's blasted walls read, “We will prevail despite your arrogance, Netanyahu.”

Eight other mosques have been damaged from bombing and 537 Gaza houses have either been destroyed or damaged, according to the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Association for Human Rights.

By Saturday, no Israeli had been killed by rockets salvoes out of Gaza, thanks in part to Iron Dome, a partly U.S.-funded interceptor system that operators said had exceeded expectations in shooting down missiles.

But racing for shelter from rockets has become a daily routine for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, and some 20,000 reservists have already been mobilized for a possible thrust into Gaza, the army said.

“We have upgraded the (Iron Dome) system recently from a number of aspects … We try always to be one step ahead of the enemy … and we see that its capabilities exceed our expectations,” a Defence Ministry official said on Israel Radio.

“In the past week we have carried out a very complex technological exercise to deliver the eighth system …We brought together all the components from the production line and within days we made it operational,” he added, saying that a ninth battery could be made ready within days.

Israel said it was determined to end cross-border rocket attacks that intensified last month after its forces arrested hundreds of activists from the Islamist Hamas movement in the West Bank after the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected revenge attack by Israelis.

 

“PREPARING FOR ALL POSSIBILITIES”

Asked if Israel might move from the mostly aerial attacks of the past four days into a ground war in Gaza to stifle the rocket salvoes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities.”

“No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” he told reporters in Tel Aviv on Friday, a day after a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama about the worst flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence in almost two years.

Casualties on both sides would probably increase significantly if Israel's formidable mechanized forces stormed into the largely urbanized enclave that runs 40 km (25 miles) down the Mediterranean coast.

Gaza medical officials said at least 81 civilians, including 25 children, were among the 121 dead so far from aerial strikes on the sliver-like territory into which nearly 2 million people are packed, many in dilapidated, flimsy dwellings.

Three militants and 12 other people, including two disabled women at a rehabilitation center and a 65-year-old man, were killed by air strikes early on Saturday, doctors there said.

One of the dead in an air strike that killed six people in a Gaza street was identified as the nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader in the territory.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking on why the rehabilitation center in an eastern district of Gaza City was hit by an Israeli tank shell. Four others including two children were wounded and in serious condition, medics said.

Washington affirmed Israel's right to defend itself in a statement from the Pentagon on Friday. But Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon he was concerned “about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect civilian lives and restore calm”, a Pentagon statement said. 

In Israel, a Palestinian rocket seriously wounded one person and injured another seven when it hit a fuel tanker at a service station in Ashdod, 30 km (20 miles) north of Gaza. Islamist militants in Gaza warned they would launch rockets at Tel Aviv's main international airport and warned airlines to stay clear.

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the Palestinian self-rule area of the West Bank, urged the United Nations Security Council to order an immediate ceasefire.

But Netanyahu said Israel's campaign “will continue until we are certain that quiet returns to Israeli citizens”. Israel had hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and there were “more to go.”

Israel's army chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said his forces were ready to act as needed – hinting at readiness to send tanks and ground troops across the barbed-wire boundary into Gaza, as Israel last did for two weeks in early 2009.

If Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, it would be the first since a three-week war with Hamas in the winter of 2008-09 when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. The Israeli military issued a daily summary on Saturday, saying it had managed to strike at “10 terror operatives, six of whom were directly involved in the launch of rockets at Israel at the time of the targeting”.

The statement added that 68 rocket launchers, 21 militant compounds and 18 weapons-manufacturing facilities had been hit and militants had fired almost 700 projectiles into Israel.

Rockets have reached deeper than ever before into the Jewish state, with some landing up to 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza.

CALL FOR CEASEFIRE

Abbas, who agreed a power-sharing deal with Gaza's dominant Hamas in April after years of feuding, called for international help. “The Palestinian leadership urges the Security Council to quickly issue a clear condemnation of this Israeli aggression and impose a commitment of a mutual ceasefire immediately.”

After the failure of the latest U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel, Abbas's deal with Hamas angered Israel.

Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport has been fully operational since the Israeli offensive began and international airlines have continued to fly in, with no reports of Gaza rockets – largely inaccurate projectiles – landing anywhere near the facility, inland from the Mediterranean coastal metropolis. The airport is within a zone covered by Iron Dome.

Fire was also exchanged across Israel's northern border on Friday. Lebanese security sources said two rockets were launched into northern Israel but they did not know who was responsible. Israel responded with bursts of artillery. Palestinian groups in Lebanon have often sent rockets into Israel in the past.

Israel's Gaza operation is the deadliest since November 2012, when around 180 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli air campaign to punish Hamas for missile attacks. That conflict was eventually halted with mediation from Egypt, then governed by Hamas's Muslim Brotherhood allies.

But Egypt, now ruled by the Brotherhood's enemies, is locked in a feud with Hamas over the group's alleged support for jihadi militants in Egypt's Sinai desert – something Hamas denies. Cairo said on Friday its “intensive efforts” with all sides to end the warfare has met only “intransigence and stubbornness”.

On Saturday, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza, which it had largely sealed since the July 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, to allow ambulances ferrying wounded Gazans for treatment into Egypt, as well as 500 tonnes of Egyptian food and medical supplies into the enclave.

Gaza militant group warns airlines it will target Ben Gurion airport


Islamist Hamas's armed wing has warned airlines that it intends to target Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport with its rockets from Gaza and has told them not to fly there, a statement by the group said on Friday.

The airport, Israel's main international aerial gateway, has been fully operational since Israel began an aerial offensive on Tuesday in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants intensified their cross-border rocket fire.

International airlines have continued to fly in, despite now-daily rocket salvoes at Tel Aviv that either have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system or hit areas where they caused no casualties.

“In the light of Israel's … attacks on the residents of Gaza Strip … The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” the statement said.

The group claimed earlier that it had already fired at least one rocket towards the airport on Friday but no militant rockets are known to have landed in or around the airport, which is well protected by missile interceptor systems.

A spokesman for Israel's airport authority said that a siren had sounded at Ben-Gurion and that all activity had stopped for about 10 minutes, but that the siren was part of a general alert in the Tel Aviv area and not a direct threat to the airport.

At least 99 Palestinians have died during Israel's four day-old air-and-sea offensive on Gaza as it attempts to halt rocket fire by militants into Israel.

Militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel reaching deeper into the country than ever before.

The militant group said it had issued the warning to the airlines so that they could avoid injury to their passengers.

A British Airways (ICAG.L) spokeswoman says all flights to Tel Aviv were running as planned.

German airline Air Berlin (AB1.DE), which offers daily flights to Tel Aviv from Berlin plus several times a week from Munich, said its “flights to and from Tel Aviv are currently being operated as planned.”

But passengers with flights booked for the period to July 18 could change their date of departure to a later date free of charge, a spokeswoman told Reuters in emailed comments, adding that the carrier was “closely monitoring the situation.”

A statement from Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) said the airline “continues to serve Tel Aviv normally.”

Jewish group leads protests blaming Israel for escalating violence


Protests against Israel organized by Jewish Voice for Peace drew 1,000 demonstrators in 15 cities, organizers said.

Protests took place in Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, among other cities, according to Rabbi Alissa Wise, a a member of the group’s rabbinic council. Jewish Voice for Peace is allied with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Sponsors of the Boston protest, which attracted about 100 people, included the American Friends Service committee, Grassroots International and Ads Against Apartheid, a group that has run an anti-Israel poster campaign on the Boston transit system.

After a rally on the Boston Common, the group, including students and members of faith and labor groups, marched through downtown and picketed briefly in front of three companies they say are complicit in the violence. One was Macy’s, which was targeted as part of a boycott campaign against SodaStream products made in a West Bank settlement, and TIAA-CREF, a retirement investment fund.

“We are here to condemn Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians, to mourn the loss of lives, and to hold accountable the corporations that enable this violence,” said Lisa Stampnitzky, an activist with the Boston chapter of JVP.

Boston’s Jewish community did not stage any counter protests.

“We’re devoting all our energies to supporting Israelis who are facing an impossible situation with a reprehensible enemy sworn to Israel’s destruction,” said Elana Margolis, assistant director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

A rally in support of Israel is being planned by the Boston chapter of StandWithUs, a national pro-Israel organization with a presence on college campuses, according to Aviva Malveira, a recent Boston University graduate who is now the group’s New England campus and community organizer.

“It’s important to speak out on behalf of Israel,” Malveira told JTA. “It’s unfortunate and sad that Jewish Voice for Peace aligns itself with an anti-Israel agenda. They blame solely Israel for the lack of peace and place no responsibility on the Palestinian leadership.”

Wise said that JVP mourns all of the victims of the conflict and that it would be shortsighted to view last month’s kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens as the launch of the current fighting.

“This is a conflict that goes back 47 years,” she said, referring to the 1967 Six-Day War. “To not see that context would miss the story.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who has led trade and academic delegations to Israel, said in a statement to JTA that the state’s residents extended their concern to all those in the region.

“It is difficult to imagine that only a few weeks after our most recent visit, sirens warn of rocket attacks from Gaza over Tel Aviv,” Patrick said. “We hold close in our hearts our friends and loved ones in the region, and all innocent Israelis and Palestinians who are living in fear as a result of the recent violence.”

Separately, Ads Against Apartheid issued a statement Thursday condemning the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority for taking down its pre-approved posters without prior warning, claiming it was the result of pressure from pro-Israel groups.

MBTA Spokesman Joseph Pesaturo in an email to JTA that after additional scrutiny by the transit authority the three posters were removed four days before they were scheduled to come down.

“The ad was deemed to be in noncompliance with the MBTA’s court-approved advertising guidelines,” Pesaturo said.

He said it was the responsibility of the agency’s advertising contractor to inform the ad buyer.

U.N.’s Ban: Hamas stopping rocket fire would stop escalation


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said an end to Hamas rocket fire was the only means of preventing an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

“Today we face the risk of an all out escalation in Israel and Gaza with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” Ban said Thursday at a Security Council session on the latest outbreak of hostilities.

Ban’s casting of the responsibility for ending the conflict principally on Hamas was unusual for a U.N. official.

Palestinian and Israeli representatives addressed the session of the council, the only body with decisions that have the force of international law.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, played the sound of a warning siren during his address. “Imagine having only 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter,” he said. “Now imagine doing it with small children or elderly parents or an ailing friend.”

Israel launched a counteroffensive on Thursday after an intensification of rocket fire. More than a hundred Palestinians have been killed so far in strikes by Israeli combat aircraft on suspected terrorist targets.

 

Israel OKs call-up of additional 40,000 combat reservists


Israel’s Cabinet approved the call-up of as many as 40,000 additional combat reservists.

The approval came Tuesday afternoon, hours after army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz requested the added troops with the start of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in an effort to stop a rocket barrage on southern Israel. Israel’s military is planning a possible ground invasion of Gaza, according to reports.

Also Tuesday, the Tel Aviv municipality said it would prepare and clean public bomb shelters as Hamas threatened on its official websites that it would fire rockets at the city. In addition, Israel Railways has halted service between Sderot and Ashkelon in both directions, where a significant number of rockets have been aimed, following orders from the Home Front Command.

The Palestinian Health Ministry on Tuesday afternoon reported that at least seven Palestinians were killed and 25 injured in an Israeli airstrike Tuesday on the home of a Hamas operative.

Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza have fired more than 130 rockets into civilian areas of southern Israeli since Monday night. In response, the Israeli military has targeted about 150 of what it calls “terror sites” in Gaza.