Israel: Vast, developed 9,000-year-old settlement found near Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

A ‘game changer’: Vast, developed 9,000-year-old settlement found near Jerusalem

Remains of Neolithic site near Motza, the largest ever discovered in Israel, show mix of agriculture, hunting, animal husbandry — a society at its peak, say archaeologists

  • The huge settlement from the Neolithic Period that was discovered in the archaeological excavations at the Motza intersection near Jerusalem by the Antiquities Authority. (Eyal Marco, Antiquities Authority)
    The huge settlement from the Neolithic Period that was discovered in the archaeological excavations at the Motza intersection near Jerusalem by the Antiquities Authority. (Eyal Marco, Antiquities Authority)
  • 9,000-year-old figurine of an ox, discovered during archaeological excavations at Motza near Jerusalem. (Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority)
    9,000-year-old figurine of an ox, discovered during archaeological excavations at Motza near Jerusalem. (Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority)
  • Dr. Jacob Vardi, Antiquities Authority, Director of the excavations at the ancient site at Motza near Jerusalem. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Dr. Jacob Vardi, Antiquities Authority, Director of the excavations at the ancient site at Motza near Jerusalem. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Beads discovered at the Motza archaeological site near Jerusalem. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Beads discovered at the Motza archaeological site near Jerusalem. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, Antiquities Authority Excavation director at the Motza site, holding a bowl from the Neolithic Period. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, Antiquities Authority Excavation director at the Motza site, holding a bowl from the Neolithic Period. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

An unprecedentedly vast Neolithic settlement — the largest ever discovered in Israel and the Levant, say archaeologists — is currently being excavated ahead of highway construction five kilometers from Jerusalem, it was announced on Tuesday.

The 9,000-year-old site, located near the town of Motza, is the “Big Bang” for prehistory settlement research due to its size and the preservation of its material culture, said Jacob Vardi, co-director of the excavations at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority,

“It’s a game changer, a site that will drastically shift what we know about the Neolithic era,” said Vardi. Already some international scholars are beginning to realize the existence of the site may necessitate revisions to their work, he said.

“So far, it was believed that the Judea area was empty, and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan river, or in the Northern Levant. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all this only several dozens of centimeters below the surface,” according to Vardi and co-director Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily in an IAA press release.

Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily (left) and Dr. Jacob Vardi, directors of the excavations at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Roughly half a kilometer from point to point, the site would have housed an expected population of some 3,000 residents. In today’s terms, said Vardi, prehistoric Motza would be comparable to the stature of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv — “a real metropolis.”

According to an IAA press release, the project was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company) as part of the Route 16 Project, which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west running from the Route 1 highway at the Motza Interchange to the capital.

According to co-director Khalaily, the people who lived in this town had trade and cultural connections to widespread populations, including Anatolia, which is the origin for obsidian artifacts discovered at the site. Other excavated material indicate intensive hunting, animal husbandry, and agriculture.

Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, Antiquities Authority Excavation director at the Motza site, holding a bowl from the Neolithic Period. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

“The society was at its peak” and appeared to increasingly specialize in raising sheep, said Khalaily.

In addition to prehistoric tools such as thousands of arrowheads, axes, sickle blades, and knives, storage sheds containing large stores of legumes, especially lentils, were uncovered. “The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age,” said the archaeologists.

Alongside utilitarian tools, a number of small statues were unearthed, including a clay figurine of an ox and a stone face, which Khalaily joked was either a human representation “or aliens, even.”

9,000-year-old figurine depicting a human face, discovered during archaeological excavations at Motza near Jerusalem. (Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority)

In the ancient, unrecorded past as well as today, the site is situated on the banks of Nahal Sorek and other water sources. The fertile valley is on an ancient path connecting the Shefela (foothills) region to Jerusalem, said the IAA. “These optimal conditions are a central reason for long-term settlement on this site, from the Epipaleolithic Period, around 20,000 years ago, to the present day,” according to the press release.

“Thousands of years before the construction of the pyramids, what we see in the neolithic period is that more and more populations turn to live in a permanent settlement,” said Vardi. “They migrate less and they deal more and more in agriculture.”

Among the architecture uncovered in the excavation are large buildings that show signs of habitation, as well as what the archaeologists identify as public halls and spaces used for worship. In a brief video published by the IAA, archaeologist Lauren Davis walks a narrow path between remains of buildings — a prehistoric alleyway. “Very much like we see in buildings today, separated by alleys between,” said Davis.

Excavation works on the Motza Neolithic site. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

According to the archaeologists, this alleyway is “evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning.” Likewise, the archaeologists discovered that plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and sealing various facilities during the construction of the residents’ domiciles and buildings.

In addition to signs of life, the archaeologists uncovered several graves. According to Davis, in the midst of a layer dating to 10,000 years ago, archaeologists found a tomb from 4,000 years ago. “In this tomb are two individuals — warriors — who were buried together with a dagger and a spear head,” she said.

Dr. Jacob Vardi, Antiquities Authority, Director of the excavations at the ancient site at Motza near Jerusalem. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

“There’s also an amazing find,” said Davis, “which is a whole donkey, domesticated, that was buried in front of the tomb probably when they sealed it.” Added Vardi, the donkey was apparently meant to serve the warriors in the world to come.

According to Amit Re’em, the IAA’s Jerusalem District archaeologist, despite the roadworks, a significant percentage of the prehistoric site around the excavation is being preserved and all of it is being documented.

Many bracelets were found at the Motza excavation site. Their size shows that they were probably given to children. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Each architectural structure is being documented through 3-D modeling. “When we finish the excavation here,” said Vardi, “we will be able to continue to research the site in the laboratory,” adding that this is unprecedented use of technology.

“In addition, the IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration. At Tel Motza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public at large, and conservation and accessibility activities are being carried out in Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut,” announced the IAA release.

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Hundreds of Palestinians riot as Jews allowed on Temple Mount for Jerusalem Day

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(IS IT PAST THE TIME WHEN ISRAEL SHOULD TEAR DOWN THE MOSQUE ON THE TEMPLE MOUNT?)(oped:oldpoet56)

Hundreds of Palestinians riot as Jews allowed on Temple Mount for Jerusalem Day

Palestinians on mount hurl chairs, rocks at police after rare decision to let non-Muslims in on final days of Ramadan; security high in capital as Israel marks city’s reunification

Clashes erupted between Palestinian rioters and police on Sunday morning at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, as hundreds of Jews were allowed into the holy site to celebrate Jerusalem Day — the 52nd anniversary of the unification of the capital in the Six Day War.

Later in the morning, hundreds of Palestinians rioters threw rocks and chairs at Israeli security personnel. There were no immediate reports of injuries. By mid-afternoon, police reported that the situation was again calm.

It was the first time in three decades that non-Muslims were let into the site during the final days of the month of Ramadan, which coincided this year with Jerusalem Day. Police had earlier announced the contested compound would be closed to Jews and tourists, with the High Court of Justice rejecting a petition against the closure and leaving the final decision up to police.

Police said in a statement that “a riot began that included the hurling of stones, chairs and various objects.”

“Subsequently, Jerusalem District Commander Maj. Gen. Doron Yadid ordered police forces to enter the Temple Mount and deal with the rioters,” it added.

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Palestinian reports said at least one person was detained and removed from the site.

Police said later in the morning that clashes were renewed, with hundreds of Palestinian rioters throwing rocks and chairs at Israeli security personnel.

Left-wing NGO Ir Amin said the violence was renewed after police closed the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, and worshipers attempted to gain entry.

Hundreds of Jewish activists showed up early Sunday morning at the Temple Mount entrance, demanding access to the site — the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary. Following a security assessment, police decided to let them in after suppressing the initial Muslim demonstration.

The flashpoint site is always closed to non-Muslims on the last ten days of Ramadan, when large numbers of worshipers are at the site. The last time the Temple Mount was closed to Jews on Jerusalem Day was in 1988, when it also coincided with the end of Ramadan.

Under an arrangement in place since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there. Jews are allowed to enter in small groups during limited hours, but are taken through a predetermined route, are closely watched and are prohibited from praying or displaying any religious or national symbols.

Last year, more than 2,000 Jews visited the site on Jerusalem Day, under close police supervision.

Chairs and other objects hurled at police forces by Palestinian rioters at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on June 2, 2019. (Israel Police)

Meanwhile, thousands of Jews flocked Sunday to the nearby Western Wall — the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray — to mark the occasion.

Police were deployed in force and on heightened alert in Jerusalem Sunday, with tighter security inspections performed at checkpoints connecting the city to the West Bank in light of Friday morning’s stabbing terror attack in the capital’s Old City, in which two Israeli civilians were injured — one of them seriously.

A Palestinian teenager had stabbed two Israelis inside the Old City before being shot dead by Israeli police.

The most sensitive event is expected to be a parade that will go through the streets of the Old City in the afternoon and is frequently marked by tension with local Palestinians.

Many streets in the city center will be closed off between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. to accommodate the parade and other festivities.

Israeli youths hold their national flag during a march to celebrate Jerusalem Day, marking the unification of the city during the Six Day War, May 13, 2018. (Thomas COEX/AFP)

The so-called Flag March, in which primarily religious teenagers march through the Old City decked in white and blue, has raised tensions over its route through the Muslim Quarter.

Palestinian shopkeepers with stores along the route are forced to shutter their businesses during the parade, and residents of the Muslim Quarter are advised to stay indoors.

In previous years, the march has sparked sporadic incidents of violence between Palestinians and Israeli revelers.

The High Court of Justice last month threw out a petition by a left-wing group that sought to change the route of the nationalist march.

Later in the day, the Jerusalem Day state ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. at Ammunition Hill, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.

Many celebrations and events will be held around the city in the evening and into the night, including a “White Night” concert at Sacher Park expected to be attended by thousands of students.

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Israel’s population tops 9 million, including 45% of world Jewry

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel’s population tops 9 million, including 45% of world Jewry

Independence Day eve statistics show 2% increase since last year; population expected to reach 15.2 million by 2048

Israelis watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018, in Tel Aviv. (AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)

Israelis watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018, in Tel Aviv. (AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)

On the eve of its 71st Independence Day, Israel’s population stands at 9,021,000, crossing 9 million for the first time, according to figures released on Monday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The data show that 6,697,000 Israelis are Jewish (74.2 percent) and 1,890,000 are Arab (20.9%). In addition, there are 434,000 people who are non-Arab Christians or members of other ethnic groups. Seventy-five percent of the Jews in Israel were born in the country.

Since last Independence Day, the population of Israel has grown by 177,000 (an increase of 2%). During that period, 188,000 babies were born, 47,000 people died and 31,000 immigrants arrived in the country.

Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, 3.2 million immigrants have moved to Israel, with around 43% of them arriving after 1990.

Family members embrace at Ben Gurion Airport as 72 new immigrants from Ethiopia arrive on June 6, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to the data, the country’s population is expected to reach 15.2 million people by Israel’s 100th Independence Day in 2048.

In 1948 there were just 806,000 people in Israel and at the time, the global Jewish population was 11.5 million, and just 6% were in Israel. Today, 45% of the world’s Jews live in Israel.

Independence Day celebrations begin on Wednesday night, as the country transitions from Memorial Day — 24 hours of mourning for its fallen soldiers and terror victims.

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MAY 6, 2019
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MOSHE FEDER, 68, WAS FATALLY WOUNDED IN THE ATTACK

IDF probing why road where man killed by Gazan anti-tank missile was kept open

Military says it hadn’t believed a Kornet attack could reach highway from Strip even though it was within range, promises to release investigation findings

The scene of a car hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip near the Israel-Gaza border on May 5, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

The scene of a car hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip near the Israel-Gaza border on May 5, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Israeli military said it failed to recognize the risks posed to Israeli drivers on a road north of the Gaza Strip where a man was killed Sunday when a Kornet anti-tank guided missile fired from the enclave struck his car.

Earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces ordered some roads around the Gaza Strip closed in light of the threat of sniper and missile attacks from the enclave. However, the Route 34 highway, north of the Strip, near the community of Kibbutz Erez was left open.

“The specific road where the civilian’s vehicle was hit was not closed due to the distance. At the time, we didn’t see that threat,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Sunday evening.

Route 34 runs about 2.5 kilometers from populated parts of the Gaza Strip in some sections. A train route which runs along Route 34 on an elevated track in the same area of the attack was shut for fear of attacks, but the highway was kept open.

The Russian-designed Kornet anti-tank guided missile has an effective range of up to 5.5 kilometers. Unlike the rockets used by terror groups in the Strip, the laser-guided Kornet is highly accurate.

Ilustrative. A Kornet anti-tank guided missile is fired in a Russian military exercise. (Russian military/Wikimedia)

The spokesman said the military was investigating the matter and that it is “very much an ongoing event.” Conricus added that once the IDF completes its probe of the deadly missile attack, it will release the findings to the family of the victim and the public.

Moshe Feder, 68, was fatally wounded when an anti-tank guided missile slammed into his car as he was driving along Route 34. He sustained a serious shrapnel wound to the leg, causing significant blood loss, and was pronounced dead at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center after CPR efforts failed. The Hamas terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Feder, a Kfar Saba resident, was survived by two children and his partner Iris Eden. Eden lost her first husband, Yashish Eden, in a deadly helicopter crash in 1997. Known as the “helicopter disaster,” that incident saw 73 IDF servicemen lose their lives when two aircraft collided near the northern border with Lebanon.

Moshe Feder, 68, was killed in an anti-tank missile attack on May 5, 2019 (Courtesy)

Speaking to the Ynet news site, Eden said she knew intuitively that Feder was the Sunday morning casualty.

“I’ve been through a few things in my life and I did not need an official statement [to learn] about his death,” she said. “He was my second love — a kind and generous man. We had established a family together with the children and grandchildren over the last three years.”

While Hamas and other terror groups have long had Kornet missiles in their arsenals, the weapon’s high price tag means they are typically used against higher profile military targets, not against civilians.

Kornet missiles were used repeatedly against Israeli tanks throughout the 2014 Gaza war, through they were relatively ineffective as the projectiles were intercepted by tanks’ Trophy active defense systems.

A picture taken on November 12, 2018, shows a bus set ablaze after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, at the Israel-Gaza border near the kibbutz of Kfar Aza, on November 12, 2018. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

A Kornet missile was last used in November, when one was fired at a bus that had just been full of soldiers east of the Gaza border at the Black Arrow memorial site, sparking an intense two-day battle. One serviceman, who had remained on board, was seriously wounded in the attack.

In April 2011, the Hamas terror group fired a Kornet missile at a yellow school bus in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel, east of Gaza, killing a 16-year-old student on board, Daniel Viflic.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Netanyahu’s election win confirmed; New Right misses out

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

JUDGE IN CHARGE: TALLY NOT OFFICIAL UNTIL GIVEN TO PRESIDENT

With all votes counted, Netanyahu’s election win confirmed; New Right misses out

After full day of rechecking, Likud gains a seat to outscore Gantz’s Blue and White 36-35, United Torah Judaism loses a seat; Netanyahu’s path to majority coalition clear

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for Israel’s general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confirmed as the big winner of Israel’s general elections on Thursday night, when the Central Elections Committee published the completed tallies of Tuesday’s election, a full 60 hours after the polling stations closed.

The delay was caused by extra time spent Thursday checking and rechecking the “extra” votes cast by soldiers, diplomats and other absentees, which led to adjustments to the tentative results that had been issued early Wednesday. Even when releasing these ostensibly final tallies, however, the Supreme Court justice overseeing the elections said they were not official, and reserved the right to amend them before they are formally handed to the president on April 17.

With all of the votes counted, checked and rechecked, Netanyahu’s Likud party edged past its rival Blue and White party with 26.45 percent of the vote to win 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, gaining one more seat in the adjusted final tally. The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party dropped a seat, from Wednesday’s tentative eight to seven. Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White faction was confirmed at 35 seats, 26.11% of ballots.

Blue and White had formally conceded the election on Wednesday.

Final results in 2019 elections36363535887766665555444444000000LikudBlue and WhiteShasUTJHadash-Ta’alLaborYisrael BeytenuURWPMeretzKulanuRa’am-BaladNew RightZehutGesher0510152025303540

The bloc of Likud and its ultra-Orthodox and right-wing allies finished with 65 seats, compared to 55 for the center, left and Arab parties, giving Netanyahu a clear path for building a majority coalition.

Final blocs after 2019 elections65655555RightCenter-left + Arab

The results also confirmed that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party narrowly failed to garner enough support to win any seats, ending up with 3.22% of the votes cast nationwide; the minimum threshold for Knesset representation is 3.25%. New Right had pinned its hopes on the soldiers’ votes elevating it into the Knesset for the minimum four seats, and sources in the party challenged the count during Thursday when it emerged that it had fallen short.

New Right said after the completed tallies were released at midnight that it was “not giving up” and was not convinced that the published totals were accurate. UTJ said it would appeal against the results.

On the right, Aryeh Deri’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party wound up as the third-largest Knesset faction with eight seats, followed by UTJ with its seven, the Union of Right-Wing parties won five, Yisrael Beytenu won five, and Kulanu won four.

On the other side of the spectrum, Arab party Hadash-Ta’al won six seats, the Labor party crashed to a record low of six, Meretz won four seats, and the second Arab party, Ra’am-Balad, also won four.

Likud’s 36 seats was the party’s best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.

Final results of the 2019 national election on the Central Elections Committee website show the New Right, circled in yellow, falling short of the 3.25% threshold to enter the Knesset, April 11, 2019. (Screenshot/Central Elections Committee)

The vote count was plagued by controversy.

The Central Elections Committee’s website on Thursday morning erroneously stated that New Right had crossed the electoral threshold, before officials clarified that the website was inaccurate. The inaccurate figure remained on the site all day, however, until it was finally amended shortly before the completed figures were released at midnight.

Screenshot from the Central Elections Committee website showing the New Right party with 3.26% of the vote on Thursday late morning, April 11, 2019. The Committee said this information was erroneous and that the New Right had actually won only 3.22% of the vote. It said the site was not showing the correct number of total votes counted, and was thus displaying inaccurate figures for all parties.

United Torah Judaism and the New Right late Thursday had called for a delay in the publication of the election results. The New Right said the party had received over 1,000 complaints about ballot irregularities, while UTJ said mistakes had been recorded at five polling stations in ultra-Orthodox areas.

Additionally, Meretz accused United Torah Judaism of interfering in the count on Thursday to try to steal a seat. Meretz, according to Thursday night’s tally, ended up only a few hundred votes short of winning a fifth seat.

Snafus on the official website also included displayed turnout rates of over 100 percent in some areas.

Justice Hanan Melcer, head of the Central Elections Committee, acknowledged that erroneous data had been registered on the committee’s computers, leading to a discrepancy between official results and those posted to the official website, but said all such issues had now been resolved.

Nonetheless, when announcing the completed results, Melcer said they were still subject to possible change before they are submitted to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, April 17.

“We retain the right,” he said in a letter to the representatives of the Knesset slates that ran in the elections, “to examine the results using additional means at the committee’s disposal… so that they are still subject to changes and adjustments.”

Melcer said he rejected the last-minute appeal by the New Right and United Torah Judaism parties to hold off on publishing the results, in part because they are not fully official until they are presented to the president and thus in principle subject to change.

Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee for the 21st Knesset, attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, April 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He noted that 4,335,320 Israelis voted, from among 6,335,387 who were eligible (68.4 percent), and that 30,756 votes were disqualified.

Speaking to journalists at the Knesset earlier, Melcer stressed there was “no fault or issue” in tallying the votes.

Melcer downplayed the computer glitches at a press conference. He said the errors on the site were the result of a software problem that prevented the site from displaying the vote tallies in real time, and stressed the erroneous data displayed on the website was not the result of a cyberattack. (Ahead of the elections, the Shin Bet security agency had warned that a foreign power would seek to meddle in the elections.)

In a statement, the committee said: “Three glitches were found in the data transfer. The problem is not with the count but with entering figures into the system. Some of the figures were recorded by the system and some were not.”

On Thursday night, New Right party put out a statement quoting Justice Melcer and stating that “the results as they were published are not final.”

“We would expect the media to show a bit more gravitas in its reports,” the party said. “As we have said, we are not giving up… We will accept the voter’s decision, but will not rest until we find out what that decision truly is.”

United Torah Judaism said it would appeal the results.

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Israel: Have You Looked At The Sky Today?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Recently, someone in my neighborhood in Tel Aviv has been spray-painting the question, “Have you looked at the sky today?” on walls of buildings and at the dog park and local train station. Have you looked at the sky today? It’s a reminder to take our eyes off the phone in our hands, and look up, for a moment, to see what’s going on around us.

Over the past two months, I found myself lifting my eyes to the sky more and more, as I followed the trajectory of Beresheet’s elliptical path to the moon.

Over the same two months, as Israel has been wrapped in a divisive election and an almost-war in Gaza, a group of passionate engineers has tried to shift the entire country’s gaze towards the sky, to see the universe beyond the borders of our country and our planet.

As we and the world watched on Thursday night, holding our collective breath in anticipation for Israel to become the fourth country to land on the moon, Beresheet smashed into the lunar surface, scattering into thousands of pieces.

ToI’s Melanie Lidman

The landing sequence started so perfectly, with a large cheer going up as the spacecraft passed the point of no return, meaning the automatic landing was engaged, and there was no turning back. But then communication with the spacecraft started going in and out.

Things got tense, but it was happening so quickly that the evening’s emcees, Ido Antebby of SpaceIL and Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries, barely had a chance to explain what was going on.

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before crash landing into the moon on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy SpaceIL)

The main engine stopped working, and then miraculously, started working again. Some people in the audience clapped, but Ehud Hayun, a space systems engineer at IAI sitting next to me, already knew it was over. The spacecraft was too close to the surface to properly slow its descent and drop gently to the ground.

“There is a concern that we haven’t landed in the best possible way,” Alex Friedman, the systems engineer manager overseeing the control room observed dryly at 10:24 p.m.

The engineers, stoic as always, barely registered emotion, as it became clear that their project, which some had worked on for upwards of eight years, had smashed into the surface on which it had been supposed to settle.

SpaceX’s Nusantara Satu Mission, bearing an Israeli moon lander, takes off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on February 22, 2019 (screenshot: YouTube)

Have you looked at the sky today? Have you looked at the moon?

Somewhere, up there, are the remains of a crazy idea that was hatched by three friends at a bar in Holon, that somehow, along the way, garnered $100 million in donations, harnessed a team of dozens of engineers, and captured the attention of Israel and the world.

What does it mean to fail? What does it mean to have the courage, the audacity, to stand up and say, why not? Why not try and get to the moon?

Beresheet engineers released this photo on April 1 of the Arabian peninsula at a height of 16,000 kilometers, photographed from the spacecraft’s external cameras. (courtesy Beresheet)

Over the past two months, as I followed every hiccup and maneuver and selfie of the spacecraft, I found myself not just immersed in the day-to day news of this country, but looking up at the sky and remembering that this country is a small dot on a tiny planet amidst an entire universe.

It’s the smallness I used to feel devouring my father’s battered copies of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction: how beautiful it is to dream about what can exist beyond our horizons. How crucial it is to remember how small and unimportant we are. How beautiful to know that there is more out there than what we can see.

A picture taken by the Beresheet spacecraft of the moon’s surface with the Earth in the background on April 5, 2019. (courtesy Beresheet)

More than a million students in Israel spent class time learning about Beresheet, either through presentations from SpaceIL’s army of educators (the non-profit organization employs more educators than engineers), or the educational kits available for free on SpaceIL’s website. Even writing articles, I learned so much more about space and physics than I ever thought I’d know.

At some point, in between a conversation about the perilune (closest point of the elliptical orbit around the moon) and the apilune (farthest point of the elliptical orbit around the moon), and trying to clarify between geostationary and geosynchronous orbits, I realized that despite my defiant insistence to the contrary, my 10th grade geometry teacher Mrs. Haupt was right. One day, I would need to know basic geometry.

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon’s surface. (Youtube screenshot)

My neighbor, Yisrael, doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He can’t get over the price tag: $100 million! What about all the hungry people in Israel? he asks. Never mind that Beresheet cost a fraction of the estimated $1.5 billion for each Apollo mission. Why not take that money and build a hospital or something more practical? Yisrael has spent his entire life working with his hands, building things, creating concrete objects you can touch.

A child’s drawing about space included in the time capsule that has been inserted into the Beresheet spacecraft (Courtesy)

I tried to explain to Yisrael just why I have loved writing about this little craft hurtling through space, learning about the intricacies of elliptical orbits and the pull of lunar gravity and the growing problem of space trash.

But I also found myself struggling to find the words. Can you put a monetary value on inspiration? Is it cost-effective to convince a young girl that she can be a space engineer when she grows up? At the end, I could only say to Yisrael, can you imagine a more beautiful thing than a group of friends believing that they can send something to the moon? Can you put a price tag on beauty?

In the moments after Friedman’s announcement, after the screen that was showing the position of the spacecraft reverted to the background of someone’s desktop computer, it didn’t feel real that Beresheet had crashed.

It’s strange to lose something you’ve never touched.

Beresheet photographs the dark side of the moon on April 10, 2019 from a height of 2500 km. (courtesy Beresheet engineers)

What does it mean to fail? Space is hard, Hayun said to me, with a sigh and a shrug of his shoulders, just moments after the spacecraft crashed. Cameras were already in his face, waiting to ask how he felt, what it was like to lose the project he had worked so hard to build. Space is hard.

Perhaps the lesson we should take from Beresheet is not the fact that it failed, but the fact that we tried at all. That for a moment, we widened our horizons beyond our tiny lives, expanding the diameter of our world to a point 400,000 kilometers (250,000 miles) away, joining with millions of people to follow the trajectory of a crazy dream.

Have you looked at the sky today?

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Israel: Prime Minister Netanyahu Pledges To Annex West Bank Settlements

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Ahead Of Israeli Election, Netanyahu Pledges To Annex West Bank Settlements

People walk by election campaign billboards showing Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu (left) alongside the Blue and White party leaders, including Benny Gantz. Ahead of Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu has pledged to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Oded Balilty/AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he will annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected.

Netanyahu staked out the position on television on Saturday, ahead of Tuesday’s election where he faces a challenge from his former army chief of staff Benny Gantz

The first-time move from the prime minister appears to be aimed at galvanizing support among his nationalist base and right-wing political allies. The annexation of parts of the West Bank would likely be considered the final blow to the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu was asked on Israeli Channel 12 TV why he hasn’t annexed Israeli settlement blocs in occupied territory, as NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

The prime minister replied: “Will we go to the next phase? The answer is yes. We will go to the next phase to extend Israeli sovereignty.”

“I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements,” he continued, The Associated Press reports. “From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.”

On Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki responded to that pledge and accused the U.S. of encouraging Netanyahu.

“If Netanyahu wants to declare Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, then you know he has to face a real problem, the presence of 4.5 million Palestinians, what to do with them,” Malki told the AP while attending the World Economic forum in Jordan, apparently citing the combined total of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

He said Israel cannot expel the Palestinians, adding, “The international community has to deal with us.”

Netanyahu has actively supported the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War in 1967. But Israel has so far stopped short of formally annexing the West Bank, leaving the door open for further negotiations with Palestinians.

Some 400,000 Israeli settlers and 2.8 million Palestinians now live in in the West Bank.

The Israeli settlements – which include large subdivisions and cities full of middle-class villas – have long complicated efforts for a two-state solution: Palestinians have said the settlements would make it impossible to create a viable state in the West Bank, as NPR’s Greg Myre has reported.

Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank that Israel annexed shortly after the 1967 war.

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, criticized Netanyahu’s statement on Saturday.

“Such a statement by Netanyahu is not surprising,” Erekat wrote on Twitter. “Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the international community will continue to reward Israel with impunity, particularly with the Trump Administration’s support and endorsement of Israel’s violation of the national and human rights of the people of Palestine.”

Netanyahu’s political campaign has emphasized his close ties with President Trump, Estrin reports. In his prime time interview on Saturday, Netanyahu portrayed those moves of support from the Trump administration as his own achievements, the AP reports.

Last month, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967. In his first year in office, Trump had also recognized Jerusalem — the disputed city claimed as capital by both Israeli and Palestinian people — as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of U.S. foreign policy.

Polls indicate a close race, though Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its traditional allies, smaller right-wing parties, are predicted to win a slight majority of the votes. That gives Netanyahu the edge on forming a ruling coalition over Gantz’s Blue and White political alliance – unless some right-wing parties choose to side with Gantz, Estrin reports.

Gantz has accused Netanyahu of inciting against Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and embracing extremists by allying with the far-right Jewish Power Party.

Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected

Image caption Israel has established more than 100 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected.

Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday and Mr Netanyahu is competing for votes with right-wing parties who support annexing part of the West Bank.

The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Last month the US recognised the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, as Israeli territory.

Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians – Palestinians say the presence of settlements make a future independent state impossible.

Israel says the Palestinians are using the issue of settlements as a pretext to avoid direct peace talks. It says settlements are not a genuine obstacle to peace and are negotiable.

What exactly did Netanyahu say?

He was asked during an interview on Israeli TV why he had not extended Israeli sovereignty to large settlements in the West Bank.

“You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage,” he said.

“I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”

A spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters: “Any measures and any announcements will not change the facts. Settlements are illegal and they will be removed.”

Presentational grey line

Potentially explosive comments

By Sebastian Usher, BBC Arab affairs editor

These comments by Benjamin Netanyahu are potentially explosive over an issue that has helped stall peace efforts for years.

They will resonate with several parties with which he’ll try to form a coalition government if he wins the biggest share of votes.

But the very idea of annexation will rouse new Palestinian fury, as well as international condemnation.

Mr Netanyahu may have been emboldened by the Trump administration, which just last month recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Presentational grey line

What is the political background?

Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is in a tight race with the new centre-right Blue and White alliance.

However other parties, some of which support annexation, could end up being kingmakers when they try to form a governing coalition.

In Mr Netanyahu’s own Likud party, 28 out of the 29 lawmakers running for re-election are on record as supporting this approach. Until now the prime minister was the only exception.

What is the situation of peace negotiations?

Mr Trump’s administration is preparing to unveil a long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which US officials say will be fair.

However the Trump administration has carried out a series of actions that have inflamed Palestinian opinion and generally pleased Israel.

In 2017 Mr Trump announced that the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of official US policy.

In response Mr Abbas cut off relations with the US, saying the US could no longer be a peace broker.

Last year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency(Unrwa), which has been looking after Palestinian refugees since 1949.

In March President Trump officially recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

On Saturday, speaking at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, he warned a Democratic victory in 2020 could “leave Israel out there”, in an effort to make the case to Jewish voters to support his re-election.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.

Joined by Netanyahu, Brazilian president makes trailblazing trip to Western Wall

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Joined by Netanyahu, Brazilian president makes trailblazing trip to Western Wall

Braving Jerusalem rain, Bolsonaro becomes first foreign head of state to be accompanied by Israeli PM on visit to the holy site

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touch the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in the Old City of  Jerusalem on April 1, 2019 (Menahem KAHANA / POOL / AFP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touch the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 1, 2019 (Menahem KAHANA / POOL / AFP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall on Monday, becoming the first foreign head of state to visit the site together with a senior Israeli official.

His unprecedented step could be seen as a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty over that location in Jerusalem’s Old City, which the international community generally considers occupied Palestinian territory. The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

After Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch read a chapter from the Book of Psalms, Netanyahu and Bolsonaro approached the wall, braving the rainy Jerusalem weather.

After the Brazilian president placed a note in one of the cracks, the two leaders leaned against the ancient stones for several seconds in quiet contemplation.

After the short ceremony, they toured the Western Wall tunnels, which are located underneath the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro visits the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 1, 2019 (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)

At a visitors center, the two men viewed a virtual reality recreation of the Jewish temple that once stood on the Temple Mount.

Volume 90%

During his election campaign, and even in the weeks that followed his victory, Bolsonaro promised to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in transferring his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. But before he arrived in Israel on Sunday morning, he appeared to backtrack, indicating that he would open a trade mission in the city instead.

Meeting Netanyahu on Sunday, Bolsonaro announced the opening of a “trade, technology and innovation office” that would be “an official office of the Government of Brazil, in Jerusalem,” the prime minister said.

“I hope that this is a first step toward the opening in time of the Brazilian embassy in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said on Sunday evening during a joint press appearance at the Prime Minister’s Residence on the capital’s Balfour Street.

“Recognizing the historic ties of Jerusalem with the Jewish identity and that the city is the political heart of the State of Israel, I announced today that Brazil will open there a Brazilian office to promote trade, investment and exchange in innovation and technology,” Bolsonaro tweeted later that night.

Jair M. Bolsonaro

@jairbolsonaro

Reconhecendo os vínculos históricos de Jerusalém com a identidade judaica e também que a cidade é o coração político do Estado de Israel, anunciei hoje que o Brasil abrirá lá um escritório brasileiro para promoção do comércio, investimentos e intercâmbio em inovação e tecnologia.

7,358 people are talking about this

So far, the US and Guatemala are the only countries to have their embassies in Jerusalem. Paraguay moved its embassy to the city last year, but has since relocated it to Tel Aviv.

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă on March 24 announced that her country would move its embassy to Jerusalem, but an actual relocation seems unlikely because President Klaus Iohannis — who is staunchly opposed to the move — has the last word on the matter.

On the same day, Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández announced his intention to “immediately” open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem that would “extend our embassy to the capital of Israel, Jerusalem.”

In recent weeks, several countries have opened or announced plans to open trade or cultural centers in the capital, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

The international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and so visiting foreign dignitaries generally refrain from going there in the company of Israeli officials.

Those who do want to tour the holy site usually do so in a private capacity, though in recent months an increasing number of foreign leaders have defied standard protocol and allowed Israeli diplomats to join them at the wall.

On March 20, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first American top diplomat to visit the site together with an Israeli prime minister, underlining the recent trend.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 21, 2019, during the second day of Pompeo’s visit as part of his five-day regional tour of the Middle East. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
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Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE BEAST’ NEWS)

 

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

The specific issue that brought down Bibi’s government was subsidies for ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. Still, he thinks he’ll win at the polls again in April.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — In the most expected surprise declaration of 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the dissolution of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and elections to be held in early April.

The move comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump roiled the region with the startling announcement he was immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, and as his long-anticipated plan to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians appears to be have shriveled.

A 2019 electoral campaign was inevitable, in fact. Netanyahu’s four-year mandate runs out in November 2019, but Monday’s unforeseen move became inescapable when Netanyahu was unable to muster the necessary votes to pass a popular law levying heavier fines against orthodox Jewish seminary students who dodge Israel’s otherwise universal draft of 18-years-olds on religious grounds.

Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition members opposed the law, and two opposition parties that had initially hinted at support withdrew it due to fears Netanyahu and his religious political partners had cut a secret deal providing financial compensation to counterbalance fines imposed on draft dodgers.

Elections have been in the air since Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation last month, which left the survival of Netanyahu’s coalition hanging by a single Knesset vote.

Lieberman has since taunted Netanyahu for his “government for survival,” but the prime minister remains the most popular leader in Israel’s rambunctious multi-part political process.

The next three months will see Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely known, confront unprecedented tests, none more challenging than his own precarious legal predicament.

Following police and state attorney recommendations that he be indicted on several corruption charges, senior Israeli jurists say his prosecution appears inevitable.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, an essential partner in any future Netanyahu government, restated on Monday that no minister, and no prime minister, can continue to serve if indicted.

Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a rare statement reassuring the public that its work in sifting through the legal recommendations will continue “as usual” despite the announcement of elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who will make the final determination, said at a conference last week that Israeli law has not yet had to decide whether a sitting prime minister may remain in office if facing legal prosecution.

In recent years, both a president and a prime minister resigned when facing almost certain indictment,. Both eventually served time in prison.

Speaking to a quickly assembled meeting of his parliamentary faction, and ignoring the legal drama, Netanyahu forecast victory in the April vote and said the coalition he currently leads—the most right-wing in Israeli history and one of the most volatile— is “the seed” for his future government.

Listing his administration’s achievements, Netanyahu ignored instability in the financial markets that saw the Tel Aviv stock exchange lose more than 5 percent of its value since U.S. President Donald Trump’s startling decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, where they have provided crucial support for Israeli efforts to contain and halt Iranian entrenchment.

Lauding his government’s “four full years of achievements,” Netanyahu praised Israel as “a growing power, with flourishing diplomatic ties” with continental powerhouse nations such as India, Brazil and Australia, far from Israel’s historic allies.

After extolling ties with “west and east Europe, and central Europe, and Latin America,” Netanyahu extolled Israel’s alliance “with the United States that has never been stronger, with the historic decision made by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

“Israel has the eighth most powerful military on earth,” he boasted to his followers. “It is hard to believe, Israel is not a large country, but serious institutions rank us that high.”

UN force confirms presence of tunnel on Lebanon-Israel border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ALJAZEERA NEWS)

 

UN force confirms presence of tunnel on Lebanon-Israel border

UNIFIL says it found tunnel, allegedly dug by Hezbollah, near Metula in northern Israel.

UN peacekeepers and Israeli soldiers look towards the border with Lebanon [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]
UN peacekeepers and Israeli soldiers look towards the border with Lebanon [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

The United Nations peacekeepers have confirmed the existence of a tunnel in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, days after Tel Aviv accused armed group Hezbollah of digging under the frontier.

In a statement on Thursday, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said it “visited a location near Metula in northern Israel” and “can confirm the existence of a tunnel at the location”.

UNIFIL said it is “engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action” and “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”.

The confirmation by the UN came a day after Lebanon said Israel presented no evidence to prove its claims of a network of attack tunnels allegedly built by Hezbollah.

In a meeting with UN peacekeepers on Wednesday, Lebanon parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the Israeli accusation was not based on “any real facts at all”.

Operation Northern Shield

On Tuesday, Israel launched an operation dubbed “Northern Shield” to destroy the tunnels it claimed were found at the Lebanese border.

The Israeli military said it provided UNIFIL with a map of the area around Ramieh village on which houses were marked which are “connected to another attack tunnel that has been dug from Lebanon into Israel”, army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

The tunnel crosses into Israel but is not yet operational, he added.

Israel has not detailed how many tunnels have been detected, although Conricus on Thursday said the army was working in three different areas along the border.

The operation is part of Israel’s wider campaign against Hezbollah, including actions to tackle the group’s weapons facilities.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Hezbollah was planning to send attackers through the tunnels, which he claimed were big enough to be used by motorcycles, small vehicles and groups of people.

“Hezbollah wants to insert several battalions to our territory with the aim of isolating communities, towns and kibbutzim [collective farms] to continue its reign of terror and abductions which could take place simultaneously,” he told a meeting of foreign diplomats on Thursday.

Israel estimates Hezbollah has approximately 130,000 rockets in its arsenal, although rejects the group’s claim that it has successfully acquired precision missiles.

“Despite Hezbollah’s effort to insinuate otherwise, it is not in possession of any significant accurate capabilities,” Conricus said.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES