Israeli strikes in Syria prove deadly

At least one person was killed by Israeli air strikes in Syria following the firing of rockets into the Golan Heights and the Galilee.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that it targeted the cell that launched rockets at northern Israel from Syria on Thursday, and that at least four people were believed to have been killed a car some six miles inside Syria in territory held by the Syrian army.

“We were monitoring this cell,” an unnamed IDF source was quoted by Israeli media as saying Friday. “This is an Islamic Jihad cell directed by Iran.”

A Syrian military source said Friday that one person was killed. “The enemy aircraft struck a military position in the area of Quneitra at 11:30 p.m. (20:30 GMT Thursday), martyring one and wounding eight soldiers,” said the source quoted by the official Syrian news agency SANA.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least two people were killed in the strikes, possibly two military officials close to Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to the report, the Israeli strikes included a raid on a target outside Damascus and on a weapons depot belonging to the Syrian military. Syrian state television said the fatalities were unarmed civilians.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday morning that the strike was proof that Israel will not tolerate efforts to harm the security of its citizens.

“We have no intention of compromising on this issue, and I suggest no one test our resolve on this matter,” he said.

Two rockets fired from Gaza, no injuries reported

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

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

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

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

Israel, Palestinians pull back after Gaza exchange of fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rockets explode in Golan Heights; no injuries reported

Two rockets landed in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border.

It was unclear who shot the rockets on Tuesday afternoon, according to Israeli reports. No injuries were reported.

In response, the Israeli army shot artillery fire into Syria and heightened security in the area.

The rockets follow a Jan. 18 strike on Hezbollah operatives in Syria that killed an Iranian general. Senior commanders of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group, were also among the 12 people killed in the strike.

Israel is widely believed to have executed the strike, though Israeli officials have not commented on it.

Calendar November 22-28

SAT | NOV 22


If you think your family’s Thanksgiving dinners are complicated, just consult this Woody Allen classic. The 1986 film tells the story of Hannah (Mia Farrow), her husband, Elliot (Michael Caine), and the infidelities and lives of a close-knit eccentric family. Winner of three Academy Awards, including best original screenplay, the movie was the director’s biggest box-office hit for a long time. If you’re curious about one of the commercial successes of one of our not-so-commercial artists, revisit this filmic staple. Costume designers Jeffrey Kurland and Deborah Nadoolman Landis, one of Hollywood’s most accomplished in her field, will be in discussion. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $5 (general), $3 (film club members and students). LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6010. ” target=”_blank”>

SUN | NOV 23


They came to cover the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival and ended up with front-row seats to a war drama playing out on the global political stage. Operation Protective Edge wasn’t a title on the festival lineup, it was the real-life summer saga that left more than 2,000 Israelis and Palestinians dead. A few of today’s leading film critics will offer their perspectives on witnessing firsthand one of Jerusalem’s most tragic summers during what should have been a regular stop on the film-festival circuit. Featuring Ella Taylor, professor at USC and regular contributor to Variety, Jewish Journal and; Amy Nicholson, author and chief film critic for LA Weekly; and Uri Dromi, columnist and director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. Sun. 4 p.m. $18. The Whizin Center at AJU, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angles. (310) 476-9777. ” target=”_blank”>


Rebecca Gilman’s new play follows veteran social worker Caroline as she tries her best to protect and help baby Luna Gale. But working within a bureaucracy can mean hidden motives, long-held secrets and moral ambiguity, so it’s not exactly smooth sailing. Gilman, the first American playwright to win an Evening Standard Award, is best known for her widely and well-received plays “Spinning Into Butter” and “Boy Gets Girl.” Directed by Robert Falls, the play is a powerful piece of passion and conviction. Sun. 8 p.m. $25-$39. Through Dec. 21. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City. (213) 628-2772. TUE | NOV 25


In the face of true horror, any form of resistance is powerful. With Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 Germany, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head all around the world, including in Los Angeles. While many locals remained indifferent, the L.A. Jewish community mobilized, combating the hate. Historians Laura Rosenzweig and Caroline Luce will discuss their forthcoming digital exhibit on this little-known but largely important chapter of L.A. history. Tue. 4 p.m. Free. Must RSVP. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327.

Yaalon: IDF took out 80 percent of Gaza rockets during offensive

Israel destroyed some 80 percent of Palestinian rockets and mortars in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

About 2,000 rockets still remain in Hamas’ possession in Gaza, Yaalon said Monday in an address to a conference titled “Military and Political Lessons of Operation Protective Edge” at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. The conference was hosted by the university’s BESA Center.

Yaalon said the Israel Defense Forces killed 40 “senior Hamas officials” and 10 senior Islamic Jihad officials.

He also acknowledged that the 50-day Gaza offensive this summer took longer than military officials expected, and that the ground war was initiated only once it was clear that there was no other way to destroy the hidden terror tunnels from Gaza to Israel.

“The question of Operation Protective Edge’s achievements will be judged by the test of time,” Yaalon said. “We’ll also have to see how we prevent Hamas and other organizations from rearming — the potential for doing so exists.

“I hope the future will prove that this operation achieved a long period of quiet and deterrence not only in the Gaza Strip but in the entire region.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God said, ‘Not in my term.’”

Netanyahu asks U.S. congressmen to protect Israel from war crimes charges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked U.S. lawmakers to help Israel avoid war crimes charges stemming from the Gaza conflict.

Netanyahu asked a delegation of visiting legislators to help keep Israel out of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Rep. Steven Israel (D-N.Y.) told the New York Post in an interview Wednesday from Israel, the newspaper reported.

Palestinian Authority leaders met Wednesday with officials from the court to discuss the process of joining.

The Palestinians and other world leaders have charged that Israel committed war crimes by firing on civilian areas of Gaza during its operation. Experts have suggested that Palestinians in Gaza also could be charged with war crimes for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, most in civilian areas.

Netanyahu “wants the U.S. to use all the tools that we have at our disposal to, number one, make sure the world knows that war crimes were not committed by Israel, they were committed by Hamas. And that Israel should not be held to a double standard,” Israel the congressman told the Post.

Savoring life in Tel Aviv under the rockets

I walk six blocks each morning through the Florentine neighborhood of Tel Aviv to the bus stop for the 51. At block number five, in the shade off to the right of the sidewalk, I spot the familiar sight of the old man sitting in a folding chair. We don’t know anything about each other, yet a friendship has somehow blossomed between us: a 20-year-old American girl and an elderly Israeli man. It started five weeks ago with simple pleasantries, me eager to use my rusty Hebrew and interact with real locals. Our daily “boker tov” pleasantries soon turned into a routine, the face of the aged gentleman breaking out into a smile as I walked by. He often asked with genuine concern why I wasn’t eating breakfast, as if eating a hearty Israeli style meal was exactly what I should be doing on my brisk walk to work.

One humid Tel Aviv morning as I walked by, the old man reached under his chair, offering me an unopened bottle of orange juice he had purchased. I fervently declined, but after he insisted in typical borderline-aggressive Israeli fashion, I relented, taking a sip but claiming “ani lo rotzah et ha kol”, giving him back the rest. A week later he asked me why I was always in a hurry, telling me to slow down, to enjoy. Since then, I have.

Somehow, throughout my time here, a war has emerged. Somehow, between the nights out in Tel Aviv with friends, World Cup viewings on the beach, sunset runs along the boardwalk, and afternoons spent in cafes on Rothschild, countless rockets have sailed through the air above my head, causing terror in their wake. Running into bomb shelters has become a reality I could have never foreseen.

I experienced first hand the horror of the kidnapping, the hope and the support of the community as we gathered in Rabin Square with the victim’s parents to pray for their sons’ return. The shock that reverberated throughout the country when less than 24 hours later the devastating news of their slaughter that had occurred almost a week before became known. The fear and utter disbelief when the first sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, the surreal act of running to bomb shelters to seek protection, and the resignation when the sirens and rockets did not stop for fifteen days straight. But the resilient nature of the country and its citizens immediately showed through, visible in the collective pride for the soldiers who fight so bravely, in the smiles of the faces of Israeli’s in #bombshelterselfies, and in Israeli innovation and technology, specifically the strength of the Iron Dome. The feeling of loss is still there, the overwhelming sadness inflicted by each death, each Israeli soldier killed and really the loss of lives on each side of the conflict. Blows to the soul that are felt personally, that sometimes cast a dark shadow over the day and cause a heavy heart that is inevitably experienced when living here, with only a few degrees of separation from soldiers killed on the battlefront.

But here, life goes on. Throughout it all, I have learned to appreciate. Just like the advice the old man extended to me as I powerwalked to my bus stop, I have slowed down, I have become aware of the beauty of life, of all there is to be thankful for and enjoy. Gorgeous sunsets still draw crowds, the cafes are still bustling, and the nightclubs are still packed with swaying, sweaty bodies. The Israeli mentality to live each moment to the fullest, to embrace one another and live with vibrancy is a lifestyle that I have begun to embody.

This morning I walked by the old man, sitting in the shade of the sidewalk, and extended my daily “boker tov” greeting with a warm smile. He motioned for me to wait, slowly rose from his chair, and handed me a Bueno chocolate bar. I’m not sure if I would have accepted a candy bar from essentially a stranger in the streets a month ago- I certainly would not have even glanced twice at this elderly man back home in America. But this act of generosity, the genuine kindness this man exudes, the care that he has expressed for me despite me just being a stranger who passes by for merely 5 seconds every day, caused me to accept this small gift, embracing our friendship.

It has been a true adventure to live here amidst the chaos, but the irrepresible nature of the Israeli people, the fierce unity that has emerged between friends and strangers alike, have allowed me to feel safer and more united with the country I love so much than ever before. I return back to America not just cherishing the time I spent here and the bonds I’ve made with friends and Israelis, only possible from sharing these extreme circumstances. I leave knowing in my heart that I have an insatiable need to return. And I know for a fact that I will. 

French, Indian TV show Hamas rocket launches in civilian areas

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

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

The video was released on Aug. 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The images missing from the Gaza war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there attempts to document Hamas activity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times of Israel report earlier this week suggested as much:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel extends Gaza humanitarian ceasefire for another 24 hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immunity and Impunity: Fear and Loathing in Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what is justice, and what is vengeance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Palestinians killed in West Bank violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Israeli police said it was investigating the violence.

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

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

Crunch time for Gaza truce talks as death toll passes 800

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

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

As the diplomacy continued, so did the fighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A prayer for peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ban orders review following allegations UNRWA gave rockets back to Hamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Relocate nationals from near Gaza border, Thai embassy asks

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

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

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

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

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

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


Israel flight cancellations tip of economic iceberg

This story originally appeared on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this Gaza conflict different? Dead children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about dead children — theirs and ours. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding unity in a bomb shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNRWA condemns discovery of rockets in Gaza school

A United Nations agency condemned the discovery of rockets discovered in one of its schools in the Gaza Strip.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees, said in a statement issued Thursday that about 20 rockets were discovered hidden on the premises of a vacant school in Gaza during what it called a “regular inspection.”

 “This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law,” UNRWA said in its statement, saying that the incident “endangered civilians including staff and put at risk UNRWA’s vital mission to assist and protect Palestine refugees in Gaza.”

The statement did not indicate who left the rockets in the school.

“UNRWA has strong, established procedures to maintain the neutrality of all its premises, including a strict no-weapons policy and routine inspections of its installations, to ensure they are only used for humanitarian purposes,” according to the statement.

UNRWA has launched an investigation into the incident.

In January 2009, the Israel Defense Forces shelled a UNRWA school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip that was housing at least 1,300 Palestinians driven from their homes by the Israeli military operation Cast Lead. Gaza officials put the death toll from the incident at 40.

Hamas terrorists reportedly fired from just behind the building and Israeli troops responded in the direction of the fire, not knowing what the building housed.

Hamas is texting me

I just got a text from someone who’s trying to blow me up.

“The stupidity of your leaders put all of Israel under fire, and forced all the Israelis to go into shelters,” it said, sent by a user named SMSQASSAM. “We will continue bombing every place in Israel until they answer all of our legitimate claims with total affirmation.”

It was signed, “The Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades,” Hamas’ militia.

Hamas is texting me. Awesome.

This isn’t the first time. Hamas has hacked Israeli phones several times during this and other times of conflict, sending messages to tens of thousands of Israelis.

I don’t know for sure if I can credit Hamas with this, but a text I got Friday from someone named SHABAK informed me that a “Suicide bomber sneaked into Tel Aviv and Center targeting shelters. Beware of strangers in shelters.”

Leaving aside how one suicide bomber could target more than one bomb shelter, I’m guessing that text wasn’t from the Israel Security Agency, called the Shabak. Maybe it was from Hamas.

Two days earlier, I got a text from a user named “Haaretz” informing me that rockets had hit Haifa. They hadn’t. The Haaretz newspaper sent out an email titled “URGENT CLARIFICATION” telling us that “The message was not from Haaretz.”

Was it from Hamas?

I’m not going to respond; I’m not the biggest fan of text-messages. I prefer phone conversations, even if they’re short. But I’m not going to call Hamas, and judging from this past week, it’s probably not going to call me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what it writes me next.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Avigdor Lieberman: Israel should retake Gaza

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Israel should retake the Gaza Strip in the current military operation.

“Israel must go all the way in Gaza. The world must give us its full backing to go all the way,” Lieberman said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference at the Knesset. “All this hesitation works against us.

“A cease-fire is a tacit agreement that Hamas can continue to build up its power,” he said of the failed attempt by Egypt to broker a cease-fire.

Israel’s security Cabinet on Tuesday morning agreed to the proposed cease-fire and halted its operation known as Protective Edge. But after six hours and more than 40 rockets fired throughout Israel, the military said it would resume its operation.

Lieberman said the end result of Protective Edge, in its eighth day, “would see the IDF control Gaza.”

The foreign minister’s Yisrael Beiteinu party severed its connection with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud a week ago over disagreement on how to handle the rocket fire from Gaza.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, there are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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