Israeli security forces and emergency personnel inspect the scene of a Palestinian car ramming attack near the Jewish settlement of Ofra near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 6. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Israeli soldier, 20, killed in suspected West Bank car-ramming attack


An Israeli soldier was killed and a second injured in a suspected car-ramming attack in the central West Bank.

Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, 20, from the West Bank settlement of Talmon, was killed in the attack Wednesday morning at a bus stop near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, located northeast of Ramallah. He served in the elite Golani Brigade.

The Palestinian driver of the vehicle, a silver Audi, was apprehended by other soldiers on the scene and detained. He was identified by the Palestinian Maan news agency as Malek Ahmad Moussa Hamed, 23, from the village of Silwad near Ramallah.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin mourned the soldier’s death.

“We have lost today a dear son, Elhai Teharlev, in the State of Israel’s ongoing struggle to ensure its security, and safeguard its citizens,” Rivlin said in a statement. “We will never allow terror to weaken us. Israeli society is strong, and we must stand firm in defense of our state and our land.”

Hamas praised the attack, calling it “a response to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people and a direct continuation of its heroism in the al-Quds Intifada,” the wave of violence, mostly stabbing and car-ramming attacks, that started in October 2015.

Meet the Israelis Who Battle Bigotry and Ignorance


This is the 9th year of the “Between The Lines: Voices From Israel: Stories Untold” tour (formerly the “Israeli Soldiers Tour”.) This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.

 

This tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, brings 12 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students to thousands on North American campuses, high schools, churches (including Hispanic), synagogues, community events and through the media.

 

During the tour, they related their personal experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code, often in the face of an enemy that hides behind its civilians.  Their stories from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria have never been heard before.

 

StandWithUs “Between The Lines” tour puts a human face to the IDF uniform, thus trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.

 

Itay and Ilan (Last names are withheld for security purposes) have recently returned back home from their tour, and agreed to share their experiences, the good and the bad, with us.

 

Itay is studying political science and communications at Bar Ilan University. He served in the IDF for five years as a human resources officer. His most recent role was in the Medical Corps where he continues to serve in his reserve duty.

 

One of Itay’s roles was to coordinate the construction of a field hospital to treat those wounded in the Syrian conflict. In addition to his studies, Itay works for the Ministry of Tourism as an assistant spokesperson and social media manager. In 2015, he participated in the Israeli delegation to South Korea as a part of the “Intergovernmental Youth Exchange Program.”

 

Ilan extended his Israeli Soldiers tour by speaking to Latino groups in Miami, Florida and then, in Mexico.  Born in Venezuela, he moved to Israel in 2010.  Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education and life have always been an example of multiculturalism and coexistence.

 

Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT. During his service, Ilan worked with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the life of Palestinian families.

 

Itay spoke in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest together with Yuval.  Ilan, who is also Director of StandWithUs Espanol and Mark traveled the Southeast.  The reservists were met by inquisitive audiences and an array of questions about Israel and the IDF.  But, every year, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stage a protest and for the second time, the University of Georgia was the target.  Ilan and Mark persevered and The Atlanta Jewish Times was present.

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

 

Itay:

It’s important to know what the IDF is REALLY all about: people who are defending their country but at the same time willing to help and treat anybody who needs it –- even people we may consider to be our enemies or they may consider us to be their enemies. The students we address are not necessarily aware of this.

 

The medical corps constructed a field hospital to treat the wounded from the Syrian civil war on Israel’s northern border. Thousands of Syrians received medical care that no one else offered them but Israel. The same happened in 2014 near the Gaza strip, only there Hamas denied its own people access to the hospital and the medical care that was offered to them. They even targeted the hospital with projectiles.

 

It is also worth noting that the IDF provides humanitarian aid not only in Israel’s region, but in the entire world: Turkey, Japan, Philippines and Haiti are just recent examples from the last years where our medical forces combined with search and rescue teams were sent to help in disaster struck areas.

 

Ilan:

I think it’s very important for people to have an opportunity to meet an Israeli and hear the reality from someone who actually lives there.

 

As a Venezuelan, I always wondered what the people from Israel think about the situation. Now, I have the opportunity to share my story – my Israel story – with people in other countries.

 

We realized that pro-Israel students need to hear our experiences, to receive more accurate information, and to build a connection to Israel through them.

 

Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?

 

Ilan:

During this tour, I had the opportunity to read every kind of audience: Jewish and non-Jewish, students who have never heard about Israel in their lives, anti-Israel students, Christian leaders, community members, etc.

 

I think we have an important message to transmit to everyone, but I was especially excited to address people who were hearing about Israel for the first time in their lives.

 

How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?

 

Ilan:

In Georgia, we had an anti-Israeli protest. Approximately 20 students rejected dialogue after hearing my experiences of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. They were so blinded by their hatred of Israel, that they didn’t realized they were violating the memory of their own victims. When we asked them to respect human life and not throw pictures of victims on the floor, they started placing them on tables.

 

To them and every other protester I say: the only path to peace is if we meet and discuss. Groups who decide to take unilateral actions, obstruct justice and eliminate responsibility from one of the parties, are not contributing to peace but encouraging hate.

 

Itay:

Criticism is important for every organization, including the government and the military in order to minimize errors, form new rules, improve for future times and hold people accountable for their actions.

 

That being said, the actions of ‘Breaking the Silence’ suggest nothing of the sort. They are promoting a political agenda under anonymous testimonies which cannot be verified.  Even channel 10 television – which is very critical of the current government policy – investigation revealed that out of ten testimonies, only two were completely accurate. The others were impossible to verify, not true or overly exaggerated. Unfortunately, these testimonies are being used abroad for the sole purpose of smearing Israel and the IDF.

 

Add that to the fact that they are being funded by European countries and organizations with a similar agenda and with an expectation that their money will provide results – it is very hard not to question not only their actions and goals, but the content of their material.

 

I ask you to remember one of Winston Churchill’s finest quotes, “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home.”

 

What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

 

Ilan:

For me Israel is an inspiration. It’s a country built by immigrants and minorities, built on the values of multiculturalism and coexistence….a country that helps others.

 

When I sought a way to transmit what I feel, I realized that sharing my daily dilemmas, the decisions and opportunities as an Israeli and especially an IDF soldier, was actually a good way to present Israel, the complexity of the Middle East and the incredible story of achievements of the Jewish people.

 

I think, people relate to Israel today because of its story of overcoming every single obstacle, and growing stronger every time. Our task is to create a connection between people’s every day obstacles, and Israel.

 

Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

 

Itay:

We were speaking in the Napa Valley, California.  During the Q&A, an 11-year-old wondered why we help those who have hurt us in the past, seek to hurt us today, hate us and view us as their enemies.

 

I explained that first and foremost, we are not fighting the people and we should separate them from their leadership. – even though they are taught to hate us. Why? Because we need to achieve the higher moral  ground. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who hate or teach hatred, but they are NOT the majority in Israel.

 

The true nature of a society is not determined by its extremists, but by its majority. Unfortunately, that’s the difference right know between the Palestinian and Israeli societies. I hope that one day we’ll see a change within the Palestinian education system. It’s an important element towards achieving peace.

 

Second, to achieve that higher moral basis, our values cannot be empty slogans. While some of our neighbors glorify martyrdom and death,  we say we praise the value of life.  We should transform our beliefs into actions, otherwise they don’t mean anything. This is our message of hope for peace. Yes, you may have hurt us in the past, but we are willing to overcome it even though it still hurts.  Our hand is reaching out for a better future.

 

Ilan:

In Jacksonville, Florida, we shared our story in a school located in a dangerous area.  We talked about the second Intifada and how Israel dealt with violence, and asked the students if they knew or, were ever affected by violence?  Every one of them raised their hands. As sad as that was, we created a connection between them and Israel by how we – and they – overcame violence.

 

How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?

 

Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself?

 

Itay:

It is well known that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, the recent despicable anti-Semitic attacks are not new to our people.

 

Anti-Semitism is almost as old as our religion exists. I cannot foresee the future, but I know that much has changed throughout the years:

 

For one, there wasn’t a Jewish state back then. There is a reason why our army was named “Israeli Defense Forces” – its purpose is to protect the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It’s important to understand that Israel is the home for every Jew around the world, even those who don’t live in Israel. It is a part of our responsibility because of the horrific past our people have endured.

 

That leads me to my second point which is: I believe most Israelis and Israel’s government condemn every act of anti-Semitism. We’re encouraging our allies around the world to denounce it and act against it. The Jews in the Diaspora are not alone and will never stand alone. I was moved by the actions VP Mike Pence took when he visited one of the vandalized cemeteries and by British PM Theresa May’s statement about anti-Semitism. Fortunately, they are not the only world leaders who condemn these kinds of actions.

 

Anti-Semitism is an old disease, and similar to many others, it might not perish completely from this world. That doesn’t mean we won’t fight against it wherever we encounter it.

 

Ilan:

I think the ideas that generated the Holocaust are still around us, and the line between an idea and a reality is very thin.  StandWithUs believes that education is the path to peace. I think education is the only way to stop hatred from spreading worldwide.

Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pick up truck near the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Aug. 1, 2016. Photo by Ammar Abdullah/REUTERS.

Syrian truck driver on road to Damascus reportedly killed by Israeli drone


A Syrian man was killed when the truck he was driving in the Quneitra region of the Golan Heights on the road to Damascus allegedly was fired on by an Israeli drone, Syrian media is reporting.

The Israel Defense Forces is not commenting on the alleged air strike, neither confirming nor denying the Syrian reports.

The alleged victim has been named as Yasser al-Sayed, with some reports calling him a terrorist member of Hezbollah and others identifying him as a civilian.

Hours before the strike, Syrian media reported that Syrian army forces had repelled an Israeli drone in the same area.

The actions come after the IDF confirmed carrying out aerial strikes in Syria and intercepting missiles launched at its aircraft from the ground on Thursday night.

No Israelis were hurt during the strikes Thursday night or from the anti-aircraft fire, the first time that Israel has used the Arrow anti-missile system.

According to the nrg news site, the strikes Thursday were against targets affiliated with Hezbollah, possibly on a weapons shipment to the Shiite terrorist group, which is based in Lebanon but is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces against rebels and Sunni militants.

The incidents on Thursday are reported to be the most serious between Syria and Israel since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago. At that time, Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Syria and Syria’s air defense system fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli planes.

Israel is believed to have carried out several attacks on Syrian soil in recent years, but usually refrains from confirming or denying reports on its alleged actions there.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in an interview with Israel Radio threatened to take out Syrian air defense systems.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said. “Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

IDF targets Hamas positions after rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel


JERUSALEM – Israel’s military targeted two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip hours after two rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

One of the rockets fired on Saturday landed near the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and the second appeared to fall in Gazan territory. The launches triggered the Code Red rocket alarm system.

No injuries or damage was reported in the attack on Israel. No casualties were reported in Israel’s strike on the Hamas targets later on Saturday.

On Sunday morning the Code Red alarm system sounded in several Gaza border communities. The IDF said it was a false alarm.

A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard at a site, which according to the Gaza police, was hit by an Israeli air strike, in the east of Gaza City. March 16. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS.

Israel strikes 2 Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire


Israeli airstrikes hit two Hamas positions in northern Gaza overnight Thursday in response to a rocket fired from the strip at southern Israel.

No damage or injuries were reported from the Gaza rocket strike, which struck an open area of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, near the Gaza border, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The Code Red rocket warning system did not sound in the area since it was determined that the rockets would fall in an unpopulated area.

The Palestinian news agency Maan reported there were no injuries from the Israeli Air Force strikes but three electric lines were downed.

The IDF said it holds Hamas responsible for any strikes emanating from Gaza.

Maya Avraham. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

Calendar: March 3-9, 2017


SAT | MARCH 4

UNPLUG L.A.

Join Reboot and Open Temple for an “Unplugged Party” in celebration of Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging. Your phone will be checked at the door. Step off the grid to listen to live music, play board games, visit the analog photo booth, and more. Event dedicated to the late Levi Felix, founder of Digital Detox and Camp Grounded; $3 of each ticket will be donated to Camp Grounded in his memory. 21 and older. 7 p.m. $18; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. nationaldayofunplugging.com.

A TOAST TO HEROES

Honor a group of 10 young Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers visiting Los Angeles who have been wounded in combat. Food, drinks and an open-bar after-party with a DJ spinning until midnight. All proceeds go to Lev Chayal’s program for wounded IDF soldiers. Black-tie attire. 8 p.m. VIP reception; 9 p.m. cocktails and buffet. $180 for individual reservations; $100 for young professionals ages 21 to 35. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Venue TBA. levchayal.com.

SUN | MARCH 5

ALONG THE GOLDENEH LINE: JEWISH LIFE AND HERITAGE OF NORTHEAST L.A. AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY

A chartered bus will take riders alongside the Metro Gold Line into the San Gabriel Valley on a tour that will focus on the area’s unique Jewish heritage and its contemporary community life. Wear comfortable walking shoes — the tour includes two miles on foot. Instructors include Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California since 1989, and Jeremy Sunderland, who is on the board of directors for the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Space is limited. Lunch on your own. 9 a.m. $58. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

NEFESH B’NEFESH ISRAEL ALIYAH FAIR

The ninth annual Nefesh B’Nefesh Israel Aliyah Fair offers the opportunity to gather aliyah information under one roof. Professionals will discuss financial planning and budgeting, choosing a community, building a strategic job search plan, navigating the health care system, buying or renting a home in Israel, and more. 10 a.m. for retirees and empty nesters; noon for students and young professionals. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. nbn.org.

“HIGH NOON: THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC”

cal-hign-noon“High Noon” is more than a Western; it is also a story about the Hollywood blacklist. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel will discuss his book about  screenwriter Carl Foreman, producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann and actor Gary Cooper, and how their creative partnership was influenced — and crushed — by political repression and agendas. Book signing to follow presentation. 2 p.m. $14; $10 for students and seniors; $6 for children; free for members. Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles.

THE LOS ANGELES BALALAIKA ORCHESTRA

The Los Angeles Balalaika Orchestra presents its 22nd annual concert, featuring the voice of Mark Goldenberg, cantor at Young Israel of Century City. 3 p.m. $35-$45. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (626) 483-2731. balalaikala.com.

“VISIONS FOR A SHARED SOCIETY: THE ‘TRIBES’ OF ISRAEL”

Elana Stein Hain, director of leadership education at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, will discuss the core values of some of the “tribes” that compose Israel today, and how a divided people build a shared society. Part of the Synagogue Collaborative Lecture Series. 4 p.m. $20. (Post-lecture dinner and discussion extra; RSVP only.) Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. shalomhartman.org/LAcollaborative.

“LABSCAPES: VIEWS THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE”

“Labscapes” presents vivid images from the mysterious and usually unseen wonders that exist under the powerful lenses of the microscopes of some of the world’s most renowned researchers at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. A special presentation by students will be followed by the grand opening. RSVP requested: jose@ats.org or (310) 254-9899. 5 p.m. presentation; 6 p.m. reception and exhibit. Through March 27. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. ats.org/labscapes.

MAYA AVRAHAM

Before joining The Idan Raichel Project, Maya Avraham was a widely sought-after backup singer for Israeli superstars such as Eyal Golan, Sarit Hadad and Shlomi Shabat. She will sing some of The Idan Raichel Project’s greatest hits as well as her own songs. 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“FROM SHTETL TO STARDOM: JEWS AND HOLLYWOOD”

This panel discussion features Vince Brook of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; David Isaacs, TV scriptwriter, producer and Emmy winner; Shaina Hammerman, Jewish film, literature, religion and cultural historian; Josh Moss, visiting assistant professor of film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara; and Ross Melnick, associate professor of film and media studies at UCSB. 6:15 p.m. dessert reception; 7 p.m. panel. Free. RSVP by March 3 at wbtla.org/shtetl or (424) 208-8932. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

TUES | MARCH 7

GOOGLE FOR GENEALOGISTS

Learn how to use Google Earth and Google Maps to gather information about where your ancestors lived, and how to educate yourself and meet other like-minded individuals (and perhaps relatives) using Google’s social media. Mary Kathryn Kozy, who has been researching her family history for more than 35 years, will speak at this meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. 7 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. jgscv.org.

THURS | MARCH 9

ELON GOLD

cal-elon-goldComedian, writer and actor Elon Gold kicks off the Purim weekend with a night of comedy, drinks and a DJ. Also featuring Alex Edelman. 8 p.m. $40. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (888) 645-5006. sabanconcerts.com.

“THE AUSCHWITZ VOLUNTEER”

Explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust at this event. Wine and cheese reception will be followed by a multimedia program and discussion about the Polish underground’s mission that sent officer Witold Polecki into Auschwitz to gain intelligence and build resistance among the prisoners. 7:30 p.m. $8. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 at the Yad Vashem. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Report on 2014 Gaza War slams Netanyahu, military leadership


Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and army chief of staff did not update the Security Cabinet about the serious threat of Hamas tunnels from Gaza, the nation’s state comptroller said in a report on the 2014 Gaza War.

The Security Cabinet did not have enough information about the threat posed by the tunnels to make decisions about how to proceed during the war, leaving the Israeli military unprepared, Yosef Shapira wrote in the 200-page report released Tuesday afternoon.

The government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide the military with clear objectives for the war and also failed in the one identified objective of what was dubbed Operation Protective Edge — to identify and destroy the tunnels. According to the report, which also scored then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, the Israel Defense Forces only destroyed about half the cross-border tunnels.

The report also criticized the Security Cabinet for not holding discussions on and dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the collapse of infrastructure including water and electricity.

The comptroller also criticized Netanyahu for failing to consider diplomatic alternatives in Gaza and not presenting such a possibility to the Security Cabinet for its consideration.

In the year-and-a-half prior to the Gaza War, the Security Cabinet held 33 meetings on Gaza, according to the report.

Yaalon called the report “political” and said that it “examines partial aspects of the complex campaign.” He also acknowledged that the Security Cabinet at the time was “a superficial, political and populist Cabinet. A Cabinet of leaks, of speaking with two voices – one in the room and one in public.”

Netanyahu defended the handling of the Gaza conflict, saying “The unprecedented quiet that has prevailed  since Operation Protective Edge is a test of the results.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu to resign.

“The report clearly reveals how Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Cabinet which he led failed in their role of understanding the threats, setting strategy, understanding the reality, properly preparing soldiers and civilians, particularly residents of the south,” he said.

30 under 30: Brocha Yemini and Chaya Israily


Opening their hearts to wounded Israeli soldiers

The 10 Israeli soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles in June with the fledgling organization Lev Chayal had been variously blown up, run over and crushed by rubble. One has his own death certificate as a souvenir of the time his heart stopped.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at their smiling faces in photos taken at Knott’s Berry Farm, in the Dodgers dugout and posing on Hollywood Boulevard.

The young men were enthusiastic and humbled by the experience — much like the two women responsible for bringing them there, Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini.

Preparation for the June trip began in February, shortly after the two childhood friends decided to create Lev Chayal, which translates to “heart of a soldier.” The idea came from a careful vetting of what organizations in L.A. already were aiding Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.

“There were other organizations taking care of the IDF part, the soldier part, the glory of the army, the ranks and the glam and glitz of it,” said Yemini, 24, sitting across from her friend at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Pico Boulevard. “We were like, ‘Let’s take a different perspective. ’ ”

The plan was simple: Create an opportunity for wounded Israeli soldiers to come to L.A. and relax while enriching the local community through their presence and their stories. While Israel amply honors its fallen soldiers, those who get back up from grievous injuries aren’t afforded quite the same attention, they said. “Their lives do go on, but they don’t,” Israily, 24, said.

Soon, the local pair began to assemble the necessary $75,000, along with the connections and resources they needed to make the June trip happen. It helped that Yemini’s parents, Rabbi Amitai and Fayge Yemini, are the co-directors of the Chabad Israel Center, which serves as a community center for Israeli Americans in Los Angeles.

They found people were eager to offer up anything they could. The owners of the Four Seasons hotel on Doheny Drive, Robert and Beverly Cohen, provided them with free rooms. Dodgers President Stan Kasten invited the soldiers onto the field at Dodger Stadium. Philanthropist Marvin Markowitz offered the two organizers funding and free event space for a gala dinner.

Preparations went on for five months, with the pair carefully balancing the effort with their work lives — Yemini is the director of Camp Gan Israel, the Chabad Israel Center’s day camp, and Israily runs a line of modest clothing, Solika.

As soon as the soldiers landed at Los Angeles International Airport, they were a hit. A photographer and videographer had been contracted to document the trip.

“Everybody at the airport was like, ‘What’s going on? Who are these people?’ ” Israily said.

Their semi-celebrity status persisted through public outings and trips to coffee shops, where bystanders were curious and eager to hear of the soldiers’ experiences. They told their stories to children at Camp Gan Israel and for a video that played at the gala.

Since the June trip ended, Israily and Yemini have begun planning for another one in February. And after that, they already have plans to travel to Israel to meet with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and supporters of their organization in the Knesset.

“We are incredibly grateful to everybody that opened up their doors, opened up their hearts, opened up their wallets, that believed in our mission, that believed in what we’re doing,” Yemini said.

Israily interjected, “It was a team effort.”

Netanyahu: Pardon soldier who shot downed Palestinian


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a pardon for the Israeli soldier who shot a downed Palestinian terrorist.

Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday in a military court.

“This is a difficult and painful day for all of us – and first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many soldiers and for the parents of our soldiers, and me among them,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted on Facebook and Twitter.

The statement also said: “I urge all citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, the officers, and the IDF chief. We have one army, which is the basis of our existence. The soldiers of the IDF are our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above dispute.

“I support a pardon for Elor Azaria,” the statement concluded.

Netanyahu joins many lawmakers in calling for a pardon for Azaria, including at least one member of the opposition.

President Reuven Rivlin’s office issued a statement saying that “requests for pardons are dealt with when submitted by the applicant themselves, or by one with power of attorney, or an immediate relative, following a conclusive judicial ruling.”

The Rivlin statement appears to have been issued following the calls from lawmakers and reports that at least one lawmaker had requested a pardon. It said a properly submitted pardon request “will be considered by the President in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities.”

Azaria, a medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, arrived on the scene following a Palestinian stabbing attack last March on soldiers in Hebron in the West Bank, a flashpoint for Palestinian violence against Jewish Israelis.

One assailant was killed and another, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was injured. Minutes later, while Sharif was lying on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head in a scene that was captured on video by a local resident for the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem. Azaria was arrested the same day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots by Azaria killed Sharif.

Prior to shooting Sharif, Azaria had cared for a stabbed soldier.

Making a home for lone soldiers fighting for Israel


A sign on a kitchen cabinet at the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers explains color designations for meat, dairy and pareve dishes. Near the cabinet, empty beer bottles and handles of alcohol line up like trophies on a shelf above the kitchen sink. A stack of magazines, including a Rolling Stone featuring a cover story about Leonardo DiCaprio, sits at the end of a bench next to a dining room table, within reach of a rifle with a scope latched to the top of the weapon.

The gun belongs to Levi. Eyes red, cheeks flushed, Levi (who, for security reasons, asked his last name not be included in the story) enters the Beit Shemesh house wearing his green Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uniform on a recent Sunday afternoon. The 19-year-old from Pico-Robertson is a member of Tzanhanim, a paratroopers unit, and he now lives in this house; he’s been in Israel since the summer of 2015, when he arrived in the country on a Birthright trip and never left. 

Levi immediately makes himself coffee and reflects on why he joined the Israeli army instead of the American military.

[Want to join the IDF? Three paths to service]

“I don’t think the [American] cause is as important as the Israeli cause. In America, we’re good, but in Israel, we’re fighting for our existence here,” he says. “I love the U.S. military, but they definitely need us more here.” 

Levi is one of 12 male soldiers living in the Beit Shemesh Home, and one of more than 6,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the Israeli army.

Levi, a lone soldier from Los Angeles, stands at a bus stop across the street from the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers. Photos by Ryan Torok

Wendy Serlin, 59, and Gayle Shimoff, 49, two olim (immigrants to Israel), established the house in November 2015, in response to the 2014 deaths of Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from Woodland Hills, and Sean Carmeli, from Texas, during Operation Protective Edge. The 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas exposed the world to the phenomenon of lone soldiers, members of the Israeli army who are serving without the nearby support of their immediate families. 

“[The deaths of] Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli — that sort of alerted the Jewish people to the fact of lone soldiers, that there are a lot of them and they are alone. We came up with all these ideas, invited people in the Beit Shemesh community, decided we would rent a home, get together a board and have guys live here,” Serlin, who is originally from Cleveland, said.

“This is their home away from home, during their 1 1/2 to three years of army service,” she said.

Levi falls into one of three categories of lone soldiers, an official classification for soldiers that determines the number of leave days and amount of money they earn during their service. Lone soldiers can be Diaspora Jews who join the Israeli army and don’t have any family in Israel to support them; some are Israeli orphans in the military, while the third group consists of soldiers from Charedi and religious families who join against the wishes of their parents.

“If a religious boy was disowned by his parents who don’t want to speak with him, he is considered a lone soldier,” said Eli Fitlovitz, co-founder and co-chair of Families of Lone Soldiers.

From left: Lone soldiers Adam and Yoseph; Avigail and Elidor, machrichim (counselors) of the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers; and lone soldiers Gavriel and Avi.

How and through what means the soldiers enlist in the army also often determines their housing situations. This reporter, for example, traveled to Israel on an Aug. 17 flight chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews immigrating to Israel (known as making aliyah); that flight carried more than 70 lone soldiers who, through the organization Tzofim Garin Tzabar, would be living on kibbutzim around the country during their first year of service, and afterward they will have the option to remain on the kibbutz or to live in their own housing. 

Because the residents of the Beit Shemesh home did not come to Israel via any organized group  — each soldier joined the army on his own — they were required to find their own housing. They each applied to live in the Beit Shemesh house, which is run under the aegis of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, an Israel-based organization that provides a variety of services to lone soldiers. To qualify, they had to undergo interviews with the house’s volunteer committee, whose members, like the soldiers, are olim. 

The goal of the house’s leadership was to find soldiers who would mesh well together.

Two soldiers share each of the bedrooms in the Beit Shemesh home, which mixes frat-boy like décor with kosher observance and the realities of military life. A pingpong table rests against a wall in the house’s courtyard, where Gavriel, a resident from South Africa who also asked his real name not be included here, has planted a tea garden. Tiny bits of hair were scattered on the patio next to the garden when this reporter visited, as several of the guys had just had their heads shaved by Elidor, who, along with his wife, Avigail, live in an attached unit and are the madrichim (counselors) of the house. Gavriel normally wears his hair long, so at this moment he was a bit self-conscious about his new haircut.

Two Californians live in the house. In addition to Levi, there’s Efraim, of San Diego, who was not at the house at the time of the Journal’s visit — it is rare that all 12 are there at the same time because, though they are all combat soldiers, with two of them serving in special forces, they belong to different units, and each unit runs on a unique schedule. Others are from Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Manchester, England.

The house is located in the Givat Sharett neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, “midway between Ramat Beit Shemesh and the original neighborhoods of ‘old’ Beit Shemesh,” according to press materials. It is a short train ride from Tel Aviv, an easy bus ride from Jerusalem. The bus stop is located across the street from the house, and the train station is a short drive away. A large shopping center is located at the train station. 

Beit Shemesh, divided between the newer neighborhoods of Ramat and old Beit Shemesh, is a quiet, predominately religious city filled with English-speaking olim who came for its affordability and abundance of schools and synagogues; the population now numbers approximately 100,000. The fact that the city is filled with olim creates a synergy between the residents of the city and the residents of the lone soldiers home.

“The majority of our friends in the neighborhood are English-speaking, and we understand where they [the soldiers] come from,” Serlin said.

On Shabbat, the city closes down. Walking around, it feels a lot like walking around Pico-Robertson.

The house is on a sloped block. A storage room is the first area one passes when walking onto the property. Inside, multiple laundry machines whirl with the dirty clothing of the soldiers.

“On Friday, the machines are always going,” Serlin said, leading this reporter into the house a few hours before Shabbat. 

An outdoor staircase leads to a patio area. Plants grow in pots and toilet bowls. A large piece of white paper with handwritten messages welcoming people to the house is taped to the wall at the entrance to the house. Inside is a mundane environment, with a kitchen, dining room area and a living room. The Netflix series “Black Mirror” is on pause on a television set. An acoustic guitar stands in the corner. 

Bedrooms are located on the first, second and fourth floors. The third floor has another lounge area, with a video game system hooked up to a television. The fourth floor is an attic that was recently converted into two additional bedrooms. When the house was launched, it housed only eight residents. 

Though the religious level of each of the residents differs, residents of the lone soldiers home are required to observe Shabbat and spend Friday night dinner in the neighborhood with a host family. On Saturday, they are left alone and eat meals that have been cooked for them by people in the community. 

Community support for the house is evident everywhere one looks, from the artwork created by children of the Beit Shemesh community — kids in the neighborhood recently had a bake sale raising $2,000 for the home — to the bins of donated socks, toothbrushes and other supplies that have filled their linen closet. Serlin handed Adam, 22, of Rockaway, N.J., his mail after giving this reporter a tour of the house.

“It’s my banking statement — I don’t need it. I have an app for that,” Adam said.

This is one of two homes for lone soldiers overseen by the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. The other is in Jerusalem. Both are currently full, but there are hopes to accommodate more. Brian Lurie, president of the recently launched U.S. Supporters of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, the organization’s American fundraising and awareness-raising arm, said the organization is considering creating an additional apartment complex for lone soldiers in Jerusalem.

“The goal is to do something really big,” he said.

Lone soldiers have been part of Israel’s military since the days of the Jewish state’s founding. Realizing Israel was short on experienced fighters before Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, David Ben-Gurion, then the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the future first prime minister, worked with the Haganah — the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces — to recruit soldiers from abroad, many of them World War II veterans. These soldiers were known as Machal, a Hebrew acronym for “Volunteers From Abroad.”

The Machal continue to be an important part of the lone soldier phenomenon. Soldiers from abroad interested in serving in the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens do so through the Machal programs. They serve side by side with all of the other soldiers in the IDF; Levi enlisted through Machal. 

Operation Protective Edge (in Hebrew referred to as “Miv’tza Tzuk Eitan,” or “Operation Strong Cliff”), also known as the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, was an important moment for many current olim. Hamas’ kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens led to Israel’s crackdown on the Gaza Strip, which led to the fighting that claimed Steinberg and Carmeli’s lives. The conflict also intensified Levi’s support for Israel. When pro-Palestinian groups demonstrated outside the Israeli consulate in West Los Angeles, Levi participated in counter demonstrations across the street on Wilshire Boulevard.

“I became more interested in Israeli politics and aware of lone soldiers,” he said. “I knew I wanted to [enlist] but had never been to Israel.”

Levi’s Birthright Israel trip was his ticket to Israel. After the 10-day excursion ended, he contacted the office of Machal. After four or five attempts to reach out to them, he succeeded in enlisting. He went through a couple of living situations that did not work out well before contacting the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which arranged for him to live at the home in Beit Shemesh during his service. Like all of the residents, he will remain in the house until a couple of months after he completes his 18-month service. If he decides to become a citizen of Israel, his service would potentially be extended. 

Levi, for now, said he does not know whether he will make aliyah after he finishes his service, but said he is happy he found the lone soldiers home.

“I get the privacy I need and the social interactions I want and the support,” Levi said. “So, this is the best house for me.”

Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers co-founders Gayle Shimoff (left) and Wendy Serlin. Photo by Ryan Torok

Serlin and Shimoff understand what it’s like to uproot one’s life and move to an unfamiliar country. Serlin, who has a master’s degree in social work, made aliyah more than 22 years ago and is now the mother of five kids, including a son who recently completed his three years of army service, as well as another child currently serving. 

“There wasn’t Nefesh when we made aliyah. It was hard. You had to want to be here. There were no perks, no fun flights, it was really hard. You had to stand in line for hours; there was bureaucracy, it wasn’t like how it is today,” Serlin said.

Shimoff, a learning disabilities specialist who made aliyah 21 years ago and is studying for a master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership at Hebrew University, has a son who recently completed army service and another currently serving in the IDF.

The two met while living at an absorption center in Ra’anana shortly after making aliyah.

They work with a committee of volunteers in overseeing the house. The house cost $60,000 to set up and has an annual operating budget of $60,000. They are also trying to raise $800,000 to purchase and renovate the home, which is for sale. Soldiers’ salaries from the army help cover costs. 

Serlin and Shimoff are confident the lone soldiers home fulfills an essential need for its residents, though they have not always received the gratitude from the parents of the soldiers that they expected they would.

“We thought we’d get responses from all the parents, ‘Wow, Gayle and Wendy, that is wonderful, thank you so much for taking care of our kids,’ and I think all of these boys — some of them are running away, some of them are running to, some of them aren’t interested in their families, some have great relationships with their families, but I wouldn’t say all 12 boys have amazing relationships [with their families, or that] all their parents are sending us chocolates and flowers every week,” Serlin said.

Take Levi, for example: “It took his parents a long time to accept him being here,” Serlin said.

Nevertheless, many people, including Serlin and Shimoff, at the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center and volunteers from the community, are working together to help these young men navigate the unusual experience of serving without their families nearby. 

“They’re 12 guys, and they have all different stories,” Shimoff said. 

“Some of them are positive stories; some of them are not positive stories; some of them are running away, some of them want to be heroes, some of them are trying to find themselves either religiously or emotionally, and by us providing this environment … [we’re] giving them independence and space … security and people they can trust.”

For information about how to support the lone soldiers home in Beit Shemesh, visit lonesoldiercenter.com/homebeits. For information about the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, visit lonesoldiercenter.com.

Three ways a lone soldier can join the IDF


There are three ways a lone soldier can serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

One is Mahal (mahal-idf-volunteers.org), which operates programs for non-Israeli citizens to serve in the Israeli military. Mahal is an acronym for “Volunteers From Abroad,” and its usage dates to Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Short on experienced soldiers, the newly declared Jewish state fighting for its existence recruited fighters from abroad, many of whom had recently fought in World War II. Those soldiers were known as Mahal. 

[FEATURE: Making a home for lone soldiers fighting for Israel]

Mahal has programs for nonreligious and religious participants, and requires a minimum length of service of 18 months. 

Young adults — men from 18 to 25 and women 17 to 20 — who have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) are required to serve in the IDF. Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps facilitate aliyah, making the bureaucratic process much easier, offers free chartered flights for olim (immigrants) throughout the year and runs a program for enlistees that partners with the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). 

The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program (lsp.nbn.org.il) was created with the “goal of providing assistance and support to new immigrants that are required to serve in the IDF,” according to the program’s website. Its funding comes from the FIDF and the Israeli government. Required service for a lone soldier who is an Israeli citizen is longer than for a lone soldier serving through Mahal. 

Many young adults who make aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh also participate in Tzofim Garin Tzabar, a partner program of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Garin Tzabar provides a more guided experience for olim required to join the military, as it places the olim on kibbutzim — adopted homes — across the country.

Garin Tzabar (garintzabar.org) events take place for the olim in their cities of origin before they embark on their aliyah journey. 

All lone soldiers in the IDF serve shoulder to shoulder with one another and with soldiers from Israel. Thus, they are expected to speak fluent Hebrew and are required to participate in intensive Hebrew courses, known as ulpan, before their service.

“Because the army is a unifying force … it’s an unofficial rule they all have to speak Hebrew,” Gayle Shimoff, co-founder of the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers, said. “There are plenty of English-speaking bilingual guys who are regular soldiers in the army who you think would help the lone soldiers, but they are not supposed to talk in English. They are supposed to talk in Hebrew.”

The army offers ulpan for free to all lone soldiers. Adam, a current lone soldier from Rockaway, N.J., bemoaned how difficult Hebrew can be. Nevertheless, he said in an interview, lone soldiers are “strongly motivated to do the best they can do.” 

Adam, 22, who when he is not on base lives in the communal home in Beit Shemesh with 11 other lone soldiers, comes from the state that is the most significant producer of lone soldiers, according to Mara Tannenholz, 24, a volunteer with the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which oversees the Lone Soldier Home in Beit Shemesh.

More lone soldiers come from the New Jersey cities Englewood and Teaneck than from any other American cities, she said in a phone interview. 

Many others come from Los Angeles, Tannenholz said, though she did not have the exact figures.

Michael Meyerheim, COO of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, said that about half of the more than 6,000 lone soldiers currently serving are from outside of Israel. The numbers, however, also include soldiers from Israel who are serving without family support. 

More lone soldiers from abroad come from the United States than from any other foreign country, Meyerheim said.

According to FIDF, which provides lone soldiers with financial, emotional and social support, “950 new lone soldiers join the army each year.”

Israeli army closes 13 investigations of alleged misconduct during ’14 Gaza war


The Israel Defense Forces has closed 13 criminal investigations of alleged misconduct during Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza “without undertaking any criminal or disciplinary proceedings.”

Among the cases closed by the IDF’s Military Advocate General noted in an update released Wednesday was an investigation of a widely condemned strike near a Rafah school, which the MAG determined had been carried out in compliance with proper procedures. Others included allegations of looting and of soldiers firing at civilian buildings and cars, intentionally damaging property or harming civilians in violation of IDF’s operational instructions.

The update said the Military Advocate General has opened 24 criminal investigations since 2014 stemming from Operation Protective Edge, leading to indictments against three soldiers accused of looting and of aiding and abetting looting — no judgment has been rendered in the cases. The remaining investigations, it said, are “still ongoing” or awaiting review.

Ongoing investigations include an incident in which a civilian allegedly was abused and robbed by Israeli soldiers.

The update said the MAG has received complaints and reports concerning 220 alleged incidents, of which 80 were closed after preliminary examination because “the actions of the IDF forces involved did not give rise to reasonable grounds for suspicion of criminal behavior.”

“However, in relation to some of these incidents, the MAG recommended reviewing operational methods in order to assess whether any changes should be made. In certain cases that were closed, the MAG found that no involvement of IDF forces could be identified in regard to the incident.”

Israeli forces raid West Bank weapons factories as part of crackdown


Israeli security forces shut down six illegal weapons manufacturing factories in the West Bank in what the army said was the biggest such operation of an ongoing crackdown.

The raids conducted jointly by the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and Israel Police took place Monday night in Bethlehem and Hebron.

“Last night, after research and analysis, we decided to clamp down on several warehouses and factories that manufacture guns and arms,” a senior army officer told JTA and other journalists in a briefing. “From six of these seven warehouses we found advanced weapons technology.”

Fifty-four weapons were seized, along with gun parts and 22 lathes. Two suspects were arrested, including a major arms dealer, according to the IDF.

The army has been targeting weapons production, dealing and possession in the West Bank amid a wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis that started in October but has slowed in the past several months.

More than 140 arms manufacturers and dealers have been arrested, 49 weapons production machines and 29 factories shut down, and over 300 weapons confiscated since October, according to the IDF. Each factory typically houses one or two production machines, though sometimes there are more, the senior officer said.

“The IDF will continue to decisively act against the production infrastructure and trade of weapons and thwart terrorism,” the IDF said in a statement.

The Israeli army believes there are hundreds of factories, many in garages and homes, and thousands or tens of thousands of illegal weapons on the streets of the West Bank. A single factory can produce up to dozens of weapons a day, according to the senior officer. Only Palestinian security personnel may legally possess weapons.

While eradicating illegal weapons in the West Bank is not feasible, the army said it seeks to make them harder and more expensive to acquire. Palestinians currently can buy a homemade Carlo Gustav submachine gun for less than $1,000. A Carlo, as it is known, was among the guns seized Monday, along with 39 pistols, six sniper rifles, four hunting rifles, two flare guns, a pellet gun and a shotgun, the army said.

“The main thing we try to do is stop the situation where every 15-year-old can put his hands on a gun and murder civilians,” the senior officer said.

The Carlo has been used in the majority of shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel since the “lone wolf intifada” began. More than 30 shooting attacks have been carried out this year with illegal weapons, according to the IDF. Notably the Carlo, which is inaccurate with limited range, was used by two Palestinian cousins in June to shoot up the Max Brenner cafe in the popular Sarona outdoor shopping center in central Tel Aviv. Four Israelis were killed and several seriously injured in the terrorist attack.

Thirty-five Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in Palestinian stabbings, car rammings and shootings since October. At least 214 Palestinians have been killed, some two-thirds of them during attacks and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the army.

Frustrated or unstable Palestinians, most of them young men, are conducting independent attacks because the army has successfully dismantled the terrorist organizations that once operated in the West Bank, the senior officer said.

The army has developed its capabilities to clamp down on illegal weapons in the West Bank in response to their use against Israelis. Weapons are also smuggled from Jordan and stolen from Israeli army bases, the senior officer said. As yet, the army is not aware of any rockets manufacturing in the West Bank, as happens in the Gaza Strip, but has thwarted past attempts by terrorist organizations to start, he said.

In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority also has conducted operations against illegal weapons in the areas of the West Bank under its control. The weapons are mainly used in crime and conflict between Palestinian clans and, in most cases, terrorists use weapons they or family members already own, the senior officer said.

Asked about security coordination, the senior officer said the Palestinian Authority, which governs much of the West Bank, acts according to its own interests. But he said the army is supportive of the P.A.’s efforts and believes reducing the number of illegal weapons held by Palestinians serves both sides.

IDF carries out dozens of air, artillery strikes on Gaza


The Israel Defense Forces carried out dozens of air and artillery strikes on Gaza, but said it did not intend to escalate violence between Israel and Hamas.

Some 50 strikes on Sunday night and early Monday morning came in response to a rocket attack from Gaza earlier in the day on the southern Israeli city of Sderot. The attack, which struck a residential neighborhood near the city’s train station and Sapir College, caused no casualties.

IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said the strikes targeted Hamas positions in Gaza.

“When terrorists in Gaza attack people during summer vacation, their intentions are clear — to inflict pain, cause fear and to terrorize,” Lerner said.

Unnamed IDF officials described as “high-ranking” told Ynet: “While these strikes are unusual, we have no intention to escalate. There are still 1,000 trucks full of goods slated to enter Gaza today.”

Ynet quoted an official as saying that the hits Hamas took on Sunday night were “the hardest they’ve taken since Operation Protective Edge,” the IDF’s 2014 effort to stop rocket fire from Gaza that escalated into a conflict with the terrorist group that lasted nearly two months. The official said the sites were predetermined and it was not known how much damage they caused.

Earlier Sunday, Israel responded to the Sderot rocket with strikes on two targets in northern Gaza. The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack on Sderot.

“We hold Israel responsible for the escalation in the Gaza Strip and we stress that its aggression will not succeed in breaking the will of our people or dictate the terms of resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

On Sunday, Hamas held an anti-Israel military parade through the streets of Rafah in southern Gaza. Hamas military leaders said they would renew hostilities against Israel and that Israeli prisoners held by Hamas will receive the same treatment as Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

Two Israelis — Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima — who entered Gaza on their own in 2014 have not been heard from since and are believed to be held by Hamas. In addition, the remains of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, killed in the 2014 Gaza war with Hamas, are being held in Gaza.

Israeli combat soldiers to receive full college scholarships


Israeli combat soldiers will receive full scholarships from the military to pursue a university degree or professional certification.

The scholarships will be funded by the Israel Defense Forces, as well as the Friends of the IDF and the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, the Israeli Hebrew daily Yediot Acharonot reported.

In a recent meeting, IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Gadi Eisenkot asked Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to help him find the funds to offer such scholarships to only to combat soldiers, but to all soldiers after their service, according to Ynet, the English-language sister publication of Yediot.

Soldiers who are new immigrants, minorities or from disadvantaged families also will receive scholarships for higher education, according to the report.

The scholarships for combat soldiers are expected to cost about $60 million a year, and an additional $130 million a year if all released soldiers are included, according to the report.

IDF reevaluating relationship with rabbi who called homosexuals ‘perverts’


The Israeli army reportedly said it will reevaluate its collaboration with the head of a pre-military yeshiva in the West Bank following controversial comments he made, including calling homosexuals “perverts.”

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who runs the Bnei David academy in the Eli settlement, has been the subject of public condemnation since a video speech surfaced on Sunday with the perverts comment. He also claimed the Israeli army is promoting a socially liberal agenda and said the Reform movement isn’t Jewish and in fact is an offshoot of Christianity.

According to the Israel Defense Forces’ announcement Tuesday, the reevaluation will include Levinstein visiting military bases and lecturing students, Ynet reported. The IDF said it will make a decision after Levinstein provides a clarification on his comments, according to Ynet.

However, the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagi Topolanski, canceled a visit to the academy on Tuesday in the wake of Levinstein’s controversial remarks.

The Ministry of Defense has called on Bnei David for clarification as well, Ynet reported. The yeshiva receives half of its funding from the ministry, according to Ynet.

A video of Levinstein’s speech at a conference that reportedly gathered 700 rabbis and educators from the National Religious sector appeared on the haredi Orthodox Hebrew-language website Kipa.

“There’s an insane movement here whose members have lost the normalcy of life,” he said. “This group makes the country mad and has now penetrated the IDF in full force – and no one dares open their mouth and speak out against it.

“At Bahad 1, there are lectures by perverts,” he said, referring to the main training base for Israeli army officers, with perverts meaning homosexuals.

Levinstein also said: “Under the framework of pluralism, soldiers and officers are taught to refer to [LGBT people] as ‘proud,’ but I don’t dare call them that… ‘perverts’ is what I call them.”

Arab-Israeli lawmaker calls Israeli soldiers ‘murderers,’ spurring impeachment inquiry


An Arab-Israeli lawmaker called Israeli soldiers “murderers” on the floor of the Knesset, spurring talk of impeachment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The lawmaker, Hanin Zoabi, also demanded in her remarks Wednesday afternoon that the Knesset apologize for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for the incident.

Zoabi, who made the “murderers” remark as visiting soldiers were observing the parliament from the visitors’ gallery, also demanded Knesset lawmakers apologize to her. She has been censured by the Knesset, including when she participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and recently after she met with Palestinian terrorists’ families and stood for a moment of silence in their memories.

“I demand an apology for all the political activists on the Marmara and an apology to MK Hanin Zoabi for inciting against her for six years and hounding her. You all need to apologize, all of the members of Knesset here,” Zoabi said. “Those who murdered need to apologize, you need to apologize.”

After she was shouted down by fellow Knesset members, some of whom rushed the podium in order to remove her by force, Zoabi asked to return to the microphone to apologize. But instead, she said: “As long as there is a blockade [on Gaza], I will object to the blockade, and there’s a need to organize more flotillas.”

Knesset members responded by calling Zoabi “liar” and “filth,” and saying “You belong in Gaza.”

Zoabi’s statements came a day after Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal restoring ties that had been severed following the Mavi Marmara episode.

Lawmakers Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union party and Amir Ohana of Likud filed complaints against Zoabi with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, which is expected to meet and discuss the incident.

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said he contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblot to discuss starting the process of impeaching Zoabi from the Knesset.

“She has crossed the line in her deeds and her lies, and has no place in the Knesset,” he said in a statement that was posted on Facebook.

Netanyahu apologized for the deaths in a 2013 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The apology was a Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Home of Palestinian who killed US college student demolished


The Israel Defense Forces demolished the home of the Palestinian terrorist who killed an American college student during a March stabbing attack in Jaffa.

The demolition of the family home of Bashar Massalha took place Monday evening in the West Bank village of Kfar Haja, near Nablus, in conjunction with the Civil Administration and the Border Police.

Taylor Force, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University on a school trip to Israel, was killed and 10 people were injured in the stabbing rampage. Massalha, 22, reportedly was killed by a police volunteer while lying on the ground after being captured. The army is investigating the incident.

Force was a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 2009 and served as a field artillery officer from 2009 to 2014 at Fort Hood in Texas.

The attack occurred near the site where the wife and grandchildren of visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden were having dinner on the Tel Aviv beach.

 

Israel’s first transgender army officer celebrates pride at embassy event


When Shachar was 2 years old, she asked her parents to keep her hair short. When she was 5, she asked them to throw out every skirt in her closet.

When Shachar was 16, he realized he was a boy, and when he was 19 he got the army, Israel’s most daunting bureaucracy, to add a pocket to his uniform shirt — a small but significant difference signifying maleness.

Shachar, now a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces, spoke here Monday night at a gay pride month event at the Israeli Embassy, explaining in hesitant and nervous tones how he became its first transgender officer. (Active duty personnel in the IDF do not reveal last names.)

“This is the right of the whole world, to be free and to be whoever we want to be,” Shachar said, with an unmistakable nod to last week’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando carried out by a man who pledged fealty to the Islamic State.

The mass shooting, which killed 49 people, hung heavy over the event. Also speaking was Omar Sharif Jr., the grandson of the Egyptian actor, who said the previous week had been a “nightmare” for him both as an Arab and a gay man.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.,  said he had asked himself in the wake of the massacre whether he should add gays to his designation of Jews as the “canaries in the coal mine” whose vulnerability signals threats to civilization.

“You are not alone,” Dermer said, addressing the LGBT community. “Israel stands with you.”

But the inaugural pride event at the embassy, including Shachar’s participation, was planned long before the Orlando massacre. The event was celebrating the Israeli army’s evolution in its treatment of gay and transgender soldiers.

Since the 1960s, Israel’s military has been progressive by default: Excluding gays from service never made sense in a small country facing a perpetual threat. Transgender people are banned from the U.S. military, though Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last year enacted a de facto moratorium on dismissals and created a working group to study the issue.

For Israelis, it seemed baffling that exclusion was the norm in the United States and Britain until recent years. If you had the skills and the willingness to save lives while risking your own, the country’s leaders reasoned, it seemed odd in Israel’s reality to fret about whom you liked to date.

Still, that didn’t mean the army was a bastion of openness. Gay troops reported harassment and in some cases were denied sensitive security clearance. Partners were denied benefits.

In the early 1990s, the Knesset passed laws granting gays full equality in the military and in other sectors, and a 2013 Times of Israel analysis showed the brass embracing the openness. Some of that trickled down to troops, while in other sectors anti-gay bias persisted.

How Shachar came out as a transgender male illustrates how, in recent years, the army is committed not just to removing barriers but to changing attitudes.

Shachar, soon to turn 23, enlisted five years ago, and struggled whether to do so as a man or woman. In the end he chose the latter, but on the bus ride to his training base from Bakum, the massive sign-in base in central Israel, he chafed at having to wear a woman’s uniform, which is cut differently and with one pocket, not two.

“It was the first and only time I wore a woman’s uniform,” Shachar told JTA in an interview before his appearance at the embassy event. “I rode in women’s clothes.”

Policy was policy, and he was unable to get his superiors at the training base to allow him to wear the men’s uniform. One of his commanders, however, came up with a compromise: Shachar would be permitted to wear the looser-fitting work uniform even when the more formal uniform was required. The work uniform, designed to withstand grease and dirt, is unisex.

“He beat the system,” Shachar said with a smile, referring to his commander, using Hebrew slang for soldiers who are adept at bypassing outmoded regulations.

Still, Shachar was concerned enough about attitudes that although his superiors knew his secret, he kept his gender identity a secret from his peers. As a male he must serve four years, with an option to extend.

He performed well in the army’s behavior analysis unit, which advises the military on organizational and training issues, and his commanders recommended him for the officer’s course. While he was in the course, they advised him to come out to his peers.

“I realized this secret will be a problem if I want to have an open relationship with my soldiers,” Shachar said.

A week before graduating, he came out to his fellow cadets. When he graduated, he was listed as a male on his certificate.

Shachar has begun hormone therapy and will undergo surgery, subsidized by the army – a function of Israel’s health system, which mandates insurance for gender change as essential.

More recently, he has adopted a semi-official role counseling other transgender soldiers and has advised the IDF’s chief gender officer, Brig. Gen. Rachel Tevet-Wiesel, on transgender issues.

Among the changes he has recommended, and which have been implemented: In Hebrew, a language with greater gender-specificity than English, personnel now speak of soldiers according to their gender identification rather than their birth gender. Commanders take into account whether transgender soldiers would prefer to sleep on or off base.

Transgender males join religious males as a minority entitled to a beard exemption. For transgender men, “a beard is part of your personality,” Shachar said, stroking his own.

And then there’s the uniform: Upon request, recruits will be handed a uniform according to their gender identity. For Shachar, that has meant two shirt pockets since he graduated the officer’s course.

“For me,” he said, “the difference was like between heaven and earth.”

2nd Gaza terror tunnel discovered on Israel border in a month


The Israel Defense Forces said it uncovered a Hamas-built terror tunnel on Thursday that runs from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel.

The tunnel, which was found along the border with Israel, marks the second terror tunnel running between Gaza and Israel discovered in the last month, the IDF said in a statement. The military said it was uncovered as part of its “extensive counter terror efforts” in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 war against Hamas in Gaza.

“This tunnel was built by Hamas in order to infiltrate Israel and execute terror attacks against the people of southern communities,” the IDF said in the statement. “The IDF will continue its counter terror activities to uncover and neutralize Hamas’ offensive tunnels.”

The IDF said the mortar attacks carried out in the last two days by Hamas on the border were directed at Israeli troops conducting operations to target Hamas’ terror activities.

Israeli troops come under fire on Gaza border


Israeli troops came under fire Tuesday on the border with Gaza hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the border and remarked on its quietness.

An Israeli army engineering vehicle was hit in the fire from northern Gaza and damaged by the bullets, the Israel Defense Forces said. There has been no claim of responsibility from Gaza.

Several hours earlier, Netanyahu had visited troops stationed on the southern Gaza border with the IDF chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and the Southern Command chief, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir.

Netanyahu noted that it has been two years since Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“These are the two quietest years that we can remember since the Hamas attacks,” the prime minister told the troops at the border, according to a statement issued by his office. “We know that this is due to your hard work. And we trust you. And we are proud of you.”

Soldier who killed subdued Palestinian charged with manslaughter


The Israeli soldier who was captured on video shooting an already downed Palestinian assailant in the head was charged Monday with manslaughter.

The charge in Jaffa Military Court marked the first time in over 10 years that an Israeli soldier has been charged with manslaughter for a killing that took place during field operations, according to Haaretz.

Also on Monday, a gag order was lifted on identifying the soldier. He was named as Elor Azaria, 19, of Ramle. Azaria is a member of the Kfir Brigade, an Israel Defense Forces infantry division whose specialties are counter terrorism and urban warfare.

Azaria last month shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron, a West Bank city that has been a focal point of a seven-month wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis. He arrived on the scene after al-Sharif and an accomplice had stabbed Israeli soldiers and the accomplice had been killed.

The soldier has said that when he shot al-Sharif, who was supine and unarmed, he feared the Palestinian might be about to detonate an explosive.

Last week, the military prosecutor said a video of the incident shows that Azaria “was not as moved and agitated as he claimed.” The prosecutor also confirmed that the autopsy showed that the soldier’s shot to the head was what killed the assailant.

Meanwhile, a rally scheduled for Tuesday in Tel Aviv in support of Azaria will go forward without its headliners.

On Monday, the popular singer Eyal Golan said he would not participate, a day after saying he would sing at the rally to support the soldier and his family.

“I decided yesterday to go and support the soldier and embrace his family. I never thought to go against the IDF chief of staff, whom I greatly admire. I never wanted to go against the IDF, which is the people’s army,” Golan said in a statement.

“To my regret, a part of the public took this to a place of values ​​and democracy, while all I wanted was to do was sing and embrace, in the name of art and myself as a singer, as a person. Unfortunately, I see that there are those who take my desire into the political realm, as though I am declaring war against the army.”

He called on the soldier and his family to “stay strong.”

Singer David D’Or also canceled his participation, citing the politicization of the event and a conflicting engagement.

The rapper Subliminal on Monday said he would participate in the rally.

Gaza terror tunnel into Israel discovered


A Hamas-built tunnel from Gaza into Israel aimed at executing terror attacks has been discovered, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

The tunnel is the first to be found since Operation Protective Edge, the summer 2014 Gaza War, according to the IDF, which worked in conjunction with the Shin Bet security service in discovering the tunnel. The IDF said it has destroyed the tunnel openings on both the Israeli and Gazan sides.

In a statement, the IDF said the tunnel was built by the terrorist organization Hamas “in order to infiltrate Israel and execute terror attacks against the people of the southern communities.” In a statement Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “investing considerable capital” in countering the tunnels, and that the effort “will not end overnight.”

“Israel will respond strongly to any attempt to attack its soldiers and civilians,” Netyanyahu said. “I am certain that Hamas understands this very well.”

But Hamas vowed that the destruction of this tunnel did not signal an end to conflict, according to the Times of Israel.

“What the enemy has discovered is only a drop in the sea from what the resistance has prepared to defend its people, to liberate the holy places, its prisoners and land,” Hamas’s military wing said in a statement Monday.

The 2014 war, which saw more than 2,100 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis die, was fought largely over the tunnels. Following several attempted infiltrations into Israel, the IDF invaded Gaza hoping to root out the tunnel network, resulting in brutal battles across the coastal territory. Israel withdrew after destroying or otherwise eliminating the threat of some three dozen tunnels.

The tunnel discovered Monday began in a southern Gaza residential neighborhood, according to Haaretz. On the Israel side it is located between the border fence and Israeli military bases, and was about 100 feet below ground.

It is not known when the tunnel was constructed and how many branches it has.

Israeli army holds drill near Gaza to prep for hostage situations


Israel carried out its largest civilian drill near the Gaza border since the 2014 Gaza war.

The drill at Kibbutz Erez Friday brought together the Israel Defense Forces, police, Magen David Adom medics, the fire department and others in a simulated Hamas attack on a kibbutz near the border. Citing a Channel 2 report, the Times of Israel said the simulation involved terrorists taking hostages and then being overpowered by troops in the kibbutz dining hall.

Israeli officials have said in recent days that while they do not anticipate a new war in the near future, they are stepping up security measures and adding troops near the border.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh reiterated Friday the Islamist group’s commitment to fighting Israel.

“Our message to the prisoners is a message inked in blood. The rifle and the tunnel are our commitment,” Haniyeh said at a Gaza rally, the Times of Israel reported.

Hamas has expanded its elite fighting unit to 5,000 soldiers, but has faced setbacks in building rockets, in part because Egypt has closed tunnels that enabled materials to be smuggled from there into Gaza, according to the Times of Israel.

Israel’s vicious video


BDS is the Next Big Fear gripping the Jewish world.

But I want to devote this column to something terrible happening to Israel that has nothing to do with the international movement to Boycott, Sanction and Divest. What I’m worried about is just as terrible, if not more so — because it is something Israel is doing to itself.

I’m talking about the erosion of democracy.

The latest example — and there are many — happened two weeks ago. A video released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem from March 24 shows the death of a Palestinian terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, who, along with an accomplice, had just stabbed and wounded two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. As Israeli medics load the wounded IDF soldier into an ambulance, al-Sharif can be seen alive, lying wounded and disarmed on a Hebron street. Then, as an ambulance passes by, an IDF soldier shoots al-Sharif in the head. 

That should be a shot heard round the Jewish world. 

It is disturbing that the Israeli soldier disobeyed IDF protocol. It is appalling that a soldier’s voice can be heard cursing the Palestinian as a “dog” just before he’s shot. It is frightening that right after, the soldier who allegedly shot the terrorist — whose name is under a gag order — is shown in another video shaking hands with Baruch Marzel, a devoted disciple of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Marzel is the man who in 2000 threw a Purim party at the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the religious extremist who perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.

The soldier in the videos was arrested and faces a manslaughter charge in the Palestinian’s shooting. Nevertheless, it is positively disheartening that a recent poll shows the majority of Israelis consider that IDF soldier a hero. It is not the soldier whom a majority of the Israeli public is angry with — it’s his IDF commanders who detained him and charged him with violating army protocol. 

Responding to the outcry, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot wrote an unprecedented letter to all soldiers last week, which was published in Israel’s newspapers.

“The IDF places the responsibility for fulfilling the mission in your hands — to protect the country,” Eisenkot wrote. “The commanders, with myself at their lead, shall continue to support every soldier who errs during the heat of battle against an enemy endangering the lives of civilians and soldiers. However, we shall not hesitate to exercise the law with soldiers and commanders who deviate from the operational and ethical criteria according to which we operate. Preserving the spirit of the IDF and its values is not a privilege, it is a duty, in order to maintain the IDF as the people’s army in a Jewish democratic state.”

Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon immediately condemned the shooting, ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet attacked Eisenkot for the letter. Protesters stormed the courthouse where the soldier is being held, demanding his release. Ministers circulated fliers around the defense headquarters denouncing Eisenkot and calling for his resignation.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a majority of Israelis side with the soldier. Facing the constant threat of terror, many Israelis feel knife-wielding terrorists deserve what’s coming to them.  But it is dangerous and unprecedented for ministers and their minions to turn against the IDF commanders who seek to prosecute the soldier. 

“If soldiers are getting commands from the outside, from ministers and agitators,” professor Yoram Peri, a former adviser to late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said at a conference this past week at Brandeis University, “the IDF will collapse. And if the IDF collapses, Israel collapses.”

Turning the IDF into the enemy is to turn against the country’s founding principles. And that has been happening with alarming frequency not just among the mob, but at the highest levels of government.

Over the past few years, Israel’s lawmakers have sought to increase control of the legislature over the judiciary, weaken the rights of Israel’s Arab minority, and limit overseas contributions that support the activities of nongovernmental organizations, like B’Tselem and New Israel Fund, whose points of view they don’t agree with. None of this is brand new: Back in 2011, a law went into effect exposing anyone who calls for a boycott of settlements to a lawsuit. 

“Right-wing Knesset members do not understand that real democracy means not only majority rule,” Labor MK Avishay Braverman, former president of Ben-Gurion University, wrote in 2011, “but protection of free expression, respect for the rights of minorities and a constant struggle to preserve the principle of separation of powers, as well.”

Israel’s supporters abroad tend to ignore the inside-baseball maneuverings of Knesset lawmakers, but they shouldn’t. Bills like these strike at the core of what the vast majority of American Jews care about when they support Israel. 

The vicious video is stark evidence that there is another Israel, in which democracy is under siege, in which every part of the phrase “the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state” is a target of contempt. Israel’s external enemies, from Iran to ISIS to BDS, pose a serious threat, yes. But nothing like this.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Netanyahu asks Kerry to declare Israel does not engage in extrajudicial killings


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked John Kerry to publicly state that Israel does not carry out extrajudicial killings, after a group of U.S. lawmakers asked the Secretary of State to investigate such claims.

Meantime, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the lead lawmaker making the request, rebuked Netanyahu for his initial response to the revelation of the letter, saying the Israeli leader misunderstood the law in question, which requires defunding military units underwritten by U.S. government funds should they be found in violation of U.S. human rights norms.

The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu made the call to Kerry on Friday.

Netanyahu in a statement Wednesday said the February letter by Leahy and 10 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to investigate alleged human rights abuses by his nation’s military should instead be directed at Palestinian inciters.

“Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them,” said the statement.

“Where is the concern for the human rights of the many Israelis who’ve been murdered and maimed by these savage terrorists?” he asked. “This letter should have been addressed instead to those who incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism.”

Leahy, responding Thursday to Netanyahu, said there was no parallel, because the United States does not fund Hamas and other terrorist groups targeting Israel.

“The Prime Minister of Israel knows – and it should go without saying – that the United States does not provide weapons or other aid to Hamas or any other terrorist group, and that no nation more strongly condemns and works to eradicate terrorism worldwide than does the United States,” Leahy said.

“There are multiple laws prohibiting such aid to Hamas and other such groups, and one reason Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid is to help defend against terrorist attacks,” the statement said,

He also said that the law underpinning the letter’s request, named for Leahy, who authored it, targets specific military units, and not entire countries, and only when it is established that the government in question has not adequately investigated the alleged abuses.

“The Leahy Law, which has existed for nearly 20 years, applies uniformly, worldwide – no country is exempt – and it applies to specific military personnel and units, not to general security forces, when U.S. aid is involved,” Leahy said.

“It has led to the suspension of U.S. aid to military personnel and units found to have committed abuses in many countries when governments fail to punish those responsible, and only when those governments themselves have failed to act,” he said. “This is only fair to U.S. taxpayers, and it is necessary in upholding the rule of law that our country stands for.”

The letter, first reported by Politico, cites Amnesty International reports alleging the “extrajudicial killings” of at least four Palestinians, men and women. Among those named are Fadi Alloun, who stabbed a 15-year-old Jewish teen and was shot and killed during the chase to apprehend him; Saad Al-Atrash, who was shot and killed as he tried to stab a soldier in Hebron, and Hadeel Hashlamoum, a Palestinian woman who was shot to death after arriving at a Hebron checkpoint with a knife.

The original letter, sent in February, also asks Kerry to investigate similar allegations in Egypt.

Soldier in West Bank shooting to face charges of manslaughter, not murder


The soldier caught on video shooting a supine Palestinian terrorist in the head will face charges of manslaughter, not murder, a military court decided.

The military tribunal met on Thursday and made the determination, according to reports.

The decision comes two days after the prosecutor told the tribunal it was working to determine the exact charges, and asked that the soldier continue to be held in military prison.

The soldier has still only been identified by his initials, as his identity remains under a gag order. He was held on murder charges on March 25 for shooting a Palestinian wounded after stabbing an Israeli soldier in Hebron one day earlier.

Knesset members from the Arab Joint List MKs condemned the downgrading of charges against the soldier, saying the decision “proves once again that such incidents must be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal.”

“This is a soldier who committed a criminal act of murder, as is clearly seen in the video, and the decision was influenced by the comments of the prime minister, who asked that the family of the soldier be considered,” Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi wrote in a joint statement, adding that the IDF should “investigate and punish the soldiers and officers and medical staff who stood by and did not lift a finger either before or after the murder.”

The soldier’s arrest has set off a national debate in Israel that has enveloped the country’s leaders. On March 24, the day of the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the soldier’s conduct “does not represent the values of the IDF.”

The soldier’s parents and politicians to Netanyahu’s right, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, defended the soldier and criticized Netanyahu for insufficiently defending Israel’s troops during a wave of terror attacks.

On Monday, Netanyahu wrote on Facebook that the soldier’s father’s words “touched my heart” and wrote that he trusted the military investigation would be “fair to the solider.”

The prosecutor in military court said the soldier shot the Palestinian stabber in the head though he was down on the ground and no longer a threat.

The soldier arrived at the scene several minutes after the terror attack and acted independently, the Israel Defense Forces found in an initial investigation. The soldier’s attorney has said that he was concerned that the assailant was wearing a bomb and was planning to blow it up.

The military says the downed terrorist had been checked for explosives, though the Magen David Adom emergency medical service disputes this.

Military investigators say the soldier is cooperating and replies to their questions, but has refused to take a lie detector test, Haaretz reported.

Meanwhile, the left-wing human rights group B’Tselem said that its Hebron volunteer that caught the soldier shooting the downed Palestinian stabber on camera has been called in for questioning by police, the Times of Israel reported.

Right-wing activists filed a civil complaint against the volunteer, identified as Emad abu-Shamsiyah.

The complaint alleges that he conspired with the two Palestinian stabbers in last week’s incident in Hebron.

Why 3 videos of a West Bank shooting are roiling Israel


It began as an all-too-common story: A Palestinian assailant in the contested West Bank city of Hebron stabs and wounds an Israeli soldier. Israeli forces shoot him dead.

Hours after the incident Thursday, a political and moral firestorm engulfed Israel. A video showed a soldier executing the already incapacitated attacker. One day later, after condemnation from the highest reaches of Israel’s government, a second video appeared to show that the attacker might have still posed a threat. In response, the IDF released results of an investigation indicating the soldier was at fault. Then, a third video was released showing the soldier shaking hands with a far-right activist after the incident

The dueling views of the clash are the latest installments in a running debate over how far Israeli soldiers should go in responding to the ongoing wave of Palestinian knife attacks. The incident has raised questions about the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement, how the army should treat soldiers who break protocol and — within Israeli society — the limits of criticism of the IDF.

Here’s what happened, how it’s played out and what it says about Israel’s response to the terror wave.

A video showed an IDF soldier killing an already incapacitated attacker

On Thursday morning, two Palestinian men armed with knives attacked an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron, lightly wounding him. Nearby soldiers shot the two men dead.

But a video taken by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem shows that one of the attackers was killed only after the attack, while he was lying on the ground. In the video, an Israeli soldier approaches the scene, cocks his gun, aims and shoots the man as an ambulance passes by. After the shot, blood flows from his head onto the pavement.

The IDF arrested the soldier in the incident’s wake, and senior Israeli officials criticized the soldier’s response. On Friday, the army charged the soldier with murder.

“What happened today in Hebron does not represent the values of the IDF,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday. “The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.”

Right-wing Israelis are defending the soldier, and say the attacker may have still posed a threat

Backlash soon followed the criticism. Four-fifths of posts about the shooting on Israeli social media support the soldier, according to Buzzilla, a social media analytics startup. And a video of the attack released one day later seemed to corroborate the claim that the attacker could still be dangerous. In it, paramedics urge people to stay away from the attacker, as he could be preparing to detonate explosives.

 

צפו: תיעוד חדש מהתקרית, תומך בגרסת החייל כי היה חשש להמצאות מטען על גוף המחבלקרדיט: הצלה יו”ש

Posted by ‎רוטר.נט – סקופים וחדשות‎ on Friday, March 25, 2016

Politicians to Netanyahu’s right have criticized him for rushing to condemn the incident and for insufficiently supporting Israel’s troops. On Saturday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Facebook that officials should withhold criticism until the IDF finishes its investigation. Bennett and Netanyahu argued over the incident at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, according to Israeli reports.

“Are we out of our minds?” Bennett wrote. “We’re at war. A war against cruel terror. It’s possible the soldier erred. It’s possible he didn’t. It’s possible he felt that the terrorist had an explosive and could detonate it at any time, and by shooting him he would save lives and prevent a subsequent attack.”

In response to the criticism, the IDF released the results of its investigation thus far, which indicate that the soldier arrived at the scene only several minutes after the terror attack and acted independently. His officers had checked the attacker and rejected the possibility that he had a bomb.

On Sunday, a third video surfaced showing the soldier shaking hands with far-right Kahanist activist Baruch Marzel after the attack.

“On the professional front, we have found that the [other] soldiers acted appropriately, and we praise their actions and their quick foiling of the terrorists,” IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz wrote on FacebookSunday. “On the values front, after an initial investigation by the commanders, we have found that this is a severe incident.”

The video comes amid criticism of Israel’s response to a wave of stabbing attacks

Netanyahu is hardly the first to criticize Israeli soldiers’ response to the terror wave. Since its outset last year, perceived oversteps in the IDF’s response to the stabbing attacks has drawn criticism from leaders both within and outside of Israel.

Since September, more than 200 Palestinian stabbing attacks have left 34 Israelis dead and hundreds wounded, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Israeli forces have killed more than 200 Palestinians, most of them attackers, according to news reports. Centrist and right-wing Israeli politicians, such as Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, have encouraged soldiers to kill attackers on the spot. 

The State Department, as well as Sweden’s Foreign Ministry, have criticized Israel for a disproportionate response to the attacks. Even IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot told high-schoolers last month that he “doesn’t want a soldier emptying a magazine on a girl carrying scissors,” while Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon saidthe next day that “We need to know how to win and still remain human.” Eizenkot, in turn, was criticized for not defending his soldiers. 

The problem is not with the IDF’s rules of engagement, but rather with how they’re enforced, former Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben Meir told JTA. He said “99.9 percent” of IDF actions are appropriate, but that the army needs to make a concerted effort to educate soldiers about conduct in fighting terror and to enforce norms.

 

“When there’s continual terror, it creates pressure and tension, so what we need to learn from this situation, the most important thing, is to keep the rules of engagement,” said Ben Meir, who heads the National Security and Public Opinion Project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “If everyone does whatever they think, everything will fall apart.”

New video of Hebron shooting suggests Israelis thought Palestinian had explosive vest


In a newly public video that documents the scene of Thursday’s controversial shooting of a Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, an Israeli can be heard warning that the Palestinian may be wearing an explosive vest.

Army Radio published the video on its website and Twitter feed on Friday. In it, paramedics are seen carrying the soldier wounded by the Palestinian terrorists when someone out of the camera frame, which the army purposely blurred, says, “He apparently has an explosive on him, pay attention! Nobody touches him until bomb disposal arrives.”

Four seconds later, one of the paramedics carrying the soldier — a man who 20 seconds earlier had said, “That terrorist is still alive, the dog. Don’t let him get up!” — cries in a panic, “He’s alive! Somebody do something!”

The video then abruptly ends.

A separate video published Thursday by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem shows an Israeli soldier shot the supine Palestinian in the head while he lay unattended on the pavement.

The incident in Hebron took place shortly after the Palestinian terrorist and a fellow assailant stabbed an Israeli soldier in the area. The other assailant was immediately killed, while the wounded terrorist was felled. In the B’Tselem video, the wounded Palestinian can be seen lying on the pavement and slightly moving his head, which had blood around it. A minute or so into the video, a soldier shoots the prone Palestinian in the head.

The incident triggered an immediate inquiry by the Israeli military police, and the soldier was arrested and questioned in what is being considered a murder investigation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon were among those who condemned the soldier’s actions. Netanyahu said the incident “doesn’t represent the values of the Israel Defense Forces.”

On Friday, the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, said he strongly condemned the apparent “extrajudicial execution” of the Palestinian.

Under questioning, the soldier said he fired at the terrorist because he feared he would set off an explosive device. He said his unit has been briefed three weeks ago on a Hamas team planning to fire on troops and set off explosives. His lawyer said the video proves he acted in accordance with the rules of engagement for preventing immediate threats.

The Ma’an news agency identified the Palestinian terrorists killed in the incident as Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif and Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, both 21-year-olds from Hebron.

 

Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, told Army Radio, “Had the terrorist been wearing an explosive vest, the soldier would have been considered a national hero.”

Israel, US holding major air defense drill


Israel and the United States are holding a major air defense drill in Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. European Command launched the exercise, called Juniper Cobra 2016, on Sunday to improve cooperation between them. The exercise is held about every two years and lasts for several days. This is the eighth time the drill has been held since 2001.

During the exercise, over 1,700 U.S. service members, civilians and contractors will join with the IDF in addressing computer-simulated challenges that Israel could face, the IDF said in a statement.

Planning for the exercise began over a year ago and is not related to any specific events or developments in the region, according to the IDF.

“Support for Israel’s defense has been an integral part of U.S. policy in the region for decades, and this exercise has, and will continue, to directly support that policy,” said Maj .Gen. Mark Loeben, director of exercises and assessments at U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. “This exercise is our nation’s premier exercise in the region, and EUCOM’s highest priority exercise for 2016.”