Israel News for April 18, 2016

Golan Message
The Israeli government held a special cabinet meeting in the Golan, as a message to the world that the area will remain as part of Israel forever. The PM declared, “The time has come for the international community to recognize reality. Whatever happens on the other side of the border, the line is not going to change. The time has come after 50 years for the international community to acknowledge that the Golan Heights will permanently remain under Israeli sovereignty.” Netanyahu said that he conveyed the same message to US Secretary of State John Kerry by phone yesterday.

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, responded to the PM’s message saying that, “the Syrian Golan is an occupied Arab land according to the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and the presence of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Forces proves this. We have never renounced the resistance and we are ready to recapture the Golan in all possible ways, including military ways. Israel wants to provoke us, but we will never surrender.”

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Tunnel Discovered
The IDF has discovered a Hamas tunnel that crossed the border fence a few dozen meters into Israel from Gaza. It seems that Hamas knew that the IDF had discovered their tunnel, and yet they did not mount a last ditch attempt to use it for an attack. No weapons were found in the tunnel.

The IDF located the tunnel using a newly developed tunnel busting technology system, which is now being used throughout the Gaza border area. This new system could actually trigger an escalation in the conflict. A senior IDF officer explained, “We have defined the mission as being the destruction of all attack tunnels without reaching an escalation, but an escalation will not deter us. Hamas knows we’ve strengthened our defenses and that it will have a hard time surprising us. If we end up in a war over this – then so be it. This is a long, protracted struggle. Hamas is a sophisticated enemy. It learns lessons and implements them fast. Each one of these tunnels that we foil is a loss for it. Hamas will have to contend with the dilemma of whether or not to act if it sees itself losing other attack tunnels.”

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Singapore and Israel
The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, will arrive in Israel today for a four day official visit. He will be accompanied by his wife, the foreign minister, the environment and water resources minister and the home affairs minister.

Israel and Singapore have a long history of close relations. The IDF helped Singapore establish their army and wrote its military doctrine. Singapore is currently one of Israel’s biggest clients in military hardware and Israeli military companies have permanent representatives in the country.

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New Library
The cornerstone of the new National Library of Israel was laid last week in a ceremony attended by President Rivlin and PM Netanyahu. The National Library of Israel was founded in Jerusalem in 1892 by the B’nai Brith organization. Since 1925 it has been housed inside the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but the size of the collection and contemporary needs have outgrown the Library’s old building and dated infrastructure. The new building will be located next to the Knesset and is set to open to the public in 2020.

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Bike Laws
The Tel Aviv municipality has announced that starting on May 1, police will begin enforcing a law banning bicycle riding on sidewalks. The municipality will educate the public about the new law through billboards, video clips and green graffiti on sidewalks.

The law will include electric bikes and will also cover violations such as going through a red light, riding in the wrong direction, using a mobile phone while riding, and disturbing pedestrians in crosswalks. Punitive measures will include fines, taking the air out of bicycle tires, and confiscation of batteries.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said, “In recent years, we have been active and striving to encourage bicycle riding in the city as an alternative to the use of cars. This welcome change in travel culture has been accompanied by a new situation and insufferable phenomena, such as undisciplined riding of electric bicycles that endangers pedestrians, and it is therefore very important to deal with this and ensure the safety of pedestrians on sidewalks.”

Ride safely!

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Only in Israel
In an “only in Israel” moment, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz has caused a stir by publicly stating that, “I’m not religious, I like tradition but I don’t avoid eating bread on Passover.” Apparently Steinitz will not be spending his Pesach in the tearoom of one of the deluxe kosher of Passover hotels in Orlando, Miami, Puerto Rico, etc. Instead, he might be sneaking over to Jaffa for some fresh Arab pita, or maybe just defrosting a bagel at home.

In any case, the fact that he doesn’t observe the Peach laws isn’t what’s making waves. It’s the fact that he announced it publicly. As a senior official from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party put it, “it would be best that the honorable minister keep his comments and actions to himself in an issue that is so important and sensitive to more than 80 percent of the Israeli public.”

On a related note (sort of), the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement has permitted the eating of Kitniyot (legumes) on Pesach for their members of Ashkenazic decent. With all due respect, didn’t they also permit driving and using electricity on Shabbat and a whole bunch of other prohibitions? So is permitting legumes (which is only a custom) really surprising?

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Matzah Record
An attempt was made in Jerusalem to make the largest matzah on record. To see photos of how they did it, click here.

Israel News for August 12, 2015

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High Court vs. Africans
Israel’s High Court of Justice, the equivalent of the US Supreme Court, struck down part of the Anti-Infiltration law passed by the Knesset that allowed illegal immigrants to be held in detention for up to 20 months. The court ruled that they can be only be held for a maximum of 12 month and ordered the release of some 1,200 of the 1,700 asylum-seekers being held for over a year at the open detention facility in Holot.

There are currently more than 45,000 Africans in Israel who infiltrated into the country, primarily via the Egyptian border. Most are from Eritrea and Sudan. Since they are fleeing from war-torn countries where their lives are in danger, they are considered asylum seekers and cannot, according to Israeli law, be deported back to their home countries unless they pose a clear security threat (which they don’t). International law requires asylum seekers to immediately report their arrival to the authorities in order to be protected from deportation. The Africans skip that step and go directly to the find work stage.

In order to control this influx of African asylum seekers, which poses a demographic threat to the stability of the country, the Knesset passed the Anti Infiltration law allowing the government to imprison the illegals for up to 3 months and then detain them for up to 20 months. These measures are meant to persuade the migrants to leave the country. Approximately 9,000 have already left.

Just hours before the court’s ruling, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned the court against overturning the law, saying that it would be a “declaration that south Tel Aviv (where many of the Africans reside) is the official facility for accommodating infiltrators.” Some Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv echoed her warning with a small demonstration.

The High Court reduced the 20 month detention term to 12 and kept the rest of the law in tact. In other words they basically agreed with the government’s position of trying to force the asylum seekers to leave voluntarily and issued a clear message that the borders of Israel are not free to be infiltrated.

Hamas Hard at Work
The Shin Bet announced the arrest of a Hamas terrorist, Ibrahim Adel Shahadeh Sha’er, early last month. On July 31 Sha’er was charged with attempted murder, contact with a foreign agent, forbidden military training, various weapons offenses and membership and activity in an illegal organization. He provided interrogators with a treasure trove of information on Hamas activities.

What He Spilled
Sha’er provided interrogators with immense detail regarding Hamas activity and plans, including the construction of a tunnel from the Rafah area in Gaza to just beyond the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel. He also revealed Hamas plans to use a new road that they had paved near the border in a surprise attack against Israel, using vehicles that would race to the border from the road.

The Shin Bet also said that Sha’er gave them extensive information on the tunnels near Rafah, including the location of the entrances and exits, where the tunnels were being dug, and their routes.

Sha’er revealed information on the activities of the Hamas elite Nukhba forces, and changes in their military tactics and structure following Operation Protective Edge last summer. He explained how Iran provides funds, advanced weaponry and electronic equipment to Hamas and that they have trained Gaza fighters in the use of hang gliders to penetrate into Israel. He said Hamas has observation points that provide it with a view of up to three kilometers into Israel.

The IDF claims to have further intelligence on a significant number of additional tunnels that have been built and are currently ready for use.

Clearly Hamas hasn’t given up and is hard at work preparing for their next war with Israel. The IDF knows this, but is reluctant to enter into another round of violence by destroying tunnels, as long as Hamas doesn’t seem interested in war either, at least for now.

IDF Modifies Shooting Rules
The IDF has issued a temporary change in their rules of engagement for dealing with violent Palestinian protesters in the West Bank. The standard procedure has been that when a protestor throws a rock or other weapon at soldiers and then runs away, the soldiers can pursue the attacker and stop him by firing warning shots into the air or, as a last resort, firing at his legs. The reasoning is that if someone attacks soldiers once, he will try again. Therefore, stopping him is a matter of self defense for the soldiers.

According to the new rule, soldiers are not permitted to shoot at attackers who throw and run unless they determine that they are in immediate, life threatening danger at that moment. They can, however, still use other means to apprehend the attackers.

The new rule is meant to prevent violent escalations and increased unrest as a result of the heightened tensions in the wake of the Duma arson attack two weeks ago that killed a Palestinian toddler and his father.

Pro Rabbinate Group
In response to the establishment of an independent conversion outside of the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate, a group of senior rabbis has formed an organization to strengthen the Rabbinate’s prestige and influence.

The new organization, Noam, is lead and manned primarily by religious zionist rabbis, not very different than the ones who started the break-away court. Some of the prominent rabbinic leaders of Noam include the head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, which is the flagship institution of religious zionism, and the head of the Tzomet Institute, which is at the forefront of applying modern technology within the framework of traditional Jewish law (halacha).

According to a statement made by the new group, the purpose of Noam is not to blindly support all the actions of the Chief Rabbinate. Rather, it’s goal is to “create a platform” to enable better dialogue and communication between the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbis of the country to discuss contentious issues and find amicable solutions.

The charedi rabbinical establishment that heavily influences the actions of the Chief Rabbinate have, for the most part, remained silent on the establishment of the independent conversion court. They seem to be satisfied to let the religious zionist rabbis fight it out amongst themselves.

In any case, the charedim already operate their own independent courts and kosher supervisors outside of the Chief Rabbinate’s jurisdiction, so they can’t really dispute the fundamental basis for an independent court.

New Jerusalem Cinemaplex
The Yes Planet theater chain opened a new NIS 200 million entertainment complex in Jerusalem today. The six story, 28,500 sq. meter complex contains a 16 screen cinema, auditoriums, exhibition space and room for coffee shops, restaurants and stores. It’s located in a bustling area between the Old City and Talpiot.

Unlike rivaling center Cinema City, which sits at the western entrance to the capital, the Yes Planet will operate on Shabbat. Since it’s built on private property, the city council can’t prevent that. It doesn’t look like the religious elements in the city will actively protest it either.