Israel: US Christians build field hospital in Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US Christians build field hospital in Gaza, deepening rift between PA and Hamas

PLO official claims project, funded by pro-Israel evangelical donors, serving ‘military, intelligence and security’ purposes, but terror group brushes off concerns

Construction of field hospital in the Gaza Strip near the Erez crossing. (Screenshot from the Friend Ships-Project-Camp Gaza Facebook page)

Construction of field hospital in the Gaza Strip near the Erez crossing. (Screenshot from the Friend Ships-Project-Camp Gaza Facebook page)

A field hospital being built by a US Evangelical Christian aid group in the northern Gaza Strip has become a source of controversy for the already feuding Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership and the Hamas terrorist group that controls the coastal enclave.

An official in the West Bank has claimed the project, spearheaded by pro-Israel donors, is a front for American and Israeli intelligence operations, an allegation Gaza’s rulers have dismissed as “unfounded.”

Over the past several months, trucks carrying materials and equipment for the hospital have entered Gaza, which suffers from inadequate health infrastructure. Now American volunteers affiliated with Friend Ships, the aid group, have begun building the medical facility adjacent to the Erez crossing, the sole pedestrian passageway between Israel and the enclave.

Pictures posted on Facebook last week showed the volunteers erecting tents a short distance from the barrier separating Israel and Gaza.

The construction of the hospital is one part of the unofficial ceasefire understandings between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, which the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has fiercely protested.

From Syria to Gaza

Friend Ships, whose evangelical founders Don and Sondra Tipton have expressed strong support for Israel, has described the project as “a multi-faceted mobile (tent-based) medical facility.”

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“We will have [telemedicine] for worldwide consultation with specialists, a large children’s play area, hydroponics training program and distribution center,” the organization’s website said.

Friend Ships, which is headquartered in Louisiana, plans to eventually provide a wide range of health services at the hospital, including cancer treatment, physical therapy, post-traumatic stress disorder therapy, dental care, among others, according to the group’s website.

The hospital will include equipment that Friend Ships used for a similar project close to Syria, Al-Monitor, a news site based in Washington, reported in June.

The group also operated a field hospital in the Golan Heights in 2017-2018 with Israel’s permission, where medical staff treated some 7,000 Syrians.

The medical facility in Gaza will include 16 wards with a “focus on diagnosing patients with hereditary or life-threatening diseases” and receive funding from the Qatari government, the Al-Monitor report said.

Mohammed al-Emadi, a Qatari envoy who maintains contacts with Hamas, the PA and Israel, told a press conference in May that the hospital will occupy an area equivalent to 40 dunams.

Exploring Israel on the weekend

Friend Ships has also been advertising opportunities to volunteer at the hospital, highlighting the chance to travel through Israel on days off.

“Friend Ships Camp Gaza will offer a wonderful opportunity to work in an important and productive project and at the same time, to see and enjoy the Biblical sites of Israel,” its website said.

A post on the Friend Ships Facebook page said volunteers will learn about the region and “become part of what God is doing there today.”

Sondra Tipton, one of the founders of the organization, told a Louisiana news outlet in 2015 about her passion for Israel: “We feel like it’s very important for people to realize that Israel is a true democracy and a true friend to the United States and then from a Christian point of view, the Bible is emphatic about the land of Israel being the apple of God’s eye and how, as believers in Jesus, we need to stand with the Israelis.”

Illustrative: An injured Palestinian man arrives at a hospital to receive treatment following an Israeli air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on December 8, 2017 .(AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Friend Ships, the IDF, and the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, declined to comment.

Brewing controversy between Palestinian factions

In the past week, however, the hospital has transformed into a major source of controversy between the rivals Fatah and Hamas.

After Palestinian news sites reported on the photos of the volunteers last Tuesday, which were posted on the Friend Ships Facebook page, a number of Fatah, PA and PLO officials lashed out at the project.

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad claimed on Palestine TV, the official PA television channel, on Monday, that the hospital was for “military, intelligence and security” purposes. He later confirmed to The Times of Israel that he was referring to the US and Israeli intelligence.

PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh accused the hospital on Monday of serving the Trump administration’s peace plan.

PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that he believed the hospital was deepening the division between the West Bank and Gaza because its planning and construction was not coordinated with the PA.

Friend Ships has since removed almost all of its posts related to the hospital from its Facebook page and wiped other information about it from its website.

Hamas, meanwhile, has pushed back against the Ramallah-based Palestinian officials’ allegations, calling them baseless.

“The statements of Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and PLO Executive Committee and Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad are based on false and unfounded data,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassim told Dunya al-Watan, a Gaza-based news site on Tuesday. “They wove them together with imaginary information.”

Hamas deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, also questioned the intentions of the hospital’s critics. But he said the terror group would not hesitate to shut it down if it determined the humanitarian project was against its interests.

Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya during a press conference at the end of two days of closed-door talks attended by representatives of 13 leading political parties held in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017 (AFP/Mohamen El-Shahed)

“If we found anything in it that undermines our national or security interests, we will tell them to leave,” he told the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today on Tuesday.

A source familiar with the details of the project, who asked to remain nameless, called the claims leveled against the hospital “complete nonsense.”

An official in the Hamas-run health ministry declined to specifically comment on the hospital, but said that it welcomes any effort to improve the health sector in Gaza.

“The Israeli restrictions on movement of goods and people have totally undermined the health sector. We are dealing with a major shortage in our hospitals in terms of medicines and medical supplies,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in a phone call. “So we believe any efforts to mitigate these dire circumstances are positive.”

Israeli officials have said they maintain limitations on movement to prevent terror groups in Gaza from importing weapons or the means to build them into the territory.

Talal Okal, a Gaza-based analyst, said he thought the hospital shows that the ceasefire understandings between Hamas and Israel were moving forward.

“It s a clear indication that Hamas and Israel are advancing the understandings,” he said in a phone call. “But what we really need in Gaza is to improve the existing hospitals and health centers. We don’t need a field hospital.”

AFP contributed to this article.

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Ashrawi Accuses Israel of Expelling Witnesses to Its Oppressive Practices

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Ashrawi Accuses Israel of Expelling Witnesses to Its Oppressive Practices

Tuesday, 26 November, 2019 – 12:30
HRW’s Omar Shakir at Ben Gurion Airport after being expelled from Israel. (File photo: AFP)
Tel Aviv- Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli authorities expelled Monday Human Rights Watch (HRW) Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir after Israel’s Supreme Court had upheld the government’s deportation order on November 5 and gave him until November 25 to leave.

Israel argues that Shakir actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He denies that his HRW work and pro-Palestinian statements he made before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016 constitute active support for BDS.

Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), slammed the deportation as an Israeli desperate measure to conceal its war crimes and violations.

Ashrawi said that expelling Shakir is a desperate action consistent with the unlawful practices of the occupation regime. She described it as an alarming wake-up call to all those who seek peace and justice for both sides that Israel will resort to extreme measures to hide the truth.

“Israel is getting rid of local and international witness of its crimes,” she warned.

HRW held a press conference in Jerusalem hours before Shakir’s departure flight and indicated that Shakir would continue his role remotely from Amman, Jordan, relying on a network of researchers in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to conduct fieldwork.

Shakir condemned the decision as an escalating assault on the human rights movement.

“If the Israelis can deport somebody documenting rights abuse without facing consequences, how can we ever stop rights abuse?” said Shakir.

Speaking at the conference, he said that Israel joins the likes of Venezuela and Iran in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses.

“This decision shows why the international community must reboot its approach to Israel’s deteriorating human rights record. A government that expels a leading human rights investigator is not likely to stop its systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation without much greater international pressure.”

Rockets Rain Down On Gaza Strip And Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Rocket fire rained from the sky across the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, leaving at least seven people dead in Gaza and dozens more injured on either side Tuesday. Among the dead was Bahaa Abu el-Atta, commander of a militant group in Gaza known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF announced early Tuesday that it had successfully targeted Abu el-Atta in an airstrike — a move that set off a furious barrage from Gaza. The Israeli military says militants retaliated by launching scores of rockets into Israel, where residents in the country’s center and south scrambled into shelters and schools closed amid the wail of air raid sirens.

“He was a ticking bomb,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of Abu el-Atta during a news conference Tuesday, asserting that the militant leader was “in the midst of planning additional attacks in the immediate short term.”

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“Over the past year, this arch-terrorist was the main instigator of terrorism from the Gaza Strip. He initiated, planned and carried out many terrorist attacks,” Netanyahu added — including “hundreds of rockets at communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”

The prime minister noted that he and Israeli military and intelligence leaders approved the operation 10 days ago and that they waited for a “unique window of opportunity to carry out the action, under optimal conditions with maximum chance of success and minimal chance for hitting anyone uninvolved.”

Still, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reports that the attack killed not only Abu el-Atta and his wife but also at least three other Palestinians. At least 45 other people in Gaza reportedly were injured, according to Gaza health officials, and at least 19 people in Israel were injured in the retaliation.

A mother mourns her 25-year-old Palestinian son Tuesday in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel said it had carried out an airstrike in the area amid an escalation of violence between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images

Syria’s state-run media agency says that around the same time as the Israeli raid on Gaza, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at a residential building in Damascus, where SANA reports two civilians were killed and 10 others injured. The attack targeting another Islamic Jihad commander, Akram al-Ajouri, reportedly failed to harm him but killed his son and granddaughter.

Israel did not comment Tuesday on the reported attack in Syria.

“Israel executed two coordinated attacks, in Syria and in Gaza, in a declaration of war,” Khaled al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad said at a funeral for Abu el-Atta in Gaza, according to Reuters. The wire service noted that other mourners replied by firing their weapons in the air and chanting, “Revenge!”

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, condemned Abu el-Atta’s killing in a series of statements Tuesday, saying the move represented a “dangerous escalation and a continuation of the Israeli aggression and terrorism against the Palestinian people and resistance.”

“Targeting an icon of the Palestinian resistance reveals preliminary intentions of the Israeli occupation to go into a new battle against the Palestinian resistance in order to export its internal crises and impose new rules of engagement,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesperson for the organization, which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist group.

“This aggression will backfire in the face of Israeli occupation and its criminal leaders,” he added. “The Israeli occupation has started such attack and thus has to pay a price for it.”

The spasm of cross-border violence, the deadliest to rack the region in months, comes at a turbulent time in Israel’s domestic politics.

Two muddled elections this year have failed to break a stalemate between Netanyahu’s conservatives and the centrist Blue and White party of his rival Benny Gantz. Just last month, Netanyahu acknowledged his failure to form a new governing coalition, leaving the mandate to Gantz. But with both their parties nearly evenly matched among lawmakers, it’s unclear whether Gantz will have any greater success.

If he, too, fails to form a government, Israel faces the prospect of holding yet a third election in the span of less than a year.

Hamas Controlled Zoo: Cramped Gaza Zoo Reopens, Only Months After Closure

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Cramped Gaza Zoo Reopens, Only Months After Closure

Sunday, 22 September, 2019 – 11:30
Two lions and three cubs are penned in cages only a few square metres in size at a zoo in the Gaza Strip VIA AFP
Asharq Al-Awsat
A lioness is beaten with sticks while her cubs are dragged away — a Gazan zoo closed after a long campaign has reopened, with conditions seemingly as bad as ever.

The Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip was known for its emaciated animals, with the owners saying they struggled to find enough money to feed them.

In April, international animal rights charity Four Paws took all the animals to sanctuaries, receiving a pledge the zoo would close forever, AFP reported.

But last month it reopened with two lions and three new cubs, penned in cages only a few square meters in size.

Critics say the owners want to bully Four Paws or other animal welfare organizations into giving them thousands of dollars to free the animals into their care.

Four Paws paid the zoo’s owners more than $50,000 in the year before its closure for medical treatments, food and caretakers.

The zoo’s owner insists the reopening is solely for the enjoyment of local residents.

Meanwhile, when AFP visited the zoo recently, the badly stuffed corpse of a lion was displayed near the entrance. An ostrich in a three-meter-square pen pecked endlessly at the cage’s bars, while two monkeys sat chewing on litter.

At the far end the lion and lioness were kept in separate cages, each only a few square meters.

The owners were seeking to remove the cubs from their mother to play with visiting children.

To do so they hit the lioness with sticks and banged on the cage to confuse her, with staff later taunting her when the cubs had been taken out.

“A lion needs 1,000 square meters to play in. Here they have seven square meters,” Mohammed Aweda, a prominent animal enthusiast in Gaza, told AFP.

“The zoo won’t survive during the winter, because they are lacking in daily goods which cost a lot. For you or I or anyone who owns a zoo (in Gaza), the economy is very tough.”

The newly reopened zoo’s manager Ashraf Jumaa, from the same family that owned the old one, said they brought the new lions through tunnels from Egypt. However others suggested they were bought from another animal centre in northern Gaza.

He denied they wanted to blackmail Four Paws.

“The first goal is entertainment, not trade. The main reason we reopened the zoo was people in the area that supported us,” he said.

He said it would be less expensive because there were fewer animals, but admitted they would struggle to afford enough food once the cubs were fully grown.

“Every day they will need between 22 and 30 kilos of meat costing between 100 and 150 shekels (between $28 and $43),” he said.

They currently receive around 50 visitors a day, he said, with tickets on average costing two shekels (around $0.50).

Four Paws said footage it saw from the zoo was “very concerning”.

“The animals are not kept in species-appropriate conditions. They seem to be in bad conditions and urgently need medical attention and proper food,” it said

An official from the Gaza agriculture ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been no coordination regarding the zoo’s reopening.

According to AFP, he said Gaza needed a large park meeting international standards.

Israel actively pushing Palestinian emigration from Gaza, official says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel actively pushing Palestinian emigration from Gaza, official says

Senior official says Jerusalem looking for other countries to take in emigres, willing to let Gazans use Israeli airport to leave

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

KYIV, Ukraine — Israel is actively promoting the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and is working to find other countries who may be willing to absorb them, a senior Israeli official said Monday.

Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate, and would even be willing to consider allowing them to use an Israeli air field close to Gaza to allow them to leave for their new host countries, the official said, apparently referring to air force bases deep inside Israel.

The senior official, in Ukraine as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Kiev, spoke on condition of anonymity.

More than 35,000 Gazans left the Strip in 2018, the official said, not including those who left but later returned.

“That’s a pretty high number,” the senior official said.

According to the official, European and Middle Eastern countries had been approached by Israel to accept Gazans who want to leave the Strip, but none had agreed to absorb them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport on August 18, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

The official said the National Security Council had been spearheading the effort, with Netanyahu’s blessing, for about a year.

The program has been discussed in the security cabinet several times, the official said.

The National Security Council has recently spoken to European leaders and even countries in the region, asking if they were ready to accept Palestinians who want to leave the Strip, he said. So far, no country has agreed to absorb them, though. However, an “independent emigration” continues by those Gazans who manage to find host countries on their own, the official said.

There was no immediate reaction from Palestinian officials to the Israeli efforts.

The Hamas terror group — which took over Gaza by force in 2007, leading Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade — has imposed measures to stem the tide of emigration, according to a report by the Haaretz daily in May.

Gaza shares one tightly controlled civilian crossing with Israel, generally only used for humanitarian cases. Most Gazans leave the Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is only opened sporadically.

While the crossing is intended for brief trips out of the beleaguered enclave, many residents — mainly young and educated — use the Rafah crossing as an opportunity to escape permanently, usually seeking refugee status in Europe.

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Youth unemployment in Gaza is at 70 percent, according to the World Bank, which says the main cause is the blockade of the Strip.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to restrict Hamas’s import of weapons and other materials it could use to attack Israel. Rights groups argue the measures amount to collective punishment of the roughly two million residents.

An Islamist movement that openly seeks Israel’s destruction, Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008 and has launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, as well as incendiary balloons and kites carrying explosive devices that since last summer have burned large swaths of land.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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Israel: Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers

Even rightist Israeli governments used to subconsciously regard them as potentially temporary, settler leaders say. Now, they claim, that’s all changed. Next stop: Full integration

SHILOH, West Bank — On the road leading to Shiloh stands a large sculpture, Dovecote, erected at the time that the settlement was founded in 1978. The work of Igael Tumarkin, it was implanted by Peace Now activists to symbolize their contention that the settlement enterprise in general, and Shiloh in particular, were obstacles to any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace. An inhospitable concrete and metal structure, the sculpture looks like anything but a home for the doves that symbolize reconciliation and harmony.

As we drove past Dovecote last week in the company of Yigal Dilmoni, the CEO of the Yesha (Settlements) Council, he pointed it out with an indulgent chuckle. Rather than the towering reprimand it was intended to constitute, it is regarded by the Jews of modern Shiloh, he indicated, as a symbol of their endurance and maybe even their triumph. Dovecote is still here. But so, too, is Shiloh. Established by a handful of families and a few hundred yeshiva students 41 years ago, the settlement today has a population of about 4,000.

In the intervening decades, a succession of archaeological digs have unearthed storage jars, pottery and evidence of sacrifices here, among other findings attributed to pre-Temple-era Israelite’s, and work continues in and around an area that some archaeologists believe may have been the location of the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant sat for 369 years when the ancient Israelite’s first entered the Holy Land.

Tourists watch a movie during a visit to the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Shiloh archaeological park now draws some 120,000 visitors a year from around the world, one of our hosts told us proudly when a small group of Times of Israel editorial staffers visited on Wednesday.

She herself grew up here, the daughter of one of those initial pioneering families, she said, as she pointed out the key finds and showed us two multi-media presentations underlining the site’s centrality to Jewish history.

Dr. Scott Stripling, head of the current excavation at biblical Shiloh, exhibits a find. May 22, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

With the Jewish people belatedly restored to their ancient homeland in today’s Israel, the desire to revive a vibrant Jewish presence at a place like Shiloh, with its pivotal Biblical resonance, is easily appreciated. Except, of course, that Shiloh lies in the West Bank, in the Biblical Judea and Samaria, outside modern Israel, and home to anywhere from two to three million Palestinians, depending on who’s counting.

For the four decades that Shiloh gradually expanded, therefore, it did so — like the rest of the West Bank settlement enterprise — in an ongoing twilight zone of dubious legitimacy, encouraged less and more openly by different Israeli governments, fighting to make its way closer to the mainstream Israeli political consensus.

Construction of new homes in the Israeli settlement of Shiloh. November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Not annexation. Sovereignty

Over the last few years, though, that quest for Israeli legitimacy seems to have made unprecedented progress. Traumatized by the strategic onslaught of West Bank-hatched suicide bombings known as the Second Intifada, by Hamas’s takeover of Israeli-evacuated Gaza, and Hezbollah’s dominance of the former Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon, mainstream Israel has become increasingly disinclined to relinquish adjacent territory in the unreliable cause of peace.

And in the final weeks before the last elections, in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began speaking about plans to gradually annex all of the West Bank settlements — home to some 450,000 Jewish Israelis — evidently regarding such a declared policy as a vote-winner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurates a new promenade in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 31, 2019. (Courtesy)

Netanyahu has maintained the stance in the run-up to September’s election redo — declaring on a visit to Efrat last Wednesday that not a single settlement home or settler will be uprooted on his watch, and that the settlers will remain “forever.”

While this position is anathema to much of the international community and to many of those in Israel who see some kind of separation from the Palestinians as essential if Israel is to maintain both its Jewish and its democratic nature, Netanyahu may have an ally in the Trump administration, whose diplomatic team has said it is not predicating its much-anticipated peace deal on a two-state solution.

Rather than continuing to regard themselves in the way they felt successive governments regarded them, as a potentially temporary presence that might be uprooted at any moment, settler leaders decided to take their destiny into their hands. Instead of merely talking about their enterprise as permanent, they began working to ensure permanence

As Dilmoni made clear in his conversation with us, however, Netanyahu’s talk of the gradual annexation of all the West Bank’s Jewish settlements — blocs, isolated settlements, illegal outposts and all — which might until relatively recently have been regarded as a sensational victory — is now deemed insufficient. The vision being advocated by his Yesha Council, he said firmly, “is sovereignty.” He repeated for emphasis: “Not annexation, sovereignty.”

The way Dilmoni told it, as we sat around the table at the Shiloh visitors center and gift shop, settler leaders made a strategic decision about five years ago: Rather than continuing to regard themselves in the way they felt successive governments regarded them, as a potentially temporary presence that might be uprooted at any moment, they decided to take their destiny into their hands. Instead of merely talking about their enterprise as permanent, they began working to ensure permanence.

Yesha Council leaders Shilo Adler, Hananel Dorani and Yigal Dilmoni (right), pictured on May 9, 2018. (Flash90)

Along with the diplomatic challenge to their legitimacy, he said, the settlers had faced “a perception challenge. Even though we were marking 50 years of settlement,” he explained, “in the subconscious, this area was considered by government ministries to be temporary… There was no strategic planning. No ministry had plans for this area.”

The settlers’ potentially transient presence was reflected, for instance, by the “black hole” where Judea and Samaria should have been on the government’s master plan for transportation, said Dilmoni.

Tourists visit the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

At one point, he recalled, the Yesha Council was allocated NIS 300 million for road improvements, “but we couldn’t spend it,” because there was no official plan. “We could add an extra lane to an existing road; install a traffic light, but that was about it… Band-Aids.”

Development was continually being planned for the periphery — the Galilee to the north, and the Negev to the south — “but nobody was looking to the east… even though, obviously, if you want to reduce housing prices in the Tel Aviv area, the place to build is to the east, in Judea and Samaria.”

Today, all that is changing, he said. As part of their effort to assert their permanence, they hired their own experts to draw up a master plan for transportation throughout Judea and Samaria, with major roads and highways integrating West Bank transportation into the Israeli transportation system. Now the government has taken over, and is currently preparing a plan that includes the West Bank in the national vision, he said, which will solve the acute traffic problems on West Bank roads, reduce fatalities, and smooth the access from the settlements to the employment heart of central Israel. Two and a quarter billion shekels has already been allocated to West Bank transportation in the past few years, he said. The Etzion bloc, south of Jerusalem, for instance, will have a second tunnel/bridge access road constructed in three to four years, he predicted.

The same integrated strategic planning is now taking shape for electricity, water and environmental issues, said Dilmoni, again essentially incorporating the settlements and their infrastructure into Israel.

‘If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional. Now, the American ambassador says it. In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. This thing is getting closer’ — Yigal Dilmoni, Yesha Council CEO

What this all adds up to, said Dilmoni, a friendly, fast-talking and dynamic personality, is “strategic planning for a permanent presence.”

“We’re staying here; we’re not moving,” he said. “And the Arabs are here; maybe some will move, or not; but they’re not going anywhere.”

Practical integration is not all, however.  What “completes the vision,” he said, is that sought-after formal status, that goal of Israeli sovereignty, which he insisted is increasingly realizable. “If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional,” he said, smiling.

“Now, American Ambassador [David Friedman] says it. [Friedman said in June that Israel, under certain circumstances, has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”] [White House special envoy] Jason Greenblatt says it. [Greenblatt has rejected the designation of  the West Bank as illegally occupied.] In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. He doesn’t say it as election propaganda; he says it because that is what is going to happen. This thing is getting closer.”

US President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019 after signing the official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. From left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Asked “sovereignty over what precisely,” Dilmoni says that’s up for discussion, but is adamant that the Yesha Council is “opposed to sovereignty on the specific settlements only, and opposed to [sovereignty] just on the [major] blocs” — such as the Etzion bloc, Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim. “We won’t agree to that.”

In the course of a series of stops during our settlements tour Wednesday, various officials and ordinary settlers with whom we spoke advocated different variations of this same confident vision. Some argued for Israeli sovereignty over the approximately 10% of the West Bank that takes in the settlements and their potential wider footprints; others called for sovereignty throughout Area C, the 60% of the West Bank that includes all settlements and perhaps 150,000-300,000 Palestinians; still others backed sovereignty throughout the West Bank.

Window of opportunity

But what, then, in a reality where Israel is permanently intertwined with the Palestinian populace — in a formal or de facto single entity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — would become of Israel as a majority Jewish country? Or would this enlarged Israel, newly sovereign in parts or all of the West Bank, subvert its democracy by denying those now rather “Israeli” Palestinians equal rights? “The questions of political issues, citizenship, the vote issues, we can discuss separately,” said Dilmoni.

“To my happiness, when Trump speaks of economic development before political, he’s right. That world view — economic development before trying to solve political issues — I think that’s the right approach.”

Right now, several officials told us, there’s a ‘window of opportunity’ — a chance to designate as authorized and legitimate under Trump what was so frowned upon by the Obama administration; to do for at least part of Judea and Samaria what the US president has already done for Jerusalem and the Golan Heights

When we pointed out that this is not exactly what the administration is saying, and that it has in fact made clear that its multi-billion dollar economic ideas package, as unveiled at June’s Bahrain workshop, requires a political framework, Dilmoni recalibrated a little: “I hear [them saying] the economy is a very important element, before we get into the political element.”

Plainly, the advent of a US administration so empathetic to the settlement enterprise has furthered the settler leaders’ confidence in their permanence. But they also recognize that in America’s politics, if not recently in Israel’s, the pendulum swings. Right now, several officials told us, there’s a “window of opportunity” — a chance to designate as authorized and legitimate under Trump what was so frowned upon by the Obama administration; to do for at least part of Judea and Samaria what the US president has already done for Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new synagogue at his home settlement of Nokdim, October 23, 2014. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90

Hence, noted Dilmoni, the “anger” among many at Avigdor Liberman, the Yisrael Beytenu leader who condemned Israel to September’s repeat elections by declining to provide Netanyahu with a coalition majority. “There could have been a right wing government now, with a supportive US administration,” making key strategic decisions on the status of settlements that the current, transitional government is not allowed to take. Half a year of the precious two-to-six more Trump years has been lost, he lamented.

Withdrawal? What withdrawal?

Still, the fact that such fury is reserved for Liberman, himself a fellow settler, underlines the extent to which potent, genuinely ideological opposition to the settlers and their goals has become marginalized. Where the Labor party under the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak was intermittently supportive, ambivalent and hostile, and sometimes governed the country, today’s Labor barely exists. Meanwhile, the main political opposition to Netanyahu, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, includes champions of settlement alongside more dovish members whose only common cause is ousting the prime minister and the ills for which he is perceived to stand.

Ayelet Shaked speaks to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Indeed, the main ideological opposition to the pro-settlement Netanyahu going into September’s elections comes not from the left or center-left, but from the still more pro-settlement, Ayelet Shaked-headed, United Right alliance.

The political shift is nothing short of extraordinary. Barely a quarter-century ago, after all, Rabin was warily shaking hands with Yasser Arafat on an agreement-in-principle to gradually withdraw from much of the West Bank. By 2000, Barak was offering to relinquish some 90% of the territory, involving the uprooting of most of the settlements. Only a decade ago, Ehud Olmert was ready to withdraw from almost the entire West Bank, with one-for-one land swaps.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin (left) and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. (Courtesy GPO)

Now settler leaders, rather than battling against governments advocating withdrawal, are divided over whether to demand Israeli sovereignty in 10%, 60% or 100% of the territory.

Dilmoni and his colleagues are patently upbeat, believing that their “planning for permanence” strategy is paying off, and with good reason: Polls show the Israeli public is divided and uncertain over the fate of the West Bank, but some are clearly moving in their direction, not just empathetically but literally: “We had 3% growth in the settlements last year, with an average of 4.2% over the past decade — and that’s more than double the national average,” he said, reeling off a list of key statistics. The 450,000-470,000 settlers are diverse — a third ultra-Orthodox, a third modern Orthodox, and a third secular, he said. It’s a very young population — 48% aged 18 and under; 53% with the right to vote, compared to 72% nationwide. “Classrooms are overflowing. Birth rates are high. Demand to move here is huge,” and not only to settlements close to the pre-1967 lines.

“Why not?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s affordable, there’s clean air, good schools, we’re close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It’s nice if people move for ideology; but it’s also great if they move for economy.”

***

Igael Tumarkin’s Dovecote sculpture outside Shiloh (Ovedc Elef Milim / Wikipedia)

Outside Shiloh, Igael Tumarkin’s “Dovecote” sculpture was recently spruced up and freshly painted — an act of somewhat ironic renewal that reflects the local residents’ sense of confidence, and of permanence. Far from an intrusive, reproving presence, it’s something the residents enjoy looking at as they pass.

Proof of your victory, I suggested to Dilmoni. He smiled and half-demurred. “I don’t want to brag that we’ve won,” he said softly. “Others would say it appears that we’re winning.”

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Israel: Palestinians act like demonic dogs toward Saudi Arabia/Royal Family and Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Bitter arguments in Gulf media over harassment of Saudi blogger in Jerusalem

Editor-in-chief of Qatari daily accuses Mohammed Saud of sullying the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but others fault protesters for using foul language and cursing Saudi royals

Likud MK Avi Dichter meeting Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud on July 22, 2019. (Credit: Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

Likud MK Avi Dichter meeting Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud on July 22, 2019. (Credit: Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

Several prominent Gulf media personalities backed criticism of Israel-friendly Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud, who was heckled and attacked by Palestinians during a visit to Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday.

Others however, pushed back against the tone of the bitter harassment the Saudi social media personality was subjected to during a tour of the Temple Mount, specifically the criticism against the Saudi royal family.

Saud, an outspoken supporter of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrived in Israel earlier this week at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry along with five other media personalities from the Arab world.

The Saudi blogger was harassed and attacked by a group of Palestinians on Monday as he was touring Jerusalem’s the Old City, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Video of the incident showed people throwing chairs and bottles at him, spitting at him and calling him an “animal,” “trash” and “cheap.”

Jaber al-Harmi, the editor-in-chief of Al-Sharq, a Qatari daily, accused Saud of sullying the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a site also known as the Temple Mount.

“The Arabs went to Jerusalem–not as conquerors but rather as normalizers. A media delegation, including [from] Saudi Arabia, the country of the two holy mosques, arrived at the invitation of the Israeli entity,” Harmi tweeted on Tuesday beside a video featuring Saud’s visit to Al-Aqsa. “A Saudi tried to defile the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but the protectors and youth of Palestine were on the lookout.”

Ali al-Ghofaily, a Saudi journalist who works as a presenter and producer for the major television broadcaster in the Arab world MBC, attempted to cast doubt on Saud’s national identity and accused him of breaking Saudi laws.

“This [man] is not Saudi. If he is Saudi, he only represents himself because he violated state laws. If he returns to the kingdom, he deserves to be punished,” Ghofaily tweeted on Monday beside an attached photo of the Saudi blogger in Israel. “The wave of Saudi condemnations [of Saud] proves that the Palestinian cause is our cause and that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the solely the right of Muslims. There is always an exception to the rule!”

Israeli officials have condemned the attack on Saud and fervently supported his visit to the Jewish state.

“We strongly condemn the cruel and immoral behavior of some Palestinians near the Al-Aqsa Mosque toward a Saudi media personality who came to Jerusalem to be a bridge to peace and understanding between peoples,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nizar Amer wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Saud, who speaks some Hebrew, has said he hopes for normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The username on his Twitter feed is written in Hebrew as well as in Arabic, and his description includes an Israeli flag emoji and the words “Only Bibi!” using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Some Gulf personalities lashed out at the Palestinians at Al-Aqsa who made disparaging comments of Saudi Arabia’s rulers while harassing Saud.

In this photo from November 27, 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured while meeting with the Tunisian president at the presidential palace in Carthage, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis. (Fethi Belaid/AFP)

“It is shameful to shove Saudi Arabia into this theater. It is shameful to hear the variety of curses and insults against our leaders. Are you not embarrassed? Are you not ashamed of yourselves,” Mohammed Nafaa, a widely followed Saudi commentator, tweeted on Monday, adding that “even if a Saudi individual prayed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, does that amount to normalization[?]”

In the video of Saud at Al-Aqsa, a man is heard calling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “collaborator.” Another person is heard telling Saud “to go normalize” with Israel alongside the Saudi royal family.

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties. However, they have found common cause in their opposition to Iran, including its support for armed groups in the Middle East.

Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, a Saudi commentator who has appeared on talks shows, suggested he could not understand how Palestinians would insult Saudi Arabia, which has long provided them with substantial financial aid.

“I am amazed. It is my right to be amazed: How do those people raise their children with this foulness of language? How have the planted in their minds such black hatred and despise of a country that has dealt with their hunger, spent money on their institutions and supported their cause,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

Abdelatif Al Shakih, a Saudi poet, claimed the footage demonstrates that Palestinians bear greater abhorrence for Saudis than Israelis.

He tweeted on Monday: “Regardless of whether he is Saudi or not..The video shows how much some Palestinians despise Saudis..This video does not bring us shame but rather brings them shame because it is an admission that their hate and rejection of us is greater than that of the Israelis.”

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Israel:10-year-old Palestinian said seriously wounded in West Bank clash with IDF

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

10-year-old Palestinian said seriously wounded in West Bank clash with IDF

Boy reportedly hit in head by rubber bullet during demonstration in Kafr Qaddum; IDF says riot control methods used against protesters who threw stones, burned tires

Illustrative -- Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2019 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Illustrative — Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2019 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

A 10-year-old Palestinian boy was said to be seriously wounded during a clash with the Israel Defense Forces at a violent demonstration against the security barrier in a West Bank village on Friday afternoon.

According to Haaretz, citing Palestinian reports, the boy was hit in the head by a rubber bullet during the clash in the village of Kafr Qaddum, west of Nablus.

The IDF confirmed to Haaretz that control methods were used to disperse violent demonstrators, but that live ammunition was not deployed.

“In response to a violent demonstration by some 60 Palestinians, during which they burned tires and threw stones, soldiers used various means to disperse the protests, but not with live ammunition. The army received a report of a wounded person around ten years old,” the statement read.

The incident came as the IDF prepared for possible violence on the Gaza border Friday afternoon, a day after a member of Hamas was shot dead by troops in what the army characterized as “a misunderstanding.”

On Thursday, in an unusual move, the military acknowledged that the man had been erroneously identified by soldiers as an armed terrorist, but was apparently an operative trying to stop Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence.

A Palestinian protester throws a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli military vehicle during protests along the Gaza border with Israel on July 5, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The army’s statement appeared to be an effort to calm tensions with Hamas and prevent another round of violence on the border.

Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act.”

The Hamas field commander killed in the incident was Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, 28.

Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.

Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.

Thursday’s border incident came amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

In recent days, leaders of the terror group have threatened to bring back the high level of violence along the border — riots, arson attacks and clashes — if Israel does not continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

On Tuesday, Hamas launched a highly unusual training exercise that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.

Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report

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Israel: Tension Prevails Ahead of Egypt’s Delegation Arrival to Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Tension Prevails Ahead of Egypt’s Delegation Arrival to Gaza

Friday, 12 July, 2019 – 09:00
Hamas said that Israel will have to handle the consequences of killing Mahmoud Al-Adham. (File/AFP)
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun
Tension has risen in Gaza with Israel killing a civil official in Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, amid escalating threats from both sides prior to the arrival of the Egyptian security delegation to the strip.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a field leader near the border of northern Gaza.

The Israeli army confirmed the forces fired on two “armed suspects approaching the fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” refusing to provide further details.

The health ministry in Gaza said that 28-year-old Palestinian Mahmoud al-Adham was shot and killed in Thursday’s incident near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the territory.

Al-Qassam said that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and that Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act,” according to a statement.

In response to this threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a meeting at city hall in the coastal city of Ashkelon: “I prefer that there be calm. But we are preparing for a campaign that is not only broad but also surprising.”

Interior Ministry spokesman in Gaza Iyad al-Bazm said that the ministry and the national security have conducted an emergency maneuver simulating an abrupt security threat – this falls under testing the readiness of the security bodies and forces.

Officials from Hamas said that the exercise imitated Israeli special forces units’ incursion.

According to the ministry’s statement, the maneuver was conducted due to the enemy’s attempts to subvert the security and the state’s ruling.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian delegation has convened with Israeli security officials and is planning to meet Hamas officials in Gaza to discuss understandings with Israel and the Palestinian reconciliation. Before Gaza, the delegation arrived in Ramallah to discuss the dispute about the reconciliation issue.

Israel Claims Easing Gaza Fishing Restrictions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel Claims Easing Gaza Fishing Restrictions

Tuesday, 21 May, 2019 – 10:00
Gaza fishing boats. (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ABED)
Gaza – Asharq Al-Awsat

Israel announced Tuesday it had eased fishing restrictions off the blockaded Gaza Strip after a ceasefire with Hamas ended a deadly escalation earlier this month.

Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles, said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.

The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election.

Gaza fishing union official, Zakaria Bakr, however told AFP on Tuesday morning it had yet to be informed of any changes.

COGAT did not provide further details, but in April the limit was set at six nautical miles in the north near the Israeli border, 12 off central Gaza and 15 in the south near the Egyptian border, according to the fishing union.

Israel banned fishing completely when the two-day flare-up of violence began earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following the truce, AFP said.

According to the news agency, the 15-nautical-mile limit is the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.

But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.

Israeli authorities did not say the move was linked to the truce reached earlier this month with Hamas.

But Palestinian officials said at the time of the May 6 ceasefire that it included Israel taking steps to ease its blockade.

Israel media reported late Monday that the ceasefire, brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, is a six-month deal that includes the expansion of the fishing zone as well as the transfer of medicines and other aid to Gaza.

Negotiations are to also take place on issues including Gaza’s severe electricity shortage and border crossings, the reports said.

In return, Hamas would calm protests along the border and halt maritime demonstrations aimed at breaking the blockade.

According to AFP, Hamas denied the reports and Israel did not immediately comment.