From left: Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, DF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, and moderator Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for ME policy at Brookings

We need to ‘seize opportunity’ with Trump, Palestinian official says


Conditions are ripe for a regional peace initiative given President Donald Trump’s interest in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians with the backing of Arab countries, says IDF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, who was involved in every round of negotiations since the Oslo Accords, including in the years 2013-2014 on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

During a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, hosted by the Israel Policy Forum in New York on Wednesday, Herzog said that one of the reasons the most recent regional peace initiative (in 2016) fell apart was because the Obama administration didn’t want to be part of it. “I think they did not believe that this would yield results. To my knowledge, both sides – the Israelis and Palestinians – did not trust the [Obama] Administration to be the leading part of that initiative and the administration didn’t want to be part of it,” he explained.

The principles of the initiative were agreed upon during a secret peace summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Aqaba, according to a report by Haaretz. The proposal later served as a basis for talks between Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog on joining a national unity government. As reported by Haaretz, the plan was laid to rest after the coalition talks fell through in late 2016.

During Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in February, the two leaders agreed on reviving that plan with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf region.

“This administration is willing to involve the region in the peace process,” said Herzog. “I still don’t know how they are going to design the process. I don’t know if they have a strategy yet. We just have to wait and see. But it’s clearly a priority for this administration.”

Following a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday, Trump said, “I’m working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and I think we’ll be successful,” The President called Abdullah a “tireless advocate” for a peace settlement “and he’s going to help me with that and help me at the highest level. And we will be consulting with him closely in the days ahead.”

Rajoub, after expressing regret at some of his past statements and promising to be more cautious in the future, agreed that the Palestinians need to “seize this opportunity” with the Trump Administration to renew peace talks. Asked if the Palestinians would agree to enter into negotiations without a full settlement freeze, Rajoub told Jewish Insider, “The settlements, believe me, brother, its existence is a threat to the state of Israel. We are talking about two states – with two territories. Why expand it? Listen, I think it’s the time to freeze all settlement activities. Believe me, it’s a benefit to the Israelis like it’s a benefit to the Palestinians.”

According to Herzog, Trump has leverage on the Palestinian Authority to bring them to the negotiation table if Israel follows through with the new policy restraint in settlement activity. “I think the Palestinians will demand a freeze,” Herzog told Jewish Insider after the event. “However,  I believe that if the Trump Administration pushes them to enter negotiations even with Israel just restraining settlement activity, I don’t think they have an alternative. I do think Trump has leverage over them. You don’t want to mess with him. And since he prioritizes the peace process and wants a deal, he has leverage on them. They will have to do with some kind of restraint, and if he pressed them they will follow.”

The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades cadets marching in the town square of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip on June 15, 2015. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Hamas hangs 3 accused of collaborating with Israel in killing of commander


Hamas hanged three men in Gaza accused of “collaborating” with Israel.

The death sentence was carried out Thursday by the terror organization that controls the coastal strip.

The men were accused of being involved in giving information to Israeli military intelligence to aid in the assassination of a top Hamas commander, Mazen Fuqaha, late last month in Gaza, which Hamas blames on Israel. Israel has neither affirmed nor denied involvement in the killing.

The men, aged 32, 42 and 55, were charged with providing information on the location of Hamas operatives and military sites over the past three decades. Hamas said they were allowed to defend themselves as provided under Sharia law.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the executions and said they were illegal because Hamas did not get the permission to execute from P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the hangings.

“The abhorrent executions by Hamas authorities of three men in Gaza deemed to be collaborators project weakness, not strength,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the organization’s Middle East division, said in a statement. “Hamas authorities will never achieve true security or stability through firing squads or by the gallows, but rather through respect for international norms and the rule of law.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders asks envoy nominee David Friedman whether some funds for Israel should go to Gaza


Sen. Bernie Sanders asked David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, whether he would back using funds earmarked for assistance to Israel to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Sanders in a letter he handed Friedman after they met Wednesday also asked whether he thinks the tax-exempt status of groups that fundraise for settlers should be reviewed. JTA obtained a copy of the letter on Thursday.

The questions in the letter are significant as they suggest the path forward for Israel policy among progressive Democrats.

Sanders has emerged as a de facto leader of progressives following his insurgent but unsuccessful campaign last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. In perhaps the best-received speech over the weekend at the annual conference of J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, Sanders pushed the theme that pro-Israel Jews need not hesitate to criticize Israeli government policies.

His letter outlines three questions for Friedman: whether he supports a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the appropriateness of an ambassador having deep involvement in the settler movement as a fundraiser and advocate, as Friedman does; and regarding Israeli assistance.

Two states has long been Democratic policy and for 15 years was official U.S. policy until Trump retreated into agnosticism on the issue when he met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The second two points, however, venture into areas that Democrats have yet to embrace.

“As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination [of] their tax-exempt status?” Sanders asked.

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

J Street has advocated for withdrawing tax-exempt status for groups that fundraise for settlements. Other pro-Israel groups – including some of J Street’s allies on the left – oppose the position, in part because it could trigger far-reaching consequences for all nonprofits on the left and right while turning tax-exempt status into a political battlefield.

Sanders also asked Friedman whether “a portion” of the $38 billion in defense aid to Israel over the next 10 years under an agreement signed last year by former President Barack Obama “should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials” to Gaza.

Aid to Israel in Congress and the pro-Israel community has been sacrosanct, and no president has seriously proposed cutting it since Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. Subsequent presidents used short delays in delivery of assistance and the amount that the United States guarantees Israel’s loans as means of leveraging pressure on Israel, but assistance has been untouched.

Sanders cast the proposal in part as one that would help secure Gaza by stabilizing the strip. But it comes at a time that Republicans in Congress are proposing cutting assistance to the Palestinians as a means of pressuring them into direct talks with Israel and pushing the Palestinian Authority to end subsidies for the families of jailed or killed terrorists.

Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, did not reply to a request for comment. His ambassadorship is controversial in Congress and in the Jewish community because of his past involvement with settlers, and because of the rhetoric he has used to describe Jews who disagree with him.

Enemies and economics: Doing business at the Israel-Gaza border


In his disquisition on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Dec. 28, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the “dire” humanitarian situation in Gaza. On this point, he was accurate, noting that “Gaza is home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of people enduring extreme hardships with few opportunities.” 

Kerry added that “1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million are in need of daily assistance. … Most have electricity less than half the time and only 5 percent of the water is safe to drink.”

He rightly blamed Hamas, which, instead of building economic infrastructure and taking care of its people, “continue to re-arm and divert reconstruction materials to build tunnels, threatening more attacks on Israeli civilians that no government can tolerate.” 

What Kerry failed to mention — though he made a passing reference to the “closing of crossings” that have choked off supplies from Gaza — is that for the past decade, Israel has consistently and judiciously provided for Gaza’s needs, through an import-export nexus at their border, known as Kerem Shalom.

Since 2006, when Israel imposed an air, land and sea blockade on Gaza — a response to Hamas launching rockets into southern Israel — Kerem Shalom, nestled on the border between Israel, Gaza and Egypt, became a lifeline for the 1.8 million living in the strip. Much of the time, Israel is solely responsible for the flow of goods going in and out of Gaza. This is not either country’s wish, of course; but Israel took measures to protect itself, and ever since, has had to face the unique predicament of providing for her enemy.

Over the past decade, Israel and Egypt tried sharing responsibility for this effort, but Egypt has proven a temperamental partner and often closes its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, shutting down trade completely. 

When this happens, Israel finds itself — sometimes for months— totally responsible for Gaza’s civilian needs. 

Imagine bearing sole responsibility for stimulating your enemy’s economy — for providing its civilians with water, gas, electricity, medical supplies, building materials, even butter. Imagine also, the task of operating an import-export point in which you cannot trust your trade partner, your trade partner does not trust you, and you must ensure that the tons of goods that pass through on nearly a thousand trucks each day do not contain materials that can kill you.

Welcome to Kerem Shalom, ground zero of this operation.

“We don’t want any photographs of dogs, scanners or soldiers with weapons,” the Israeli official managing Kerem Shalom on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Defense warned me when I visited there last month at the invitation of the government.

“This is a special mission to support an enemy people,” he declared, and for security reasons could not divulge his name. “Most [Gazans] are innocent, but Gaza is occupied by Hamas terrorists.”

He pointed to a collection of mortar shells and rocket parts that sit on a table at the back of his office — strewn about like collectibles. “We’ve been hit by Gaza; we’ve been attacked by Gaza; and we have to serve Gaza,” he said.

Each day, 200 people work at Kerem Shalom, including 75 Palestinians from Gaza, paid by the Palestinian Authority. “There’s no trust between sides, but we have to work together,” the official said.

In this tense operation, workers on either side unload each truck and the driver is sent away. Goods are loaded onto a second, on-site truck, and put through a series of security inspections — massive scanners capable of scanning 100 tons of goods in seven minutes, then Malinois wolf-dogs and, finally, human beings. After goods pass inspection, they are loaded onto a third truck belonging to whichever side is their destination. “Everything here is risk management,” the official said. “Nothing that can hurt Israel can come through here.”

Part of that risk management — for Israelis — includes deciding how many “dual-use” materials they should allow into Gaza. Seemingly innocent items such as cement, for example, can be used for building housing or building tunnels. 

Last August, Israeli authorities intercepted a shipment of commando knives hidden among tools. Other checkpoints in Israel have intercepted electrodes (hidden in butter), ammonium chloride (disguised in table salt) and wet suits (believed to be for a seaborne attack) — all on their way
to Gaza. 

Nevertheless, business at the border is booming: In 2012, 69,000 trucks delivered goods through the crossing; in 2016, that number rose to 190,000, according to statistics from the Ministry of Defense. 

Kerem Shalom hardly makes Gaza perfect. Residents have electricity for only eight hours per day (though those infamous Hamas tunnels were powered 24/7). There’s also high unemployment, inflation and a black market that makes regular goods unaffordable for most people.  

Kerem Shalom is a bittersweet compromise for both parties, wherein the risks are high and the benefits, measured. In a better world, it wouldn’t have to exist at all, and the blockade would end. 

It would have been nice if Kerry had acknowledged Israel’s delicate balancing act between security and civility. Israel’s policies toward Gaza may not be charitable, but they are compassionate; something the world never sees when foreign journalists only swoop in to cover conflict. The situation is not ideal, but it is humane.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Trump’s triumph: Netanyahu is in a good mood


Love him or loathe him, when Benjamin Netanyahu walks into the room, everyone pays attention. 

Bibi could be in a good mood, or a bad mood, or a little bit of both, but he is always an energy vortex: the center and the star, chest out, chin up, basking in the limelight.

Last week, I was in the room when he entered with the force of a wind tunnel. I was among a group of Jewish journalists from the United States, Europe and Latin America who were invited to Jerusalem at the invitation of his government and watched as Bibi used his charismatic power to polarizing effect. 

In a stunning switch from his usual apocalyptic diatribes — including, most notably, to the U.S. Congress — Bibi was in a triumphant, optimistic mood. During a 30-minute, carefully planned press conference, with questions and questioners selected in advance, the Israeli prime minister decided to flout the rules and go off script. 

We could ask him anything we wanted, he said.

But when Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward, introduced the group and attempted to ask her first question, the impatient prime minister interrupted. 

“Is this a speech or a question?” he asked. 

He dismissed her inquiry about anti-Semitism in the U.S. — whether from the alt-right or the far left — as a “fringe phenomenon” and pushed the conversation where he wanted it to go.

“After you ask me all these things, I’ll tell you a few things,” he said in his deep, velvety voice. “You might ask me whether something is changing in the world about Israel. What about Israel’s isolation? You gotta ask me that! If you don’t, I’m gonna ask it: Israel’s growing isolation in the world. We have to talk about it.”

He caught our group off guard when he challenged about 50 journalists to guess how many world leaders he is scheduled to meet with in 2017. “Isolation” implies not many, but Bibi didn’t really want us to guess — he wanted to brag.

“Two hundred and fifty!” he exclaimed. 

This new Bibi wasn’t pounding the table about Israel as pariah state, or holding up graphs about nuclear proliferation red lines. He was proclaiming the Jewish state as the world’s most popular. He was eager to enumerate a list of recent accomplishments, including lucrative trade deals with Asia and renewed ties to Latin American leaders who want to “change their relationship to Israel.” Then, he borrowed a play straight from Fidel Castro’s playbook and drew our attention to a PowerPoint slide about Israel’s record-shattering dairy cows. 

Occupation be damned! Israel now truly can call itself the Land of Milk and Honey.

But things didn’t come across as so sweet to Bibi’s audience, an informed and impassioned group who follow the prime minister’s every move and weren’t buying his bravado. 

“I’ve seen the prime minister many times interact with journalists, diplomats and other officials and I’ve rarely seen him act in such a mean-spirited manner,” an Israeli journalist, who asked not to be named because he covers the prime minister, told me. “He appeared annoyed, arrogant, irritated … and he seemed not interested in what people had to say and what they care about. He just wanted to get his talking points across.”

“He turned our press conference into his press conference,” an Austrian journalist agreed. “He’s the master of the show, not us.”

“I was entertained,” a Dutch television reporter confessed at dinner. 

The Americans were thoroughly disgusted. The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt recalled another occasion, many years ago, when Bibi was dismissive of the Jewish press. Rosenblatt said he was in the room for back-to-back press conferences in New York, one for mainstream media and the other for Jewish journalists, and watched Bibi go on a charm offensive for the likes of Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, only to appear listless and gloomy for the Jewish outlets. 

How strange that a prime minister who fancies himself “the leader of the Jewish people” would behave so erratically and offensively when he has home-court advantage. Rather than a show of respect and appreciation — he had invited us there, after all — we got a show of swagger and superiority.

“I think for right-wing populists in Europe, Bibi is a sort of role model,” the Austrian journalist said, referring to well-documented ties between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and one of Austria’s far-right political leaders. “Because of his rhetoric, because of his behavior to the press, and [because] he’s survived any scandal that’s ever taken place here.”

If I hadn’t been to the Gaza border earlier that day, on a visit coordinated by Netanyahu’s own government, I might be more excited about the astonishing dairy cows. But Israel still faces real threats and harsh choices. So while there are many reasons to celebrate her wonders, there also are reasons for her leader to show a little modesty. 

But instead of destroying golden calves, Bibi has become one. The day of our press conference, Tel Aviv sculptor Itay Zalait erected a 14-foot golden effigy of “King Bibi” in Rabin Square — a statement-making art installation that captured worldwide attention and drew comparisons between Bibi and dictators like Saddam Hussein. The prime minister’s supporters roundly condemned the stunt and the statue was toppled quickly.

But the artist’s point was made: If Bibi is more than merely a modern statesman and sees himself as the leader of the Jewish people, he is heir to the leadership tradition of Moses — who was “more humble than any other person on earth.” 

Signing trade deals doesn’t obviate the lessons of Torah.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Jeremy Ben Ami and Morton A. Klein talk Israel, Palestinians, settlements and the two-state solution


Teenage daughter of Jerusalem light rail attacker released from detention


The teenage daughter of the eastern Jerusalem gunman who killed two Israelis in a shooting spree in an attack on a light rail stop was released by Israeli security forces.

Eiman Abu Sbeih, 14, was released on Sunday, a week after the attack, by Israeli security forces, on condition that she stay away from Jerusalem for two months, not give interviews and not post on social media, Ynetreported. Her family also was fined about $650. Her 18-year-old brother was arrested over the weekend and her twin brother also remains in custody, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The teen was arrested on Monday, hours after a video of the teen  praising her father, Misbah Abu Sbeih, 39, of the Silwan neighborhood, went viral on Facebook.

“We deem my father as martyr,” Eiman said in the video, according to Maan. “We hope he will plead for us before God on judgment day. … I am proud of what my father did.

“We’re very happy and proud of our father,” she also said. “My father is a great man. Our relationship, as father and daughter, was excellent.”

Abu Sbeih shot and killed at least one person at the Ammunition Hill light rail station in northern Jerusalem, then continued shooting as police pursued him on Oct. 9. Officers ultimately shot and killed the assailant, who had been expected to report to an Israeli prison at the time of the attack to serve a four-month sentence for assaulting a police officer in 2013.

The Hamas terror organization in Gaza claimed Abu Sbeih as one of its operatives and praised his “operation.”

Rocket from Gaza strikes southern Israel for second day in a row


A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck Israel for the second day in a row.

The rocket fired Thursday afternoon landed in an open area in a southern Israeli community near the border with Gaza. No injuries were reported.

It triggered the Code Red rocket warning system in communities near the border with Gaza, sending residents scurrying for bomb shelters.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Reports from Gaza on social media said the Israel Defense Forces were retaliating.

On Wednesday, a rocket fired from Gaza landed on a residential street in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. No injuries were reported, though two residents, ages 15 and 60, were treated for shock at a nearby hospital. The road, as well as cars parked nearby and houses near the landing site, was damaged.

About an hour later, Israeli tanks reportedly shelled Hamas targets in northern Gaza. Later in the day, Israeli Air Force jets also hit a number of Hamas posts in northern and southern Gaza, according to the IDF.

Israel holds the terrorist organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza. Late Wednesday, the Islamic State-affiliated Ahfad al-Sahaba-Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis terrorist group claimed responsibility for that day’s attack.

In mid-September, Israeli airstrikes struck three Hamas targets in northern Gaza in response to a mortar shell fired from Gaza into Israeli territory. In August, the IDF carried out dozens of air and artillery strikes on Gaza after a rocket fired from the coastal strip struck a residential area in Sderot.

Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift


Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

2nd Gaza humanitarian worker indicted for assisting Hamas


A United Nations humanitarian aid worker in Gaza used his position to provide material assistance to the terrorist efforts of Hamas, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.

Waheed Borsh, 38, was indicted in Beersheba District Court on Tuesday for assisting Hamas. It is the second indictment of a Gaza Palestinian aid worker accused of assisting Hamas in the last week.

Borsh was arrested on July 16 by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police, the Shin Bet said in a statement issued Tuesday. The statement said Borsh confessed that he carried out activities that aided Hamas.

Borsh, from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, has worked for the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, in Gaza as an engineer since 2003. His areas of responsibility include demolishing houses damaged during armed conflicts and clearing the rubble from sites after demolition.

The UNDP, one of the world’s largest multilateral development agencies, conducts development and rehabilitation projects for the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip. The projects include assisting in the rehabilitation of housing damaged during armed conflicts.

The Shin Bet said its investigation of Borsh discovered that he had been instructed by a senior member of Hamas to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas’ military interests.

In one such activity last year, he helped build a military jetty in the northern Gaza Strip for Hamas naval forces using UNDP resources, the Shin Bet said. Borsh also persuaded UNDP managers to prioritize the rehabilitation of housing in areas populated by Hamas members in response to a request by Hamas.

Borsh, who told investigators that there are other Palestinians employed by aid organizations that are working for Hamas, also disclosed information on Hamas tunnels and military bases that he had been exposed to during his work in Gaza, the Shin Bet said.

The Borsh case “demonstrates how Hamas exploits the resources of international aid organizations at the expense of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip,” according to the statement.

On Thursday, the Shin Bet announced the arrest of Mohammed El-Halabi, 32, director of the Gaza branch of the international humanitarian aid organization World Vision, on charges that he funneled tens of millions of dollars from the charity to Hamas.

Reports: Senior Hamas official defects to Israel, Gaza hit with airstrike


A senior Hamas officer from Gaza reportedly has defected to Israel.

Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, who is believed to have extensive knowledge of Hamas’ underground tunnel networks, has been missing for several days and may have fled to Israel, Haaretz reported Tuesday, citing several Palestinian media outlets.

Baraka, the son of a Muslim religious judge affiliated with Hamas, is believed to have given himself up to Israeli soldiers waiting for him at the border, the Palestinian reports said.

Fatah websites said the Red Cross informed Baraka’s family that he was in Israeli custody.

Meanwhile, Israel reportedly launched an airstrike into Gaza, causing damage but no injuries.

According to The Times of Israel, Palestinian sources on Tuesday said Israelis were targeting a Hamas tunnel opening when they hit an agricultural area near the border.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed there were explosions near the border but said they were related to an Air Force test. The IDF did not say whether the explosions occurred in Israel or Gaza.

NY Times removes quotation marks from Israeli ‘occupation’


The New York Times removed quotation marks originally used around “occupation” in one of its news stories.

The word appears in the phrase “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza” in the article published Wednesday about the Bernie Sanders-led push to change the Democratic Party’s stance on Israel.

The quotation marks were removed Thursday. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald had criticized the Times’ use of the quotation marks as “abject cowardice” Thursday morning.

“This is journalistic malfeasance at its worst: refusing to describe the world truthfully out of fear of the negative reaction by influential factions,” Greenwald wrote in an article on The Intercept.

The Times did not add an editor’s note to the article or offer an explanation. The print version of the article published in the A1 section of the Times’ Thursday includes the quotation marks.

The article — titled “A Split Over Israel Threatens the Democrats’ Hopes for Unity” and written by Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman — reports on the effort by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his representatives to “upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.”

Other journalists who are left-wing on Israel, including AlterNet contributor Adam H. Johnson and +972 magazine contributor Noam Sheizaf, seconded Greenwald’s criticism Thursday.

News articles in the Times, however, regularly use the term “occupation,” without quotes, to refer to Israel’s presence in the West Bank, as recently as May 24:

Israeli officials estimate that a few dozen hilltop youth are responsible for the most violent acts on the West Bank. But Dror Etkes, who runs Kerem Navot, a human rights organization that opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, said that there were about 100 far-flung outposts in the West Bank, with “many hundreds” of residents, and that large numbers of them participate in arson and vandalism of mosques, churches and olive groves.

The word also appeared in this article from May 16:

Mustafa Bargouthi, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, a nonprofit organization, said that the list of institutions struggling under occupation and other difficulties is lengthy. Among the groups that have suffered, Mr. Bargouthi said, are the Palestine National Orchestra, the Popular Art Center in Ramallah, dance groups across the West Bank, and road, agricultural and medical projects.

Israeli troops near Gaza come under mortar fire, 2 rockets fired into Israel


Israeli troops stationed on the border with Gaza came under mortar fire Thursday as two rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel.

The afternoon attack, the sixth in three days, came shortly after the Israel Defense Forces said it had discovered a Hamas-dug terror tunnel running from the southern Gaza Strip to inside Israel. The mortars reportedly were fired at the closed military zone set up in southern Israel around the opening to the tunnel.

The IDF said it responded with tank fire toward the area from where the mortars were fired.

Also Thursday afternoon, two rockets fired from Gaza landed in southern Israel near the Gaza border.

No injuries or damage were reported in either attack.

On Wednesday evening, the Israel Air Force said its warplanes struck five Hamas targets near the Gaza border town of Rafah in retaliation for the previous mortar attacks. There were no casualties reported.

Israel bombs Gaza targets in retaliation for Hamas shelling


Israel bombed five targets in Gaza after Hamas fired more than five mortar rounds into Israel in a 24-hour period — an escalation attributed to Israel’s intensified efforts to detect and destroy Hamas’ underground tunnels leading toward and across its border.

Israel Air Force warplanes struck five targets near the Gazan border town of Rafah Wednesday evening, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed in statements on Twitter.

The IDF confirmation followed Palestinian media reports of the bombings, The Times of Israel reported. No injuries have been reported yet.

In a statement on Twitter, IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel “will continue to operate in order to protect the civilians of Israel from all Hamas terrorist threats above and beneath ground.”

“Our efforts to destroy the #Hamas terror tunnel network, a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty, will not cease or be deterred.”

Shortly before launching the strikes, Israeli officials warned Hamas to cease firing mortars at its troops on the Gaza border or face a strong military retaliation, according to Israeli news website Walla.

Hamas said in a statement that Israel bore “full responsibility” for the escalation in hostilities.

In the 24 hours preceding the Israeli strikes, five mortars were fired at Israeli troops near the Gaza-Israel border, and soldiers responded with tank fire.

The IDF said it believes Hamas’ recent attacks near the border are an effort to prevent Israel from finding and destroying new tunnels leading toward and into Israel. New technology has helped locate more tunnels in recent weeks.

In a statement Wednesday night, Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, warned Israel to stop digging near the border in its search of tunnels.

The Hamas statement said the digging is an incursion into Gazan territory and a breach of the 2014 ceasefire, according to The Times of Israel.

“[Al-Qassam Brigades] will not allow this aggression and the enemy should not make any pretexts whatsoever, and leave the Gaza Strip immediately,” the statement reads.

Israeli troops come under mortar fire from Gaza


Israeli troops came under mortar fire from Gaza while performing engineering work near the border fence.

The Israel Defense Forces responded to the Wednesday morning attack by shelling Hamas-run military posts in Gaza, the IDF said.

No Israeli soldiers were injured in the morning mortar attack; a second mortar was reported fired at troops on Wednesday afternoon.  The Hamas military post fired on by Israel was damaged but there were no Palestinian casualties, Ynet reported, citing Palestinian sources.

The shelling on the border was the second attack in less than 24 hours. Israeli troops working near the border with northern Gaza on Tuesday afternoon came under gunfire. An Israeli army engineering vehicle was hit in the fire from northern Gaza and damaged by the bullets, and no troops were injured, the Israel Defense Forces said. There has been no claim of responsibility from Gaza.

Tuesday’s incident came several hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited troops in the southern border area of Gaza, and remarked on the relative quiet of the border area in the two years since Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

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.

Sanders: Netanyahu is ‘wrong on occasion’


Bernie Sanders is not backing down on his claim that Israel used ‘disproportionate’ force against Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war.

“You cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people,” Sanders said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday. “I think in the Gaza, it was a disproportionate response. You had some 1,500 civilians killed. I think you had 10,000 or so wounded. That was a disproportionate response.”

Sanders took the role of Israel’s opposition leader in suggesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wrong “on occasion.”

“You can’t just always nod your head to Netanyahu,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “He is wrong on occasion.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful also responded to ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accusing him of playing into the hands of those who claim that Israel is the main problem in this conflict.

“Well, they can say what they want,” said Sanders. “I didn’t say Israel’s the main problem. All I am saying is you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people. And right now, as you know, in Gaza, there is mass destruction that has not been addressed right now. Poverty rate is off the charts; 40 percent people are unemployed. We are United States of America. If we want to bring people together, we have got to address those issues.”

Asked to rate President Barack Obama’s approach to settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sanders said, “I think he’s done much better than his predecessors. But I think we still have a way to go. And I was not criticizing President Obama; I was criticizing Secretary Clinton.”

 

Sanders doubles down on Israel criticism


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders doubled down on his comments regarding Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza during the Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn, NY, on Thursday. 

“I do believe that Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, and has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area, some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed. Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was,” Sanders said during the debate, aired on CNN and NY1, five days before the New York presidential primary. 

Sanders suggested that the United States was not critical enough of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue. “There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,” the Jewish senator from Vermont said. “There will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.” 

He further accused Hillary Clinton of pandering to the pro-Israel community and not supporting the Palestinian people’s right to independence. “I read Secretary Clinton’s statement speech before AIPAC. I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people. Almost none in that speech,” he stated. “We cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue. 

Clinton defended Israel’s actions in Gaza, but also her pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages,” she said. “They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton said, “If Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years.

But the Democratic presidential front-runner took a middle ground by noting she has had major disagreements with Netanyahu. “I have spoken about and written at some length the very candid conversations I’ve had with him and other Israeli leaders,” Clinton said. “Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right, but it is a difficult position.” 

Sanders’ harsh criticsm of Israel was preceded by his hiring of Simone Zimmerman, a former J Street student activist and an avowed critic of Israel, as his Jewish Outreach Director. Sanders 

Jewish groups blast Sanders over Israel stance


Bernie Sanders didn’t help himself with the Jewish community in New York – a strong constituency in next week’s primary – as he “>interview, Sanders erroneously inflated the number of Palestinian civilians killed during the 2014 Gaza conflict, for which he has since pulled back after a conversation with ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Senator Sanders’ failure to demonstrate a grasp of the Palestinian terrorism that fueled Israel’s actions to protect its citizens in the summer of 2014 is extremely concerning,” American Jewish Congress’ President Jack Rosen said in a statement on Sunday. “Any attempt by a presidential candidate to qualify Israel’s self-defense against indiscriminate attacks without mentioning the nature of the attacks is a worrisome signal.”

Rosen, himself a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but speaking on behalf of the American Jewish Congress, called on Sanders to “adopt a more balanced perspective on the 2014 conflict as well as the current political reality in Gaza.”

The Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, said it was “offended” by Sanders’ recent comments.

“The Orthodox Union rejects Sen. Sanders’ assertion that Israel acted in a “disproportionate” manner in responding to Hamas terrorist actions; frankly, we are offended by Sen. Sanders’ suggestion,” the group said in a statement on Monday. n 2014, Israel was attacked by Hamas, which fired more than 4,500 rockets and mortars from Gaza at Israel. These rockets were intended to murder and maim innocent Israelis. Israel’s response and tactics were anything but disproportionate or indiscriminate.”

Sanders pushed back against his critics, insisting that his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “balanced” while being “absolutely pro-Israeli” and supporting “Israel’s right to exist in peace in security.”

“Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East,” the Democratic presidential hopeful told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Sanders is currently trailing Hillary Clinton in the April 19 New York primary by double digits. According to a recent Fox New poll, Clinton leads Sanders among Jewish voters by 24 points (59-35 percent).

in 2013, the Jewish vote made up 16-19 percent of the electorate in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary.

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Navigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through Airbnb


The first decision an adventurous traveler faces when seeking an Airbnb property in the West Bank is what to type in the search box: “West Bank”? “Judea and Samaria”? “Israel”? “Palestine”? The blinking cursor symbolizes the confusion and controversy surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

On Airbnb’s website, when you zoom in on the map of Israel, you’ll find more than a dozen properties on these contentious lands: in the Jewish settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Kfar Adumim, Mitzpe Yericho and Ariel, and also in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho. By this algorithm, Airbnb would seem to subscribe to the “one-state solution.” Then again, “Palestine” also appears in a search — in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Alex and Olga Slobodov rent out a room in their home in Kfar Adumim, a mixed religious-secular settlement east of Jerusalem whose prominent residents include Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel and former MK Aryeh Eldad. Through Airbnb, I arranged to stay with them for one night. 

During my stay, I learned that the couple had no idea that Airbnb efforts like theirs, in Jewish settlements, were making international headlines. But if it were up to some organizations, Israeli properties located beyond the Green Line wouldn’t appear at all on Airbnb. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is leading a coalition to petition Airbnb to ban properties like the Slobodovs’, accusing settlements of being built on illegal, stolen land. (Its petition has garnered about 140,000 signatories.)

“In my view,” Alex said in Hebrew at his spacious kitchen table over a dinner of Russian chicken patties, “we’re in Israel. I’m not something outside. I’m in the borders of Israel. I feel no difference. Actually, there is no difference except that Palestinians also drive these roads.” 

The widow and widower started a new life together five years ago and sought a practical solution for the bedroom that once housed Alex’s now-deceased in-laws. Alex is a Russian Israeli who recently retired as an auditor for the Department of Housing, and Olga is a non-Jewish Ukrainian Israeli who works as a housekeeper. They are only a few months into their Airbnb operation and have already hosted a handful of people from the United States, Belgium, Australia and Argentina.

For $34 (U.S.) per night, the Slobodovs offer what they describe as a “cozy” room, accessed via a private entrance, equipped with a bed, sofa and a newly refurbished bathroom. Their multilevel country home overlooking the Jordan Valley is similar to those seen in many Jewish settlements and rural towns. A drive with Alex to observation points overlooking Wadi Qelt and the Dead Sea on a clear day reveals why the settlement is an appealing option for travelers and Israeli residents alike: the Judean desert air, expansive views and village vibe. 

A 10-minute drive away is Mitzpe Yericho (loosely translated as Jericho Point), a religious settlement where Judith (last name withheld upon request), an olah (a female who makes aliyah) who emigrated from Germany 28 years ago, decided to try her hand at Airbnb after her children left home. Since June 2015, she’s accommodated about two dozen reservations, largely of German speakers. She, too, was unaware that organizations were lobbying against her mini-business. The only guest who was upset about her location was someone she believes should have known better. 

“One came specifically from Tel Aviv, a new olah from the U.S., in Israel for three to four years, and she told me after that it’s too bad that I don’t write that it’s in West Bank,” Judith said in a phone interview.

Judith was dismayed when a group of European tourists recently canceled its reservation, alleging that the group’s car rental company, TUI Cars, didn’t cover travel into the Palestinian territories. She argued that her village falls within Area C, which is under full Israeli control, but to no avail. She said that once in a while, per request, she’ll discuss Israeli politics, but she doesn’t consider herself “right wing.” She chose Mitzpe Yericho decades ago for its quality of life.

Alex Slobodov

In +972, an online magazine that generally hews to the political views of JVP, a reporter going by “John Brown” posed as “Haled,” an American of Palestinian descent, to determine how his requests would be received by Airbnb hosts in Jewish settlements. He was met with mixed reactions. Hosts in Tekoa in the Gush Etzion Bloc accepted his booking, provided he was willing to go through the procedural security check; others declined because of the tense political situation. 

I decided to see how requests to book a room in Ramallah — as an American Jew living in Tel Aviv — would be received. I also inquired of potential hosts whether they believed I would be safe. One person I contacted declined my request, citing unavailability. A potential host in Bethlehem wrote: “It’s safe as long as you don’t say where you’re from.”

But a different potential host in Ramallah was, eventually, more direct: 

“I doubt there will be any security issues, but unfortunately I can’t host you in my house if you are an Israeli citizen.” I revealed my Israeli citizenship and reasoned, naively perhaps, that the issue was legal. “Is the problem from the Israeli or PA side?” I asked, since Israeli law forbids Israeli citizens from entering Palestinian Area A (although during my past forays into Ramallah and Nablus, no one checked my ID).

“Well, you won’t have any problem from any side,” this person replied. “It’s actually a personal issue. I don’t know if anyone else will host you; as for me, I can’t.” 

When asked for JVP’s opinion on Palestinian Airbnb hosts rejecting Jewish or Israeli guests, JVP Deputy Director Stefanie Fox wrote: “Palestinians living under occupation have the right to use nonviolent tools, such as boycott and non-cooperation, to resist the policies and practices that threaten their lives and their rights.” 

But then I found a host from Bethlehem who immediately accepted my request to book as an “American currently living in Tel Aviv.”

When I told the Slobodovs about my interest in visiting Bethlehem via Airbnb, Olga shook her head, fearing for my safety. She also said she would be wary of hosting an Arab-Muslim Israeli, given the threat in Israel — and elsewhere around the world — of Islamic terror. 

Judith told me that an Arab Israeli from Jerusalem once requested to book her Mitzpe Yericho room for four guests under a reservation for one. 

“I thought: What’s wrong with him?” Judith said, figuring they’d feel more comfortable in Jericho proper. She, too, declined out of safety concerns, but told the potential guest that the room was “unavailable.”

In response to questions from me, Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas sent the company’s standard reply: “We believe in the transformative power of allowing people to share experiences that can come from sharing a home. … We follow laws on where we can do business and we investigate specific concerns raised about listings and/or discrimination.” 

So, when people browse the listings of Airbnb properties, such as “Cozy room in Jordan Valley” or “Guest house in Bethlehem,” they can imagine either conflict or how life could be: a mosaic of coexistence. Ironically, it’s the people who live closest to one another and are most in need of sitting down for a living-room chat — Israelis and Palestinians — who it appears can’t take advantage of Airbnb’s “transformative power” in Israel, Palestine, the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, or … whatever you choose to call these lands.

Hamas blames Israel after operative killed in Gaza tunnel collapse


Another tunnel under Gaza has collapsed, killing a Hamas operative digging it, and the terrorist group’s military wing is blaming Israel.

The tunnel collapse Thursday in southern Gaza killed Muhammad Musa al Astal of Khan Younis, the Times of Israel reported. Days earlier, a tunnel collapsed in eastern Gaza, injuring five Hamas members.

Citing unnamed Palestinian sources, The Jerusalem Post said some Hamas operatives are blaming Israel for the tunnel collapses and are afraid to enter the tunnels. The operatives say they have seen Israeli soldiers on the border using liquid explosives and “causing small earthquakes” to destroy tunnels.

Seven tunnels have collapsed in the past two months, according to the Times of Israel, including one that killed a nephew of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar.

In January, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced at a funeral for seven Hamas operatives that were killed in a tunnel collapse that Palestinian “heroes” are digging tunnels to be used in future attacks on Israel.

At that time, the Times of Israel reported that Hamas had more than 1,000 people working around the clock, six days a week, digging tunnels lined with concrete and “being dug 30 meters deep, with sophisticated engineering equipment and more advanced technological support, including engineers’ blueprints.”

Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, many leading into Israel, was a major issue during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. During the war, Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels, which were used to smuggle weapons, as well as stage terrorist attacks and kidnappings inside Israel. Thousands of people, the majority of them Palestinians, were killed in the 2014 war, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure was severely damaged.

Why the world turns a blind eye to the battle between Hamas and the PA


Civil servants in Gaza have gone on strike. For a change, this strike has nothing to do with Israel. On the contrary, 50,000 Gazan workers are striking against Hamas.

In Gaza, striking involves more than parading with placards and not going to work. In Gaza, strikes and protests are dangerous acts. People who protest in the Hamas-controlled territory tend to disappear. But this time, these workers are taking a firm stand by telling the leaders of Gaza that it is time for them to truly lead.

Public workers in Gaza have not been paid regularly since 2014. They allege that they have received only 40 percent of their regular salaries.

Schools and courts are closed. Governmental bureaucrats are staying home. Medical facilities (except emergency care) are shuttered. Sanitation workers are letting garbage pile up. Every worker who receives a salary from the government is taking part in the strike (except for public security employees; they have been receiving their full salaries).

In June 2014, a unity agreement was signed between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The agreement stipulated that a technocratic unity government would be put in place. That never happened.

Instead, the sometimes violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the ruling faction of the Palestinian Authority, has continued. They battle over policies and politics and, when words do not suffice, they murder each other. And no one — other than the people of Gaza — seems to care. The world deems the violence taking place between Fatah and Hamas as infighting. The civil service workers of Gaza want to change that.

Salaries are important, surely, but this strike was called in order to regain international attention.

The strike was coordinated to coincide with Palestinian unity talks between Hamas and the PA that were taking place in Doha. But other than a few Arabic news websites, the story barely made a bleep. Even while striking, the workers of Gaza have struck out.

We are told that the 2014 agreement was about solving issues regarding workers’ rights. But the total deal was never made public. What we do know is that Hamas thinks it is the responsibility of the PA; the Palestinian Authority believes that is not so.

Hamas ousted Fatah and the PA from Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007. The fighting was brutal. There were public murders. Entire Gazan families and family leaders, people who had been part of the Gaza elite for decades, were publicly humiliated and forced to flee.

After the coup, Hamas replaced the entire civil service branch, which had numbered 70,000 people, with 50,000 of its own replacements. The Palestinian Authority continued to pay the original employees even though they were removed from their jobs and many had relocated to the West Bank. The pay was intermittent, but they still were paid.

The 2014 unity agreement stipulated that the PA would hire and pay Hamas workers “according to need.” The essential point in the agreement was that Hamas would return all PA employees to their former positions. This never happened.

Perhaps the world is weary of what happens in Gaza; after all, it’s been going on, almost unchanged, for so long. Certainly there are other sexier, gorier altercations and civil wars being waged.

Or maybe the world is interested only when Israel is involved.

Look for yourselves. A quick Google search of “government strike in Gaza” brings results about the last strike in 2014. And Googling “strike in Gaza” or “Gaza strike” brings up only matches of military and terror attacks.

What is certain is that money is coming into Gaza and that money is not going toward running the state. And because of the tensions between Fatah and Hamas, the money coming into the Palestinian Authority is not going to Gaza to help run the Hamas state.

Monies coming into Gaza go into the military infrastructure. Gaza’s leaders are rebuilding tunnels and training terrorists. Unless there is direct supervision of the money and the materials they are receiving, Hamas is not going to sidestep ideology and begin using it to rebuild society. It might say that the tunnels are being rebuilt for security and defense, not for warring against Israel, but those statements echo as hollow as the promise to work alongside the PA to rebuild their society.

As much as some people would like to blame Israel for the horrors taking place in Gaza, this strike proves the point: Responsibility lies squarely and solidly with Hamas. Even the civil servants of Gaza know that Hamas is not interested in building a society. Hamas is taking the money and using it to prepare for war against Israel.

The world had better start paying attention to Hamas again.


Micah Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder,” Thomas Nelson (2007). Reprinted with permission from Observer.

Israelis near Gaza fear Hamas is tunneling beneath them


Nissim Hakmon and his neighbors say they hear banging and clattering at night. They are convinced it can only mean one thing: Hamas is tunneling under their homes from Gaza and will one day emerge, guns blazing, to attack or kidnap them.

The Israeli government says its investigations have not come up with any evidence the night-time noises reported by villagers living near Gaza emanate from tunnels, but assertions by Hamas of extensive cross-border digging has only fueled concern.

“The fear among everyone here is constant,” Hakmon told Reuters in his village of Pri Gan, near the Gaza Strip. “I've heard the sound of a hammer and chisel and my neighbor says she can hear them digging under the cement. We're stressed out.”

The Palestinian Islamist group which runs Gaza used tunnels running out of the strip to give its heavily outgunned fighters the advantage of surprise during its 2014 war with Israel.

Twelve soldiers were killed by Hamas tunnel raiders and one was kidnapped. No civilians have been targeted by the fighters, who describe the tunnels as a defensive tool in case of future conflict. But that is little reassurance to the villagers.

Underground infiltration by gunmen from Gaza “is something we know deep inside is just a matter of time, even though we tell the kids everything is okay,” Hakmon said.

POLITICAL PRESSURE

Hakmon's worry is being echoed by some others who live on the Gaza periphery, putting extra political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the standoff with the Palestinian territory since the war in 2014.

Beset by a months-long surge of street attacks by Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel has little desire to see a fresh flare-up in Gaza, where Hamas has mostly held its fire in the past 18 months. 

The movement announced last week it had rehabilitated cross-border tunnels destroyed during the war – a muscle-flexing message to Israel, its security partner Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamists' U.S.-backed rival. 

“The resistance factions are in a state of ongoing preparation underground, above ground, on land and sea,” Hamas deputy leader Ismail Haniyeh said at a rally called to honor seven tunnelers who were killed in a cave-in on Tuesday.

Hamas has twice the number of tunnels as those used in the Vietnam war against U.S. forces, Haniyeh said – a tall order, but bold enough a claim to shore up the worries voiced in Pri Gan, 4 km (2 miles) away from the Gaza border, and elsewhere.

The residents' alarm, amplified by local media, and calls for preemptive military action by opposition politicians, roused Netanyahu to warn Hamas on Sunday. 

“Should we be attacked through Gaza Strip tunnels, we will take forceful action against Hamas, with far greater force than was used in Protective Edge,” he said, referring to the 2014 war, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians. 

“We are working systematically and level-headedly against all threats, including the Hamas threat, through both defensive and offensive measures.” 

Israel lost six civilians in the war as well as 67 soldiers.

Military engineers unearthed and destroyed 32 tunnels, Israeli officials say, and have since, with U.S. help, been developing a half-dozen technologies for detecting digs along the sandy, 65-km (40 mile) frontier with Gaza.

When those counter-measures might be ready is a closely guarded secret. Hamas, for its part, may be hoping to lay down as many new tunnels as possible before the system is in place. 

“We are not asking for war, but getting ready for one should Israel launch it,” Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida said.

“GUNS DRAWN”

Israel's refusal to elaborate on its anti-tunnel efforts has fanned fears in the 30-odd villages near the Gaza frontier. 

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel Radio on Monday that military experts “rush anywhere that someone claims to hear noises (but) those tests have not shown that the noise is from the digging of tunnels”.

The conservative government has found itself in the unfamiliar situation of preaching restraint after center-left opposition leader Isaac Herzog demanded any tunnels be bombed. 

“What are the prime minister and defense minister waiting for? For terrorists to surface with guns drawn?” Herzog said.

Yaalon shot back that such discussions should be held behind closed doors, and argued that the passive build-up of an enemy's capabilities did not necessarily warrant initiating hostilities.

“It might also be proposed that we go and attack (Lebanese guerrilla group) Hezbollah's 100,000 rockets in the north or the hundreds of missiles that Iran has aimed at us,” Yaalon said.

Hakmon does not share the government's equanimity, and says he and other Pri Gan residents are going around armed, locking their doors and shuttering their windows as a precaution.

“We are waiting for the army, or, God forbid, for the worst to happen,” he said.

Hamas announces its ‘heroes’ are digging new tunnels and ‘experimenting with rockets’


Palestinian “heroes” are digging tunnels to be used in future attacks on Israel, Hamas’ senior political leader said.

At a funeral in Gaza City Friday for seven Hamas operatives killed when rain and flooding caused a tunnel they were working on to collapse, Ismail Haniyeh said preparations are underway for the next confrontation with Israel, Agence France Press reported.

“East of Gaza City, heroes are digging through rock and building tunnels, and to the west they are experimenting with rockets every day,” Haniyeh said. “The resistance continues on its path of liberation of the land.”

Thousands of people attended the funeral, with many chanting slogans urging violence against Israel.

According to the Times of Israel, Hamas has more than 1,000 people working around the clock, six days a week, digging tunnels, which are lined with concrete and are “being dug 30 meters deep, with sophisticated engineering equipment more advanced technological support, including engineers’ blueprints.”

Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, many leading into Israel, was a major issue during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. During the war, Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels, which were used to smuggle weapons, as well as stage terrorist attacks and kidnappings inside Israel. Thousands of people, the majority of them Palestinians, were killed in the 2014 war, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure was severely damaged.

On Thursday, the head of Israel’s Eshkol Regional Council, near the Gaza border, reported that residents of Moshav Pri Gan there can hear and feel the tunnel digging below. Israelis near the border remain vulnerable, because the Israel Defense Forces still has not built protective barriers to block cross-border tunnels, despite promises to do so after Operation Protective Edge, its summer 2014 war in Gaza.

Two Palestinians reported killed in riots near Gaza-Israel border


Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians during riots near the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel, Palestinian officials said.

The incident occurred Friday afternoon during clashes near al-Breij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, medical sources told Maan news.

Doctors told Ma’an that 19-year-old Muhammad Abu Zayed had been shot in the head. Hours later, a second Palestinian, Muhammad Majdi Qaita, 26, died after being shot in the stomach during clashes in the same area.

Medics added that at least 10 other Palestinian youths had been shot and wounded with live fire during the clashes.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that “multiple riots” were taking place along the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Friday.

The spokesperson said that that a number of Palestinians had “breached the buffer zone” and “damaged” the fence in the central Gaza Strip before Israeli forces “called on them to halt and fired warning shots into the air.”

Shots were then fired directly at the demonstrators following the “threat of infiltration,” the spokesperson said, adding that she was aware of reports of Friday’s death but was unable to confirm that any Palestinians were hit.

Separately, an Israeli soldier was wounded in clashes with Palestinian rioters on Friday near Ramallah, Army Radio reported.

Israeli airstrikes hit terror cell on Gaza border, killing 1


Israeli airstrikes hit a Palestinian “terrorist cell” on the border with Gaza, killing one, the Israel Defense Forces said.

In a statement, an IDF spokesman said the cell was planting a bomb Wednesday near the border fence and planned to detonate it when an IDF patrol came by. The IDF said the action was a joint operation of the Air Force and the Shin Bet security service, which gathered intelligence on the imminent attack.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that along with the one death, three others were injured in the strike.

Mike Huckabee: Israelis were ‘marched at gunpoint’ out of Gaza


Israelis should never have to go through again what they went through as they were “marched at gunpoint” out of their homes in Gush Katif during the disengagement in 2005, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Sunday.

Addressing some 35 members of the Jewish community at a fundraiser in Brooklyn, NY, on Sunday, Huckabee said, “I’ve seen the film of Gush Katif. You see good Jewish families taken at gunpoint out of their own home and marched out of Gush Katif.”

He said that he wept when he saw that since he didn’t think that “we are going to see Jews marching – by gunpoint – anymore from their own homes. Surely, what they experienced with the Nazis should’ve taught us that must never happen again, and this time that the guns were being held by Israelis.” 

Huckabee called the disengagement of Gaza “one of the biggest failures of Israeli governments’ policy” in giving land over to the Palestinians to show them good faith and to show an attempt to bring peace. 

This is not the first time Huckabee used an Holocaust analogy to decry agreements with enemies of the State of Israel. Back in July, after the P5+1 signed the nuclear deal with Iran, Huckabee said that Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” 

Huckabee went on to explain why the U.S. policy on a two-state solution is irrational. “Two governments, even two governments who get along, can’t govern the same piece of real estate,” he asserted. “When there are two governments and one of them does not believe the other has a right to exist, it becomes, absolutely, laughable that we would even propose such a completely unsupportable notion. And I think it’s ‘happy talk’ on the part of diplomats and our politicians to pretend that there’s something to negotiate toward dividing up Jerusalem or giving parts of Judea and Samaria over to people who, with whatever land they had, have only used it as a launching ground for acts of terror and war against the rightful owners of the land of Israel.” 

With this, Huckabee echoed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier Sunday told a gathering at Brookings/Saban Forum in DC (via satellite), “The question of settlements is not the core of the conflict. In Gaza, nothing changed. In fact, instead of getting peace, we gave territory and got 15,000 rockets on our heads. We took out all the settlements; we disinterred people from their graves; and did we get peace? No. We got the worst terror possible.” 

Netanyahu added, “The Palestinians have not yet been willing to cross that conceptual bridge, that emotional bridge, of giving up the dream, not of a state next to Israel, but a state instead of Israel.”

But Huckabee took a step further in declaring, “You’ll never hear me use the term ‘West Bank.’ I don’t think there is such a thing.”

Israeli broadcaster says Palestinians bust West Bank bomber cell


Israel's national broadcaster on Tuesday said Palestinian authorities had prevented a bomb attack on Israeli troops in the West Bank, a report suggesting the strength of security ties despite public feuding over a two-month wave of unrest.

Israel Radio said six Islamic Jihad militants from the town of Tubas were in Palestinian custody, accused of filling a gas balloon with explosives in order to blow up a military target, an attack that would have marked a major escalation in violence.

Contacted by Reuters, officials in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's U.S.-backed administration and Islamic Jihad spokesmen had no immediate comment on the report, which cited unnamed Palestinian sources. 

A surge in Palestinian knifings, car-rammings and occasional shootings of Israelis since Oct. 1 has put Abbas in an awkward position as he tries to curb the grassroots violence in West Bank areas under his authority while publicly condemning Israel's policies.

Israeli forces have killed 97 Palestinians, most of them identified by Israel as assailants. Many Palestinians see their dead as heroes of a struggle for statehood failed by peace diplomacy. Palestinian attacks, usually by individuals lashing out spontaneously, have killed 19 Israelis and an American.

Israeli security forces shot dead two knife-wielding Palestinian assailants earlier on Tuesday in the West Bank, Israeli authorities said.

Israeli security officials declined to confirm or deny the reported Tubas arrests. But one official with the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency sought to play down any impression that Abbas was serving Israeli interests. 

“When the Palestinian Authority takes action to foil attacks, it does not do so out of love for Israel,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Having lost the Gaza Strip to rival Hamas Islamists in a 2007 civil war, Abbas was working to curb the spread of kindred groups in the West Bank and knew any armed mobilization by them againstIsrael would be combustible, the Shin Bet official said. 

“If such an attack were to happen, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) might be compelled to enter their (Palestinian) cities, and the Authority does not want that,” the Shin Bet official said.

Wave of violence spells trouble for Israel’s ‘Mr. Security’


The sound of a fist banging on a table came through sharp and clear as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his anger captured on a leaked audio tape, berated his own party members for not having his back in confronting a Palestinian wave of attacks.

“I expect support from each and every one of you and not these games … Be leaders. Leaders do the right thing, don't play games,” Netanyahu said at the closed meeting of his Likud faction last week, in the recording broadcast on Army Radio.

He was referring to public remarks and visits several Likud ministers paid to a protest tent that settlers, demanding stronger security measures, erected outside Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem after a deadly Palestinian assault.

It was only one signal of possible political trouble ahead for the four-term leader trying to stem an eruption of almost daily Palestinian knife and gun attacks, which have killed eight Israelis in the past three weeks.

Forty-one Palestinians, including assailants and protesters at anti-Israeli demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, have been killed by Israeli security forces in response. An Eritrean migrant mistaken for an attacker was also killed.

At least three recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of the public is dissatisfied with Netanyahu's handling of the situation.

It is a jolting reversal for Netanyahu, who many supporters have long hailed as “Mr Security” and who enjoyed wide public backing during last year's Gaza conflict, when he ordered an assault on the Hamas-controlled enclave to halt rockets.

DETERMINATION

The death toll among Israeli civilians in this wave of attacks is already higher than it was from rockets during that war, when Netanyahu demonstrated his determination to protect Israelis by ordering the offensive that killed 2,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and 67 Israeli soldiers.

If last year Netanyahu was able to show off Israel's ability to shoot down incoming rockets with a high-tech anti-missile system, today he has found no such success halting knife and gun attacks, for which he has said there is “no quick fix”.

A right-wing Israeli group, demanding a crackdown to halt the wave of violence, has posted a widely viewed clip of Palestinian attacks on the Internet. It includes old footage of Netanyahu telling an Israeli television show: “How do I want my term to be remembered? As a guardian of Israel's security.”

In the past year, Netanyahu's image at home has also been dented by his inability to persuade the United States and other allies to rebuff a nuclear deal with Iran.

Washington drew Israeli anger last week when a State Department spokesman suggested that excessive force was being used to thwart Palestinian attacks. President Barack Obama seemed to take a swipe at Netanyahu, who has been vocal in accusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence, by saying on Friday that both leaders should “tamp down rhetoric” that may fuel bloodshed.

While Netanyahu's coalition government's majority of just a single seat in parliament seems safe for now – Israeli parties traditionally do not walk out during security emergencies – cracks are already visible.

“As of now it is not in the interest of anyone in the coalition to break up the government,” Amnon Abramovich, a political analyst for Israel's Channel Two television, told Reuters. “But this can definitely change.”

A Channel Two poll on Saturday found 71 percent of the Jewish public is dissatisfied with Netanyahu's handling of the security situation.

Only 17 percent of those polled considered Netanyahu the best person to resolve the crisis, placing him second to former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ultranationalist picked by 29 percent. Lieberman has called for tougher action such as the death penalty for Palestinians who kill Israelis.

Within the cabinet, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has gone public with misgivings about Netanyahu's stated willingness to meet Abbas to try to calm tensions. Bennett, whose party controls eight of parliament's 120 seats and can potentially bring down the coalition, called Abbas “a terrorist with whom you don't speak”.

“In the short run there is no imminent threat on Netanyahu's government stability because during times of terror usually politicians actually back up the government. Nevertheless, in the long run, Netanyahu's position as 'Israel's Mr. Security' might be affected,” Amit Segal, a Channel Two political correspondent, told Reuters.

“People say: 'If terror attacks happen on a daily basis, on an hourly basis and if he can't handle the situation against the 16 year old terrorist in Jerusalem or the 18 year old terrorist in Beersheba, why would we elect him again?' and that's the main threat on Netanyahu's position.”

Netanyahu: Israel will settle accounts with murderers


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to implement new measures to bring quiet to Israeli cities amid a wave of terror attacks.

“Israel will come to settle accounts with the murderers and those who want to kill, and anyone who helps them. Not only won’t they have any rights, but we will extract the full price from them,” Netanyahu said Tuesday afternoon during an address in Knesset marking the 14th anniversary of the assassination of government minister Rehavam Zeevi. He briefly left an emergency Security Cabinet meeting at which the measures were being discussed to speak to the Knesset.

Israeli media reported Tuesday evening that the government will send Israeli soldiers to support police forces in cities that have been hit with terror attacks.

During the day, three Israelis were killed and more than 20 injured in terror attacks in Jerusalem and the central Israeli city of Raanana. Two Palestinian assailants also were killed.

Netanyahu in his Knesset address called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “Stop lying, stop inciting. A true leader must demonstrate responsibility.”

“Do not turn murderers into heroes,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu also addressed Arab citizens of Israel.

“Do not be misled by agitators who want to ignite the fire in the country. We live together. We believe in coexistence. It is very easy to unravel the threads that bind us to one another. Do not be tempted to do so,” he said.

He also called on Israeli citizens not to carry out revenge attacks.

“Israeli citizens must not raise a hand against innocent civilians on either side. Israel is a state of law,” Netanyahu said. “Those who take the law into his hands will pay the price.”

Meanwhile, some 20,000 demonstrators gathered Tuesday in the Arab-Israeli city of Sakhnin in northern Israel to show support for the Palestinians. Arab-Israeli lawmakers, including Ahmed Tibi and Jamal Zahalka, addressed the crowds.

On Tuesday evening, a Palestinian man from  Bethlehem was killed during clashes in the West Bank city with Israeli troops. The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that the man, whom it identified as Mutaz Ibrahim Zawahreh, 27, was hit with a live bullet in the chest.

Palestinian Gazans earlier in the day rioted at the border with Israel, with dozens breaking through the border fence in southern Gaza. They were turned back with tear gas and rubber bullets.