November 16, 2018

Missile Strikes Expose Limited Options in Gaza

Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters

It’s Nov. 13 and all of Israel is focused on the Gaza Strip.

This morning, after a barrage of Hamas missile attacks, it appeared Israel had no choice but to up the ante. Its deterrence of Hamas wasn’t working. Its reluctance to go to war was being perceived as weakness. Its measured counterattacks following the massive bombings of Israeli cities looked like acts of hesitation.

The morning air felt heavy with the looming specter of death — mostly, but not only, from the impending deaths of Gazans. Would the “dead men walking” in Gaza’s streets be counted by the dozens, the hundreds or maybe the thousands? We braced ourselves for the next round of violence to erupt.

Now, this evening, a cease fire is suddenly on the horizon. Will it hold? (By the time you read this in the Journal, you’ll know. At this moment I write, I don’t.)

Israeli leaders, goes the cliché, have only two options in Gaza. They can conduct small wars and arrange for short-term ceasefires; or they can send the Israel Defense Forces to reoccupy Gaza and uproot the government of Hamas. But reoccupation of Gaza is not an option — it is madness. Luckily, Israel’s leaders, while not perfect, are not mad. 

What are the real options in Gaza? One is to fight Hamas until it accepts certain terms that result in peace and quiet for a while. The other one — an option heralded by some opposition leaders — is to help the Palestinian Authority take over Gaza. That is, to cooperate with Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas. 

Leaders who support the latter option suspect that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not pursue it because he is averse to strengthening the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. Netanyahu, they argue, prefers to deal with two weakened Palestinian factions so he can claim to have no partner for a comprehensive peace deal that includes all Palestinians. Maybe. But there is an alternative explanation to such a strategy — which is no less sensible. Netanyahu does not believe that Abbas and his allies can control Gaza effectively. He does not want to waste Israeli resources — or lives — on a lost cause. 

Netanyahu has been very clear, possibly too clear, in expressing his reluctance to go to war in Gaza.

“Whatever one thinks about Israel’s long-term strategy toward Gaza, its short-term goal has been to avoid war, to even accept some humiliation in an effort to restore the peace.”

“I am doing everything I can to avoid an unnecessary war,” he declared in Paris before rushing back to Israel as a rain of rockets threatened to escalate into war. In the past couple of months, Netanyahu has negotiated (indirectly) with Hamas, has allowed Qatar to transfer money to Hamas, and has accepted the embarrassment of being criticized from right and left. Hamas has tested him time and again, sending hordes of demonstrators to harass the IDF near the Gaza fence, firing the occasional rocket, and burning fields on the Israeli side of the border. 

If or when war begins, Netanyahu will be portrayed by some international media as a bloodthirsty warmonger. But a sober assessment of his actions — including in this past week when many others were ready for heightened violence — would conclude that he might have been too hesitant, too accommodating, too eager for compromise. He was the one restraining the cabinet, reining in his gung-ho colleagues. Whatever one thinks about Israel’s long-term strategy toward Gaza, its short-term goal has been to avoid war, to even accept some humiliation in an effort to restore the peace.

The eruption of violence began when an Israeli elite unit was discovered and attacked in the Gaza Strip. The unit’s mission in Gaza has remained secret, but military professionals insist it was essential. When Hamas retaliated, Israel responded calmly, understanding the need of Hamas to blow off steam. Then Israel learned that Hamas’ definition of blowing steam was greater than expected. A bus was attacked by an antitank missile, and a soldier was badly wounded. Rockets were fired on Israeli cities and citizens. In Ashkelon, a man was killed. Ironically, he was a Palestinian worker — the only man Hamas was able to kill as of this morning. (The Middle East is filled with such unfortunate ironies.) 

Netanyahu still wanted to limit the scope of Israel’s response, to explore the possibility of a ceasefire. His logic was solid: A war will not change the basic realities that make Gaza a thorny problem for Israel.

Lewis Carroll wrote in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” that sometimes “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Today, Netanyahu insisted that sitting is better than running, if all one wants is to keep in the same place.  

True, seeing a country sitting on its hands does not instill much awe or inspiration. But in Gaza, Israel doesn’t wish to inspire. It wishes to avoid disruption and violence. No more, no less.

‘You Don’t Understand’

“Some American Jews look at Israel with horror. Israel — and Israelis — don’t seem to understand a simple truth: President Donald Trump is “sowing hatred and divisiveness in this country that will allow the kind of people who supported Hitler to also take action,” as one such Jew, Henry Siegman, president emeritus of the U.S./Middle East Project, told Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs. 

Some Israeli Jews look at American Jews with horror. American Jews don’t seem to understand a simple truth: Donald Trump is “a true friend of the State of Israel and to the Jewish people,” as Bennett said. Israel, said Ambassador Ron Dermer, is “not aware of a single non-Israeli leader” other than Trump “that has made such a strong statement in condemning anti-Semitism.”

Jews in the United States have had political differences with Jews in Israel concerning many issues for a long time. In the past two years, Jews in both nations added Trump to the long list of disagreements; Israeli Jews appreciate his support, American Jews reject his manners and policies. But the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh made these differences more acute, and the conversation about them more bitter. American Jews feel that Israel is willing to throw them under the bus of anti-Semitism in exchange for the temporary political support of a bigoted president. Israeli Jews feel that American Jews are utilizing a tragedy for political purposes and thus alienating Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States.

“You don’t understand” is the phrase Americans use. A few days ago, a respected scholar sent me an email. “Anyone who tries to separate the tragedy and its wake of bitter grief from ‘politics’ does not experience on a daily level the corrosive tragedy eroding America today,” she wrote. Indeed — most Israelis don’t experience such “corrosive tragedy.”

“You don’t understand” is a phrase Israelis also use, when American Jews attempt to lecture them on this or that. You don’t have to spend nights in shelters around Gaza; you won’t pay the price if a peace process blows up; you are too naïve and too distant to appreciate the dangers of a Middle East. You don’t understand.

The inability of Jews to understand the circumstances of other Jews is a given. When a Jew lives among gentiles, there are certain antennas he or she must develop to survive. When someone says, “George Soros, the Jewish billionaire,” these antennas interpret it as a signal, one to which Israelis are tone deaf (What’s the problem? Isn’t he Jewish? Isn’t he a billionaire? Isn’t he justifiably disliked?).

 “In the past two years, Jews in both nations added President Donald Trump to the long list of disagreements.”

The same is true for signals that Israeli antennas detect, and many Americans don’t. Consider former President Barack Obama. American Jews saw a president whose views reflect their own values and priorities. Israel’s antennas screamed that something was missing, that something wasn’t right.

Israelis and Americans often make a similar mistake. They believe that the other side — their Jewish kin — doesn’t much care about them. 

In recent days, many Jews in the U.S. (and some in Israel) blamed the Israeli government of grave sins of indifference. Israeli Jews aren’t immune to jump to similar conclusions when talking about American Jews. There is some truth to both arguments. Israel, naturally, is more focused on keeping Israel safe and thus less sensitive to anti-Semitic undertones of supportive political leaders. American Jews, naturally, are more sensitive to their own problems, and want Israel to forgo its realpolitik calculations whenever a Jew feels in danger. 

Still, there’s a better explanation for the differing interpretations of the situation — better than assuming neglect or apathy. Israelis are tone deaf to the sensitivities of American Jews, and thus cannot comprehend their position. American Jews are tone deaf to the sensitivities of Israeli Jews, and thus cannot comprehend Israel’s policies. There is no remedy for this situation, other than having faith. Israelis must believe that the American Jews — annoying complaints and useless advice aside — want Israel to thrive and survive. American Jews must believe that the Israeli Jews — annoying ignorance and insulting disregard aside — want the American Jewish community to thrive and survive. 

The tragedy of Pittsburgh could be a moment that separates Jews from one another. But it is not too late to hope that it can be a moment that instills in us the missing faith.

Read More from Rosner’s Domain: Oy, Wow, and Other Comments on the Midterms, the Jews and Israel

Israelis Celebrate Jerusalem Day Amid New Political Reality

People take part in the March of the Nations, in which Christians from around the world and Israelis protest against anti-Semitism and in support of Israel, in Jerusalem, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The historic and ancient city of Jerusalem has been the destination of countless religious pilgrimages for Jews, Christians and Muslims over the centuries. Yet the city also has been at the heart of bloody battles, crusades and, more recently, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So it should come as no surprise that a holiday aimed at celebrating the holy city would spark controversy and highlight competing narratives. Such is the case with Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in Israel commemorating the city’s reunification following the Jewish state’s victory in the 1967 war, during which it gained control over east Jerusalem.

By coincidence, Jerusalem Day this year fell on May 13, one day before the inauguration of the new United States Embassy, which follows President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Traditionally, [Jerusalem Day] been celebrated more by the national-religious in Israel, even though, of course, it’s a national holiday,” Emmanuel Navon, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies, explained to The Media Line.

“It is true that in terms of the civilian population, the ultra-Orthodox don’t really care and the secular [population] doesn’t care so much, either,” he conceded, before qualifying that some elements of the holiday unify Israelis.

“When the eastern part of [Jerusalem] was ruled by Jordan, there was no free access to places of worship for the Jews and there was no freedom of religion,” Navon said. “It’s only since Israel reunified the city that you have this freedom of religion and respect for all holy sites. I think this is something that most people recognize.”

Nowhere, however, is the ideological split more apparent than at the Jerusalem Day right-wing Flag March, in which thousands of people parade through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter waving Israeli flags. In the past, the parade has been marred by some participants using anti-Arab epithets and engaging in physical violence.

“People who say it’s divisive don’t have to take part in it,” Navon said. “It’s not the only way to celebrate Jerusalem’s reunification. People can choose what kind of event they want to attend or not on Jerusalem Day.”

“It’s only since Israel reunified the city that you have this freedom of religion and respect for all holy sites. I think this is something that most people recognize.” — Emmanuel Navon

Some people are already offering more inclusive alternatives.

“We think [Jerusalem Day] is an important day for reclaiming the city because in the last few years [it] has turned into something a little more nationalistic,” said Michal Shilor, the Activism for Tolerance Campaign Coordinator at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC).

Now in its third year, the stated goal of the Jerusalem Tolerance group is to help Jerusalemites undertake initiatives that promote tolerance and diversity. It has become a platform for dozens of Jerusalem Day events aimed at combating the Flag March, which many consider offensive.

“This year there are 80 events within [the span of] 36 hours that are talking about tolerance,” Shilor noted, including tours of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, literary gatherings and encounters with people with disabilities, among other things.

“It’s not that there’s an issue with celebrating Jerusalem Day,” she said. “It’s more that the way it has been celebrated in the last few years [has sometimes] turned into violence and racism.”

U.S. and Israeli officials attended a May 14 ceremony marking the official opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. The ramifications of such a move are still not fully understood, but analysts agree it marks a turning point in the city’s history.

According to Navon, “It will be remembered as a major event.”

This article was originally published on The Media Line.

Teaching About Israel at U.S. Camps, These Israelis Do Some Learning Themselves

Erez with friends Dvir and Dor welcome Shabbat at Camp Ramah in California. Photo courtesy of Erez Marchini

I sat down to interview a prospective summer camp counselor, and suddenly I felt a wave of anxiety.

The meeting, more than a decade ago, was no ordinary interview. Ilan, in green fatigues, was shouldering a semi-automatic weapon.

He was among a special pool of Israeli young adults near the end of their army service who had applied to serve as shlichim (ambassadors) at North American Jewish camps in a program administered by the Jewish Agency for Israel.  Nervously eyeing his gun, I was tempted just to say, “Take the job! It’s yours!”

The truth is, there was anxiety on both sides of the table. Ilan and I came from different worlds. He was born into a secular, Zionist household to parents who made aliyah from India. I grew up Los Angeles, in a family that was deeply involved in the Jewish community. At the age at which Ilan was training as a soldier, I was leading Shabbat services at my college Hillel.

For most Israelis, being Jewish is an unquestioned part of their core identity. But their engagement in Jewish practice tends to be more complex, concentrated on the extreme ends of the secular/religious spectrum. North American Jews, in contrast, have increasingly rich and diverse approaches to Jewish life and learning.

I have made 11 trips to Israel to recruit shlichim — previously for Camp Ramah in California and more recently for Camp Bob Waldorf in Glendale, where I am the director. When I interview these candidates, I can’t help but wonder what they will make of camp — our gleeful approach to prayer, our particular Shabbat rituals and our obsession with Israeli folk dancing (an activity that, ironically, isn’t often part of their lives).

While the stated goal of bringing these young Israelis to camp is to strengthen American campers’ and staff members’ connection with Israel, I am routinely inspired by how the experience affects the Israelis themselves.

This year, the Jewish Agency will invest $3 million in its Summer Shlichim Program. Roughly 4,500 candidates will be screened and 1,400 matched with 180 day and overnight camps. They arrive eager to teach about history and culture, facilitate difficult conversations around conflict and peace, and inspire Americans to visit Israel. Often they succeed. In the process, many develop an emotional attachment to camp. They forge deep and lasting friendships and their own Jewish identity evolves. It’s an investment with multiple returns.

“Camp really opened my eyes and taught me to see and appreciate different shades in Judaism.” — Erez

Consider Erez, whom I met more than a decade ago when I worked at Ramah. Erez had grown up Orthodox in Israel, and the idea of liberal Judaism was completely unfamiliar to him. That summer, I watched him build relationships with other staffers and his 15-year-old campers over cups of Turkish coffee that he prepared. He was warm and curious and took his programming duties seriously. By summer’s end, he felt proud of how he had represented Israel and was acutely aware of his own growth as a Jew.

“Camp really opened my eyes and taught me to see and appreciate different shades in Judaism. It deeply influenced my spirituality,” he told me recently. “Every time I look for a synagogue now, I search for services that are fun, happy and full of song.”

Elinoy had spent three years as a combat and fitness instructor in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before she came to Camp Bob Waldorf as a shlicha in 2016.  Raised in a secular family on a kibbutz, she found that working at a Jewish summer camp in the United States made her see her Jewish identity in a new light. For the first time, she came to view Judaism not just as a religion, but as a source of meaning, inclusion and cohesion.

Before camp, she had never recited the Birkat ha-Mazon, the blessing after meals, but she soon found herself singing it along with the campers. “I do not find meaning with the entire blessing, but at camp, I found some strong points,” Elinoy told me recently. “Reciting it makes me grateful for the food on my table and appreciative of my life.”

Even more surprising to shlichim like Erez and Elinoy is how being at camp makes them grow in their relationships with Israel. Both arrived eager to teach about the diverse range of people who have a claim on Israel and the complex ethical issues the IDF soldiers confront. Elinoy recalls an IDF training simulation she ran at camp that provoked an important discussion.

“It gave campers an opportunity to ask questions about growing up in Israel and opened serious conversations about what it means to serve our country,” she said. “These conversations emphasized my identity as an Israeli and opened my eyes to how people in the U.S. view the IDF.”

By stepping into their roles as educators, shlichim also become students of Israel through the eyes of non-Israelis. Encountering American Jews and their varied opinions of Israel, they are sometimes forced to confront unexpected points of view. Their perspective on political and religious issues may evolve, as does their understanding of what it means to be a Zionist in the Diaspora.

Just as invaluable are the lifelong relationships that camps nurture between Israelis and Americans — and among the Israelis. At Bob Waldorf, Elinoy started running each morning with Stevie, an American staff member, and soon their friendship blossomed into a serious
relationship. This month, Stevie plans to enroll in a graduate program at Tel Aviv University and is relieved to know that camp friends await.

He and Elinoy plan to return this summer to Camp Bob Waldorf, where Elinoy — to her own surprise — has applied to be the camp’s Jewish educator.

Erez, who spent four summers at Ramah, still considers his camp friends to be his closest. Of the six buddies with whom he spent his entire wedding day, four were from camp.

On my most recent Israel trip, I met my old friend Ilan at a Tel Aviv café. No longer in his fatigues, Ilan now works as a film editor. He is eager to share how much his camp experience transformed his connection to Judaism and Israel.

“The contact with the staff and campers all gave me a sense of belonging — a stranger would not understand,” he said.

Then, just before we parted ways, he smiled. “I was hoping you were going to invite me to return to camp,” he said, “with my wife and 2-year-old son!”

Zach Lasker is director of Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale and the former camp director at Camp Ramah in California.

German Government Kills Resolution Condemning Kuwait Airways’ Discrimination of Israelis

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The German government succeeded in killing part of a resolution on Thursday that would have condemned Kuwait Airways’ discrimination toward Israel, according to a press release from The Lawfare Project.

The German Chancellor’s Office and Foreign Ministry persuaded the German Parliament to modify a resolution that would have advocated for the German government putting an end to Kuwait Airways’ refusal to provide travel to Israelis.

The reason: the Chancellor’s Office and Foreign Ministry were concerned about how such a resolution would affect negotiations with Kuwait Airways on the matter.

“When it comes to discrimination, there should be nothing to negotiate about. The time has come for Germany to enforce its laws, safeguard its values, and act to stop the vile and systemic anti-Semitism perpetuated by companies like Kuwait Airways,” Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, said in the press release. “The German public – and all decent people — should demand to know the nature of these negotiations, and to understand the German Federal Government’s plans for ensuring the Kuwait Airways complies with the law.”

Lawfare Project German counsel Nathan Gelbart told the Journal in an email that he didn’t think the German government nixing the condemnation of Kuwait Airways in the resolution would affect the current lawsuit against Kuwait Airways.

“The political outcome has no connection to the legal one in my eyes,” wrote Gelbart. “The court can dismiss our appeal (though I am confident we are right) but politically KAC might be forced to stop their third destination flights or to transport Israelis.”

Back in December, a Frankfurt court dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Israeli against Kuwait Airways, claiming Kuwait’s laws needed to be respected. Gelbart, who is representing the Israeli, said in a press release at the time, “The Frankfurt District Court’s verdict has allowed antisemitic discrimination to be imported into our country and helped whitewash and sanitize it. We cannot allow our laws to be subverted by the state-sponsored racism of other nations.”

The Lawfare Project has appealed the Frankfurt Court’s ruling.

Dispatching ‘Ambassadors’ for Israel

Eyal Biram. Photo by Jonathan Lee

Eyal Biram has deep roots in Israel; his family’s presence in the region can be traced back eight generations on both sides. “I think it’s amazing, something unique in Israel. Most of the people are immigrants,” he said. His father’s family is from Hebron; his mother’s, Jerusalem. His maternal great-great grandfather, Yoel Moshe Salomon, was the founder of Petah Tiqvah. Israel is in his DNA.

Biram grew up on a small moshav (agricultural settlement) called Ramot haShavim in the center of the country. He said the highlight of his early years was spending 12 years with the youth movement Haichud Hahaklai (Agricultural Union). By the time he graduated from high school, he had decided to delay military service in order to do a year of volunteer work with the youth movement. “Now, it was my turn to give to the children like all the guys who did that for me,” Biram said.

With his year of volunteer national service complete, Biram felt more “mature, more ready to start my army service,” he said. Biram was drafted into an elite combat unit, and, after two years of regular service, as intended, went on to become an officer.

He served in the military for six years, double the mandatory three years for men, and was discharged at age 26. “I was worried that I would get out of the army when I was very old. But during my service, I realized how much the army gives me skills for life,” Biram said. “I think my six years in the army was equal to 12 years in civilian life.”

After the intensity of serving in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Biram needed a break. He was granted a three-month leave to travel and clear his head. This sojourn to the Far East would provide him with an “aha moment” he never could have foreseen.

While in the Philippines, Biram had a short but life-changing conversation with a local Filipino in a bar. He said that this young man had heard a lot about Israel on the news but had never met an Israeli. During their brief encounter, Biram realized he had an incredible power: the power to shift people’s perceptions of Israel.

“They didn’t know that it wasn’t at war all the time,” Biram said. “They didn’t understand the complexities of Israel, that it’s not just black and white.”

Biram isn’t just an officer, he is also a diplomat.

It is an Israeli cultural phenomenon to take long trips to far-flung places after being discharged from the military. Indeed, the Israeli post-discharge backpacker has become ubiquitous from South America to Southeast Asia. In these backpackers, Biram saw a built-in distribution network for soft diplomacy, and he returned to the military determined to realize this potential.

“I think my six years in the army was equal to 12 years in civilian life.” — Eyal Biram

As Israel increasingly is losing the battle to project a positive public image, Biram is at the forefront of advocacy innovation.

“With the thousands of Israelis traveling abroad, we have a specific and efficient way to make great hasbarah (advocacy) for Israel, but no one has used this before,” he said.

While still in the army, Biram began to plan to harness the post-discharge traveler’s potential. He quickly found friends and mentors to support his idea of training soldiers pre- and post-discharge in basic communication and advocacy tools. After being discharged in June 2017, he launched the nongovernmental organization ISRAELis, working in full cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and other educational partners to prepare Israeli soldiers to act as “ambassadors” during their post-discharge trips.

By July 2018, ISRAELis is projected to have 30,000 soldiers complete a one-hour training as part of their official mandatory discharge educational program. “Most of our work is teaching them that they are actually ambassadors. We give them the tools to tell their personal stories [and] include Israel in order to make a positive impact in this encounter.”

ISRAELis offers an advanced, full-day workshop for those who want to delve deeper, and these men and women form the basis of the travelers network. A digital platform of resources also is planned to launch this year.

And Biram, like most Israelis his age, already has a few trips planned.

Settler Opens Her Home to Peace

Caroline Schuhl Schattner

Fourteen years ago, during the Second Intifada, Caroline Schuhl Schattner of Toulouse, France, felt the time had come to realize her Zionist dream. Frustrated with French news media coverage that made Israel out to be the aggressor during the prolonged uprising, she moved to Israel intent on becoming an actor in Israeli history, not a bystander.

Schuhl Schattner enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and joined a combat rescue unit. Today, at the age of 34, with a master’s degree in linguistics, a husband and three children, she lives in Efrat, a largely Modern Orthodox town in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, where she continues to work at making peace.

Every two weeks she hosts informal meetings in her home between Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in and around Gush Etzion, a flashpoint in 2015-16 for what is sometimes known as the “Knife Intifada,” a period when Palestinians regularly stabbed, shot and ran over random Israelis in the streets.

Schuhl Schattner believes that many Palestinians reject such violence, and she is determined to get Israeli Jews to know them, and for them to get to know Israeli Jews.

“I saw that Jews and Arabs live in the region and I see how they see each other — in business, at the shopping center — but they don’t know each other,” Schuhl Schattner said in phone interview from her home in Efrat. “Even though they meet via commerce, Jews have a stereotypical view of Arabs and Arabs have a stereotypical view of Jews. I thought that it’s a shame. We all live here, and we’ll all continue to live here.”

Schuhl Schattner was recently appointed project manager for olim [immigrants] at the Gush Etzion Regional Council. Her work with Palestinians is her personal initiative that she began a year ago.

Recently, she led a joint Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest in the village of Kfar Hussan.

“Most of the Palestinians, they’re people who want to live well — that’s what’s important to them,” she said. “And part of the good and simple life is to live in harmony with the Jews. Many of them don’t have extreme political views. If you succeed in having Jews and Palestinians meet each other, and the Palestinian sees the Jew is not the enemy, he’ll break out of his stereotypical view, and vice versa.”

The joint harvest produced a Facebook friendship between a young Israeli and a Palestinian, who are not allowed by Palestinian law to meet in person. Palestinians must receive permission from Israeli authorities to enter Israeli towns, but the Palestinian Authority can imprison Palestinians who interact socially with Israelis.

“Part of the good and simple life [for most of these Palestinians] is to live in harmony with the Jews.” — Caroline Schuhl Schattner

These days, about 20 to 30 people meet in Schuhl Schattner’s home for coffee, cookies, cake and conversations about topics that are generally taboo at the table: religion and politics. At the meetings, Palestinians often relay their frustrations with living under IDF controls that limit their freedom of movement, while Israelis express their fear of the terrorism and violence that make such security measures necessary. But participants from both groups generally agree that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart — it seeks to thwart attempts at normalization in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and it feeds off conflict.

Schuhl Schattner said some of her friends and neighbors have been skeptical about her efforts, but she remains undeterred, encouraged by the story of one of her Palestinian friends whose brother was released from prison 10 years ago after serving a term for terrorist activity. After the friend introduced his brother to his Jewish friends, the brother’s hatred of Israel and Jews faded.

“I don’t care how much hate you instill in someone’s head,” Schuhl Schattner said. “If you have a good meeting, that’s what stays.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others however, see the glass as half-empty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll of Israelis: Clinton more suited to be president

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll of Israelis: Hillary leads Trump 40-30

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

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

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

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

Poll of Israelis: 58% see Trump as friendly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel sees 25 percent drop in terrorist attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Settler and the Stone Thrower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama calls on Israelis and Palestinians to ‘exercise restraint’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Israelis say terror wave isn’t intifada

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

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

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

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

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

In wake of stabbing, Palestinians and Jews clash in Hebron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calm amidst the violence in Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, mufti. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of the Jewish Journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The charges depict Shalon as the leader of the group.

Changing the status quo in Jerusalem?

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netanyahu, Kerry at Berlin meeting call for end to incitement

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

Netanyahu singled out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for blame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willful denial fueling conflict in Israel

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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