Israel News for February 22, 2016

Duma Torture
Amiram Ben-Uliel, the main suspect in the Duma arson murder last summer, is claiming that he confessed to the crime because he was tortured by his Shin Bet interrogators. No the Shin Bet did not use waterboarding. They used something much worse: a woman’s voice.

When his interrogators realized that Ben-Uliel, 21, refrained from listening to women singing (due to his stringent interpretation of Jewish law which prohibits a man from listening to a woman singing), they simply turned on the radio.

According to Ben-Uliel, “I asked them to turn it off, and they wouldn’t’; I got up to turn it off and they jumped me, beat me, bound me hand and foot, and put pressure on me in painful places.” Then the Shin Bet got really tough and brought in a female interrogator who actually sang songs to him (it’s unclear whether or not she sang off key, which can be really painful to the sensitive musical ear). The woman also apparently touched him lightly on the shoulder to stop him from falling back, which really set him over the edge, causing him to shout, “what are you touching me for? You should be ashamed.”

The purpose of reporting this story is in no way to make light of Jewish law, and those familiar with the laws relating to interaction between the genders will understand the distorted application of those laws by Ben-Uliel in his particular situation. The main takeaway from this story is to better understand the kind of “torture” that the Shin Bet is accused of using. In all probability there was some degree of physical abuse employed. But relating the term “torture”, which is understood by the world to include things that are on a totally different level of inhumanity (just ask Donald Trump), to the Shin Bet’s interrogation of the Duma suspects might not be so accurate after all.

The Shin Bet might have acted insensitively to the prisoner’s religious beliefs, but can that be considered “torture”?

For further reading click here.

Parents of Terrorists
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said at a cabinet meeting yesterday that Palestinian parents are not preventing their children from committing terror attacks because they know that parents of terrorists receive a grant and a monthly stipend from the Palestinian Authority.

Several ministers said that Israel should work to block transfers of funds from the PA to terrorists’ families. The ministers were told that every month Israel deducts what it estimates the PA pays to terrorists’ families before it pays over the taxes it collects on the PA’s behalf. Bennett said that this deduction is not enough, and that an effort must be made to keep the families from getting money.

For further reading click here.

Church Battle
Jews and Muslims aren’t the only ones in conflict over religious sites in Jerusalem. For the last 20 years a battle has been waged between the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and an Arab storekeeper over a piece of valuable underground Jerusalem real estate.

Twenty years ago Abed Hirbawi went down into the cellar of his grocery store, which is adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City Christian Quarter, and found a group of Coptic monks digging there. The monks claimed that the cellar was part of the church.

A violent quarrel ensued between the monks and Palestinian youngsters who had come to support Hirbawi. A week later, a number of armed men from the Palestinian security forces arrived at Hirbawi’s home and abducted him. Apparently, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had promised Egypt’s then-president, Hosni Mubarak (patron of the Coptic Church in Jerusalem), that the merchant would relinquish the cellar. When Hirbawi refused, despite severe threats to his life, Arafat offered him $2 million from his personal account (hmm, wonder where that came from) to give up the cellar. Hirbawi still refused, claiming that the issue was a matter of honor.

When PM Netanyahu heard about the abduction of Hirbawi, who is an Israeli citizen, he ordered the IDF to impose a closure on the territories until Abed Hirbawi was released. Hirbawi was freed after being held for four days, and the dispute moved to the courts.

The case went through numerous courts and judges, including the High Court, for years. The Church brought evidence to prove that the cellar was a holy site, which would move the case from the courts to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Hirbawi’s Israeli attorney compiled a comprehensive historical study covering 3,000 years to prove that the cellar was never used for religious purposes. He also submitted a document from 1189, the period of Saladin’s rule in Jerusalem, according to which the Muslim ruler assigned to Muslims “a large chamber known as the Patriarch’s Hall,” which he identified as the Hirbawi cellar.

Well, to make a much longer and complicated story short, the two sides recently agreed to build a wall down the middle of cellar giving half to the Hirbawi’s (Abed Hirbawi dies several years ago) and half to the Coptic Church.

Now they’re arguing about what material to build the wall out of.

For further reading click here.

It’s Raining
Heavy rains drenched Israel from north to south yesterday and today. In the Negev and Dead Sea area flash floods overran highways and shut down traffic and schools throughout the region. A ceiling at the Be’er Sheva’s “Grand Canyon” shopping mall collapsed due to rain.

In the north, Tzfat broke all records with 18 hours of non-stop rain and 70 mm of rain, about a fifth of the total amount that has fallen since the beginning of winter. Mount Hermon was closed to the public due to heavy snow and the Kinneret rose over a centimeter, which still leaves it almost 4 meters below its “red line”.

But don’t worry, the rest of the week is supposed to be unseasonably warm and sunny.

To see video and photos of the flooding, click here.