Protesters outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv on Jan. 29. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Trump ban does not invalidate US visas for Israelis born in banned countries


U.S. visas held by Israeli citizens born in the seven Muslim-majority countries covered under President Donald Trump’s travel ban remain valid, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has confirmed.

A statement about the visas was posted Tuesday on the embassy’s website.

“If you have a currently valid U.S. visa in your Israeli passport and were born in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, and do not have a valid passport from one of these countries, your visa was not cancelled and remains valid,” the statement said. “Similarly, we continue to process visa applications for applicants born in those countries, so long as they do not have a valid passport from one of those countries and have not otherwise declared themselves to be a national of one of those countries.”

It added, however: “Authorization to enter the United States is always determined at the port of entry. We have no further information at this time.”

Asked about the issue Monday by the French news agency AFP, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem referred the question to the State Department, which could not answer the question several hours after it was posed.

Some 140,000 Israelis were born in the seven countries covered in the 90-day travel ban imposed by the executive order signed Friday by Trump. About 45,000 were born in Iran and 53,000 in Iraq, according to AFP, citing official statistics. Most are older than 65 and did not retain citizenship in their birth countries.

Small majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution


A new poll finds that only a small majority of Palestinians (51 percent) and Israelis (59 percent) support a two-state solution, meaning an independent Palestinian state next to Israel. There is a high level of distrust and fear on both sides and both sides believe there is little chance for an independent Palestinian state.

These were the findings of a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll, published by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. The poll, which has a margin of error of three percent in either direction, surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,184 Israelis and was released Monday in Jerusalem.

For many in the region, the results come as no surprise. There have been no substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in years, and a recent wave of violence of Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians have left more than 30 Israelis and 200 Palestinians dead in the past year. Yet the poll’s results can be seen as hopeful or pessimistic depending on your frame of mind.

“I thought the situation would have been much worse,” the Israeli pollster responsible for the survey told The Media Line. “I think we are not yet at the point of no return. We still have a majority believing in the idea (of a two-state solution) and it’s all about leadership. Public opinion is not the main obstacle (to a peace deal).”

Others however, see the glass as half-empty.

“I am worried — it underlines the fact that there is a diminishing level of support on the Israeli side for the mere substance of peace,” Elias Zananiri, a former journalist who is today the Deputy Chair of the PLO’s Committee for the Interaction with Israeli Society, told The Media Line. “The fact that only 48 percent of Israelis want peace is really frightening for me as a Palestinian.”

When it comes to the question of perception of the other, the situation is even more bleak. The survey found that 89 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 68 percent of Israeli Jews feel the same way about Palestinians. Two-thirds of Israelis say they fear Palestinians, while close to half of Palestinians feel the same way.

The survey was partially funded by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German political foundation, and the European Union. EU officials said they saw cause for hope in the findings.

We need to continue to articulate our support for the two state solution, and publicly outline what we can do to bring the parties back to the negotiating table,” David Geer, the Deputy EU Representative in Jerusalem said. “There is no room for complacency and a great deal of work needs to be done.”

Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki said he was most surprised by the reactions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement since 2007. Shikaki said Palestinians in Gaza were more in favor of a peaceful solution with Israel than Palestinians in the West Bank.

“It seems a lot of people who liked Hamas do not necessarily buy into Hamas’ policies regarding the issue of the peace process,” Shikaki told The Media Line. “Support for Hamas in Gaza is due to other factors and it doesn’t mean they share Hamas’s value system.”

The survey asked about support for a peace agreement “package” based on issues discussed in previous rounds of negotiations. It suggested a demilitarized Palestinian state, Israel withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines with agreed-upon territorial swaps, a group of 100,000 Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to Israel, West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and an end to all future claims.

Support for this nine-point plan is highest among secular Israeli Jews (56 percent) versus just nine percent for ultra-Orthodox. On the Palestinian side, some 57 percent of voters from the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas support the plan, compared to 25 percent of Hamas voters.

But adding incentives can change people’s minds. If the agreement includes a wider or regional Arab-Israeli peace, one quarter of Palestinians and Israelis would change their mind and support a deal. In 2002 Saudi Arabia offered the Arab Peace Initiative that would give Israel peace with dozens of  Arab and Muslim states but it did not get off the ground as the second intifada broke out. Some in the region say it is time to revive that initiative.

“Regional peace is a winner,” Shikaki said. “If I have any advice for the next US administration, it is to think regionally.”

Gallup: 50% of Israelis approve of U.S. leadership


About half of the Israeli public approved of U.S. leadership in 2015, down from 54 percent in 2014, according to Gallup’s 2016 U.S.-Global Leadership Report “>ecent poll showed that a majority of Israelis (51 percent) think the next president would be better than President Barack Obama, while 26 percent see no change. A mere 8 percent think the next president would be worse than Obama and 15 percent did not know or had no opinion.

Palestinians reject Netanyahu’s call for direct talks, support French plan


The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister rebuffed the latest call by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for direct talks, opting instead to join a French-led multilateral peace initiative.

“Time is short,” Rami Hamdallah said Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. “Netanyahu is trying to buy time … but this time he will not escape the international community.”

Hamdallah made the remarks during a meeting in Ramallah with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is in the region this week to promote the French peace initiative. The initiative calls for a multilateral international conference later this year to jump-start peace talks. If the initiative fails, France has said it will recognize a Palestinian state, though adding the conference would not “automatically” spur any action.

“Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences, U.N.-style,” Netanyahu said. “It doesn’t get to fruition through international diktats or committees from countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake in it.”

Poll of Israelis: Clinton more suited to be president


A plurality of Israelis think Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, would be better than Hillary Clinton at fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Israel relations, a new poll published on Friday showed.

According to the poll, conducted by Panels Politics research institute for “>Peace Index poll showed that while a majority of Jewish Israelis think Clinton would be better for Israel than Trump, 42 percent don’t trust her at all when it comes to safeguarding Israeli security.  On the other hand, a whopping 62 percent are sure or think that Trump will be committed to safeguarding Israel’s security if elected as president.

Another 

Fearful for economic future, Israelis want Scandinavian-style government, survey shows


On one hand, most Israelis say their financial situation is good and getting better. On the other hand, they’re worried they won’t be able to provide for their children.

On one hand, they want significantly more government spending in a wide range of public services. On the other hand, they say they pay too many taxes.

These are among the confused results of a wide-ranging economic survey obtained by JTA ahead of its publication Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. The survey results show widespread Israeli positivity when it comes to personal finances, disappointment in government and a desire for a broader welfare state on the Scandinavian model.

“These are people who, in the present, have a reasonable situation, but because of all of the change in the global arena, they’re very scared of the future,” said Tamar Hermann, the study’s lead author. “It’s not that someone is scared of the future because of his present situation. The situation isn’t totally bad; it’s pretty good. But we don’t know what will be in the future.”

Israel has had a relatively strong economy in recent years. The country joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy nations, in 2010. Its unemployment rate is around 5 percent, and its per capita GDP has risen from $26,500 in 2010 to $34,300 in 2015. The economy is growing 3 percent annually, according to the Bank of Israel.

But at the same time, Israelis have become increasingly frustrated with their economy. The past two Israeli elections have seen centrist, bread-and-butter-focused parties gain significant followings. In 2011, half a million Israelis took to the streets as part of a summerlong protest over the high cost of living. Smaller demonstrations took place the following summer.

Study author Hermann said the protests stemmed, in part, from the debt Israelis feel the government owes them in return for their mandatory military service. Most Jewish-Israeli men serve three years in the army, while women serve two.

“People say, ‘I pay with my life, in years of my life,’” she said. “They say, ‘We pay taxes and serve in the army. The state should take care of us.’ The feeling is the state isn’t giving enough.”

Recent data, in some ways, depict an unequal economy. According to a report by Israel’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, Israelis spend more on consumer goods in comparison to the residents of other OECD countries — particularly food. Only three countries in the OECD have greater income inequality, defined by the group as the difference in income between the richest 10 percent and the poorest 10 percent. More than one-fifth of Israelis live under the poverty line.

Frustration amid prosperity has resulted, according to Tuesday’s survey, in contradictory attitudes. Despite the economic challenges, the majority of both Israel’s Jews (59 percent) and Arabs (58 percent) are happy with their financial situation. More than three-quarters of both populations believe their economic situation will improve in the coming years.

But at the same time, majorities of Jews and Arabs worry they won’t be able to provide for their children or save money for the future. More than a quarter say they have trouble making ends meet each month. A quarter of Jewish and 40 percent of Arab contractors and freelancers expect to be unemployed at some point before they retire.

“The work market has changed,” Hermann said. “You don’t have tenure [anymore]. In high-tech, from age 45 on, you’re obsolete. There’s an element of fear here. Maybe [difficulties] won’t happen, but the fear is it will happen. That’s not even to mention wars and things like that.”

Israeli Jews in particular, according to the survey, look to the government to better their lives. Nearly 60 percent of Jews prefer a “Scandinavian model” economy, with high taxes and a robust welfare state, over an “American model” with lower taxes and fewer government services. Nearly half of Jews (45 percent) say they want more government involvement in the economy.

Majorities of all Israelis also want the government to spend more on the following sectors: health, police, education, academia, transit, welfare and housing.

But most Jews are critical of their government, according to the survey. Almost 62 percent say their tax burden is unfair. Most rate Israel’s civil service “poor” or “very poor” when it came to areas like efficiency, transparency and quality of service. And most say government improves when experts from the private sector join the civil service.

“Israelis are unlike some in the U.S. that consider the government part of the problem,” said IDI President Yohanan Plesner. “In Israel, people have very high expectations of the government to be involved and take responsibility. It means there’s a much greater need to ensure the government is effective in the provision of services.”

Israeli Arabs, on the other hand, report higher levels of satisfaction with the government than do Jews, but a majority (63 percent) prefer the low-taxes, fewer-services American model of government. Only about a quarter want more government involvement in the economy.

While Israeli Jews and Arabs differ on the role of government, neither trusts Israel’s political institutions. A 2015 IDI survey found that less than half of Jewish and Arab citizens trust the government, the Knesset and Israel’s political parties.

Plesner said Arabs may prefer fewer government services because, unlike Jews, they feel the government discriminates against them and is not built to serve their needs.

“There is perhaps less trust that if the government has a major role, that [Arabs] as a minority would benefit from it,” Plesner said. “Jewish Israelis have low trust, but high expectations.”

The poll surveyed 500 Israeli Jews and 100 Israeli Arabs from March 29 to April 3, and has a 4.1 percent margin of error.

Poll of Israelis: Clinton leads Trump 40-31; More trust Trump on security


A majority of Israelis think Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will be committed to safeguarding Israel’s security, while more think Hillary Clinton is the favored candidate from Israel’s standpoint, a new poll published on Monday showed.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly “>showed that 42 percent of Israelis think Clinton is the preferable presidential candidate from the standpoint of Israel’s interests, while 34 percent think Trump would be better for Israel.

Poll of Israelis: Hillary leads Trump 40-30


Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s latest stream of controversial comments may have also cost him the support of the Israeli public, even more than his suggested “neutral” approach on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the AIPAC speech did not help him.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Peace Index poll published on Tuesday, 30 percent of Israeli Jews think Trump is the preferable presidential candidate from the standpoint of Israel’s interests, while 40 percent think Hillary Clinton would be better for Israel. Last month’s poll showed that 34% of the Jewish-Israeli public thought a Republican president will be better for Israel, compared to 28 percent who thought so regarding a Democratic president.

Clinton also leads Trump 43-24 as the preferable candidate from a U.S. standpoint.

Trump leads Clinton 28-10 as the candidate who will be a better president from the standpoint of Israel’s interests among Israeli Arabs. 36 percent see Clinton and Trump as good to the same extent.

Poll of Israelis: 58% see Trump as friendly


Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump may have hit a nerve among Jewish voters in the United States when he suggested he would take a “neutral” approach on Israel, but not so much among Israelis.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Peace Index poll published on Sunday, 61 percent of Israeli Jews see Trump’s position on Israel as very or moderately friendly, 14% as not at all or not so friendly. The numbers are the same (58% vs. 13%) when matched among the general Israeli public, including Israeli Arabs.

The poll also showed that 34% of the Jewish-Israeli public think a Republican president will be better for Israel, compared to 28 percent who think so regarding a Democratic president. Thirteen percent believe that from the standpoint of Israel’s benefit, it makes no difference from which party a president will be elected.

Between the two Democratic presidential candidates, 40 percent sees Hillary Clinton as preferable from Israel’s standpoint. Only 16 percent preferred Bernie Sanders, who’s Jewish and stayed on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960′s.

Poll: Only 20 percent of Jewish Israelis see Arab citizens as ‘equals’


More than one-third of Jewish Israelis see their Arab fellow citizens as “enemies,” and only 20 percent said they consider Arab-Israelis their “equals,” a new poll has found.

The poll was conducted via face-to-face interviews with 600 Israeli Jews by the Institute for National Security Studies, which is holding its annual conference this week. It also found that 44 percent of Jewish Israelis see Arab-Israelis as “people who needed to be respected but also treated with suspicion,” Haaretz reported Tuesday.

The think tank’s poll, which is not yet available on its website, also interviewed 200 Arab citizens of Israel, finding that 70 percent identify as Israeli in some form, whether describing themselves as “Israeli Arab,” Palestinian Israeli” or “Arab with Israeli citizenship.”

Haaretz did not report the poll’s margin of error or the dates when the interviews took place.

Fifty-three percent of Arab-Israelis polled by INSS said they had “good relations with Jews,” while 19 percent said they did not have or were not interested in having contact with Jews. In addition, according to Haaretz, 70 percent said “equality of rights” for Arab-Israelis was their most pressing problem, ranking it above the issue of Palestinian rights.

Some of Israel’s highest-ranking officials, including President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, spoke at INSS’s conference in Tel Aviv this week. Speaking on Monday, Rivlin warned that an increasing number of Arab-Israelis are expressing support for the Islamic State, a topic not addressed in the poll.

“Research studies, arrests, testimonies, and overt and covert analyses – many by the INSS – clearly indicate that there is increasing support for the Islamic State among Israeli Arabs, while some are actually joining IS,” Rivlin said in his speech, according to a transcript shared by his office.

While noting that he did not blame the entire Arab-Israeli community, he said Arab-Israeli leaders need to do more to condemn extremism.

“I do not for a moment deny the responsibility of Arab leadership. Their condemnations — which sometimes sound forced, which are too feeble, too hesitant, that are spoken in Hebrew but are then formulated differently in Arabic — indicate, above all else, fear. More serious than this are those voices that blame the ‘occupation’ as the source of all ills, while displaying sympathy and understanding for attacks on innocents.”

Israel sees 25 percent drop in terrorist attacks


The number of terrorist attacks on Israelis decreased significantly in December over the previous month, Israel’s security agency said.

The Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, recorded in December a total of 246 attacks by Palestinians on Israel compared to 326 in November, the organization said in its monthly report released earlier this week.

The 25 percent drop led to fewer casualties. While November had 10 fatalities and 58 wounded from terrorist attacks, December had three fatalities and 44 wounded.

In the December report, the Shin Bet for the first time added the category “Jewish terrorism” to the synopsis of its monthly report. It listed only one incident: The hurling of two smoke grenades into a home near Ramallah, resulting in no injury.

Of the attacks against Israelis documented by Shin Bet in December, 183 involved the hurling of firebombs. All three fatalities were in stabbings.

The attacks are part of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed a “wave of terrorism” that began in September amid claims by Palestinians that Israel was plotting to increase its control over or destroy Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by security forces and civilians while carrying out the attacks and in subsequent rioting.

Since Sept. 1, the Shin Bet has documented over 1,415 attacks, which resulted in the death of 25 victims and dozens of wounded. Of those, 620 attacks occurred in October alone.

On Thursday night, Israeli troops in the West Bank killed a Palestinian man whom they said tried to stab a soldier. Earlier that day, three Palestinians were killed elsewhere in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an attempted stabbing attack.

The Settler and the Stone Thrower


I managed just a few words with Mohammed before the guards led him away. After I’d turned away for just a second, the only sound I could hear was the clink of his leg irons and he was gone.

I’d come to attend Mohammed’s trial at a military court as part of an Israeli group to show support for Mohammed and his family. I’ve gotten to know his family over the past year, particularly his father, Ziad, a prominent peace activist who has forged relationships with Israelis of all political stripes and affiliations. Now, with his 15-year-old son accused of throwing stones at Israeli cars near my home in Gush Etzion, we had come to show support for Mohammed and the family, and to encourage the judge to show leniency.

Not that I take a particularly forgiving stance vis-à-vis stone throwers. Like most Israelis, I understand the need for our expansive security regime in Judea and Samaria, especially at a time that Palestinian terror attacks are happening virtually every day. Many of my neighbours in Efrat, Tekoa, Alon Shvut and elsewhere have suffered stoning attacks, and the rocks being thrown are not pebbles. The attacks have killed more than one person and injured many more. It is significant to say openly that I do not have a better solution to dealing with Palestinian terrorists than court.

But to me, calling for stiff penalties for stone throwers means also seeing first-hand what that position looks like. And although the visit was my first experience in jail, it was the latest of a series of experiences I’ve orchestrated in the Palestinian world over the past several years, trying to understand the Palestinian experience of Israel. I’ve tried to listen to ordinary Palestinians, in refugee camps at checkpoints around Judea and Samaria, in the souks and casbahs of West Bank cities and more.

Lastly, at least in this case, I was convinced that that it would be better – both for Mohammed, and for Israel, to have him at home. There, at least his father would have the opportunity to demonstrate messages of peace and reconciliation, instead of the clear messages of hate and violence he would surely ingest in prison.

In many ways, our day in court was the closest I’d come to “experiencing” Palestinian life under Israeli rule, which in many ways is simply a life-long series of delays. Palestinian friends had warned us to plan to spend the whole day at the jail – the court does not issue hearing times, only dates, meaning families arrive early and wait. Through the iron bars, we could see dozens of Palestinian parents milling in an outdoor holding cell, surrounded by fences and topped by a corrugated tin roof that provides protection from both the summer sun and the winter rains. From the outside, it was not clear if there were any drinking fountains or bathrooms.

There is no accurate way to portray the look of despair on the faces waiting to see their loved ones, mainly teenagers and young adults. It was a look I’d seen before – every time I’ve joined Palestinians as they underwent Israeli security procedures at checkpoints, at Ben Gurion Airport, at the entrance to the local Rami Levi supermarket and elsewhere. It is a look that runs deeper than an immediate issue of being frisked or having a 19-year-old soldier gruffly ask to see an ID. It is a look that betrays a deep sense of emptiness, of humiliation, of utter hopelessness. Here, the Hebrew- and Arabic language sign reading Welcome to ____ Prison  seemed like a cruel joke, accented by the announcements shouted over the loudspeaker in what sounded to me like an aggressive, abrasive Arabic.

We greeted Ziad, shaking hands through the fence to his obvious joy and the bewilderment of the other Palestinians, who couldn’t quite grasp the fact that a group of Israelis – including Orthodox settlers – had come to court with him. Then, two hours after submitting our ID cards, we were finally admitted, again for a minor taste of the Palestinian experience. Each member of the group answered some basic questions, then waited for the soldiers behind the bullet-proof glass to open the iron turnstile leading to the first of three checkpoints. Two metal detectors and a body frisk later, we were inside a maze of iron and bars.

Inside the courtroom, the judge was professional, courteous and appeared to be caring. Reporters who cover West Bank Palestinians say that trials of teenage stone throwers routinely last fewer than five minutes, and that could certainly have been the case here were it not for our presence, and the plea for leniency, made by one settler on behalf of the group.

Eventually, the judge recessed the case to gather more information. (The hearing was a closed-door session because the defendant is a minor, so the Jewish Journal cannot reveal any more details about the case.) But he did appear to have been moved by our demonstration of support.

That put the other members of the group on a bit of a high as the guards led us back to the prison gate, nearly eight hours after we had arrived but hopeful that the judge would show leniency when it came time to sentence Mohammed…

For me, however, I headed home to hug my children, thankful for the safety provided by our security establishment but haunted by the sight of Mohammed’s mother, trying hard to suppress her tears as she headed home for another night without her son, with the clink of leg irons ringing in her ears.

Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

Responding to Kerry article, Netanyahu blames Palestinians for lack of peace progress


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the lack of progress toward peace in an apparent response to statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The time has come for the international community to understand that the reason there is no negotiation and no progress toward peace is not Israel’s fault but that of the Palestinian side,” Netanyahu said Tuesday during a tour of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command headquarters, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement released to the Israeli media.

Netanyahu cited a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research released Monday regarding Palestinian attitudes toward the two-state solution and stabbing attacks on Israelis, which said that 45 percent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution and 67 percent support stabbing attacks on Israelis. The statement inflated the percentages, however, saying that “some 75 percent of the Palestinians reject the two-state solution and about 80 percent support continuing stabbing attacks.”

“That’s not surprising because Abu Mazen is continuing constantly to stir things up with false propaganda about Al-Aqsa, false propaganda about executions and by rejecting any genuine attempt at coming to negotiations,” Netanyahu also said, referring to the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas.

A New Yorker profile of Kerry published Monday tracing his work with Iran, Syria, Israel and the Palestinians quoted the secretary of state as criticizing Israel for not knowing whether it wants a two-state solution or to become a binational state, and whether it wants to be a democratic state or a Jewish state. Kerry also criticized Israel for continued settlement building and demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists.

Obama calls on Israelis and Palestinians to ‘exercise restraint’


President Barack Obama, making a surprise address, told a Haaretz-sponsored conference in New York that Israelis and Palestinians must “exercise restraint.”

“Inexcusable violence has taken too many lives — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others,” Obama said via teleconference on Sunday morning at HaaretzQ, the liberal Israeli newspaper’s event with the New Israel Fund. “I’ve been clear that Palestinian leaders have to condemn the ongoing attacks and stop the cycle. Individuals responsible for violence, including violence against Palestinians, have to be brought to justice, and we call on both sides to work to diffuse tensions, exercise restraint, prevent more loss of life and restore hope.

“Of course, the best way to reduce tensions and ensure Israel’s own security is to continue working in concrete ways towards a two-state solution.”

A spate of attacks since October has killed 22 people, according to the Israeli government. In the same period, 106 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers, police or civilians either while committing attacks or in their aftermath, on suspicion that they were about to carry out attacks or clashes with Israeli forces, Reuters reported last week.

The U.S. leader, who was not on the program of speakers, told the audience of approximately 600 at the Roosevelt Hotel that they would always have a partner for peace in him and in the United States.

“Peace is necessary, just and possible,” Obama said.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, in his keynote address noted his visit last week with Obama and emphasized that “the president’s commitment to a secure Israel is beyond any question.”

Saying peace is important for Israel’s safety and security, Rivlin said, “For that we need to think outside of the box.”

The conference, the first of its kind for Haaretz in the United States, is designed to provide a “unique platform for robust debate and intelligent reflection” on key issues regarding Israel, according to the newspaper.

“Isolated under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, the editors of Israel’s leading liberal newspaper are coming to New York to try to restore a sense of reason,” Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote in the Daily Beast on Friday. “We begin by turning to our American friends whose voices have been drowned out for too long.”

Rivlin, saying he sometimes is “annoyed and angry” by what he reads in Haaretz, said however that the newspaper is “a beacon for freedom of expression in Israel” and “I am here today because I believe the free market of ideas is a holy principle.”

With Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of military veterans that accuses Israeli soldiers of mistreating Palestinians, presenting on one of the panels, Rivlin praised the morality of the Israel Defense Forces and earned vigorous applause.

“The IDF does everything in its power to keep the highest moral standard possible, even under impossible conditions,” he said, adding that no other army in the world is as moral.

Tzipi Livni, a Knesset lawmaker from the center-left Zionist Union party and Israel’s former justice minister, in her address criticized the settlements.

“Settlements don’t give security to Israel,” she said, “settlements take security from Israel.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO and a leading negotiator for the Palestinians, said the source of the current violence is failed peace talks.

“When every day we bury our loved ones — it’s for one thing,” Erekat said. “It’s our failure to achieve peace. It’s out failure to achieve a two-state solution.” He begged the audience not to give up on the idea.

Erekat insisted that Israel has a partner for peace with the Palestinians, saying the conflict with Israel is purely political. He also called the Islamic State terrorist group “criminals and thugs,” saying they have nothing to do with Islam.

Others scheduled to speak are the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh.

Most Israelis say terror wave isn’t intifada


Most Israelis, Jewish and Arab, say the ongoing string of attacks does not qualify as an intifada.

According to a poll released Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, the majority of Israelis say the current wave of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks that began in October is a “limited uprising.” The second Palestinian intifada a decade ago killed some 1,000 Israelis in a series of suicide bombings. Twenty-two people have been killed in the recent wave of attacks, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website.

Jewish- and Arab-Israelis disagree over whether the attacks are being planned by the Palestinian leadership. Sixty-one percent of Jews say the leadership has been involved, while 58 percent of Arabs say the attacks are spontaneous.

The two groups are also split on whether an Israeli-Palestinian accord would reduce the violence. Seventy-one percent of Jewish-Israelis say it would not, while 72 percent of Arab-Israelis say it would.

Two-thirds of Jewish-Israelis and 64 percent of Arab-Israelis fear for the safety of their loved ones due to the terror wave.

In wake of stabbing, Palestinians and Jews clash in Hebron


Hours after a Palestinian stabbed a Jewish man in the already tense West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinians and Jews clashed violently there.

In the aftermath of the stabbing Monday that left the Jewish victim critically wounded, dozens of Jewish residents marched in protest to Hebron’s old city, where they threw rocks at Palestinians, the Times of Israel reported.

The clashes, in which the Palestinians sent rocks back in retaliation, occurred outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are believed to be interred. The site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, houses a synagogue and mosque.

Israeli security forces forced the Jewish protesters to retreat to Hebron’s Jewish neighborhood and restrained Palestinian demonstrators. There were no reported injuries or damage.

In the attack, a 21-year-old Palestinian man stabbed a Jewish man in his 40s near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, leaving several wounds to his upper body. The victim was moved to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he arrived in severe condition, according to the Times of Israel.

Israeli forces shot and killed the assailant, Ihab Fathi Miswadi.

Hebron, which is home to several hundred Jewish settlers and approximately 170,000 Palestinians, has been the site of several Palestinian terror attacks in recent days and has been the scene of some of the largest atrocities in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1994, Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire at Muslims worshipping at the Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque, killing 29 and wounding more than 125. In 1929, more than 60 Jews were murdered by Palestinians during a pogrom in Hebron.

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest


Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence – that it is being carried out by “lone-wolves” active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed – the deeper causes are disputed.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

“What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, within any borders,” he said as he left for the climate talks in Paris on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration, particularly among young men and women in the West Bank.

While they have criticized Abbas and his Fatah party for tacitly condoning the violence, including praising “martyrs” who have carried out stabbings, they have avoided accusing the Palestinian leader of inciting it directly.

“The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” the Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.”

At a cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister who was angry that the general's briefing was not in line with the government's position.

The details were leaked to Israeli media and confirmed to Reuters by a government source who attended the meeting.

Since Oct. 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians, 58 of whom were identified by Israel as assailants.

“PINPOINT ACTION”

As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which has been in the West Bank for 48 years and is minutely involved in maintaining stability, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators.

Senior ministers who sit on Netanyahu's security cabinet want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinian population, arguing that it is the only effective deterrent.

So far, Netanyahu has shown no inclination to launch a large-scale military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank by 40 percent and calling up reserve units.

He has also rejected suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that he offer concessions to the Palestinians to diffuse tension. Violence has to end first, he says.

Instead, there is a strong presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints across the West Bank, without the sort of iron-fisted tactics that marked the last intifada, although the homes of several attackers have been destroyed.

“This is about taking pinpoint action to tackle specific challenges,” a senior army officer told Reuters, saying operations focused on three particularly unruly areas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said the military was trying to ensure that the bulk of the population, which is not involved in violence, is as unaffected as possible.

One example of the balance the military is trying to strike is in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, the most volatile West Bank city. On Friday a 19-year-old from the village, Omar Zaakiek, got into his car and drove into six Israeli soldiers, who shot him dead.

Within hours Netanyahu's security cabinet announced Beit Ummar would be put under “closure”, with cars barred from entering or exiting, except via a winding back road, and pedestrians having to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Locals accused Israel of collective punishment. The mayor said Zaakiek's family was told their home faced demolition, a tactic the army and Shin Bet have called counterproductive.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz acknowledged the rift between some ministers and the military and said the latter's policy of trying to isolate the attackers was flawed.

“It is legitimate to have an argument about distinguishing terrorists from the Palestinian population,” he told Channel 10 TV. “It is completely clear that the more you differentiate, the more your ability to deter is limited.”

So far Netanyahu has headed off the pressure. But the situation remains precarious. Given the complex roots of the violence, Michael said there was no military solution.

“This reality cannot last long,” he said. “Ultimately one side will make a mistake and the situation will spin out of control.”

Calm amidst the violence in Israel


On the day the world was parsing Bibi Netanyahu’s suggestion that the notoriously anti-Semitic Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin Al-Husseini, was responsible for Hitler’s Holocaust, I was among a group of journalists touring Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, which had just been named the top luxury hotel in the Middle East by Condé Nast’s Readers’ Choice Awards. 

This hotel, in fact, was once the mufti’s own prize hotel.

It reopened last year following a seven-year, $50 million expansion and renovation, but to Israelis it’s known as having been built by the mufti as his crowning achievement in luxury, his Palace Hotel. Al-Husseini opened the hotel in 1929 with great fanfare — it had an elevator! — but the business was crushed five years later when the King David Hotel opened just around the corner. 

The Palace Hotel, opened in 1929 by the Mufti of Jerusalem, was renovated and expanded into the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria. Photo is public domain

The British took over the building for a while, then after Israel’s independence in 1948, it served as Israeli government offices. It even housed a tax museum for many years, and you can imagine what an attraction that was. 

Today, the crystal-chandelier-clad Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem that beat out Qatar for glam is owned by the Orthodox Canadian Reichman family and is glatt kosher throughout, so many of its guests are Orthodox. I witnessed several shidduchs-in-progress in the grand courtyard.

Take that, mufti. 

I was in Israel at the height of the knifing terror, a guest of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the Hilton Hotels of Israel, of which the Waldorf Astoria is a showpiece. It was a trip full of juxtapositions: The news screamed of conflict. Life in Israel continued apace.

I saw great luxury on this trip — including on a tour of the “presidential suite” at the Waldorf, which has not yet housed a U.S. president but does lay claim to former House Speaker John Boehner having slept there. (Still less presidential, but perhaps more glitzy, the hotel has also hosted Hollywood celebs Sarah Silverman and John Turturro.) I also witnessed the insistence of Israelis to proceed with life, even when life threats are rupturing any sense of equanimity.

Israel is a place where your most helpful waiter will wear a nametag identifying him as Mohammed; where business partners sometimes live on opposite sides of partition barriers; where trust is a necessity, even when at every turn your bag is examined to check for weapons. Caution is a bylaw, but so is the insistence on normality. I took my cue from the Israelis and walked the streets, went to bars at night, visited the museums and shuks and ate in the restaurants. 

During this time of “the situation” — long the Israeli equivalent of the Irish term “the troubles” — there was great sadness but also a deliberate decision to move on. Some people stayed home — restaurants that might have been packed were, in many cases, only partially full — but others went out. Jerusalem’s Old City was not shy of tourists, especially the Christian pilgrims visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was filled to the brim. The Western Wall, normally a major attraction, was especially quiet, however, and the Mamilla mall, a beloved attraction of Arab and Jew alike, looked like half its clientele was staying home — the Arab half.

In Tel Aviv, however, crowds were far closer to normal. I attended a gala event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hilton Tel Aviv that served as a benefit for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of conductor and pianist Yaron Gottfried. Every seat was filled in the cavernous ballroom. And a visit to bars and clubs late one night showed no signs of revelers tapering off. Just try to tell Tel Aviv to stay home, and see what happens.

In Israel, as in the U.S., people blame a lot of any situation on “the media.” Too much talk of violent protests here? Blame the media. Too much talk of knifings there? The same. And what blew that story out of the headlines? Rain. (Sound like home?) A giant storm hit just as we were leaving Tel Aviv for a visit to Eilat, with brief stops planned at Masada and the Dead Sea. (Who says you can’t see all of Israel’s highlights in an afternoon?) Given the downpour, our veteran guide, Nathan Shapiro, had to decide how to navigate soaked roads to get us to a shuttered Masada mountain — not even the cable car was running — and to the Dead Sea, which was beautifully framed by a rainbow, and then on to Eilat. 

If there was a moment of exponential tension on the trip, it came as Shapiro decided whether we would be able to take an alternate route from the one everyone normally takes from the healing waters of the Dead Sea to the southernmost Israeli resort of Eilat, normally about a two-hour drive. The direct highway was closed by flooding, and the alternate route involved cutting over to the southwestern border and traveling alongside the Sinai. The road that night was dark, entirely unlit, and for most of it, we were completely alone. If you looked over to the right, you could see only border fence, and an occasional Egyptian guard post. This was before the Russian plane was downed, likely by a bomb, but even then I was very aware that ISIS might not be too far off.

And yet, carrying his merry band of journalists, Shapiro proceeded in good humor, and we approached Eilat watching a lightshow of lightning outside our windshield. The next day bloomed bright. Business as usual. Witnessing the Israeli resolve to move forward through “the situation” — and the rain — shows how chutzpah can override worry, and Israeli life will never be undone.

Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of the Jewish Journal.

Group, led by Gery Shalon, charged in theft of hundreds of millions


Three Jewish men, two of them Israeli citizens, are among those charged with hacking the website of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The indictments of Gery Shalon, Joshua Samuel Aaron and Ziv Orenstein in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York were unsealed Tuesday. The 23-count indictment encompasses the Chase hack along with numerous alleged crimes targeting 12 other companies, including nine financial service companies and The Wall Street Journal, Reuters reported.

Prosecutors said the three had been working together since 2007 and that their crimes include artificially inflating stock prices, an illegal bitcoin exchange, operating online casinos and creating at least 75 shell companies around the world.

“By any measure, the data breaches at these firms were breathtaking in scope and in size,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference.

According to Reuters, Tuesday’s charges are the first tied to the JPMorgan attack, which compromised information in 83 million customer accounts and was the largest theft of customer data from an American financial institution.

Shalon, 31, and Orenstein, 40, are Israeli citizens who were arrested in July. Aaron, 31, is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Moscow and Tel Aviv. Another defendant, Anthony Murgio, was also charged in the bitcoin exchange.

The charges depict Shalon as the leader of the group.

Changing the status quo in Jerusalem?


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

After more than a month of violent Palestinian attacks that have killed 11 Israelis, and the deaths of at least 75 Palestinians in both attacks and clashes with Israeli troops, Palestinians insist that Israel wants to change the “status quo” at the Jerusalem holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Palestinians the Noble Sanctuary. Israeli officials insist there has been no change in the “status-quo.”

That status quo allows non-Muslims to visit the site, but not to pray there. However, many Palestinians believe that the recent increase in the number Jewish visitors to the site is meant to pave the way to allow Jewish prayer there. The site is run by the Jordanian Waqf, or Muslim religious trust, but Israel is responsible for the overall security at the site.

Speaking at a PLO Executive Committee meeting this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Israel must preserve the status quo that prevailed before the year 2000, when few Israelis visited the site. September of that year is when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli policemen. His visit set off rioting that became known as second Palestinian intifada.

After that visit, Israel closed the site to visits by non-Muslims for almost three years, but then reopened it after public pressure. Recently, the number of visitors has grown to 12,000 Jews annually, many of them activists with right-wing organizations that seek to rebuild the Jewish Temple at the site that is holy to both Judaism and Islam. To Judaism, it is the site of the First and Second Temples; to Muslims it is the site where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

The increase in the number of Jewish visitors came after more mainstream Orthodox rabbis ruled that it is permissible for Jews to visit the site, and there is no fear of entering the “holy of holies”, a part of the original Temple off-limits to anyone except the High Priest, and only on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Israeli security officials say that the increase in Jewish visitors, along with claims from prominent Israeli Arabs such as the head of the northern branch of the Islamic movement Raed Salah that “al-Aqsa is in danger” sparked the current wave of violence. Israeli officials insist there has been no change, and the original agreement worked out between Israel and Jordan in 1967 when Israel acquired the area, remains in force.

“This claim is not true and it is dangerous,” Knesset member Mickey Levy, who was also a former Jerusalem police chief told a conference at Hebrew University. “This man endangers the security of Israel, and even the Middle East. A war that begins over water or borders will eventually end. But a war over religion may never end.”

Salah is due to start an 11-month prison term for remarks made in 2007 that an Israeli court has called “incitement.”

Levy said that Israel must make work hard to end the current wave of violence and must make sure that there are no Palestinian deaths at the holy site itself.

“When I took over in 2000 I took away the police officer’s guns and left them only with riot gear,” Levy said. “Since then not one Palestinian has died at the site, and that is in our interest.”

Levy, who left the job in 2004, and is today a Knesset member for the centrist Yesh Atid said that he sometimes felt like “the boy in Holland with his finger in the dam trying to stop the violence from exploding.”

In September, Israeli cabinet minister Uri Ariel visited the site and called for the building of a “third Temple” there, sparking angry Palestinian reactions. Netanyahu soon prohibited both Jewish and Arab Knesset members from visiting the site.

“The main cause (of the current violence) is the provocative visits by settlers and right-wing activists to the al-Aqsa mosque with a clear plan to control this area and declare that it belongs to the Jewish people,” Youssef Jabarin, an Israeli Knesset member from the Arab Joint List told The Media Line. “These visits have been supported by Israeli government ministers and the plan is basically to divide al-Aqsa so that for some of the time only Jews can enter while keeping Muslims outside the gates.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo at the site. But police say they have occasionally kept Muslim worshippers from entering the area, if a large group of Jews were visiting and they feared violence.

Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry held separate talks with Israeli and Jordanian officials on how to tamp down the violence. He announced that 24-hour surveillance cameras would be set up. Palestinian opposed the idea saying that Israel would use the cameras to “arrest Palestinians on the pretext of incitement.”

This current wave of violence, which some are calling “the third intifada” or Palestinian uprising is characterized by stabbing attacks, often by teenage perpetrators. A few of the attackers have been as young as 13, with a significant proportion falling between 15 and 18, at least a third of them from east Jerusalem.

“They are little boys, not even young men,” Amir Cheshin, a former advisor on Arab affairs to the Jerusalem municipality told The Media Line. “They are responding to Israel’s long-time neglect of Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. The youth there feel a deep sense of despair and that they have no future.”

Netanyahu, Kerry at Berlin meeting call for end to incitement


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting in Berlin called for an end to incitement to violence against Israelis.

Netanyahu singled out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for blame.

“I think it’s time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas: Stop spreading lies about Israel. Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa mosque, and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All that is false,” Netanyahu said Thursday in Germany.

Kerry did not assign any blame for the violence but said it and incitement had to stop. He also said that the leaders need to “settle on the steps that will be taken that take us beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric” and move toward a larger peace process.

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses a mosque compound. Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu vehemently denies.

Netanyahu also said that “Israel is acting to protect its citizens as any democracy would in the face of such wanton and relentless attacks.”

He is scheduled to meet in Berlin with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

Kerry is scheduled to meet over the weekend in Amman with Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Willful denial fueling conflict in Israel


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, not Adolf Hitler, was the architect of the Holocaust which killed six million Jews, Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at the World Zionist Conference this week. The statement elicited a storm of condemnation from political allies and enemies alike who were concerned at the apparent attempt to rewrite history. But the Prime Minister’s comments merely highlight an ongoing habit by both Israelis and Palestinians to ignore facts or to interpret history in a manner which pushes their own political narrative.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini did meet with Hitler but only in November 1941, after the Final Solution had already begun, Dina Porat, the head historian at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, told The Media Line.

“The Final Solution was in Hitler’s mind – it was his obsession – since World War One. He wrote about it in Mein Kampf,” Porat said. Although the Mufti did ask Hitler to extend the genocide into the Middle East, to suggest that he gave the idea to the German leader was “not accurate,” she concluded.

The Prime Minister’s comments have been viewed by some analysts as an attempt to tie Palestinians, and their efforts to realize a sovereign state, to the genocidal policies of the Nazis for political gain.

The rewriting of history is also coming from the Palestinian side. Although Palestinians have killed ten Israelis in stabbing and shooting attacks this month, some of which have been captured on video, many ordinary Palestinians say the attacks never happened and videos were doctored. Arab media frequently underreports these events and instead focuses on the deaths of the attackers, who are often presented as blameless.

“Palestinians are assassinated for no reason. Most of the cases of people who were killed were innocent people who did not commit any crime,” Mustafa Barghouti, the general Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative (PNI), told The Media Line. “The fact that Israel claims that they were trying to stab people is nothing but a lie,” Barghouti, whose PNI attempts to be a third, democratic alternative to the main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, said.

Along with the ten Israelis killed in a wave of attacks perpetrated mostly by teenage Palestinians from east Jerusalem, 47 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces or civilians. Of these, 25 have been identified as attackers, and others killed either during protests or trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Despite a number of videos online appearing to show Palestinians attacking Israelis with knives, axes, and cars, Barghouti refused to accept any Palestinian deaths.

When preventing a terrorist attack, “you don’t shoot (the perpetrator) ten times. Or shoot them and then leave them on the ground bleeding to death,” the physician and politician said. When asked under what circumstances it was acceptable for Israel police to use lethal force, Barghouti declined to elaborate, and said only “any attack is unjustified in general, who ever does it, without exception.”

Last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not condemned any of the stabbing attacks, infuriated Israelis further. Abbas claimed that thirteen year-old Ahmad Manasra, who had stabbed and seriously wounded a 13-year-old Israeli boy, had been executed by security forces. In fact, Manasra was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment and is recovering.

In other incidents, Palestinian media has a tendency to report additional information which strive to explain the attacks as actions other than terrorist activity. For example, a Palestinian woman who stabbed an Israeli man in Jerusalem’s Old City was reported to have done so because he attempted to snatch off her headscarf, which Palestinian women wear in modesty.  In a second incident, in which a female Palestinian driver apparently detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, Palestinian media claimed that the car’s electric system had caused a fire.

For their part, Israelis have rejected any claims that soldiers may have used disproportionate force against Palestinian attackers.

Mustafa Barghouti singled out the recent cases of Fadi Alon and Asraa Abed. Alon was shot and killed, Asraa was shot and wounded. In both cases, video footage does not appear to show either as posing a direct imminent threat at the time of their shooting. It is also not clear that they were trying to carry out a terrorist attack.

In the videos, Abed, a young Israeli Arab mother, appeared more confused than aggressive and has previously been treated for mental issues. Alon, 19, was involved in a scuffle with right-wing Israeli activists at 4 am, and it has been suggested he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The danger of such a possibility was highlighted by the death of Habtom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker who died after being shot and then beaten by a crowd. A security guard at the Beersheba bus station misidentified Zarhum as a terrorist during an attack by an Israeli Bedouin man that left one dead and eleven others injured. Video footage of an Israeli soldier and a number of civilians kicking the Eritrean man and dropping furniture on him as he lies semi-conscious have elicited anger in Israel and prompted an investigation.

Suggestions of Israeli unlawful killings were strongly rejected by Shmuel Sandler, a professor of politics with the Begin Sadat Center. “They come to kill us, we protect ourselves and you call this extra-judicial killings. I don’t understand it,” Sandler said. He rejected the use of the word Palestinian, arguing that no state called Palestine ever existed in history.

“I want the media to be more objective – you don’t take the liar – the killer – and tell both (sides of the) stories,” Sandler said. Hatred towards Jews was the only motivation behind recent attacks, the professor concluded.

This was in line with previous comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu who rejected poverty in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, and a lack of a political progress in the conflict, as motivating factors for Israeli attacks against Israeli civilians.

“There are two narratives here and each side is promoting its (version) – it’s not just part of propaganda, people really believe in their narrative,” David Tal, a historian with the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, told The Media Line. The different political tales told in each camp don’t merely add fuel to ongoing tensions but are the foundations for the conflict, Tal said. Willful denial of the other side’s beliefs is an ongoing part of this process.

“The first thing is that if you have a propaganda weapon you can use, then you use it,” Tal explained, adding that Palestinians and Israelis were equally guilty of this. In such circumstances, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will believe in their rhetoric even if their leaders do not.

In the case of Mamoud Abbas’s claim that Ahmed Manasra was killed, video evidence showed the President to be wrong. But in many other cases evidence will not be so clear cut and people will choose to stick to their pre-existing beliefs about the other side, Tal concluded.

Netanyahu later clarified his comments regarding the Mufti. “I had no intention of absolving Hitler from his diabolical responsibility for the annihilation of European Jews,” the Prime Minister said, ironically on his way to a visit to Germany and a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon comes to Israel in bid to calm tensions


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has come to Israel in an effort to tamp down the current wave of violence.

The hastily arranged visit has Ban meeting Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, who assumed the position last week, also arrived in Israel on Tuesday to attend Ban’s meeting with Netanyahu.

Late Sunday, Ban released a video in order to “speak directly” to the Israeli and Palestinian people “about the dangerous escalation in violence across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, especially in Jerusalem.”

“I am dismayed – as we all should be – when I see young people, children, picking up weapons and seeking to kill,” he said in the video message. “Violence will only undermine the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for statehood and the longing of Israelis for security.”

In comments addressed to the Palestinian youth, Ban said: “I know your hopes for peace have been dashed countless times. You are angry at the continued occupation and expansion of settlements. Many of you are disappointed in your leaders and in us, the international community, because of our inability to end this conflict.”

To the Israelis he said: “When children are afraid to go to school, when anyone on the street is a potential victim, security is rightly your immediate priority. But walls, checkpoints, harsh responses by the security forces and house demolitions cannot sustain the peace and safety that you need and must have.”

In a statement issued before he left for Israel, Danon said he hoped that Ban would “unequivocally condemn the incitement to violence of the Palestinian Authority.”

He said he would immediately return to New York for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the current wave of violence scheduled for Thursday.

A letter to Israelis: We are with you


A friend in Israel writes, “Sometimes we feel as though no one in chul (chutz la’aretz — outside of the land) really understands what is happening here.” She means the daily apprehension, the fear when you see your child walk out of the front door in the morning. She means the knowledge that any passing car can become a ground missile, any disembarking passenger an avatar of death. She further fears the knives wielded on streets will bring out the rhetorical knives as well: ones like the words of U.S. State Department Spokesman Adm. John Kirby, talking about how both sides have committed acts of terror.

What can I say to her; what can we say? How do we, who have chosen the buffered safety of life outside the land, respond to those who live in Israel? These are my words to Rena, to her children, to all of our sisters and brothers who feel alone: Jews across the world wake each morning with prayer and trepidation, the prayer borne of faith and the trepidation of love. The sacred cord ties us from Paris to Miami to Madrid to London to Los Angeles to Buenos Aires to Toronto to Kiev to New York, its origin in the energy of Jerusalem.

The world may not care to understand what it is to be surrounded by enemies, watchful and fearful, but we do.

Countries that associate with others — the EU or NATO or ASEAN or Latin American States or OPEC — cannot imagine what it is to belong to no club, to stand singular in the family of nations. We remember the verse of Lamentations: “How the city sits solitary.” There is one Jewish nation. One.

When people forgive the catastrophic political culture around you, asking what can one expect of people who have never known democracy, believe me — we remember that the founders of Israel came from lands with czars and dictators and tyrannies and still managed to create a democracy. We do not forget Israel’s roots, and we have not ceased to be amazed at them.

When your children are still at an age when girls and boys resist learning about the past, falling asleep in classes featuring dry recitations of dates and events, we know that you are haunting them with history. They learn at 6, 7, 8 years old that the strong arm of Israel has a number tattooed on it that will never disappear. As one of your greatest writers has said, before Israeli children learn the facts of life, they learn the facts of death. We, your sisters and brothers, do not forget.

Your 17-year-olds who patrol the borders may be a symbol to some of brute strength. To us, they are our children, barely discovering what life is, forced to carry a gun and make choices in a split second that will save or doom lives. On the evening they should be on a first date, they listen for sounds of terrorists in the night.

When you read in the Torah of Reuven, Gad and half of Manasseh — the tribes that Moses permitted to dwell outside the land — you may suppose that we no longer heed Moses’ admonition that the tribes must help fight for the land to earn the privilege of residing elsewhere. Most of us have not forgotten. We know there is a tax for not living in the land.

When pundits from all over the world, in the safety of their studios, question how you defend yourself, know that we trust you. Do we ever question? Of course. We all think, argue, doubt, wonder. But in the end, we trust you not only because you have survived the many storms, but because while families fight, they also trust and embrace.

So what do we offer you in your pain? We will send money to support hospitals and soldiers and the wounded and bereaved and charities and schools. We will speak up when the world assails you, judges and condemns you, dismisses your fears because they themselves do not wish to be afraid. We will visit you and stand next to you.

But most of all, please know that we love you. We love you not with the distant, easy affection that we give to people who do not impinge on our lives or disturb our sleep. We love you, our Israeli brothers and sisters, with the soul-rocking love that binds our fate and our destiny with yours, the love of family far away that does not forget. We know that you would have us be there and instead we are here. But also, please remember, we are here.

Prominent Arab-Israeli news anchor slams Palestinian leaders


Arab-Israeli news anchor Lucy Aharish isn’t afraid to take on both sides of her fraught identity. She has spoken out against the racism that Palestinians face in Israeli society as well as against Palestinian violence.

Aharish, 34, was interviewed on Tuesday on Israel’s Channel 2 about the wave of Palestinian terrorism that has Israel on edge. In a segment of the interview shared over 22,000 times on Facebook in less than 24 hours, Aharish slammed Palestinians for using religion as an excuse to attack Jews, and their leaders for inciting the violence.

“Some of the Arab leaders are keeping a horrific and deafening silence,” she said, according to a translation of the interview by The Israel Project. “They are not trying to calm the situation, not trying to act towards mutual understanding and accepting the other.”

Aharish didn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding the Temple Mount, known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. Some say attempts by Jews to pray at the holy site provoked the Palestinian attacks, and Israeli crackdown, of recent weeks. Aharish said Israeli policy on the Temple Mount has not changed, but that even if it had there is no excuse to resort to violence.

“Even if the status quo on the Temple Mount has been broken, does that allow someone to go and murder someone else because of a sacred place?” she said. “Why, because of God? What God are they speaking of? One that allows for children to go out and murder innocent people?

“What woman puts a hijab on and prays to God, takes a knife out and tries to stab innocent people?” she asked.

Aharish also called Arab leaders in Israel “weak” and suggested their purported outrage about the Temple Mount is insincere.

“They know how to march and go to the Temple Mount and shout, although they don’t believe in God, you don’t have a religion, but yet shouting that it’s ours. What ours are you talking about?” Aharish said. “It’s the house of God. Your God? You have ownership on it? What are you talking about?”

She ended her rant by criticizing leaders for inciting young Arabs to violence.

“You are inciting thousands of young people to go to the streets. You are destroying their future with your own hands,” she said.

Aharish hosts news shows for Israel’s Channel 2 and i24 News stations. She was the first Arab Muslim news anchor on Arab Muslim television and remains one of the few, according to Haaretz.

Earlier this year, she was chosen to light a torch at Israel’s official Independence Day ceremony. Some Israelis, on the political right, said she was not sufficiently local to the state; while others, on the left, accused her of “playing the obedient Arab, salving Jewish consciences,” Haaretz said.

When Aharish was 6 years old, she was injured when Palestinian attackers lobbed a Molotov cocktail at the car she was riding in with her parents in the Gaza Strip.

 

The ‘Tweetifada’ hits Facebook with graphic videos of violence


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Facebook feeds of Israelis and Palestinians are being swamped with videos claiming to offer the “truth” of the series of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis that have left seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians dead this month.

On social media some are calling it a “tweetifada.” This is a play on the Palestinian term for uprising, Intifada, and a nod to the videos and images that are being posted on social media on an hourly basis. During the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, the internet was just emerging as a medium and a smartphone was unheard of. But today everything is recorded and uploaded quickly to the internet.

“There are videos circulating in two different networks…both sides in the conflict and their supporters… are distributing videos that they think make their case stronger,” Nicholas John, from the department of Communications at Hebrew University, told The Media Line. This is not a new field in the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what is different is the instantaneous speed with which images can spread.

The second change is the unfiltered images swamping social media.

“(This) completely bypasses any kind of censorship… we are exposed now to far more gruesome images than we would have seen on the news,” John suggested. This reduces the distance people feel from the violence, making it seem more real and intimidating, he said. Such was the case with the video below.

13th October Vehicle Attack in Jerusalem

The feelings of young Palestinians viewing images and videos online, “range from pride to fear to excitement to a feeling of abandonment,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and columnist for Al-Monitor, told The Media Line. Three quarters of Palestinians are under the age of 29, and many are active on Facebook.

Videos being shared among Palestinian social media users tend to fall into three areas, Kuttab suggested. Those showing clashes between protestors and Israeli security forces; those showing alleged brutality by the Israeli military; and those demonstrating what Palestinians see as peaceful resistance by an underdog towards heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Of the most popular recent videos, Kuttab said, shows an elderly Palestinian man in a red headscarf scolding soldiers in Hebron for firing their weapons at Palestinian children. These videos show a “young person or a woman ignoring the fact that these men are very well armed and shouting at them – it gives people a sense of pride,” the journalist explained.

Inevitably, interpretations over what a video is showing and the context of the incident come down to the eye of the beholder. “We have this idea that a photograph (or video) should somehow tell us the truth of what actually happened but we know it hasn’t always,” John explained.

Shooting of Fadi Alon

The above video shows an incident where a 19 year-old Palestinian from Isawiya, Fadi Alon, was shot and killed by Israeli police on October 4. Two conflicting accounts of what happened immediately prior to the incident have immerged.

In the Israeli version, Alon stabbed and injured an Israeli and was neutralized by police in their efforts to end an ongoing terrorist attack.

In the Palestinian explanation, Alon scuffled with right-wing Jewish activists he encountered while they were marching in the street, shouting racist slogans. As the fight escalated police arrived and, urged on by the Jewish youths, shot the teenager while he posed no immediate threat to those around him.

Such differences of interpretations, and the narratives used to push them, make up a large part of the information being exchanged on networks like Facebook. People frequently view information that reinforces their existing political views.

Videos which clearly show Palestinians attacking Israeli civilians are shared less frequently on Palestinian social media networks, Kuttab suggested. When they are, an explanation is given for the action. “(The) narrative is described as attacks against settlers and soldiers, not against innocent civilians – “settler” is code word for justifiable resistance,” the journalist explained.

Israel conquered east Jerusalem in 1967 and immediately annexed it. Israelis see it as part of their capital; Palestinians as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most of the 300,000 Palestinians who live in the city do not have citizenship, but their Jerusalem residency entitles them to Israeli health insurance and social security. Young Palestinians from east Jerusalem have been overwhelmingly responsible for the current wave of stabbings and shootings of Israeli Jews.

Some Palestinians view the stabbings as an understandable response to the ongoing violence of the Israeli “occupation”, Kuttab argued, asking, “Do people think these guys are heroes? Yes, they are heroes. We are an underdog population using low technology against an occupying power.”

Increasingly not just the opinions of the street but government narrative is also being pushed through videos and social media. The Israeli Government Press Office responded to allegations by Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas that Israel had “executed” a 13 year old Palestinian who stabbed two Israelis. Israel released a video showing a nurse feeding the youth jello in an Israeli hospital.

There are also the funny videos – often using black humor. Following a video showing an Israeli policewoman pointing her weapon at a Palestinian attacker in northern Israel while continuing to hold her ice cream in one hand, social media responded with the final video.

Ice Cream Satire

Israel slams Palestinian Authority incitement


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Jerusalem was quiet on Wednesday, a day after Palestinian attackers killed three Israelis and wounded more than 12 others. Police said that in the late afternoon, a young Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli policeman near the Old City, and the attacker was shot and killed. The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported he was 14 years old. In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, another young Palestinian was killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers.

The Rami Levy supermarket chain, which has branches in the West Bank, and which employs both Jews and Palestinians, announced it would stop selling knives in its stores, according to the Israel National News website.

In Jerusalem, Israel deployed hundreds of extra police and sent army units to major cities to beef up forces. Israel also sealed off several Palestinian neighborhoods and police checked Palestinian ID’s throughout the city.

Israeli officials went on the offensive against the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of systematic incitement against Israel.

“What sends young people out with butcher knives to attack Israelis?” Dore Gold, Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry asked a news conference? “It emanates from incitement, particularly religious incitement. The incitement surrounds the false accusation that Israel seeks to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.”

Gold was referring to a Jerusalem site that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Palestinian attackers, who have killed seven Israelis this month, have been fueled by rumors that Israel wants to change the status quo at the site, which allows Jews to visit but not to pray there.

“We said and I am repeating it now in the name of the Israeli government and Prime Minister,” Minister for Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told the news conference. “We are committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount. We are defending the holy sites of religions in Jerusalem.”

Steinitz said that the young Palestinian attackers, using knives, have been inspired by Islamic State’s beheadings in Syria and Iraq.

He charged that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is behind the current wave of incitement, quoting statements by Abbas in September saying “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem,” and “They (Israelis) have no right to desecrate the al-Aqsa mosque with their filthy feet.”

Steinitz says that statements like these can be directly connected to the violent attacks.

“We hear again and again the slogan, “Itbah al-yahud”, “Kill the Jews, knife the Jews, death to the Jews in the name of Allah, in the name of defending Islam, in the name of defending the al-Aqsa mosque,” he said. “This is not new. It’s just a new way of terrorism and violence and this time it’s totally clear that the main approach here is a religious approach – defending Islam against the enemy of the mosques, against the Jews.”

For their part, Palestinian officials have complaints against the way that Israel has handled the current wave of violence. Palestinian officials say that in several cases, Palestinian attackers were killed after they had already been subdued and when they no longer posed a threat.

“The occupation has spread a culture of hate and racism that justifies all kinds of atrocities, including collective punishment and cold-blooded executions,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement. “It’s the Israeli government that has made clear to the Palestinian people, both in actions and statements that they refuse to end their belligerent occupation and will do everything possible to erode the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Steinitz dismissed these claims as nonsense, and said that in some cases Palestinians have tried to attack a second time, even after they were lying on the ground.

Israel announces new measures to stop Palestinian attacks


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Under pressure to stem attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved plans to boost police numbers with the deployment of soldiers in Israel’s cities and to increase security checkpoints around Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Government officials also said they would take away the Jerusalem residency permits of terrorists, a move which must be approved by Israel’s Attorney General.

Outside Jabel Mukaber, home to two Palestinian men who conducted an attack which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen others, police checkpoints have already been set up, with other neighborhoods reportedly to follow.

Local residents and human right groups have expressed concerns that these security measures fail to reduce the risk of attacks and instead hamper the lives of ordinary Palestinians. They contend that will increase rather than reduce simmering tensions.

At some locations Israeli police set up concrete roadblocks instead of police search teams. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) expressed concern over the use of this tactic which could be longer-term.

“It is ok for the police to curtail freedom of movement for short periods of time for (something) specific. (If) there’s a stabbing on the street it’s acceptable to close the street for a few hours,” Ronit Sela, from ACRI, told The Media Line. Mass unrest such as an ongoing riot could necessitate sealing off a geographic location – a violent incident which was no longer occurring and had been carried out by an individual or small group did not, Sela explained.

Police previously closed off the entrances to whole Palestinian neighborhoods for extended periods of time, beginning last summer when tensions spiked after Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and Israeli extremists kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.

ACRI’s concern is that rather than a targeted security measure the roadblocks are being used as a blanket punitive measure. The human rights organization received reports from community leaders in several different Arab neighborhoods stating that police had informed them checkpoints will continue until disturbances in their area ended, Sela said. The police are holding the neighborhood to account for what the teenagers living there are doing which is effectively collective punishment, the activist said.

Any notion of collective punishment was rejected by Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli Police spokesperson.

“After recent terrorist attacks and recent disturbances a number of roadblocks have been set up – they’re temporary. They’re not closing off the neighborhood but they’re there in order to make sure that we can identify any suspicious vehicles,” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. Residents in neighborhoods with checkpoints at the entrance could still enter and leave freely, Rosenfeld said, pointing out that such procedures were standard police practice.   

But Palestinians say these moves just make life harder for Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are not involved in the violence.

“All the clashes are by teenagers, they don’t have cars and they don’t do attacks using cars. They’re on foot,” Hatem Khwess, a field researcher for the dovish organization Ir Amim and a Palestinian resident of the Mount of Olives, told The Media Line. Police checkpoints, or concrete blocks placed in the road, will not stop the young men involved in the disturbances.

A lack of investment in infrastructure by the Jerusalem Municipality in east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods was to blame for the feeling of resentment held by the young generation towards Israeli police, Khwess said. “Look in the classrooms – what’s new?” Khwess argued.

Ir Amim and ACRI have both issued reports about a shortage of classrooms in Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem, and a lack of qualified teachers in some subjects. Israel’s deputy mayor Ofer Berkovich says he is aware of the gaps and the city is working hard to eliminate them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected any argument that linked Palestinian violence to frustrations within the Arab community. “Terrorism comes from the desire to annihilate us,” Netanyahu said during the opening of the winter session of parliament.

A motion to deploy army personnel into city centers across Israel was also approved by the Israeli cabinet, something that would represent a step up in security measures. Reports suggest that 300 Israeli Army personnel have been deployed to support police on the ground, though a spokesperson for the military would not comment on this. In Jerusalem’s city center small numbers of soldiers could be seen checking the identification of shoppers and residents, a role normally performed by the border police.

Other measures discussed by the cabinet have been the imposition of a curfew on Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for not only a curfew but the imposition of full military rule in east Jerusalem if further unrest were to take place in the coming days.

Such measures were not likely to lead to an increase in security and could exasperate Palestinian residents, Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. “These are measures which only make it more difficult for people to lead their daily lives (and) have no strategic significance,’ Herschman said. The director went on to say that a more effective short term solution to curbing attacks would be efforts to convince Palestinians that their “collective identity in the city” was not threatened.

 

Jerusalem’s population of 800,000 is about 64 percent Jewish and 36 percent Palestinian. Most of the Palestinians are not citizens, but carry the same type of ID cards as Jewish Israelis giving them freedom of movement throughout the city. Almost all of the attackers in the current wave of violence came from east Jerusalem.

Combating an Israeli-American identity crisis


A year after Irit Bar-Netzer arrived in Los Angeles from Israel, she had her first son. That was 37 years ago, and that’s when the dilemma began.

“I wondered back then: How am I going to raise my children? As Israelis? Americans? Who is going to help us raise our kids? We didn’t have Grandma and Grandpa around. What’s going to happen to their identity?” 

It was by no means a new dilemma, however — in some ways, not even to her. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, Bar-Netzer remembered how she felt growing up in Israel as a child of immigrant parents who didn’t speak Hebrew very well. 

“The children used to laugh at us because we spoke Hungarian and not Hebrew,” she said. Still, she ended up speaking Hebrew to her first son in America because, she said, “It was easier and natural for us.”

Bar-Netzer, a psychologist who has worked with children for years, related this story during an Oct. 11 seminar at Temple Judea in Tarzana that was sponsored by Ma Koreh, a project of Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) that is spending the next year providing lectures to Israeli parents. Conducted in Hebrew, the intimate gathering — the first in a series — was attended by 16 parents of young children and featured Bar-Netzer and child psychologist Ernest Katz. 

BJE Associate Director Phil Liff-Grieff said, “We want Israeli-American families to connect better through the organized Jewish community. We want them to understand that it is a tool in their toolbox for raising their kids here.”

The program is funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and is done in cooperation with the Israeli-American Council and Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which provides books written in Hebrew to young children. 

Although many of the parents at the recent event said they insist on speaking Hebrew to their children, they wondered if that’s enough to keep their kids “Israeli” and how important it is to send their kids to private schools in order to maintain their Jewish-Israeli identities. And while many agreed that not all aspects of Israeli characteristics are welcomed, they do want their kids to maintain some of the values and traditions they were raised on. (The famous Israeli chutzpah was not one of them, according to participants.) 

One father of a 4-year-old described the problem like this: “When my daughter asks me, ‘Am I an Israeli?’ I am confused. I don’t know what to answer her. I do want her to take the good things from both cultures: the Israeli and the American — because there are good things and bad things in each culture — but how do I do that?”

His wife, who was born in Israel and moved to the United States with her parents when she was 8, said she experienced the issue herself as a child. 

“Throughout my childhood, my parents spoke to me in English and I know they meant well, but today I know it was wrong. I never knew what I was. Israeli? American? Americans always thought that I’m an Israeli and Israelis thought I’m an American, so I was confused about my identity, and I don’t want my kids to go through that as well.”

Not that simply speaking a certain language solves the problem.

One mother of three said she insists on speaking with her children in Hebrew, even though they often answer in English. “I struggle with it every day,” she said. “Each time I speak to my son in Hebrew, he says, ‘I was born here. I’m an American. It won’t help you.’ It’s a constant conflict. How do you deal with that?”

Bar-Netzer said she believes part of the parents’ challenge is not only their children’s identities, but also their own.

“The conflict is huge, and you need to think what is right for your child,” she said. “You have decided to come here and raise him here; now you have to decide what’s important for you and what will be best for him. The fact that you had come here ready to listen and discuss it means that the subject is important to you and your children will benefit from that. When I came here, 38 years ago, there was no such discussion on how to raise Israeli children.”

While Bar-Netzer and Katz didn’t offer answers to the many issues the parents raised during the 1 1/2-hour meeting, they suggested that parents make a list of what is important for them and what’s important for their kids. 

“Learn to listen to your children and see what they need. You should send your children a clear message. That is the most important thing. You don’t want to confuse them by questioning their own identity,” Bar-Netzer said. “As long as it’s good and right to you as parents, it will be good for your children as well.”


UPDATE [10/19/15]: This article has been changed from its original form to protect the names of parents at the event.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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